You Are Not Special. You Are Holy.
by Rabbi Evan Moffic
Are you special? A Massachusetts English teacher recently made headlines when he answered this question with a resounding “No!”
Speaking to graduates at an elite high school, David McCullough countered the words of Mr. Rogers and, for the younger generation, the friendly green dinosaur Barney. He said to the graduates, “You are not special. You are not exceptional … You are one person in a planet of 6.8 billion people.”
Why would McCullough say these words? Because he believes them and feels they are important to say. And why say them at a graduation address? Perhaps because he had a captive audience and a chance to make headlines.
The more important question is, “Is he right?”
Yes and no.
He is right because when everyone is special, no one is special. “Special” becomes a common denominator that loses any meaning or uniqueness. A rabbinic colleague once told me of a time when members of his congregation began to chide him because he referred to every weekly biblical reading as “special.” Special had become normal.
McCullough is also right because no one is without limitations. Some interpret “special” as above the law or superior to everyone else. “The rules don’t apply to me,” some think, “because I am special.” McCullough is right to chastise those who think this way.
In the Image of God: For people of faith, McCullough is wrong. A core teaching of the Bible is that every human being is created in the image of God. Every person is sacred and special. This truth is brought to life in beautiful Jewish parable. The parable compares a human being who creates coins to God who creates human beings.
When a coinmaker makes coins, they all look the same. When God makes human beings, they all look different. Each of us is different. Hence, each of us is special.
We Are Holy: Perhaps we can replace the word “special” with the word “holy.” In Hebrew the word for special and holy is kadosh. To be kadosh is to be set apart, to be special, to be different than others. It does not imply superiority or power or special privileges.
Rather, it demands responsibility. We are special when we choose to be special. When we choose to act on our unique gifts and talents and realize them in the world.
Do you think the word “special” has lost its importance? What does the word “holy” mean to you?