Throughout much of the book of Vayikra (Leviticus) we speak of biblical issues of ritual impurity, which could be transferred from one person to another. These impurities could also be transferred from some objects to others.
So, we have to ask ourselves, “Can holiness be transferred?” Is this something that we can obtain from other people or objects? If the Torah is holy and we spend a lot of time with the Torah will that make us holy? If we think of the Kotel (Western Wall) as holy, and we make frequent visits, do we attain a level of holiness?
In Kedoshim we are told from the start that, “You shall be holy, for I, Adonai your God am holy.” What does it mean that we are holy because God is holy? Is it a given? Just because we are in contact with God, does that make us holy? Or, does there need to be more active participation on our part? This seems to be the case.
Immediately after this statement, we receive a laundry list of actions we should take, a recipe of ethical do’s and don’ts for how to be holy. It begins with “You shall each revere your mother and your father and keep My Shabbatot (Sabbaths).”
This list also includes such things as not reaping all of our harvest but rather leaving the edges of the fields and the gleanings for the poor. We are told not to place a stumbling block in front of the blind or be biased in our judicial rulings.
Our actions matter. We cannot be passive and be seen as holy. Having just come through the holiday of Passover we understand this loud and clear. On the first day we celebrated the exodus form Egypt and on the seventh day we commemorated the crossing of the sea. We are taught that both of these events occurred, not through the people sitting and waiting, but when they acted.
God first noticed the people in Egypt when they cried out, and they left Egypt when they took the blood of the Pesach offering and placed it on their doorposts. Similarly, the people crossed the sea after one man stepped into it. When they called out to Moses, and Moses in turn called to God, the Divine response was, “Nu, what are you waiting for?”
The Midrash teaches us that it was Nachshon who took the steps into the water; once he did, the sea split. We can’t wait for redemption to come to us and we can’t expect to achieve holiness without action either.
We are only perceived as holy when we act not when we sit back and wait. We all know the adage, “If you’re not part of the solution you are part of the problem.” What problems are we perpetuating because we don’t act to bring holiness into the world? Hunger, illiteracy, environmental degradation or any other of a host of issues?
Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.” We all have the blessing of being and for most of us our blessings go way beyond that. But, are we living in a way that fosters holiness? Let’s follow Nachshon’s example and act, bringing holiness into our lives.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)