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Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 10_4_23
04/23/2010 02:57 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon

by David Lyon

4-23-2010

“You shall be holy for I, the Lord your God am holy!” Can you imagine? It isn’t enough to be a good student? It isn’t enough to get a good job and pay the bills? We have to be holy, too? This is the beginning of the Holiness Code, from Leviticus 19, and our Torah portion this week. Just when we thought getting up in the morning was a great achievement, now we have to be holy, too.

Judaism has high standards. We knew it since kindergarten when already our parents were telling us that we wouldn’t get into college unless we colored between the lines or cut a straight edge. Someone recently asked me, “When does life begin from a Jewish perspective?” I couldn’t help myself. I replied, “If you asked a Jewish mother, life begins when her child enters medical school.” All our life we live with high expectations to reach the apex of our cultural and religious standards. So, what do we do about holiness?

Our Sages wondered, too. After all, if holiness is the goal, then maybe we shouldn’t even begin to try. Who would pass and who would fail? So, our Sages explained that we should read the verse differently. They suggested, “You shall be humanly holy.” Humanly holy recognizes how much better we could do if only we applied ourselves. It’s just what our mothers said, “If only you’d apply yourself!” Humanly holy also recognizes the danger of reaching beyond our abilities. Our Sages welcomed God’s faith in man and woman to attain holiness; but also welcomed man and woman’s faith in God, that only God is God. As human beings, we would have to apply ourselves diligently every day to attain human holiness. How could we do it? Mitzvah!

A commandment, however it might be interpreted and practiced, would bring us closer to the sacred, to the holy in the world and within us. For example, everyday we make decisions in our businesses and professional fields. When we have felt challenged about what decision to make, we recalled lessons we learned in school, at home and in Judaism. It isn’t uncommon to hear from Temple members who ask about Judaism’s ethical principles. After careful consideration, our best decision becomes a reflection of everything we stand for and believe to be true and just. That’s holiness. That’s human holiness.

You may be surprised to know that among the many tractates of Jewish law and wisdom, the largest are those that deal with daily practice, business and civil duties. We spend more time in interpersonal and business relationships than we do in religious and ritual ones. And, if every relationship is potentially sacred, then we have a duty to find the sacred within it. So, when your mother said, “Apply yourself,” she might have been quoting a long-held belief that if you did, you would be holy, just like God. And, if you went to medical school, too, well then.

As Shabbat nears, raise your standards high, but don’t overestimate what you can do. You’re a remarkable human being created in God’s image, but you’re not God, no matter what your mother told you. You were created as a blessing with great potential to make a positive difference in the world, and to reveal all that is holy within you. The “Sabbath Prayer” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” says, “May you be like Ruth and like Esther.” May you live up to the high standards of our people; may you be the best you.

From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

_________________________________________________

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