Man Can Become Holy

Rabbi Reuven Mann

The theme of this week’s parsha, Kedoshim, is that of holiness.  We are commanded to be holy because “I the L—d your G-d am holy.”  At first glance this concept is astounding as it seeks to make some kind of comparison between man and Hashem.  The basic teaching of Judaism is that G-d is a being who is beyond the comprehension of any human even the most exalted prophet such as Moshe Rabbenu.  Moshe beseeched G-d to “show me your glory” which Maimonides takes to mean a description of G-d’s essence.  The reply of Hashem was “no man can see Me while he lives.”  This means that G-d’s nature is intrinsically unknowable.  He cannot be compared at all to any of His creatures.  The concept of holiness can be applied to man.  How are we to understand the assertion of our parsha that G-d is holy?

Perhaps the answer lies in a more precise understanding of the idea of human holiness.  Man has a dual nature.  He is a creature of flesh and blood with ordinary corporeal impulses.  In this sense he is no different than any animal.  On the other hand he was endowed with a Divine element, the soul, which was created in “the image” of G-d.  There is a part of man which reflects the “Divine.”  This enables him to reason, gain understanding and recognize the source of all existence, the Creator of the Universe.  Man has been endowed with choice.  He alone determines the type of existence he wants to lead.  He can defer to the pull of his drives and live as an instinctual being whose only goal is to use his intelligence in the service of desire.  He can also decide to “be holy” ie. to separate himself from the animalistic part of his make up and live in accordance with the higher aspect of his personality, the tzelem elokim.  The pasuk is telling us that we can choose to live an existence which is based on emulating the actions of the Creator.  When we say that G-d is holy we mean, separate, unique, the most perfect and exalted form of existence.  Hashem is telling us that though we are made of flesh, He implanted within us an element that allows us, in however small a way, to live a life which reflects the holiness of our Creator.  When we choose this path of existence we bring joy to ourselves, and earn everlasting life and sanctify the name of Hashem on earth.  May we respond with wisdom and inspiration to the injunction to become holy, as individuals and as a nation.  Shabbat Shalom.