Emor – A Lesson In Education

By: Rabbi Dovid Markel


In this week’s Torah portion the Torah imparts an important lesson in raising our children. At times, we fall into a habit of raising our children in a lackluster method, where our educational process is merely a jaded routine and is missing any real inspirational message. This Torah portion teaches us however, that we must not only teach our children, but inspire them to achieve excellence.

In the beginning of Parshas Emor the Torah tells us[1], “HaShem said to Moshe: Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and tell them: each of you shall not contaminate himself to a [dead] person among his people.” In this verse, the Kohanim are commanded not to become impure to a corpse or attend a funeral, apart from certain exceptions.

Upon examining this verse though, we see a certain peculiarity—the verse is repetitive. Instead of the verse saying, “Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and tell them,” it could have just as easily said, “Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron,” leaving out the words, “and tell them,” which seem superfluous. In the Torah, which was written by HaShem, there is nothing that is extra, and this redundancy is surely coming to teach us an important principle.

The Talmud[2] relates that the Torah is actually teaching us a crucial lesson. The repetitive saying of, “Say… and tell them” demonstrates the way that adults must educate children. In the words of the Talmud, “L’hazhir hagdolim al haktanim.” They must educate their children in such a way, that the principles that they hold dear do not end with them, but that their children as well will follow the precepts they were taught.

We all know that education is of paramount importance and that without it there would not be a continuity of the Jewish people.  That being the case, why was the importance of education not revealed to us immediately with the giving of the Torah, rather than imparting this lesson so many parshiot later?!

Preparation for the Torah

In Judaism we are taught[3] that not only does the Torah portion teach us a lesson for our lives, but that the themes of the parshios also have a special connection to the times in which they are read. The fact that Parshas Emor is read in the weeks of preparation between Pesach—which commemorates the exodus from Egypt—and  the holiday of Shavout—when the Torah was given—is not a random coincidence, but something that was divinely orchestrated. This parsha holds a lesson that we are to learn concerning the preparation for accepting the Torah, and is therefore arranged to be read in these weeks.

This Parsha is read during the month of Iyar. In each day of the month of Iyar there is a mitzvah to count the Omer. Essentially, this mitzvah is about education. When the Jewish people left Egypt, they were sunken in the utmost depth of immorality. They were essentially just as evil as the Egyptians were, yet G-d took them out of Egypt, and the nation of Israel was born[4].

After the “birth,” they were likened to a small child that must be educated, in order to be worthy of receiving the Torah forty nine days later. The education process took place through the Sefiras Ha’Omer-the counting of the omer; during which they refined a new personal attribute each day. This is the ultimate intention of the counting of the Omer – a time when we rectify our character traits in order that we too be ready for receiving the Torah. It is for this reason that we read about the importance of education specifically in these weeks; in order to know the best method that we should educate ourselves with.

Reach for the stars

The importance of giving our children a standard education is something that is self-understood. This is not the specific lesson that this Torah portion is imparting. A basic education is something which teaches the student to follow the fundamental rules of society or the rudimentary elements of faith. This however, was something that the Torah spoke about already in the book of Breishis[5]. Already there, the Torah praises Avraham, “…for he commands his children and his household after him that they keep the way of HaShem.”

What is hinted to in this parsha is something else entirely.  It is not discussing the simple edification process, but one that teaches children in a way that they reach excellence.

This is expressed in the words that the Talmud uses to give this directive: “L’hazhir hagdolim al haktanim,” that the adults should be “mazhir” the children. While the word “mazhir” generally means “to teach,” it also means “to shine,” as in the verse,[6] “The wise will shine (yazhiru) like the radiance of the firmament and those who teach righteousness to the multitudes [will shine] like the stars, forever and ever.” We must teach our children in a way that they will shine. We want them to not only reach the stars, but to shine like them as well.

When we teach our children is such a manner, the world will be an inspired place, ultimately heralding in the time that the whole world will be filled with inspiration, with the coming of Moshiach. Then the world will shine with a G-dliness and[7] “the earth will be as filled with the knowledge of HaShem as water covering the sea.”

(Based on Likutei Sichos vol. 2 pg. 443ff)

[1] Vayikra 21:1

[2] Yevamos 114a. See as well Rashi ad loc.

[3] See Shalah in the beginning of Parshas Vayeishev.

[4] See Yechezkel 16.

[5] 18:19

[6] Daniel 12:3

[7] Yeshaya 11:9

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