In the beginning of Parashat VaYeira, Avraham sees three angels appearing as men before him and he runs to greet them and offer them water, a wash, and a place to rest. Rashi tells us that when Avraham says, “let some water be brought,” in the passive form, as opposed to “I will bring some water,” in an active form, that Avraham chose to have the water brought by a messenger rather than bringing it himself. It is for this reason, says Rashi, that when Avraham’s descendants needed water in the desert, it was given to them by a messenger, Moshe Rabbeinu, rather than directly by Hashem. Conversely, Avraham actively brought the food himself, and, as a result, Klal Yisrael received the manna from Hashem directly. Rav Moshe Feinstein in his “Darash Moshe” derives two valuable ideas from this episode. We see from Rashi that Hashem prefers that we perform the Mitzvah ourselves rather than appointing another in our place. As the Gemara (Kiddushin 41a) states, “Mitzvah Bo Yoteir Mi BeShlucho,” “Better to do the Mitzvah yourself than to send a messenger.”
Rav Moshe Aharon Stern recounted that one time Rav Yaacov Yosef Herman visited the Kaminitzer Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Baruch Ber Leibowitz. During dinner, Rav Baruch Ber left the table for a few minutes. Curious to see where the Rosh Yeshiva was, Rav Herman went to find him. As he got to the guest room where he was staying he saw Rav Baruch Ber making the bed. Rav Herman requested that that he would rather make the bed himself, as it was not becoming for a man of his status to have to make the bed for him. Rav Baruch Ber replied: “Would you like to put Tefillin on for me too?” The Mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim, welcoming guests, is a Mitzvah like any other and I want the merit to do it myself.
The other idea, says Rav Moshe, is that Avraham’s intentions as always were obviously good. Why then would he delegate Yishmael to get the water rather than getting it himself? In fact, if he wanted to be lax and delegate the responsibility to serve and take care of his guests to others, why would he have taken care of the food and other hospitable duties? It must have been that Avraham wanted to give Yishmael the opportunity to do the Chessed himself in order to educate him, and, therefore, gave him only one job. Rav Moshe concludes from this incident that the best way to educate another is not through giving direction or instruction rather through doing it oneself.
In his article Developing Middos: Learned or Experienced? Dr. Bentzion Sorotzkin (DrSorotzkin.com) relates much of this and adds a personal story that expresses this point beautifully.
“Recently, a young father came over to me at a Simcha and asked, "At what age should you start disciplining a child?" "Discipline starts when a child understands the words 'yes' and 'no'," I responded. Realizing that this was not likely to be a purely academic question, I asked him how old his child was. "Four," he answered. "What is your specific need for disciplining him?" I asked. "I need to teach him to say 'please' and 'thank you,'" he explained. "Then it is a matter of instilling middos, rather than disciplining," I answered. "And in that case, I would ask: Do you say 'please' and 'thank you' to your son?" He was taken aback by this question, but gave it some thought. "I'm not sure, but probably not," was his honest response. Although he seemed to understand my point, he could not fully accept the idea of forgoing the use of direct instruction or any degree of pressure, and to have faith in the power of setting an example.”
Rav Joel Grossman, a Rebbe here at TABC, told me that one time he was learning privately with a Talmid at his home on a weekly basis in order to help him improve his grades. When the student’s grades were not improving and he appeared to no longer be motivated, Rav Grossman suggested to the father that Rav Grossman learn with the father for a few weeks and he believed that the impact of seeing his father learn for a few weeks would have a greater influence over his grades rather than learning himself. He was correct, and within a few weeks there was a noticeable difference in the Talmid’s attitude.
It is difficult to have faith in the indirect influence of setting an example. Many parents feel they are being derelict in their duty of being a Mechanech, educating, their children if they are not actively and forcefully instructing (or perhaps they are not confident in the example they are setting). From the words of Chazal, however, we see that indirect influence is the most effective means of educational influence.
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