The Torah in Parashat Kedoshim (20:7) commands, “Ve-hitkadishtem vi-hyitem kedoshim” – “You shall sanctify yourselves, and you shall be sacred,” reiterating the imperative stated earlier, in Parashat Shemini (11:44.)
The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni 603) notes the Torah’s special emphasis in presenting this command, repeating “ve-hitkadishtem” and “vi-hyitem kedoshim.” Whereas the concept of sanctity is repeated twice in this command, the message delivered to the Babylonian Emperor Nevukhadnetzar (Daniel 4:14) makes mention of sanctity only once in reference to the angels in the upper worlds – “u-meimar kadishin she’eilta.” The Midrash explains: “In the upper worlds, among which the evil inclination is not found, they have but one sanctity… But in the lower worlds, since the evil inclination is found among them, if only two sanctities would be effective…” At first glance, this means that here, in our world, given our natural human vices and sinful instincts, we need repeated emphasis of the obligation to live Godly, spiritual lives, whereas the heavenly beings, who, quite obviously, do not have negative impulses, do not require such repetition.
However, Rav Shmuel Borenstein of Sochatchov, in Sheim Mi-Shmuel, explains the Midrash’s remark differently. He notes the famous verse in the beginning of Parashat Kedoshim (19:2) which commands, “You shall be sacred, for I, the Lord your God, am sacred.” The Sheim Mi-Shmuel explains: “Just as God, may He be blessed, is unlimited, without any boundary or enclosure, so shall you be sacred, without any precise measure or boundary.” There is no fixed definition of the requirement to be “sacred”; its parameters are unlimited, just as God is unlimited. The command of “kedoshim tiheyu” (“You shall be sacred”), the Sheim Mi-Shmuel writes, demands that we work to become greater than we currently are. The Torah emphasizes that this command was presented “el kol adat Benei Yisrael” – “to the entire congregation of the Israelites,” and is thus relevant to each and every person. As such, the Sheim Mi-Shmuel writes, the practical requirements of this command must, necessarily, depend on every individual. Clearly, the Torah cannot demand the same level of “sanctity” from youths in the early stages of their spiritual development as it does from elder scholars who have spent their lives immersed in studying and teaching. This command, then, requires every person at every stage to always reach higher, to work toward spiritual advancement, one small step at a time. This, the Sheim Mi-Shmuel suggests, is the meaning of the verse, “Ve-hitkadishtem vi-hyitem kedoshim.” It commands that even after we’ve achieved “ve-hitkadishtem,” and achieved a level of sanctity, “vi-hyitem kedoshim” – we must continue moving forward and reaching higher.
Accordingly, the Sheim Mi-Shmuel writes, when the Midrash contrasts this command with the description of the angels, it alludes to one of the most important distinctions between human beings and angels – the distinction between the human capacity for growth, and the static nature of angels. The angels are “sacred,” but have no ability to progress. We, however, even after achieving “sanctity,” are able and expected to achieve even higher spiritual levels. The command of “kedoshim tiheyu,” according to this approach, means precisely that we must always work to progress further in our spiritual development. Just as God has no limit, we never reach an endpoint in our religious growth. As much as we’ve achieved, and as gratified as we should feel over our achievements, we are to always set our sights higher, and work towards continued growth, each and every day.