"Since you did not have faith in Me to sanctify Me in the eyes of Bnei Yisrael…” (Bamidbar 20:12)

The Rambam quotes the Ramban in Moreh Nevuchim stating that Moshe’s sin here was using anger when he said (20:10): “Listen now, you rebels.” Hashem judged him strictly because it wasn’t appropriate for a person like Moshe Rabbeinu to use anger when it wasn’t warranted. This caused a chillul Hashem.

The nation looked up to Moshe, learning from his every word and action how to succeed in This World and the Next. How could they see anger in their leader, when it’s one of the worst character traits and stems from a flawed soul? (Rav Shach, Meirosh Amanah)

The air was redolent with pine, a misty sun barely piercing the shade. I sat against a tree, facing my students sprawled around me.

This was the final workshop in our series on communication. Although I’d planned to keep the topic wide-ranging, the girls kept veering toward school issues.

“I don’t get why can’t I tell my teacher what I think. She tells me what she thinks of me!”

Brief laughter spoke of general consensus.

“Let’s try an exercise.” Improvising’s always fun. I handed out Post-its and pens. “Write one thing you wish you could say to your teacher.”

“Cool!” Heads bent, they attacked the little yellow papers. I sat back, marveling at how the out-of-classroom atmosphere prompted genuine participation.

Collecting the notes, I glanced at a few.

Why must I call you by your proper title, Rebbetzin, Mrs., Miss, when you still call me by my sister’s name?

You’re constantly on my case about being late, but we never end class at the bell.

I’d been expecting complaints about tests or grades, but the scrawled missives surprised me. Most highlighted the inconsistency between our requests as educators and our behavior as role models.

Moshe Rabbeinu didn’t get angry, chas v’shalom, like we do. There wasn’t the slightest bit of bad character or defect within his soul. His anger was expressed only outwardly.

However, since Moshe was an educator, all looked toward his example. Therefore, he was held accountable even for this type of anger, which could lead to maras ayin.

The Midrash comments on the pasuk (Shemos 33:8): “When Moshe went out to the tent… all the people gazed after Moshe…” Bnei Yisrael were constantly watching Moshe to learn from him, since he was their leader.

The girls were waiting for my response, but I felt defensive. We’re only human! I wanted to protest. Yet was that an answer?

Confused, I turned the tables and began applying the techniques we’d just discussed on active communication.

“How’d you think your teacher would respond if you put this paper on her desk?”

“She’d get defensive.”

“She’d throw me out.”

“Would she hear you out?” I prompted.

Suddenly, I realized, this was the secret.

Any student, regardless of age, observes his teacher. This scrutiny isn’t for curiosity’s sake — it’s the yearning of the student to learn from his teacher how to live his life.

Anyone who’s a rav or teacher must know he’s constantly open to scrutiny, both with his knowledge and without. He’s therefore obligated to display good character traits and to be free of even minute flaws to the highest degree that’s humanly possible.

He’s not just an educator; he’s a role model.

Recently, I was stuck behind a truck that was crawling up a single-lane windy road. Drumming my fingers on the wheel, I waited impatiently for a chance to pass. Finally, the coast was clear and I swooped to my left, leaving the truck chugging in my wake.

“Hey, Ma! No passing zone!” remarked my teen, lounging in the back seat.

I grit my teeth. Backseat driving always gets on my nerves. And backseat policing?

I was about to put him in his place, and remind him that his place was the backseat, when it occurred to me that all too soon this teen will be in the driver’s seat. What do I want him to do when stuck behind a slow truck?

Am I teaching him, Do as I say, not as I do? What kind of message is that?

“You’re right.” My teeth unclenched as I confessed. “I shouldn’t have done that.”

In the rearview mirror, I saw him break out in a smile of approval. (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 597)