We as humans strive to categorise everything around us, to bring order to chaos. Whether that be in our studies of language, nature, history or even religion. Sometimes those classifications are based on obvious patterns and sometimes they are based on permanent status.
In this week’s Parsha, Kedoshim, we are introduced to the holiness code, a set of rules and principles that we are to follow, because “You shall be holy, for I, Adonai your God, am holy.” We seek to imitate the divine to become holy. In doing so, we seek to recreate the first moments of creation, where God began creation by separating; light from dark, heavens from earth, water from sky and dry land from the sea.
It might seem then that in dividing and classifying things, we are creating a hierarchy of importance, or holiness. This is holy and that is not, therefore the holy object is better than the profane. If we are to be a holy people seeking to imitate God, it would follow then that anyone who does not do this or believe this is somehow less holy than us. This is a dangerous path to walk down, for by devaluing something, or even worse, someone, we take the first steps toward allowing horrible things to happen, whether that be destruction of a thing, or a person. We can rationalise it for they are less than we are, and therefore not worthy of the care and respect something of higher value would receive.
Most often, the opposite of holy is said to be profane. The dichotomy established is a black and white scale: Holy or unholy, sacred or profane and better or worse. Something holy could be made profane through an act of desecration, but something profane could never be made holy. The object will never attain a higher spiritual level than where it is. The body will always be profane as will the conduct of business. However, what if there is another way to see the world? What if it is not so clear cut?
Rav Avraham Yitzhak Hakohen Kook teaches an astounding different take on this categorisation: “There is nothing unholy; there is only the holy and the not yet holy.” An object or activity is not limited to its present status. Thus, it is not holy is good and profane is bad and not even holy and profane are just different, it is holy is good and not yet holy is working on or potential for good. We as a people are commanded to increase the level of holiness in the world, not to categorise and minimise it, but raise it up and expand it. Through study of our heritage and living by its morals and ethics and laws, there is no reason why the profane or mundane activities of food, business and love could not be made holy, just as praying, Shabbat and fasting are. We seek to be holy and make those around us holy, because we seek to be like God. We seek to imitate God not by separating things to make them holy, but instilling in everyone and everything around us a sense of holiness. We seek to understand that there is potential in all whom we meet and all that we do, for we can be holy people.
I pray that we see the inherent potential of all around us and to not allow us or our peers to become trapped in their current states, but to always seek to achieve, grow and attain new heights of holiness.