We humans are so full of ourselves. We give ourselves credit for everything that goes well. Even when we mess up, when we create such horrible problems for our planet that we endanger ourselves as well as the environment, we think we can solve it. In our hubris, we think that the only thing stopping us is that we won’t work together.
We imagine that anything is within our reach, if only everyone would agree on how to do it. The stumbling block? It’s the other guy, that stubborn person/politician/country which simply refuses to understand that we’re right and they’re wrong.
Sometimes, the way we interpret the Torah feeds that arrogance, leads us to believe that we are extraordinary, maybe even God-like. Take this week’s Torah portion. It’s called the Holiness Code because it begins, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2)
The Torah says that God is holy. It also says that we are supposed to try to be holy; notice that the verse from Leviticus doesn’t say that we humans are holy, but rather, that we shall be holy. The message is that we have a job to do, that if we try hard enough, we have the capacity to be holy. Maybe.
The Holiness Code holds a special place in the Torah; it is in the middle of the middle book, and its central location is mirrored by its central location in the message of the Torah.
It lists fundamental moral laws and repeatedly reminds us that God has the right to dictate to us because God is, well, God. Some of the Bible’s most beautiful and insightful laws are here, as well as some of the most difficult.
Many of the laws are achievable, even easy. Don’t steal. Don’t murder. Don’t lie.
But some are challenging. Revere your father and mother? What if they were abusive? And love your neighbor as yourself? Is that even possible? Probably not, but that’s what the Bible says.
And some of these laws are deeply flawed, as far as I’m concerned. To consider homosexuality wrong goes against everything I know about the gay people in my life. The best I can do with this law is believe that it was written at a particular time in history, and if the Bible was written today, it would not prohibit same-sex love.
Striving for holiness means trying to do the impossible, knowing it’s impossible and trying anyway. It means setting aside our arrogance and our pride and our desire to always be right. It means accepting that we can try and try and try, but we will never truly be holy.
And that’s OK. The difficult task of striving for holiness is itself holy. We can still reach for the stars. Yes, they are beyond our grasp. But they are not beyond our vision.