Parashat Emor: The Trickle Down Effect
Parashat Emor begins with the special laws that apply to the Kohanim. The commentators noted that the Torah opens this section with a seemingly redundant phrase: "G-d said to Moshe: Speak to the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and say to them…" Surprisingly, G-d instructs Moshe to "speak to the Kohanim" and "say to them" that they are bound by the special laws of the priesthood, suggesting that these laws are to be spoken to the Kohanim twice, and the obvious question arises as to why this is the case.
The Sages answered that the second phrase – "and say to them" – was added "Le’hazhir He’gedolim Al Ha’ketanim," to require the adult Kohanim to ensure that their children also comply with these rules. This instruction is repeated to indicate that the Kohanim must not only obey these special laws, but also see to it that their children do the same.
While this explanation answers the question regarding the redundancy in this verse, we cannot overlook the fact that the text here makes no mention at all of the children. This statement refers to the instructions given only to the Kohanim themselves about their compliance with their laws. Yet, somehow, this repetition also speaks of the successful transmission of these laws to the next generation, to the Kohanim’s offspring.
The reason why this is so touches upon one of the fundamentals of parenting: actions speak much louder than words. The way the Torah admonishes the Kohanim to ensure their children’s compliance with these laws is by repeating the requirement that they themselves comply with these laws – because that is the most effective educational strategy. Preaching and scolding children has far less of an effect than teaching by personal example. If we want our children to grow with an appreciation of and commitment to tradition, we have to set an example for them to follow. We have to show them just how important tradition is to us, how far we ourselves go to observe the Torah, and there is then a good chance that they will follow suit.
The story is told of a certain Rabbi who ate breakfast with his family and then left to the yeshiva where he taught. Upon arriving in the yeshiva, he realized that he had not recited Birkat Ha’mazon. The house was not a short walk from his house, but he nevertheless put on his jacket, went out into the winter cold, and made the trek home. His son was surprised to see his father come in at that hour, and the father explained to him that he needed to return home to recite Birkat Ha’mazon.
The Hinuch (training in Misvot) that was achieved by the Rabbi that morning was more than could possibly be achieved by any amount of lecturing and haranguing about the importance of Birkat Ha’mazon. The child saw his father’s commitment to this Misva, and this spoke much louder than any words.
This applies not only to child-rearing, but also more generally to our desire to influence the people around us and have a positive impact upon the Jewish people and the world. When we look around, it is hard not to notice the major spiritual ills plaguing contemporary Jewry, even within our relatively narrow circle of Orthodox Jewry. Many things upset us, as well they should, issues such as laxity in Shabbat and Kashrut observance, immodesty, dishonesty, Lashon Ha’ra, and so many others. We must remember that if we want to bring about change, the most powerful weapon in our arsenal is the personal example we set. We will not change the Jewish people by complaining and protesting. Change happens slowly and gradually, as a result of people seeing inspiring examples of proper conduct.
The Hebrew word for "influence" is "Hashpa’a," which comes from the same root as the Hebrew word for "incline" ("Shipu’a"). Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky (1891-1986) explained that influence works like drops of liquid trickling down an incline. It happens slowly and gradually. When we set a positive example through the way we conduct ourselves, we trigger a "trickle down effect" which will, with time, have an impact. Going around criticizing and protesting will accomplish little, if anything, and, more often than not, will have the very opposite effect of what we want. If we want to have Hashpa’a, we need to have it "trickle down" by setting an example that we want the people around us to follow.