I had a student that once came into my office and said, “My father who passed away was an atheist and a fantastic human being. He was such a moral human being. He was such a good human being. I don’t believe that had he been a believer, he would have been any better. He was the epitome of being a good person”.
So I told him that it isn’t the goal of life to merely be a moral person. There is a lot more to it. Morality is important, but morality is a stage in the journey. The destination is holiness — being whole. Morality is an aspect of that, but it is not that.
So I asked him, “Do you think your father might have been more holy?” That shocked him, he never even thought about holiness. What is holiness?
Morality is — without question — a very serious step on the ladder of life but it is not the final rung. Rather we should aspire to be holy.
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 in big trouble. 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 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 One Self—G-d.
Ironically 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.
Morality wants you to be selfless. It wants you to overcome your selfishness, because only then can you surrender to the social standard. But is that realistic? People are selfish. Morality, without holiness, is heading for bankruptcy.
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 my-self, and we are so much a part of the One Great Self. The goal is to be whole in One.
Hurting you is hurting my-self. 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 true self. Holy selfishness flows from your connection to the One Great Self—the I am G-d.
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.
Morality is a step towards holiness, but holiness is much greater. Holiness is not about simply becoming a better human being. A lot of people don’t understand that. They say, “I never hurt anybody. I’m a good person. That’s the only thing that counts.”
Being moral is a good objective, but being holy is our ultimate goal. 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 everyone else.