God tells Moses: “Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2) This verse clearly sounds like a command; but some leading scholars believe that it is not a commandment for itself. It is, rather, the mission statement of the Jewish faith.
Before we examine this verse let’s read the Midrash:
“… ‘you shall be holy’ one would think he can be as holy as Me, therefore the verse says, ‘for I Am Holy’ My Holiness is forever greater than yours…” (Leviticus Rabba 24:9)
The Midrash is saying, that God wants us to be holy, but we dare not think that we can be as holy as He is. Which makes us ask, firstly, who in the right mind would possibly think he can be as holy as God? Secondly, if there is one man who thinks so, still, what is God teaching Israel [who as a whole clearly knows that God’s Holiness is not within their capacity], by schooling a delusional fool?
The answer (like most times) is in the context. The chapter before this, deals with all the immoral and animalistic ways of the pagans: “…After the doings of the land of Egypt, wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do. and after the doings of the land of Canaan, whither I bring you, shall ye not do…”
We all remember George W. Bush’s deceleration of the so-called War on Terror, where he famously told the world:
Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.
What Bush did, was a simple tactic to disarm the instinctive reaction to any drastic proposition- the will to stay neutral. For, the aforementioned statement implies that not taking sides, means you’re already aligned with the wrong side. There’s no in between.
We all want to be good. But we don’t want to be radical, we tell ourselves that there has to be a middle way, right? Wrong. God presents two worlds to Israel: one, the ways of the Egyptians and Canaanites-immorality; two, the ways of God- Holiness. You’re either with Me, or with them.
But herein lies the danger. We have to be careful, that when making the right decision by devoting our lives to God, by living morally and spiritually, we don’t foolishly aspire to reach God’s state of Holiness. We have to acknowledge that we are not and can never be, as unaffected by society as God is. We live in Canaan and will occasionally feel more at home here than we feel with God. If one entertains the dream of ‘being as holy as Me’, he will inevitably be crushed with despair when he struggles and succumbs to the appeals of Canaan and Egypt.
God gives us a decision to make; we can either live like animals, or we can elevate ourselves to holiness. But keep in mind, ‘My Holiness is greater than yours’, try to by a holy man, don’t try to be God.