What is the meaning of holiness? Is it the same as morality? If it is not, how is it different? Read chapter 19, verses 1 and 2 of this week’s double-parshah that includes “you shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy.” Consider the following:
The renowned Lutheran theologian Rudolf Otto (Germany 1869 – 1937) rejected any attempt to identify holiness with morality, and sought to define the true, unadulterated nature of holiness free of any ethical element. While the ethical and the good might be a part of it, “holiness” was its own separate category, separate entity.
R. Max Kadushin (United States 1895 – 1980) rejected Otto’s approach to the concept of holiness, viewing the ethical component as essential to the Jewish conception of holiness: “Some have declared it to be an experience entirely separate from any other… that has no relation whatever to normal experience…Our study disproves this contention, so far as rabbinic experience is concerned. The concept of Kedushah… connotes the idea of imitating God in being merciful and gracious; it demands the withdrawal from what is impure and defiling – from idolatry, adultery, and the shedding of blood (Max Kadushin, The Rabbinic Mind, 176).
So, is our holiness and that of God’s the same? If so, what are we doing when we “imitate God”? And how does being commanded to be holy relate to the other commandments? Is it “more” than them? Is it a state of mind or of being, and if so, is that impinging on our free-will; that we have to be holy on top of just doing the mitzvot? Come to shul this Shabbat and maybe you’ll find out more!