I had a student who told me, “My father was an atheist and the most moral man I ever knew. I don’t believe that had he been a believer, he would have been any a better person.”
I asked him, “But do you think your father might have been more holy? Because our ultimate mission in life to become holy.”
The meditation that is recited prior to doing a mitzvah (commandment) is “Blessed Be You, G- d … Who has made me holy through the commandments.” It says holy. Not good. Not more moral. Now, of course, you can’t holy is you are not moral, but one must differentiate between the objectives and the goal.
Morality is — without question — a prerequisite step on the ladder but it is not the final rung in our ladder. Rather we aspire to holiness. Holiness is ultimate wholeness.
Often people’s morality comes out of weakness. They don’t do the right thing because they want to. They do it because of a social consensus which they are afraid to violate. If they were to violate it, they would be considered politically incorrect, socially unaccepted, and maybe even punished.
Now if that is the foundation of morality, then morality is weakness. It’s giving in.
If morality is simply a function of what the community decided on is good, and you just go with the flow, then you are weak. You are afraid not to conform, not to be different, and you are willing to chuck your values (should they be different than the social consensus) because you’re scared. Is that morality?
Holiness has none of the weakness of this kind of morality. Holiness is the ultimate wholeness. Holiness is not surrendering to society’s consensus, but asserting my “self” with the strength of being connected to the Great Self, the One Self we share with all—G-d.
And you know what the irony is? When I act out of ultimate wholeness, I am really being selfish. My goodness to you is very selfish because you are a part of my self. How can I not be good to you? How can my right hand not be good to my left hand? We are part of the same whole.
See, there are two kinds of selfishness. There is holy selfishness and there is unholy selfishness. Unholy selfishness is when I experience myself as separate from you and therefore, I exploit you for my personal little needs. Holy selfishness is when I would never exploit you, because you are so much a part of myself, and we are so much a part of the One Great Self — God. And then we are all whole in One. When I know that hurting you is hurting myself and hurting my self is hurting you, I wouldn’t do it. This is a high level of selfishness. This is not a bad selfishness. This is a beautiful selfishness. This isn’t weakness. This is strength. This is the power of self. Holy selfishness flows from your connection to the One Great Self was all Share.
“Let’s take an example. Sherry and Judy are walking down the street. They see this old man dressed in ragged clothing. He clearly hasn’t had a shower in weeks. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out his life is not a picnic. So both Sherry and Judy dig deep in their pockets and each one pulls out ten bucks, and they each give it to him.
Sherry did an act of morality and Judy did an act of holiness. Morality is motivated by social conditioning, social approval, perhaps guilt and embarrassment of how much I have; maybe a hope that what goes around comes around, maybe a desire to protect my own wealth and, perhaps a hope for some reward. For Sherry, it’s worth the sacrifice. And all of that is great, but holiness is more.
Holiness is motivated by the deepest source of my “self.” It is a natural, spontaneous uncalculated expression of “self,” without consideration of reward or punishment. It is self-evident. If I saw myself on the street, I would give to myself. Well, Judy just saw an aspect of herself on the street. And of course, she gave.
Now Sherry’s morality is great. Sherry’s morality is a step toward holiness and is included within holiness, but holiness is much greater.
Holiness takes us to the peak of ourselves, to the apex where all selves meet, where the more you love your self in this true sense, the more you love G-d and everyone else. The goal is to be whole in One with everyone.