“What would you like to be when you grow up?” My schoolteacher asked us that question. We must have been about eight. It was a state school and we came from a variety of homes. Most of us had no idea what career we might eventually follow.
Some of the boys automatically assumed they would be like their fathers, train drivers, firemen, grocers, whatever. The girls thought they would be like their mothers, “a lady with a baby”. I have no memory of what I said, though I do remember the discussion. I know that a Catholic boy told the teacher, “Sir, I’d like to be a saint!”
I realise why it is this week that the conversation came to my mind, because there are translations of the word k’doshim, which is the name of the sidra, that render it “saints” – K’doshim tih’yu, “You shall be saints” (Lev. 19:2). The problem is that k’doshim does not mean saints, either in the Roman Catholic or in the more general sense. No: it means “holy people”.
Of course when I was eight I didn’t know what “holy” meant: I knew I revered our rabbi, and when I was very small I even thought he might be God, but I had no concept of holiness and I don’t think the rabbi would have attached the word to himself anyhow. Of course, being Jewish I didn’t know about saints either, though when I passed a church I saw that they were often named for saints.
Years passed, and I learnt some Torah. I discovered that the best ambition one can have is to lead a decent, honest, upright life, whatever one’s professional label – train driver, teacher, butcher, baker or candlestick maker.
When we were very young we fully expected to grow up and live for ever. Now I know I won’t live for ever, but I can still grow in the categories of k’dushah about which the sidra speaks.