April 23, 2024
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April 23, 2024
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It’s What We Do, Not What We Say

One of the main storylines in Parshat Chayei Sarah is Eliezer’s journey to find a wife for Yitzchak. Incredibly, the Torah dedicates close to 70 pesukim to this story—beginning with Avraham’s instructions to Eliezer; Eliezer’s journey and prayer to God; Eliezer’s encounter and negotiation with Rivka and her family; and his journey back with Rivka. The Torah even relays Eliezer’s repetition of the day’s events to Rivka’s family.

Why does the Torah dedicate so many pesukim to these events, outlining them in such tremendous detail? Why does the text outline so many details of Eliezer’s story twice; once when they occur and again when Eliezer relates them to Rivka’s family? Particularly, if we compare this narrative to the many places in the Torah where very little detail is given, the contrast seems quite strange!

The Medrash Rabbah (60:8) quotes a statement by Rav Acha commenting on this phenomenon: “The speech of the servants of our avot is more beautiful than the Torah of their descendants.” The fact that the Torah dedicates so much time telling and repeating Eliezer’s story shows that, on one level, this story is more valuable than other sections of the Torah, where the text is much more succinct.

What exactly does this medrash mean? In what way are stories and conversations, such as those recorded in Parshat Chayei Sara, more valuable than the Torah?

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, zt”l, once suggested the following explanation. He noted that the Torah has two different ways of educating us. One path is through its commandment of mitzvot, the stipulation of certain actions that we are meant to perform, or that we are meant to avoid. The second method is through the presentation of those people in the Torah whose character, actions and behavior are meant to guide us how to act in our own lives. Often, suggests Rav Lichtenstein, “the practical example set by a living character directs and influences us to a much greater extent than the mere codification of that lifestyle in the form of mitzvot.” We can sometimes learn more from the stories in the Torah that model proper actions than we would from studying the actual commandments that form the basis of those actions. Watching the way a gadol acts and carries himself will often make a greater impact than the formal teaching he imparts. This is what the medrash meant with its comment above.

“Do as I say, not as I do.” This well-known refrain sums up the hypocrisy of much of the world around us when it comes to standards and values that have been set. Many individuals in leadership positions demand a certain standard of behavior from the masses yet view themselves above those standards or rules. Similarly, many parents establish certain standards and rules for their kids, yet fail to keep to those rules or standards themselves. Their kids are expected to clean up after themselves, yet the parents never do so. The kids are expected to talk respectfully and act appropriately, yet the parents themselves don’t speak or act that way. This hypocrisy can also be found in the arena of religious values. Parents insist that their children sit nicely in shul and daven on Shabbat, while they themselves talk throughout the entire davening. They will require their child to keep certain mitzvot—kippah, tzitzit and much more—yet find excuses as to why they themselves need not observe them. In all of these examples and more, parents are basically telling their children “do as I say, not as I do.”

Yet, as we all know deep down, such hypocrisy is not effective chinuch. Our children learn so much more from what we do than what we say. As I heard my father say many times to his congregation, “If our children are told to be quiet in shul, but then see their parents talking throughout the services, the message they get is that davening is just for kids,” and once they are no longer near their parents, they will stop davening. If we tell our kids that they must observe certain rules, religious or otherwise, and then they see us breaking those very rules—it is most likely that they will follow our actions and not our words.

The best, and most genuine, way to educate our children is by setting an example for them; by modeling for them the standards and values that we want to impart to them. Of course, we must also share these values verbally. But we must always remember that, to paraphrase the well-known saying, our actions will speak louder than our words. If our children see us living our lives according to certain principles, they are most likely to emulate those principles in their own lives. If our kids observe us striving to keep the Torah and mitzvot to the best of our capabilities, chances are they will do the same.

The key, as always, is consistency, honesty and integrity. Kids are uniquely able to see beyond the façade and understand our true intentions. If we model genuine commitment to our values, in both word and deed, then we will hopefully ensure that they internalize those values themselves.

Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom!


Rav Yossi Goldin is the menahel tichon at Yeshivas Pe’er HaTorah, Rebbe at Midreshet Tehilla, and Placement Advisor/Internship Coordinator for the YU/RIETS Kollel. He lives with his family in Shaalvim and can be reached at [email protected]

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