This week our Torah reading encompasses two sections: Acharei-Mot and Kedoshim. At the very center of this double reading, we come across a succinct yet most powerful commandment:
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I,the Lord your God, am holy. (Lev. 19:1-2)
In its simplest definition, to be holy is to live one’s life according to the disciplines and instructions of God. Holiness is the fruit of a deliberate and ongoing choice to order one’s thoughts, words and deeds according to God’s revealed will as expressed in the Bible. Holiness is not some ethereal, pie-in-the-sky, unrealistic way of life. It is at once eminently practical as well as profoundly spiritual. It is summed up in the two greatest commandments: to love God with our whole heart, soul and resources and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
To be sure, volumes have been written about holiness and a brief commentary such as this cannot begin to describe it in all its beauty. But I offer the following thoughts for your reflection:
1) Holiness is not a negative commandment; it is not a matter of what you cannot do but rather an issue of the heart. What is the predominant motive for your daily thoughts, words and actions? Do you live each day against the backdrop of a desire to delight the heart of God? Is that your over-riding purpose in life?
2) Holiness does not mean you never fail or make a mistake. What it does mean is that when you do, you turn quickly to the Lord in repentance, ask His forgiveness and learn from your failure. Holiness is a journey, not a destination.
3) Holiness is not old-fashioned, nor is it reserved for the ‘chosen few’. We live in a culture that pushes the boundaries with language, with entertainment, with alcohol, etc. It is written that Job was “righteous in his generation.” That means that in the midst of a culture that was not unlike ours, Job maintained his integrity and morality. Everyone around him could have made the same choice but Job was not moved by their choices. He stood firm in his own.
4) The choices of those who desire holiness is thought of by some as judgmental and intolerant. Political correctness frowns and criticizes those who uphold a higher standard of living based on God’s word. It does not like words or phrases such as ‘self-discipline’ or ‘obedience’ or ‘the righteous fear of the Lord’. It labels those who uphold such principles as ‘radicals’. If being ‘radical’ means that you love God sincerely from the heart and seek to live according to His ways, then to be called a ‘radical’ is the highest compliment you could receive!
5) Holiness is not ‘weirdness’. True holiness will transform you into a loving, kind, gentle and compassionate person. Loving God is not weird; neither is loving your neighbor. Mother Teresa gained worldwide acclaim, not for railing against sinners, but for extending compassion and care to the needy around her. She is remembered for saying:
‘Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier’
‘We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do’
‘In this life we cannot do big things but we can do small things with great love’.
In Tune with Torah this week = a fresh look at the true meaning of holiness is in order for all of us. How are we doing at loving God with all our heart and loving our neighbor as ourself? In these two commandments are hidden the ways and means to holiness.