Rabbi Yonasan Sacks
Teaching Torah Values
Perhaps the most difficult challenge we face as parents and educators is how to effectively transmit Torah values and ethics. The Torah ascribes greatness to Avraham Avinu because of his ability to communicate these moral teachings. "Ki yedativ lemaan asher yetzaveh es banav, ve'es bisso acharav veshamru derech Hashem laasos tzedakah umishpat," (Bereishis 18:19).
Accordingly, the Ran (Derashot HaRan, derashah 5) explains Avraham's insistance that the wife of Yitzchak be chosen from Charan rather than from Canaan. Avraham's rejection of Canaan was not predicated upon their idolatrous practices, for his extended family in Charan served idols as well. Rather, as the Ran explains, Avraham's objection to the Canaanim was based on his familiarity with their flawed moral character. As difficult as it is to disseminate Torah knowledge, molding and developing a Torah personality is an even more formidable challenge. Hence, the prime concern of Avraham Avinu was that his daughter-in-law embody ethical and moral excellence.
The Kil Yakar emphasizes the need to create an encompassing environment conducive to Torah life. Citing the pasuk, "Asher lo tikach ishah livni mibnos hacanaani asher anochi yoshev bekirbo," (Bereishis 24:3). The Kli Yakar questions Avraham's need to stress "asher anochi yoshev bekirbo," -among whom I dwell. The Kli Yakar explains that Avraham's concern was the potentially negative impact of an improper environment. Were Yitzchak's wife to be chosen from Canaan, the very place where she would continue to live throughout her married life, she would constantly be subjected to the pressures and influences of her youth. Avraham therefore insisted that her family not live in Canaan.
Yet, how can we cultivate and nurture this sense of ethics and morality so vital to effective chinuch? The Gemora explains (Sotah 3a) that "R'Chaim, son of R'Chaninah further said: What is the meaning of the verse 'You should walk after the Lord your God'? Is it possible for a human being to walk after the shechinah?
Has it not been said, 'For the Lord your God is a devouring fire'? Rather, the meaning is to follow the attributes of Hashem ..the Holy One Blessed be He visited the sick, as it is said, 'And Hashem appeared to him at Elonei Mamreh.' So shall you visit the sick."
Unlike most mitzvos, which are generally conveyed through imperatives and instruction, moral and ethical tenets are taught by example. Instead of commanding us directly to visit the sick and comfort those who mourn, the Torah records how Hashem performs such deeds and implores His people to do the same - acharei Hashem elokeichem teileichu.
Our mandate v'halachta bidrachav - to follow in His ways - requires of each of us to convey and transmit the substance and beauty of Torah in a similar way - to teach and impart Torah values by example, not merely through instruction.