As a community Rabbi, it comes with the territory that you serve as a role model of sorts to the community you represent. While I do embrace this part of the job description, at times it can be a lot of pressure. Imagine the outcry of the Oceanside community when I started wearing blue suits instead of black and grey suits on Shabbat – the horror! Imagine the outcry when my Facebook cover page had a picture of me with a (gasp) white polo shirt! All joking aside, I understand why some individuals prefer to shy away from being role models. Among other things, role models are expected to possess passion and the ability to inspire, to have a clear set of values, and to be selfless. If one really considers the responsibility and potential impact that comes with this role, it can be too much pressure for many of us to handle. We want to do our best, but not necessarily be in the spotlight.
I believe that the Torah understands this feeling, as the Torah describes our responsibility to be holy in a fascinating way. In the beginning of Parshat Kedoshim, the Torah states, “Kedoshim tihyu ki kadosh ani Hashem Elokeichem,” or we should be holy because God is holy. We must try to imitate God or identify with God in some way because God is our role model. Then, in the beginning of Parshat Emor, we see the word “Kedoshim” again, this time in describing the Kohanim. The pasuk in Emor states: “Kedoshim yihyu l’Elokeihem v’lo yechalelu shem Elokeihem.” Not only must the Kohanim be holy, but they also must not profane the Name of God, which is understood to mean that they must protect the reputation of God. In other words, the Kohanim have a responsibility to create a Kiddush Hashem – they must be role models for the nation. It seems from this pasuk that perhaps we can outsource the task of being role models to the Kohanim. After all, they serve in the Mikdash, they have more restrictions than non-Kohanim and they are our teachers.
However, when we reach the end of the section dealing with the laws of the Kohanim in Parshat Emor, according to most commentaries and Halakhists, the Torah shares a message with all Jews. The Bnei Yisrael are told: “V’lo techalelu et shem kadshi v’nikdashti b’tokh Bnei Yisrael.” Don’t engage in Chillul Hashem and engage in Kiddush Hashem. In other words, be a role model! Mirroring the language used at the beginning of the section to speak to the Kohanim, this time instructing the entire Bnei Yisrael, the Torah teaches us that in this way, we are all Kohanim. Seen in this light, one may understand that when God referred to us at Sinai as a “mamlekhet Kohanim,” a kingdom of Kohanim, it became incumbent upon all of us to act as role models and as representatives of Hashem.
We cannot afford to leave the responsibility of being a role model for our children to Kohanim who descend from Aaron, or to our Rabbeim and leaders. In fact, it is you, the parents, who can be a far more impactful role model for your children than any modern-day Kohen can. When a child to sees his or her Rabbi study Torah regularly, pray with tremendous fervor or engage in acts of chesed, the child may learn that these acts are laudable but they may not seem relatable. Children often say, “Well, that’s the Rabbi’s job. I am not a Rabbi; I don’t need to act like one.” It’s an entirely different matter if the child sees the parent engage in these behaviors. When a child sees his parent engaging in those acts, the message is clear: These are not simply the values of our leaders, these are the values of our family.
In today’s world, it is not guaranteed that because we are observant and orthodox, our children will follow in our path. We can do and say all the “right” things, but as we know all too well, our children are autonomous individuals who grow up to make decisions of their own. Try as we might, we cannot guarantee that their values and choices match our own. Nonetheless, we try. Just as the Kohanim endeavored to inspire by their actions and lead an, at times, unruly Bnei Yisrael, we as parents must do the same. The American novelist James Baldwin once said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” Make no mistake about it – you cannot run away from being a role model. The only question is: What kind will you be?
Last edit: 2 years 3 weeks ago by Jonathan Muskat.