To Sir, With Love is a classic ‘60s film that tells the story of a newly hired teacher attempting to educate a class known for its unruly, incorrigible, and sometimes violent behavior. After some failure, he implements a new strategy: to treat them as adults and allow them to discuss issues of their own choosing.

As adults, he insists that the students use proper forms of address (both toward him and among themselves) and take pride in their appearance and deportment.

It’s an uphill climb, but gradually the students are won over and find themselves genuinely changed.

Indeed, so much of how we behave is closely linked to how we perceive ourselves.

“Be Holy!”

Parshat Kedoshim contains many diverse mitzvot, but it begins with a particularly ambitious command:

Speak to the entire congregation of the Children of Israel, and say to them, “You shall be holy, for I, the L‑rd, your G‑d, am holy.”1

What does it mean, “You shall be holy?”

The Midrash comments:

“You shall be holy”: can one think that they can be holy like G‑d? The Torah therefore tells us, “for I, the L‑rd, your G‑d, am holy”; [that is,] My holiness transcends your holiness.2

The simple understanding of this reading is that the Midrash is filling in between the lines of the verse: “Be holy—but don’t think you can be holy like Me—because My holiness surpasses yours.”

But isn’t that obvious? No kidding, G‑d is holier than us! Why would the Midrash need to tell us that?

The great Ruzhiner Rebbe, Rabbi Yisrael Friedman,3 played on the words of the Midrash and came up with an opposite theme (it works better in the Hebrew, so let's read it with translation):

“קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ—you shall be holy.” G‑d is telling the Jew that he or she can be holy and G‑dly.

“יכול כמוני—it is possible to be holy like G‑d’s holiness!” In this interpretation, the Ruzhiner reads this line as a statement, not a question.4

How? “תִּלמוֹד לומר—train yourself to say . . .”5

“כי קדוש אני—I am holy.”

This reading provides tremendous insight as to how we can maintain our footing on the good side.

It all comes down to how you view yourself.

If you don’t think much of yourself, then why indeed should you hold yourself to any sort of standard? Go ahead and do whatever you want; who cares what anyone thinks?

But if you view yourself as someone worthy of respect and dignity, a person for whom untoward things are simply unbecoming, then there’s no choice but to avoid them.

The Chassidim of old would express it in three golden Yiddish words, “es past nisht!” which translates (albeit not exactly) into, “I’m better than that!”

Mordechai Liepler, one of the greatest disciples of the first Rebbe of Chabad, once remarked that his pride enabled him to resist the urge to succumb to temptations. When his surprised friends asked him what he meant, he explained: “When I travel for business to the great markets in S. Petersburg and see all the shiny objects there and start to feel temptation, I tell myself, ‘Mottel! You’re a scholar, one of the greatest followers of the Rebbe. How can you stoop to anything so low?!’ ”6

Children of the King

This is something we can all emulate. While we may not be eminent scholars like Mordechai Liepler, we do possess tremendous worth. The very fact that G‑d decided that you should be born and placed you in this world with a mandate of Torah and mitzvot means that He has great belief in you. You may think you’re just another Tom, Dick, or Harry, but if you take a moment to think about it, you’ll realize that you’re actually a child of G‑d with a tremendous task.

That should get you going. You’re a Really Big Deal, and anything unseemly is simply beneath you. Yes, you should take yourself a bit seriously, armed with the knowledge that G‑d Himself expects you to deliver. You don’t have time to waste on distractions. You’re going to stick with better, more meaningful matters.

All parents know this simple truth: the way to raise children and encourage a healthy and productive lifestyle is to pump up their self-esteem. To inculcate within them from a very young age that they are important, consequential, and as such, their actions aren’t meaningless shots in the wind.

You matter very much, and you possess an abundance of value.

Now go ahead and act on it. Make your next few moves meaningful, purposeful, and something you’ll be proud of. Don’t fall into the lazy trap of, “Eh, who cares anyway, I’ll just do what I want.” There’s a lot riding on you, for you are holy, holy, holy.

Hey, G‑d Himself told you so.