I knew a guy who started out in law school and then went off to rabbinical college instead. “I’d rather preach than practice,” he quipped.

Every informed parent knows that we cannot expect our children to simply do as we say; they must see us in action. Kids have incredible antennae and the uncanny ability to pick up even the slightest inconsistency, so if parents preach what they themselves aren’t practicing, their sermon is doomed to failure.

Right at the beginning of this week’s Torah reading, Emor, we come across a phrase that seems somewhat superfluous. “And G‑d said to Moses, ‘Say to the Priests, the sons of Aaron: You shall say to them not to allow themselves to become impure.”1 Why repeat the word “say”?

Rashi2 explains this seeming redundancy as follows: “Say to the priests that they, in turn, shall say it to their children.” i.e., Tell the adult Kohanim that they must warn the younger ones to stay away from impurities.

As ministers in the Holy Temple, the Kohanim were privileged to have been granted a higher degree of sanctity. Privilege always comes with responsibility, and one of their responsibilities was to maintain a rigorous level of purity.

It is a lesson not only to members of the priestly tribe, but to all of us. Every parent and teacher has the duty to educate the younger generation accordingly.

We are forever telling our kids, “Be a mensch!” But the only way our child will be a mensch is if we are a mensch.

It has long been my personal view that the qualities that make us a mensch are, in fact, learned more at home than at school, shul, or even at yeshivah. Parents are the primary instructors when it comes to values, ethics, and what we call menschlichkeit. We may learn Torah and math at school, but values, decency, dignity and, in general, how to be a mensch are learned at home.

I remember once overhearing my parents discussing how to deal with a particular individual who had wronged them badly. One of the many life lessons they taught me, almost unconsciously, was that they refused to stoop to his level of inappropriate behavior. Just because someone else behaved badly, why should they? It was a profound lesson to a teenager finding his way in life, and I learned it from their behavior more than from any instructions given to me.

The same applies to teaching Yiddishkeit.

“Go to Shul!” doesn’t work. “Come to Shul,” or “Let’s go to Shul,” has a much better chance of success.

In real estate, they say that the three most important components of any property are “location, location, location.” And in education they say the three most effective tools are “example, example, example.”

Children who see parents and teachers acting on their own life lessons are far more likely to follow in their footsteps. Otherwise, no matter how loudly we shout or how eloquently we may speak, our words remain hollow. Children who experience a family code of honor, decency, honesty, or a genuine commitment to Jewish life, will very likely feel guided by those same values in their own lives.

I once heard a good analogy from Rabbi Nota Schiller, one of the founders of Ohr Somayach, in Jerusalem. He said one of the big fast-food chains in the United States had apparently come up with an invention which would help their business model significantly. It was a synthetic potato. Their most popular side dish on the menu was, of course, French fries. With this new synthetic potato, they could cut costs and increase profits considerably. This synthetic potato was nothing short of remarkable. It looked like a potato, tasted like a potato, smelled like a potato, and made great French fries the same as any real potato.

The only problem with the synthetic potato was that if you planted it in the ground, no new potatoes would grow. It did not regenerate.

The same applies to education. Only authenticity works and regenerates. Everything else will fail, sooner or later.

It is up to us to be successful role models who practice what we preach and educate by example.