Correct Yourself before Correcting Others
By Rabbi Rami Pavolotzky
This week we read Parashat Tetzave. It begins with God’s order to Moses to light and take care of the Menorah, the seven-armed candelabrum that was located in the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. God says,
And you shall command the children of Israel, and they shall take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually (Exodus 27:20).
The sages noticed that the beginning of this verse could have been written as, “command the Children of Israel,” without having to specify that “you shall command the Children of Israel.” This “you” address seems to be superfluous and not following the Torah’s style; it is clear that the person who is being addressed with these words (Moses) is the one who has to command the Children of Israel about the lighting of the Menorah. Why, then, insist on explicitly addressing the verse to this person?
The rabbis learned a simple but beautiful lesson from the redundancy of the word “you” in our verse. The lesson is that if you are required to command others, you first need to evaluate and correct yourself; first command “you,” then you can command others!
When you are in a leadership position, you likely find yourself in need of commanding, teaching, or guiding other people. The Torah teaches us here that in order to properly do that, you first need to examine yourself and be sure you can serve as an example to others. For example, how could a doctor who smokes recommend that his patient quit smoking? Or, how could a corrupt religious preach to his or her congregation about administering congregational funds ethically?
There is a wonderful phrase by the sage Reish Lakish in the Talmud that illustrates this principle, “Adorn (keshot, in Hebrew) yourself and afterward adorn others” (Bava Batra 60b). This means, act properly before requiring others to do so.
This is certainly a good piece of advice for everybody, but especially for those who are in a leadership position. Your words will never be as powerful as your example and your actions. You cannot inspire others to follow your example if you are not prepared to first be an example to others.