The Kohanim, because of their idealism and self sacrifice, were rewarded with the service in the Mishkan and Beit Hamikdash. However, with their position comes added responsibility.
“They shall be holy to their G-d and they shall not desecrate the name of their G-d” (Vayikra 21:6).
Had the pasuk just said the commandment to be holy, we would have understood that was an expectation that the Kohen would accomplish this, but that he would suffer no negative consequences had he failed to achieve this Kedusha. However, since the Torah added the second statement, “and don’t desecrate Hashem’s name,” it is telling us that failure to fulfill the ideal of sanctity leads not only to a vacuum of holiness, but the actual desecration of the Divine Name.
What the Torah is telling us is that mediocrity is not a characteristic appropriate for the service of G-d. G-d gave us the ability to excel in His service and when one does not attempt to operate at his best, he is desecrating the Divine Name. If an individual is not striving to elevate and improve himself, then he will be automatically descending into complacency, mediocrity and negative behavior. In other words, if a person is not growing and staying the same, he is actually lowering himself. This is taught by the Kohen but it applies to every Jew.
Shlomo Hamelech gives an example of this in Mishlei when he describes that he walked passed the field of a lazy man and it was overgrown with thorns, its surface had been covered with bramble, and its stone wall was broken down. Shlomo Hamelech realized that if this guy does not do anything to improve his fence then it won’t just stay a broken fence but his unattended field will eventually become overgrown to the point that it becomes a wasteland. If this fellow will ever want to fix it, he will have to do much more work to restore it than he would have had to do maintain it.
Each of us operates at a different level in Divine service. Moreover, each has different talents and natures that require cultivation. The Torah’s lesson is that in life there is no such thing as staying in the same place. If one does not grow, he becomes “overgrown with thorns.” But there is great significance to small, simple advance. Any positive growth, whether it be Torah study to better understand Judaism, forging a connection with G-d through prayer or performing acts of kindness motivated by the desire to emulate His ceaseless kindness, all contribute to the improvement of one’s Divine connection. Everyone at his own level can strive for greater sanctity and excellence in his relationship with G-d.
The important thing to remember is that not only must we always be striving for excellence, but any movement upwards is considered success. The “ikkar” is that we are constantly striving upward and onward.