Many people expect inspiration to come from above. “If G‑d really wanted me to follow the Torah,” they argue, “He would plant within my heart a burning desire to do so.” “If G‑d felt it important that I dedicate time to Torah study,” they insist, “then I would be naturally drawn to the wisdom of the Torah.” In effect they are saying, “If G‑d wanted me to be holy, He would have made me holy from the womb, without any effort necessary on my part.” When they think about holiness, they think of G‑d descending on Mount Sinai to inspire a people who could not inspire themselves.

True, this is one form of holiness. The highest form of holiness, however, is the one that is manmade.

At the culmination of the book of Leviticus, the Torah discusses two categories of holy animals which must be offered in the Temple: the first is the bechor,1 the firstborn animal; and the second, the last offering of the book of Leviticus, is the maaser,2 the tithe.

These two offerings represent the two forms of holiness. The first is imparted by G‑d; the second is manmade.

The bechor is sacred by virtue of being born first. No human intervention is necessary. As Maimonides explains:

It is a mitzvah to sanctify a firstborn kosher animal and say: “Behold, this is holy,” as the verse states: “Every firstborn shall you sanctify unto the L‑rd your G‑d.” Even if the owner did not sanctify it, it is sanctified as a matter of course. It is sanctified upon its emergence from the womb.3

The last offering of the book, the maaser, is not sacred until the Jew sanctifies it himself. As described by Maimonides:

He should gather all of the lambs or all of the calves born that year in a corral. He then makes a small entrance, so that two cannot emerge at the same time. He positions their mothers outside the corral, and they bleat, so that the lambs will hear their voices and leave the corral to meet them. This is necessary, as implied by the verse which states, “All that passes beneath the staff,” i.e., they must pass on their own initiative; one should not remove them by hand.

As they leave the corral one by one, the owner begins to count them with a staff: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine. The tenth animal that departs, whether male or female, whether unblemished or blemished, should be marked with red paint, and the owner should say: “This is the tithe.”4

Of all the Temple offerings described in Leviticus, the book culminates with the maaser offering—specifically because its holiness is dependent on man. The person does not expect G‑d to inspire him. The person is required to take steps to foster holiness. He cannot rely on heaven to send him a firstborn, an already-assembled dose of inspiration. Here he must gather his lambs and calves, he must count, he must apply the red paint. It’s in his hands. By doing so, he realizes that the ultimate holiness is created only when he is the one generating the inspiration.

Don’t wait for the inspiration to come from above and fill your heart with a passion for G‑d. Even if you are not in the mood, count your sheep and give one to G‑d: take some time out of your day and sanctify it, use it to pray, to study Torah, to do a mitzvah. It may not be as dramatic as the holiness that comes from above, but it is what G‑d finds most meaningful.5