דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־כָּל־עֲדַ֧ת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל וְאָמַרְתָּ֥ אֲלֵהֶ֖ם קְדֹשִׁ֣ים תִּהְי֑וּ כִּ֣י קָד֔וֹשׁ אֲנִ֖י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃
Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the Eternal your God, am holy.
What does it mean to be holy? That seems like a pretty steep challenge. We don’t think of ourselves as being especially holy, especially sacred, nor our activities. We assume holiness is something separate or above. That is, after all, what kadosh really means; to be separate, or aloof.
But the phrasing in this text is interesting, because it doesn’t say that we are holy. It says, in the imperfect tense in Hebrew, that we will become holy. That is, holiness isn’t a state of being, static and immoveable. Holiness is aspirational; it’s something we strive to be, out there. But how do we achieve it? Is it achievable?
The S’fat Emet, Yehudah Lieb of Ger, reminds us that this text is read publicly, so he understands that holiness is something we achieve together, not individually. He writes, “No one can attain holiness except by negating his own self before the whole of Israel.” Holiness, then, is not about me or you personally, but how we each interact in community, and how we come together. So the poet Ruth Brin writes, “God you are one. Hear us when we are one people.”
We cannot become whole, become holy, become who we’re meant to be on our own. It only happens when we strive to be united, to be one, to see each other as part of a whole, and not as a stranger, and worthy of love. Only then may we say that we are nearing that goal of holiness, that unity that is God’s aspiration for all of us. May it be so. Amen.