Just Follow the Leader
By Rabbi Label Lam
And HASHEM said to Moshe: ‘Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and
you shall say to them: “To a (dead) person he shall not become impure among
his people…”’ (Vayikra 21:1)
Say to the Kohanim…and you shall say to them: The Torah uses the double
expression of “say” followed by “and you shall say” to caution the adults
with regard to the minors. (Rashi)
We understand that the Kohanim-The Priestly cast are to play an important
role as living examples of holiness and purity for the entire nations.
Therefore they are saddled with extra restrictions and responsibilities. Now
we also discover here that the Kohain parents must make it clear to their
children and see to it that they maintain their spiritual innocence as well.
How are the Kohanim to accomplish this second task? Where is the manual for
success in relating the holy work of one generation to the next?
The Gemorah (Yevamos 114A) indicates that the first “say” is directed at the
adults to remain pure and be distant from contaminants while the 2nd “say to
them” is a directive to the elders to see to it that the young also abide.
How is that at all helpful?
Whenever a statement in Pirke’ Avos is introduced with the words, “He used
to say”-“Hu Haya Omer” the Rav Bartenura, explains it to mean that he said
it frequently and repeatedly. It was not a one- time statement, a quotable
moment at an inaugural address. Another explanation can be gleaned from the
opposite of the following bizarre example:
A young doctor gave an amazingly clear presentation about the dangers
associated with cigarette smoking. Everyone left the auditorium so inspired,
informed, and impressed that it would be hard to imagine that anyone who
witnessed the talk could ever touch one of those tobacco sticks. Yet the
very next day that same doctor was spotted in the street dragging
shamelessly on a cigarette.
When approached and reproached with both shock and dismay he responded in a
cavalier fashion, in much the same way Bertrand Russel the world famous
ethics professor did when he was caught in an uncompromising situation with
a co-ed, he is reported to have retorted, “If I was a math professor, would
you expect me to be a triangle?” So said this doctor, “What do you want from
me? That was a lecture!” Whenever the Mishne says, “Hu Haya Omer-He used to
say” it may be read more literally, “He was what he spoke!”
In the 1st paragraph of “Shema” we recite twice daily, “and these words that
I command you today you shall place on your heart”, and then it states, “and
you shall teach them to them to your children…” Why in that order? Children
read the heart! They know if we are whole or half-hearted in what we preach.
How else can they know whether we have first internalized the message we are
delivering besides through the tone?
In the 2nd Paragraph of “Shema” which is also on the post of every door in a
Jewish home it states, “Educate them to speak in them (words of Torah)”, and
now comes the “how”, “with your sitting in your house and with your going on
your way, and with your lying down and rising up.” How do we teach them the
way? The way we go about our business speaks louder than any lecture.
Children can instruct us more than adults on this subject. When asked, “How
do you know whom to marry, 10 year old Alan answered, “You got to find
somebody who likes the same stuff. Like, if you like sports, she should like
it that you like sports, and she should keep the chips and dip coming.” A
middle aged man I was learning with decided that to honor his son’s Bar
Mitzva he would begin to put on Tefillin. His son turned to him with all
earnest and said, “Dad, I want to do just like you! When I’m 46 I’m going to
start putting on Tefillin too.” We are all teaching by what we say and do
and they just follow the leader.
DvarTorah, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.