As we begin the Torah again we recount the early generations of spiritual man. Twenty generations pass by, with many holy personalities, until we reach Abraham and Sarah, who are chosen by G-d to create His holy nation. What qualities did they possess to make them more worthy of this task than all their predecessors?
A clue may be found in Genesis (18:19) when G-d says of Abraham:
“For I have loved him, because he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way of G-d, doing charity and justice…”
Abraham and Sarah were the first spiritual leaders to succeed in educating their child to follow in their footsteps. Isaac in turn passed it on to Jacob and Jacob’s children became the Jewish people. We as a people were born out of this achievement, our success in passing on religious values to future generations.
A father was talking to me recently, explaining why he learns Torah regularly. At one juncture, he recognized that his son needed to learn Torah on a regular basis. His son demanded to know why he should have to do something his father didn’t do. The father realized that he had to set a personal example and he did. If we want to follow in the footsteps of Abraham and Sarah, it seems to me that we need to do the same.
In Zionist youth groups, across the religious and political spectrum, much is made of dugmah ishit, setting a good example. A Bnei Akivah madrich who makes aliyah has a greater educational impact than one who stays (even if the reasons for staying are good ones). A madrich who smokes, even if he educates against smoking, will have a damaging effect on his charges. We learn more from what our role models do than from what they say.
If we want to educate the students at HebrewAcademythat when we daven, not to talk during shacharit, we in the Kollel know that we have to avoid talking ourselves, even if we really need to. If we don’t practice what we preach, why would those who look up to us? Similarly, student leaders know that they have to be at as many events as possible, otherwise their pleas to others to attend will be ignored.
A friend of mine told me the story of a traditional Conservative congregation that decided to set up a daily minyan so that mourners could say kaddish. They set up a schedule for ten different members to be on duty every day. One of the members praised their Rabbi to my friend: “He even agreed to be put on the schedule!”
Perhaps they could have expected more of their Rabbi, but even he realized the need to lead by personal example. May we all find our own ways to repeat the success of Abraham and Sarah, the success of Jewish continuity, the success of leading by example.