This parsha/Torah portion begins with the phrase that has launched a thousand sermons and bar/t mitzvah speeches: “The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy’”(Lev. 19:1-2). It is all very well to use the word, but what, truly does “holy” mean? If we search in any synagogue, it is easy to find holy objects: siddurim/prayerbooks, chumashim/Pentateuchs, tallitote/prayer shawls, and the holiest of them all: the Torah scroll itself.
The challenge begins when we journey into the world and seek holiness there.
In his Howl and Other Poems (1956), Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997), one of the foremost Beat poets, conjures up a Walt Whitmanesque vision of holiness in the universe:
“Everything is holy! Everybody’s holy! Everywhere is holy! Everyday is in eternity! Everyman’s an angel! …
“The typewriter is holy the poem is holy the voice is holy the hearers are holy the ecstasy is holy “Holy time in eternity holy eternity in time holy the clocks in space holy the fourth dimension….
“Holy forgiveness! Mercy! Charity! Faith! Holy! Ours! Bodies! Suffering! Magnanimity!
“Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!”
Every generation believes they invented three things: music, fashion, and sex. I always point out to my young college students, “Great-Grandma must have ‘done it’ at least once, because you’re here.” They may have a difficult believing it, but are forced to agree, in the end. And Ginsberg’s frank and extreme descriptions, including his earthy language (omitted here, obviously), never fails to attract their attention, worldly though they consider themselves.
I believe that the poet is here expressing a very Jewish concept: nothing human is alien to his experience; everything human—indeed, everyone on earth and everything in heaven— has the potential to become holy. Our Israelite ancestors did not worship in synagogues, nor did they possess a temple, which was not built until 1000 BCE, allegedly during Solomon’s reign. The earliest Jews perceived holiness in nature, “sermons in stones,” because they were not living amid the concrete canyons and plastic-and-metal technology we Post-Modernist Jews inhabit today.
And yet, it is not so far a theological leap from Moses’s God-inhabited burning bush to Ginsberg’s “holy typewriter,” ending in the words my computer keyboard sends forth. What links them all is the Divine whisper, the heavenly echo we can all perceive, if we would but lift up our eyes and see. A sensitive, spiritually-attuned mortal can reach beyond the dehumanizing, workaday strife that envelops us all. Through Torah study, service of God through doing mitzvote, and, perhaps, meditation, we can all draw down holiness from Above.
“Well yes,” you say, “I try to do mitzvote, but I cannot sense God in my life.”
One must develop a heart like a celestial wind-chime, in order to recognize that God is present in every second of the day, and that every moment of our lives is brimming with divine potential. Let us, inspired by this Torah portion, become more attuned to the myriad ways in which God is reaching out to us, calling to our souls, tapping on the windows of our eyes, and tugging at our hearts. We have, all of us, the potential to work greater miracles than angels, if we but answer God’s call. Would you introduce more holiness into your life? Then recognize how each one of us is made in God’s image, and treat one another accordingly.