This week’s parsha is Bamidbar. At first glance, people would think that this must be the most boring and meaningless parsha in the whole Torah. The parsha consists almost entirely of a recitation of the names and backgrounds off all the leaders of all the tribes. Each man’s pedigree is given in detail. Despite the first superficial impression, the fact is that this parsha teaches one of the most important lessons of the Torah in the area of human relationships.
What is the reason that our concise Torah goes into all this detail??
I recently visited a family with teen-age children. When I entered a kid’s bedroom what did I see on the wall? Large poster pictures of sports idols and rock and roll music and movie stars. Later that day I visited another home where the people happened to be quite observant. On the walls of that house were poster-type pictures of "stars" like Devorah the prophetess from the time of the Judges. There was a picture of Nachshon, head of the tribe of Judah who was the first to jump into the Red Sea depending solely on G-d to protect him. There were many other pictures of great heroes of Jewish history.
The idea came to me that this is the purpose of Parshat Bamidbar. The Torah wants us to look up to good and worthwhile examples in life. We frequently develop a lot of respect for various star-types even though their personal qualities and living habits are poor or worse. Why do we admire them so much? We will probably never reach their level of notoriety and immoral living, nor would we want to.
Yet the type of role models we present to our children have an overwhelming effect on the kind of people they become. The Torah wants us to respect high quality, moral people who are totally just and righteous in their behavior.
Years ago, and old congregant came to me and told me he was very upset. His daughter was married to a man for a long time but the man was very abusive in his speech. He was an OK husband but had a foul mouth and constantly spoke in the most vulgar way imaginable. My congregant was very disturbed to hear this whenever he visited and couldn’t bear to see his daughter and grandchildren exposed to this kind of crudeness. The man asked me to speak to his son-in-law to see if I could help. I spoke with the man who told me that he knew he had a problem. He grew up in a home where vulgar language was the only language used. After growing up in all that, he finds it difficult to stop. He also felt bad about the damage he was doing to his children.
How can we apply the message of this parsha to our lives? From now on, we have to be careful about the way we speak, dress and act in front of our children. We shouldn’t make the big mistake of thinking they are too young to understand our speech or actions. Their antennae are very sensitive and always working. They are never too young to absorb the meaning of our examples. We must always behave morally, respectfully and ethically in order to set the right example. We must dress modestly, even at home, to give the kids the right idea. We must try to protect them from the bad influences that run rampant on television and the Internet. If your children hear you speak badly of people they will believe that such behavior is desirable.
The lesson is that that our behavior has a profound effect on our children. We are the main role models for all of the rest of their lives just as our parents were for us. We must always keep in mind the kind of example we want them to follow. We must be very clear about what kind of people and life styles are worthy of our respect. That is the important message of Bamidbar.