You guys know me. In the spirit of Chassidic teaching and perspective I like to view holiness within the lens of life, always seeking integration and synthesis, connection is key, finding G-dliness within the everyday and ordinary. So it’s a bit jolting to discover that many commentaries (including Chassidus!) understand the opening verse in Parsha Kedoshim, “Be Holy for I am holy” to be about separation, to be set apart, to be different.
Yes yes, the ideal goal for holiness is still to engage and integrate and permeate all our lives. But it’s important to remember that holiness is different. It’s separate, it’s not same the same as the ordinary and everyday.
This tug-of-war is a constant question. Do we distance ourselves, or do we engage? Is this something that is transformable or not? This is true of holiness, business dealings, and also in relationships. It takes wisdom to know when its best to invest and involve oneself, and when its OK or best to be separate, distinct and different.
One of the blessings and curses of our generation is how mainstream and normal Jewish people and Israel has become. When we came to campus 18 years ago, Israel was still the Holy Land. This was pre-Birthright, and going to Israel was a unique other-worldly experience for most. Today, so many of you have already or will soon experience Israel first hand. And as one of the architects of birthright Israel once told me, a big goal of birthright is to show students how normal Israel is. It’s not all historic or holy sites, but a land of beaches and bars, hiking and hotels. It’s like anyplace else, only its Israel.
So its much harder for today’s generation to be different. There’s a video of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin speaking of his time with the Rebbe years ago (then as Ambassador to the US), and the subject of their conversations was a biblical verse: “The People of Israel who dwell alone.” or see the video of Rabin speaking here.