Today’s daf (Beitzah 9a) addresses the prohibition of מראית העין (‘mar’it ayin’) which forbids us from performing permitted acts within a context or in a manner that could be misinterpreted to the extent that others may then erroneously come to perform prohibited acts.
Of course, a simple question about מראית העין is why does this apply to us all? Why does it not just apply to the leaders of each generation whose actions we watch and whose examples we follow? Yet what we often forget is that whether or not we realise it, each of us have those who look at our actions for inspiration, and who consider us to be an example.
While this is the case with all people – and thus the laws of מראית העין apply to all people – it is particularly the case with parents and teachers concerning whom Rabbi David Fox of Netiv Meir once remarked that (see לנטוע שמים ע’ 185): בכל תנועה שאתה עושה, בכל דרך שאתה חי, אתה פוסק הלכה, מישהו מסתכל עליך – ‘in every movement that you do, and whichever direction you choose to live your life, you are a posek halacha – because someone is watching you’.
Naturally this thought is something that we should consider every day. Still, this is a particularly poignant message for the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur wherein, in addition to others watching what we do, we are expected to be more scrutinizing about our own behaviour.
Ultimately, perhaps the best way for us to act better is to increase our awareness of the fact that not only does God see what we do and hear what we say, but that others do as well, and that all of us – whether we realise it or not – are an example to others.