Our parsha opens with the din of “l’hazhir gedolim al ha’ketanim,” that kohanim not only cannot become tamei themselves, but also have a responsibility to make sure minors (who are kohanim) do not become tamei either. This din extends to other areas as well (see Yevamos 114). Why does the Torah stress the point davka here in the context of halachos of kehunah? The Kozhiglover answers that the word “l’hazhir” comes from the word “zohar,” shining (I guess RashB”I is still on my mind since Lag b’Omer was this week). The best way to influence ketanim, or anyone, is by serving as a shining example yourself. The kohanim were the leaders of Klal Yisrael; therefore, the Torah stresses to them in particular the need for them to live b’tahara (literally as well as figuratively) so that they may serve as an inspiration for others.
In other words, you have to lead by example.
The Ohr HaChaim points out an anomaly: the pasuk addresses itself to kohanim, plural, but commands “l’nefesh lo yitamah b’amav…” in the singular. Shouldn’t it say “lo yitamu,” in the plural? The Radomsker darshens the pasuk homiletically: the Torah is charging the kohanim with the responsibility to make sure each and every singular nefesh “lo yitamah b’amav,” does not become lost.
(Just to sharpen the same idea a bit: the Shem m’Shemuel in many places quotes his father as explaining the word “am” as related to the word “omemos.” When you light the barbeque and a scorching fire blazes up, the coals are “lochashos;” when you are done and you have those grey-white coals that are still hot, but are fading out, those are “omemos.” When the Torah speaks of the am, it means folks whose spiritual fire is weak. “L’nefesh lo yitamah b’amav” – don’t let the nefesh of your fellow Jew lose its spiritual vitality and become “b’amav” = omemos, like those dying coals. )
How do you do that? Rashi says on the spot, “l’hazhir gedolim al he’ketanim” – make sure you shine, make sure your fire is bright, and then others around you will want to shine too (based on Tiferes Banim, by the same author as the Darkei Teshuvah).
A few years ago another blogger posted a dilemma that stuck in my mind. This individual would wake up early in the morning to have time to learn, which was great, but his kids were still fast asleep and never saw the hours he was clocking in front of a gemara. He was wondering if it would be better to switch his seder to a time where his kids would be aware of what he was doing so that they would be able to learn from his example. In other words, he was worried that he was not fulfilling “l’hazhir gedolim al ha’ketanim” because his kids were not seeing him shine.
It’s sometimes not enough to do the right thing in private; sometimes what’s required is that others be aware of what you are doing so they have an example to learn from. A parent, a teacher, a Rabbi – they need to be seen doing the right thing. The gemara (Yoma 86) writes that R’ Yochanan said an example of chilul Hashem would be his walking 4 amos without learning. It could be that R’ Yochanan was just giving a theoretical example and of course never stopped learning, but the Munkatcher in Tiferes Banin assumes that R’ Yochanan was speaking about something that happened to him. How could R’ Yochanan have gone a moment without Torah? He answers that R’ Yochanan didn’t – R’ Yochanan had Torah on his mind constantly, but it may not have appeared that way to others. Someone might have seen R’ Yochanan going for a stroll and thought, “There goes R’ Yochanan, out enjoying nature,” without realizing that R’ Yochanan was reviewing kol hatorah kulah in his mind at that moment. Who cares what others might be thinking? Because if you are R’ Yochanan, it’s not enough to be engaged in learning and avodah at all times – you have to shine as an example for others as well, and to fail to do so is a chilul Hashem.
R’ Shlomo Zalman’s is medayek in Rashi (Pesachim 68b d”h ba’inan name lachem) that the mitzvah of simcha on Shavuos is “…l’har’os she’noach u’mekubal yom zeh…” It’s not enough to be happy –the happiness has to shine forth, “l’haros,” so others can see it as well.