Western society today places great emphasis on the importance of role models. Every individual has a specific person to whom he can look up to and learn from.
Western society today places great emphasis on the importance of role models. Every individual has a specific person to whom he can look up to and learn from. The manner in which this role model conducts himself has and should have tremendous influence upon his followers. However, as current events demonstrate, the people we place on pedestals often do not live up to our expectations. As Jews, though, we are fortunate to possess the one, true and perfect role model - Hashem Himself.
This being the case, it becomes our duty to follow Him the way we would a human role model. In fact, in Parshat Ki Tavo, we are actually given a mitzvah to emulate the ways of Hashem (Deuteronomy 28:9). The Sefer HaChinuch, a classic compilation from the 13th century explaining the mitzvot, says that this mitzvah refers to imitating the character attributes of Hashem. Just as He is compassionate, so too we must be compassionate. Just as He is merciful, so too we must be merciful. Just as He is righteous, so too we must be righteous. We are expected to glean from Hashem's behavior the proper way to act with regard to our interactions with others.
An example of this can be found in this week's Torah portion. After Adam ate from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge, the Torah states, "And Hashem called out to Adam, and He said to him, 'Where are you?'" (Genesis 3:9). From this verse, the Mishnah in Tractate Derech Eretz, a section dealing primarily with the laws of common decency, derives the law that a person should not enter his friend's house without knocking. Just as Hashem did not barge into the Garden of Eden, but rather "knocked" first (the sages define his question of "where are you?" as a form of knocking), so too, we should knock first.
Our sages teach us that the sin of Adam and Eve had tremendous repercussions. The whole nature of the world was altered due to this sin. Death was brought into the world, the land no longer produced without being worked, and women began to endure pain during childbearing and birth. We are even taught that Adam and Eve themselves were much larger when created, and were shrunk to "human" size after the sin. What's more is that all of this took place a mere five hours after the world was created. The world, as Hashem intended it, only lasted for that short span of time and would remain in this new, damaged state for thousands of years. (The Midrash informs us that many of these things will return to their natural, original state after the coming of the Messiah.)
Let us imagine that we built a house. This house was the most magnificent and original structure ever built. Upon its completion, we decided to lend it to a friend. Within a few short hours of our guest's arrival, we discover that by disobeying our instructions, he has damaged parts of the house beyond repair. How would we react to such a scene? Would we not barge in yelling and screaming to rebuke him for his carelessness?
Yet, what does Hashem do? He knocks. He approaches the situation with refinement and decency. He teaches us that common decency and regard for our fellow man is expected at all times - even under extreme circumstances.
As we begin the Torah anew once again, we should take this lesson to heart as well as the many others that we can learn from Hashem's behavior. With His help and guidance, we will always be able to walk in His ways, and truly emulate our heavenly Role Model.
Yaacov Cohen, who hails from Atlanta, is studying at the Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim in New York.
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