24 January 2010


The third of 19 brief meditations on the 19 blessings of the Amidah.


We will distinguish your name in this world just as it is distinguished in the highest heavens, as it is written by your prophet: "And they call out to one another and say: 'Holy, holy, holy is the Eternal of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.' [Isaiah. 6:3] Those facing them praise God saying: 'Blessed be the Presence of the Eternal in his place.' [Ezekiel. 3:12] And in your Sacred Words it is written, saying, 'The Eternal reigns forever, your God, O Zion, throughout all generations. Hallelujah.' [Psalms 146:10] Throughout all generations we will declare your greatness, and to all eternity we will proclaim your holiness. Your praise, our God, shall never depart from our mouth, for you are a great and holy God and Sovereign. Blessed are you, Eternal, the holy God. You are holy, and your name is holy, and holy beings praise you daily. Selah. Blessed are you, Eternal, the holy God.

The problem is the word "holy." Who has the time to be holy? Who has the patience? Who has the hubris? Better to say "unique" or "distinct" and even, in the right context, "separate." For though it's true that the quoted Biblical texts in this prayer evoke ancient Judaism's understanding of the role played by angels or heavenly hosts, the Sages imagined that the angels were in fact jealous of the fallible and imperfect existence of we humans and as much as they floated around God's heavenly throne, secretly conspired to live, mortally, on earth. Wim Wenders "Wings of Desire" captured this quite well on film.

Not holy, but good. Not holy, but just. Not holy, but compassionate. Such actions create a life of distinction, a life unlike other lives, separate, if you will, in its insistence on performing acts of lovingkindness that make the world a more habitable place.

Shabbat Kodesh is holy only when we observe it and in so doing elevate rest and our appreciation for creation. Reciting the Kaddish elevates the memory of those who have died. The marriage ceremony, kiddushin, creates a sense of distinction in relationship, elevating the human aspiration for companionship from beyond the physical to the moral and ethical. Each is as much about uniqueness and a willingness to create separation, distinction, as it is about "holiness."

Holy is not first, it's last. It can only come when we distinguish ourselves in our actions, when we build a world foundation of goodness, justice and compassion.

No comments: