I often ask for advice or wisdom from a rabbi or other people I consider to be wise, noble, and spiritual. Recently I called upon a rabbi to inquire as to how I should respond to a certain situation. His response was, “What would the command to “be holy” bid you to do in the situation?” Ouch! Oy vey and oy vey again!
At first I was wondering if he realized he was talking to me. Holy? Me? In the same sentence? The situation I was describing could prove to be volatile were I to choose to let my emotions and subsequently my mouth get the best of me. In this situation the solution found in the command to “be holy” was to keep my mouth shut. Perhaps that is an easy task for you. For me, it’s not so easy some days. I’d like to claim I am humble before G-d and my fellow man and I do have pockets of humility but it is an ongoing process. I’m even getting a bit better with not popping off at the mouth in response to offensive remarks yet that being holy thing……I’ve got a ways to go.
As I think on what it means to “be holy” I reflect on Nachmanides’s Torah commentary, in which he explains that to achieve holiness, it is never enough to simply refrain from doing unholy and wrongful acts, although it is an inherent initial step on the path to being holy. How can one be holy while committing adultery, violating Shabbos, lying, cheating, stealing, etc.? Once we get a handle on the part one, part two is awaiting us. Part two teaches us that we should “sanctify ourselves through that which is permitted to us” (Yevamot 20). There are many caveats to this guideline. If we are allowed to do something and we do it in a manner that is not holy, we are not being holy. If we are permitted to do or say something that will assist another and we don’t, again we’re not so holy.
On the surface all these do’s and don’ts can be a little daunting if we choose to allow them to be. But at the end of the day, most all of us know what is right and good in most situations. It may not be comfortable, it may not be fun, it may not be easy, but it is pretty simple most of the time.
We humans tend to complicate things and make them so much more difficult than they have to be. Such foolishness is the cause of much unrest in our souls. Spending time fretting over what this or that will cost us to do, or what others may think if we do what we know to be right, or a host of other crazy thoughts distract us from being holy and from being all we are created to be.
At times I find myself comparing my abilities with those of others. How crazy is that? One of my dearest friends is a world-renowned rabbi. He can write, teach, and speak. He’s amazing. I love him beyond words. I’d love to be more like him. I don’t think that’s a bad thing but if I give space to measure my life by his I am on a path to defeat on more levels than I can begin to tell you. G-d didn’t create me to be some other person. He created me to be me. He knows the path I’ve taken. The bumps, the falls, the days I have busted my tuchis so hard I felt I needed to be in traction. None of that is a surprise to G-d. When I am honest it’s really not a shock to me. But G-d created me to be me and that is who He expects me to be.
If you look over the landscape of our people, our leaders have been human beings who have done some crazy things. Some of them lied out of fear, others had anger issues, others committed adultery and murder and the list goes on. All of it looks bad if you want to view through a negative lens. But is it really? I’m thinking probably not. It’s part of their story and defines for us the path to being holy and to being men and women who seek G-d and who let the Light within us shine brightly. Your light may be a bit different and you may help a different group of people than I can but we all can be holy and shine.
If we couldn’t be holy, G-d wouldn’t command us to be holy. He’s not like that. I don’t understand much about G-d but I wouldn’t want a G-d I could understand completely. I know without a doubt He is loving and kind and He won’t ever command us to do or be something He doesn’t empower us to be or do. So let’s be holy. I am not talking about self-righteous snobbery. G-d forbid! I’m talking about we stop lying to ourselves and excusing ourselves when we know what is right and good and fail to do it. Let’s learn, without emasculating ourselves, and do it a little better each day. I know we can do it. When I look at you, I see the image of G-d and His light shining out of you. I hope I reflect the same to you.