Parashat Tesaveh- Timing is Everything
The Torah in Parashat Tesaveh describes the Bigdeh Kehuna, the special garments worn by the Kohanim. In addition to garments worn by all Kohanim, the Torah requires making especially magnificent garments for the Kohen Gadol, including a beautiful, ornate breastplate laden with precious stones.
The Gemara in Masechet Shabbat tells a fascinating story relevant to this Parasha. A gentile man once walked outside a Yeshiva and heard the Rabbi teaching his students about the Bigdeh Kehuna. The man heard the teacher describe the spectacularly beautiful garments worn by the Kohen Gadol, and he decided he wanted to become a Kohen Gadol. So, he went to the house of the great sage Shammai, and said that he wished to convert to Judaism so that he could be the Kohen Gadol and wear the magnificent garments of the high priest.
Shammai was known for having little patience or tolerance for nonsense. He angrily rejected the man’s request and chased him from his home.
Still undeterred, the man went to the other great Rabbi at the time, Hillel, who was renowned for his patience and indulgence. Hillel warmly welcomed the man and agreed to lead him through the process of conversion.
After the man converted to Judaism, Hillel said to him, "A person cannot become king until he studies proper royal protocol. In order to become Kohen Gadol, you need to learn Torah." The man agreed, and began studying.
Over the course of the studies, he came across the verse, "Ha’zar Ha’kareb Yumat," which warns that a "foreigner," or non-Kohen, who performs the priestly rites is liable to death. The convert was frightened by the prospect that he would be liable to death if he becomes a Kohen. And so he ran to Hillel and asked to whom the verse refers.
"Even David, King of Israel," Hillel explained, "is liable to death if he performs the rites assigned to the Kohanim."
The man realized that if even King David has no right to serve as a Kohen, then certainly he, a convert, cannot become a Kohen. He humbly accepted this fate, continued studying, and became an accomplished Torah scholar.
The question arises, why didn’t Hillel make the man aware from the outset that he is barred from serving as Kohen Gadol? Why did he go along with this person’s plan, waiting for him to discover on his own that he has no possibility of becoming Kohen Gadol?
Some Rabbis explain that when it comes to religious growth, timing is everything. When the man first approached Hillel, Hillel understood that in his current state of enthusiasm over the Bigdeh Kehuna, he was not prepared to accept the message of "Ha’zar Ha’kareb Yumat." At that moment, it would be futile to explain to him that the duties and privileges of the priesthood are reserved for the descendants of Aharon. The man at that point was simply not in the mindset to hear or accept this message. Hillel thus wisely waited for the man to come to this realization on his own. He perceptively knew that when the convert arrives at this information through his own, voluntary efforts, rather than through instruction and lecturing, he would be prepared to accept it.
This is a crucial lesson relevant to education, parenting, and our efforts to influence the people around us. People are not often receptive to criticism and haranguing. They are simply not prepared to accept it. Very often, we are better off keeping silent, giving the person time, and waiting for him to grow and develop, to come to the understanding on his own. We cannot immediately jump to criticize and correct everything we see that is wrong. We must wait for the opportune moment, for the time when the person is receptive to change, or wait for the person to learn the lesson on his own, at his own pace, in a manner that is right for him.
Hillel serves as a great model of patience and wisdom in education. He shows us that religious growth is a gradual process, and we must patiently allow each person and each child to grow and develop at his own pace.