Teaching our children values is one of the most important things we do. It is far from a one-lesson ‘unit’, but is more realistically, a life-long process. When the value in question is one that is devalued by the society around us, it becomes more challenging. If this value is subtle and nuanced, with varying levels of adherence, very real and difficult obstacles need to be overcome to successfully imprint the value on the child.
Few values have been more debased and diminished in our times, than that of human dignity. The progressive liberals of our day now refer to human beings as “animals of the human species.” That misguided perspective carries with it potentially devastating consequences for the future of mankind. We must resist what is happening. We are all, Jew and non-Jew alike, created B’Tzelem Elokim, in the form of Hashem, and that endows us with natural dignity, and at the same time obligates us to act in a manner that is dignified and reflects that G-dliness within us. How does one grow in acting with dignity? What ideals and practices need to be embodied and internalized to accomplish this?
This week’s Parsha, Parashas Tetzaveh, is all about the special garments of the Kohanim, the Bigdei Kehuna. The Torah tells us, (Shemos 28:2) that the garments should be made “L’Chavod U’Lesifores” – for honor and splendor. Just as kings and queens wear exquisite clothing reflecting the glory of their position and persona, so too a Kohein and especially the Kohein Gadol. However, something seems amiss. The Kohein, who is the embodiment of one who attains great spiritual heights, seems incongruous with fancy, expensive, showy clothing. Why is it that the tribe that is most removed from mundane matters, which dwells in the spiritual stratosphere, and is expected to divorce itself from the outer trappings of the human experience are precisely the ones who are to dress in a fancy, regal manner?
Rabbi Shmuel Truvetz zt’l (as brought in Peninim Al HaTorah, 8, p. 147) explains that just as the other Shevatim are to show deference and give special honor to the Kohein, so too must the Kohein himself reflect upon his position and status. He must remember who he is and what he represents. The Torah’s command that the Kohein’s clothing be exceptional is for the benefit of the Jewish people and the Kohein himself. In contemporary, albeit simplistic jargon, the saying goes – clothes make the man. The Kohein’s clothing is a significant piece of the picture of how he is to conduct himself – on a high level, with dignity and royalty.
It is extremely important for a person to recognize his own greatness. Many fall prey to sin and depression, because they lack a sense of inner worth and fail to recognize the dignity that lies within them. Once their self-image is that of a lowly person, either through others’ abusive behavior towards them or society’s hidden messages, they are open to being disrespected and treated lowly. Because of this they are much more susceptible to following others’ blandishments to deprave themselves through lowly speech and inappropriate behavior. A person who appreciates his own value, will strengthen his immunity against the siren song of immorality and lawlessness.
Returning to our original question as to how do we impart values such as dignity, the beginning of an answer now comes into focus. Just as the Kohein elevated those around him through his dignified and exalted bearing and impeccable behavior, so too do we, the parents, influence our children positively when we act in a dignified manner, within and without our homes, in shul, at work and on vacation. Our children are constantly watching and learning from us. One of the greatest boosts we give to their feelings of self-esteem and self-worth is to be role models of dignified, upwardly mobile (spiritually) parents who dress, eat and act in a fashion that reflects royalty, sincerity and modesty.
We can and should encourage our children to understand this message. There is formal wear and informal wear. There are company manners and there is letting one’s hair down. However, whatever the circumstances, it is never a free-for- all, there are always standards that a Torah Jew needs to uphold, for their own benefit, and for the benefit of others. When the child’s awareness grows that he is not ‘just’ another person, but he is a member of Hashem’s royal legion, he will internalize the message and his behavior and attitude will begin to reflect the glory and splendor that a human being can attain.
Have a royally splendid Shabbos,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann