Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky zt”l was once asked how a person should educate his children to recite blessings before eating. Rav Yaakov replied, “I really don’t instruct or teach my children to recite blessings. My children constantly hear my wife and I reciting blessings slowly and meticulously, and they learn to say blessings the same way.”
A few years ago, before I was married, I met Rav Avrohom Chaim Feuer, our (then) family’s Rav, in the parking lot of one of Monsey’s shopping malls. It was the week of Parshas Naso and he related the following thought:
In Parshas Shemos, the Malbim comments that there are three words the Torah uses in reference to a stick: makel, mishenes, and mateh. He then explains the fundamental difference between each word. A makel refers to a stick one uses to goad and urge, much like a shepherd uses a stick to guide his sheep. Mish’an is an expression of leaning and support. It is similar to a cane which one uses to maintain balance. Finally, a mateh is analogous to a baton, a stick waved in the air in order to direct and instruct.
With this in mind, the Malbim elucidates an exchange that transpired between Moshe and Hashem, as it were, at the commencement of Moshe’s tenure as leader of Klal Yisroel. When Hashem instructed Moshe to convey His message to Klal Yisroel that the redemption was imminent, Moshe was hesitant. He was afraid that the Jewish people would not listen and would not believe that he was G-d’s emissary. G-d proceeded to give Moshe three signs that he could use to prove the veracity of his mission. The first involved a staff. “And He [G-d] said to him [Moshe], ‘What is in your hand?’ And he replied, ‘A mateh’” (Shemos 4:2).
The Malbim explains that when G-d asked Moshe what was in his hand he was testing him. He was essentially asking Moshe to define how he viewed his role as leader. “Is the staff in your hand a makel used to beat people as you assert your authority with chastisement and rebuke? Or, perhaps you view it as a mish’an used for support because you plan to ‘milk’ the nation for everything they’re worth and see how lucrative being a leader can be?”
Moshe, the consummate leader, immediately responded that it was a “mateh,” a baton which represented his role as a guide and example. The way to teach is not solely with words but more profoundly by example.
With this idea, Rav Feuer offered a novel explanation of a verse in Parshas Naso. When the Torah introduces the individual offerings brought by each of the nesi’im (princes) it says, “The leaders of Yisroel, the heads of their father’s household, brought offerings; they were ‘ne’seeay hamatos’ [lit. leaders of the tribes], they were those who stand at the countings” (6:2).
Why does the Torah first introduce the princes as the “leaders of Yisroel” and then add, “they were the leaders of the tribes”?
Rav Feuer explained that the verse is actually conveying the greatness of the princes by expressing their philosophy for leadership. Like Moshe, they understood that proper leadership is accomplished by example. Just as Moshe viewed his staff as a baton used for guiding, they too viewed themselves as ne’seeay hamatos, princes of the matos, i.e., princes who teach by personal example.
This idea is further developed with a classic thought from Rav Shimon Schwab zt”l on this week’s haftarah (Ma’ayan Bais Hashoayvah). The haftarah relates the events that preceded the birth of Shimshon, the great and righteous warrior who dedicated his life to developing his spiritual and physical prowess.
An angel appeared to “the woman” who had been childless for years and informed her that she would bear a son. The angel added that the child must remain a nazir his entire life. The angel concluded that this wunderkind would save Klal Yisroel from their Philistine oppressors. When the woman relayed the angel’s message to her husband Monoach, he seemed disturbed. “Monoach prayed to G-d and he said, ‘Please, my Master, the angel that you have sent should please come again and instruct us what to do with the child’” (Shoftim 13:8).
When the angel reappeared, Monoach repeated his request. The angel responded, “Whatever I have said to the woman you should safeguard.” Then the angel repeated the instructions he had mentioned previously.
What was it that so troubled Monoach about the instructions his wife had received that he needed the angel to clarify? In fact, we don’t find the angel relating any novel ideas; he merely repeats his earlier instructions!
Rabbi Schwab explained that the angel was teaching them a profound educational lesson. When Monoach heard that he would have a son who would be obligated to maintain an austere level of holiness beyond normal law, he was troubled. “How am I to ensure that my son not partake in wine when I make Kiddush every Shabbos on wine? How can I tell him he is prohibited to shave and take a haircut when I do so regularly? How can I inform him that he may not join me at a funeral of someone close to our family? Is that not a double standard?” Monoach wanted to understand how to educate the child to do things that he himself was not going to practice.
The angel replied that Monoach’s concern was well-founded. There was only one viable solution, “Whatever I have said to the woman you should safeguard.” Indeed, the only way to educate a child properly is to practice what you preach. If Shimshon will be obligated to observe added restrictions his father would have no recourse but to safeguard them as well!
To educate others, a person must personify the ideals and values he/she wishes to convey.
The Dubner Maggid once asked the Vilna Gaon how one can influence and educate others. The Gaon replied with an analogy: One should take a large cup and surround it with a number of smaller cups. One should pour the liquid into the large cup, and it will overflow into the smaller cups. That is how one influences others. It must spill over from one’s personal passions and efforts.
In a similar vein, Rav Yaakov noted that educators must view themselves more as mashpi’im (influencers) then mechanchim (educators). The word mashpia is related to the word shipua, something inclined or on a slant. Educators must be like a slanted roof from which everything flows down to what is below it. What educators do, what they think, and what values they hold dear trickles down to their students and leaves a lasting effect.
In the words of noted psychologist Abraham Maslow, “If we do not model what we teach, we are teaching something else!”Rabbi Dani Staum