If there’s one test a song has to pass, it has to be the test of longevity, and MC Hammer’s 1990 rap-hit definitely did just that, rapidly being certified as gold and being included in some of the “all-time best” hit lists. The classic phrase even entered pop-culture and I, along with my friends at school and uni found myself using those timeless words.
While (pop-) culture is usually relatively fickle, it’s incredible how some motifs reoccur again and again.
While (pop-) culture is usually relatively fickle, it’s incredible how some motifs reoccur again and again. Whether MC Hammer knew it or not, his classic catch phrase of “U Can’t touch this” is thousands of years old, dating back to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai and is particularly relevant to this week’s parasha. Who would’ve thought?!
While this week’s portion Emor is relatively diverse, the overarching theme (indeed of the whole book) is the idea of holiness. Three times, God says that He is the one who sanctifies us (makes us holy; Vayikra/Leviticus 21,23; 22,9; 22,16), and over and over again we see that He expects us, His people to also be holy. But what does it mean to be holy? It’s not exactly a common word and I’m convinced that the majority of people would struggle to define it.
Turning to the dictionaries1, we find that the Hebrew word for holy, קדוש (kadosch) has the idea of something being set apart, or different. In other words, “U Can’t touch this!”. If I understand MC Hammer’s lyrics correctly, he’s essentially advocating that there’s no one like him in the rap world – that he is untouchable. I believe that God is saying the same thing – He is the untouchable, incomparable God and He should be treated as such. While MC Hammer’s claim is based on hubris, God’s claim is based on reality. He is worlds apart from us – and the only way that we can relate to Him, is if He chooses to relate to us.
The untouchable God wants His creations to become untouchable too.
However, what is even more remarkable that the far-away, untouchable God would relate to us is the fact that He reiterates His desire to make us holy. The untouchable God wants His creations to become untouchable too. There’s only one problem…
Yeshayahu (Isaiah) the prophet explains in chapter 59 verses 1-2, “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or His ear dull, that it cannot hear, but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” The many wrong things that we do, say and think every day have steadily built up a wall separating us from God. Now He’s truly untouchable – but in a bad sense. Even though He wants to relate to us, we have built up a wall between us and Him.
And yet in our Torah portion, we find tremendous hope – God is the one who sanctifies us. He is able to demolish the wall that we’ve built up in our rebellion against Him, faster than the Berlin wall fell in ’89. He is the one who makes us holy, and not us. In fact, the untouchable God became very touchable in the form of Yeshua the Messiah for precisely that reason – we can’t do anything about our spiritual condition on our own. Through His death and coming to life again, the path to God is now open – no more is He untouchable in the sense of us not being able to reach Him. Quite the contrary – He came Himself, to reach us. And now He offers us the chance to be untouchable too – for Him to renew us spiritually and give us a brand new life.
God can sometimes seem aloof. Indeed, Rabbi Joe Rooks Rapport comments, “Having a relationship with God is a feathery thing. One never really knows what God is thinking, when God is present, how we can truly bear witness to God’s will in the world.”2 Perhaps this is your experience too – it certainly was mine until I put my faith in Messiah Yeshua. While I certainly can’t get close to MC Hammer’s rap success, I certainly can draw near to God thanks to Yeshua. It looks like MC Hammer was wrong after all – you can touch this!
“U Can’t touch this!”