Every person has their own individualistic path through life, and they similarly have their own personal goals, whether that be short-term like vacation planning or long-term like forging a career path. Yet, every person must ask themselves, “What is my ultimate goal?” If our actions are isolated to one-dimensional accomplishments, then our efforts can feel meaningless and our lives purposeless. To some, this feeling may be felt in Jewish living, that mitzvot (commandments) feel empty and arbitrary. In Parshat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, we grasp a new understanding of the essence of our lives.
In the parsha, Hashem says to Bnei Yisrael, “You shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I am the Lord, your God” (Vayikra 20:7). This pasuk reveals the underlying mission we aspire to achieve: holiness. Rabbi David Aaron first introduced me to this idea, explaining that holiness is the objective for each and every person; Hashem wants us to be holy.
Holiness, as Rav Aaron explains from the deeper teachings of Kabbalah, is infusing God-consciousness into our lives by reawakening ourselves to realize that we are neshamot (souls) and divinely connected to Hashem. In this model, we want to become self-aware and live the reality that we are divine expressions of Hashem– we are not Hashem, but He is the source of our existence and consciousness. Furthermore, holiness demands that we see every single person is divinely connected to Hashem, thus we all share our Source, the Soul of our souls.
“The goal of education is to give one the tools to actualize one’s ideal self; its main focus must be to transform one into a compassionate and honest person,” Rav Kook writes, “From the ancient days of Avraham calling out to God, we have inherited the principle that the more one is connected to God, the greater will be one’s compassion and honesty; it will lead to greater individual and social well-being” (Igrot Hare’iyah 1, p. 218, as translated by Rabbi Ari Ze’ev Schwartz in “The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook,” p. 116).
Here, Rav Kook beautifully illustrates how God-consciousness brings us to act in accordance with our “ideal self.” This can be understood to show how more developed holiness leads to a greater depth of goodness in our actions, for the bettering of ourselves and everyone around us.
When we work toward mentally and physically portraying our relationship with Hashem, we move further along the journey of holiness. To be holy, as some may believe, is not limited to an old, learned rabbi with a wispy snow-white beard or a woman hidden behind stacks of Tehillim (psalms).
To be holy is to commit ourselves to ascending the ladder of our lives– whether that be through business, school exams, relationships, or mundane, day-to-day encounters–with the intention of imbuing our actions with the intention of bringing Hashem into the world, so to speak.
Days, months, and years can pass by, and we can feel like our lives are on treadmills, moving forward but ultimately standing still. We are pieces of Hashem, and in the depths of our selves, we truly want to portray that reality. Our ultimate goal is to become holy–wholly ourselves, wholly connected to the world, and wholly in-touch with Hashem. Living mitzvot and following the word of Hashem brings us closer in our endless pursuit to become more and more holy.