“You shall be holy, for
I, the Lord your G-d, am holy.”
This opening verse in
this week’s Torah portion contains some of the most profound lessons in life.
It dispels fundamental
myths about G-d.
It teaches us the meaning
of true love.
It uncovers our enormous
It empowers and inspires
us to change the world.
The verse is simple, deceptively
simple: “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your G-d, am holy.” But this simple
statement carries layers of meaning – as illuminated by a strange Midrash.
The Midrash states: When
the verse commands us “be holy” we may think that we humans can be as holy
as G-d Himself. Therefore the verse qualifies “for I, the Lord your G-d am
holy” – “My (G-d’s) holiness is above (i.e. greater than) your (human) holiness.”
What is the Midrash trying
to tell us? Why in the first place would we consider that humans can be as
holy as G-d? And what is the point of emphasizing here that we are not as
holy? The verse is telling us to emulate G-d’s holiness and sanctify our lives.
In this uplifting and motivational context what benefit is it to remind us
that we cannot be as holy as G-d – the exact opposite intention of the verse
that compares our holiness to the Divine!
These and other questions
compel Chassidic masters to interpret the Midrash in a novel way, offering
us a revolutionary way to look at ourselves:
The Midrash is not to
be read as a question and answer but rather as a statement of fact: “you shall
be holy” can actually be equated with G-d’s holiness. And the power to achieve
this level of sanctity is (as the verse continues) “for I, the Lord your G-s,
am holy” and have the power to impart My holiness to you humans.
The reason for this is
– and here is the real twist – because “My holiness above is (derived) from
your holiness,” when we humans sanctify our lives we sanctify G-d.
Not only can we be as
holy as G-d, but we actually cause G-d’s holiness!
The implications of this
statement are fascinating – and far-reaching.
Our conventional view
about the human relationship with G-d is a linear one: G-d is the Creator
and we are the creatures. G-d is the “all powerful Father in heaven” and we
are mere mortals on Earth. G-d gives and we receive. We are subjects; G-d
In truth however our relationship
with G-d is far more complex. What point is there to create humans as dependent
creatures that only take? Is G-d “insecure” that He needs subjects to serve
Him! [I am using the male “He” simply for convenience; G-d is neither He nor
G-d created the human
being in the “Divine Image” as an equal “partner” in creation. G-d chose to
have a full relationship with us – one of “give and take.” We contribute as
much and even more than we receive.
Indeed, the sages tell
us that the good deeds of the righteous are greater than G-d’s creation of
heaven and earth. The reason: G-d created matter from spirit, and we create
spirit from matter.
Yes, G-d chose to be “vulnerable”
and to be “dependent” on us. We have the power to sanctify or desecrate G-d
in this universe. “Love G-d” is interpreted as meaning “make G-d beloved to
others.” We humans are representatives of G-d on Earth. As G-d’s children,
our behavior either makes G-d look good or bad. When we behave in an exemplary
way, we make G-d beloved to all those that look at us – and the Divine Image
This approach challenges
the premise that many people have of religion and G-d. We and G-d are in this
together as partners in the unfolding drama of life. We need each other; G-d
chose to need us and bound Himself to our behavior: We can deny G-d’s existence
and defile His investment in us; or we can illuminate our environment with
This is the essence of
the most powerful of all miztvot: The mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem – sanctifying
G-d. And its converse – the grave sin of desecrating G-d.
The six million killed
in the Holocaust – and all those that were ever killed simply for their faith
– are called “kedoshim” (as in the name of this chapter), the sanctified.
By dying in the name of G-d they sanctify G-d – in direct disproportion to
G-d’s desecration at the hands of the barbarians.
As one Holocaust victim
told his Nazi tormentor just before the beast put him to death: “I thank G-d
for not creating me like you”…
So here are the some of
the powerful messages in the opening verse: “You shall be holy, for I, the
Lord your G-d, am holy.”
- G-d as a powerful “grandfather
figure” in heaven waiting to “strike us with lightning” and we as helpless
subjects is nothing more than a myth. G-d does not exist in one place and
we humans in another; we are bound together in a relationship, in a symbiotic
and synergetic partnership. G-d is the “investor” and each of us is the
“producer,” developing product from the resources with which we are blessed.
We are dependent on G-d for life, health and all blessings.
G-d’s conscious presence and sanctity in the universe is dependent (kavyochol)
on us. We have the power to sanctify G-d and make Him beloved among people,
or tragically the opposite.
- This complex relationship/partnership
with G-d is the optimal model for true love. True love is embracing vulnerability.
It is not about control, but about complementation – binding yourself with
a partner, in a mutually dependent union.
By no means does this compromise the independence
of each partner; on the contrary: healthy vulnerability enhances independence.
The fact that G-d allows himself to be “vulnerable” and allows us the power
to sanctify or desecrate His presence is a sign of G-d’s absolute independence
and confidence that His gamble will “pay off” and that the Divine image in
us will prevail.
Protecting oneself under the guise of “invulnerability” and
lack of dependence on others is more weakness than strength. The ultimate
statement of strength in love is that you have the power to be vulnerable
– and celebrate your vulnerability – with the confidence and trust in your
Only then do we have the ability to release all our
potential. As long as we remain afraid to trust, we also remain locked and
defined by nothing more than our own resources.
- And what is our potential? We
have the power to be like G-d! By imparting His holiness to us, G-d endowed
us with the ability to be Divine. Moreover, the sanctity above is dependent
on us. We control the fate of G-d ‘s presence in life.
“Be Holy” tells us about our infinite potential. We have
the power not merely to be good human beings and make our world a better place
– to tinker with the temporary and improve it a bit. We actually have the
capacity to sanctify G-d; to make the mortal immortal and change the world
How you behave in any given moment can either beautify
or defile not only the universe but G-d!
We have unfortunately seen too many examples of people
desecrating G-dliness, and its unfortunate consequences. Indeed, one of the
formidable obstacles today in discussing spiritual ideals is due to the profound
negative stereotypes that have been created by years of abuse and distortion
of G-d related experiences.
When we reject G-d, are we rejecting G-d or the way
G-d was presented to us?
Finally, “Kedoshim tih’ue,” Be Holy, is our call to transform the
universe. We have been charged with an enormous responsibility and a great
gift. We human are the only ones that can change the course of history.
All our choices either sanctify or pollute our environment.
What can be more motivating than to know that the
destiny of the universe – indeed the destiny of G-d Himself – is dependent
on your actions?
These are some of the
lessons in this one verse.
All in one simple verse…