Parsha Emor - Wayyiqra/Leviticus 21:1 - 24:23
The Torah is a pretty clear-cut text. It's simple and straight-forward, understandable by all. Yet, when you dig deeper, you can uncover layers of meanings and even "hidden" messages.
This week, in Parsha Emor, we find a hidden message specifically for parents.
Uncovering the Message
This week’s Parsha begins: “Speak to the priests, the sons of Aharon, and say to them…” (Wayy/Lev. 21:1).
Many chapters and Parshiot start out this way, but the beginning of this Parsha, stands out for two reasons.
One, the first verse addresses the literal sons of Aharon. It's not a metaphorical use like in the "children of Yisrael." YAHUAH is telling Moshe to speak to Aharon's direct descendants, his children.
Secondly, this first verse uses the same Hebrew verb twice - emor v'amarta ("Speak...and say"). In other places with similar wording (in English), two different Hebrew verbs are used - daber and emor. Using the same verb twice in a row makes this verse unique.
Each of the remaining chapters in the Parsha also begin with a reference to children.
Chapter 22 begins, “Speak to Aharon and his sons…” (Wayy. 22:2).
Chapter 23 begins, “Speak to the children of Yisrael…”
Finally, chapter 24 begins, “Command the children of Yisrael…” (24:2).
So, here we have:
1) a Parsha titled Emor - "Speak"
2) double usage of the same verb emor (speak and say)
3) an opening verse speaking specifically to the literal children of Aharon
4) and a pattern of addressing “sons” and “children” throughout the Parsha
Considered together, we uncover a hidden message: Speak to your children.
In other words, the Torah is reminding us of our obligation to teach our children.
Our Daily Reminder
This obligation is so important that we are constantly reminded of it. We say it every day, twice a day (hopefully…) in the Shema:
(4) “Hear, O Yisra’el: יהוה our Elohim, יהוה is one!
(5) “And you shall love יהוה your Elohim with all your heart, and with all your being, and with all your might.
(6) “And these Words which I am commanding you today shall be in your heart,
(7) and you shall impress them upon your children, and shall speak of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up,
(8) and shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
(9) “And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
“impress them upon your children”
We say it, we know it, but how many of us - and to what extent do we - actually do it?
Someone Else’s Problem?
In America, we’re used to letting our children’s education be someone else’s responsibility, thanks to the public education system. Of course, such a system is needed in our country, but it falsely gives us the impression that we're not responsible for our child’s education. If our child doesn’t learn something or struggles with learning, it’s usually blamed on the school and/or the teacher. It's not our fault.
Also, for those of us coming from a Christian background, many of us got used to Sunday School, Children’s Church, or Veggie Tales. Not only was our children’s secular education out of our hands but so too was their spiritual education in someone’s else’s hands.
This isn’t the Torah way.
According to Torah, the children’s education is 100% the parents’ responsibility.
Speak AND Say
The opening verse says, “Speak to the priests, the sons of Aharon, and say to them…” (Wayy/ 21:1). The same verb (emor) is used twice.
When the Torah uses this kind of redundant wording, it’s making a specific point. Just as it goes a step further to add an extra word, so too the meaning of the statement goes a step further.
Speak and say. In other words, don’t just speak to them, go a step further. Make sure that they hear and understand.
If Moshe just related the Torah and mitzvot to Yisrael, that would only satisfy part of his obligation. He had to go a step further to make sure that they understood what he related to them.
Because he had to make sure that the sons and the children understood, so too we have to "speak and say" to our children.
We have to speak to them, and then we have to make sure they understand. Not just comprehend the words we’re speaking, but also understand the meaning and importance of what we’re conveying to them.
Notice the emphasis on speaking and saying. This means we have to actually use our lips and talk to our children. It's not enough to just be an example.
An example complements instruction. When given by itself, the lesson in the example can be easily missed or even misunderstood.
Therefore, our example in how we live and serve YAHUAH should complement what we're teaching them verbally. We teach, making sure they understand, and then we live the example.
When we instruct in this manner - speaking AND saying, then living the example - we help ensure that our children's knowledge turns into practice, a set-apart lifestyle.
We must teach our children about YAHUAH - His Name, His nature, Who He is, what He's like, etc. Teach them of His love, kindness, and compassion; His greatness and His might. They have to know and understand Who He really is. Then, they can fulfill the commands to love Him and fear Him.
We must teach them how to serve YAHUAH - how and when to pray, how to recite blessings, how to observe Shabbat and the set-apart days, how to eat kosher, how to behave in the set-apart place, how to give tithes, and how to keep all the other mitzvot. They have to know and understand so that it becomes part of who they are.
We must teach them Torah - the habit of reading and studying it, where it came from, why it’s important, and, of course, what’s in it. They’re not just “bible stories,” they’re our history! They must learn our history so they can learn from it.
We must teach them good character traits. I believe the lack of this kind of education at home has contributed to the bullying problem we now see in this generation.
We must be diligent to explicitly teach our children good character traits - kindness, compassion, humility, patience, respect, honesty, generosity, loyalty, trustworthiness, peacefulness, etc. It is our job to shape and mold their character.
We must teach them good morals and values and ethics. Teach them right from wrong, not assuming that they “know better.”
Teach. Give examples. Use real-life events as teaching moments to explain what happened and why you (or someone) responded in such a way. If we don’t teach them set-apart morals, values, and ethics, then they will learn the immoral, unethical ways of the world.
If we teach them, then we do good, but it’s only half our obligation. We have to make sure they understand and have internalized it. If we don’t, we’re not fulfilling our responsibility to the utmost.
We have to "speak and say" to them. We have to "impress" it upon them.
Make sure that they know and understand - that the message is fully integrated and becomes a part of them.
And yes...we must be an example of everything we teach them. If we say but don’t do, then our children will be confused. If they’re confused, then they don’t completely understand - meaning we didn’t do our job appropriately.
In order for them to understand to the point of internalizing it themselves, they have to see the example in front of them. Speak and say, then give the example.
And If We Don’t?
If we don’t explicitly teach our children about YAHUAH and His Torah, somebody else will teach them something else. They will learn from friends, neighbors, classmates, TV, internet, books, and who knows where else.
Whether it’s another belief or the ways of the world, if we don't teach them, they will learn something else from somewhere else.
We cannot assume that our children already know the right way. Many times, we assume that they will just pick things up by watching us. Sometimes they do, but many times they don't.
If we didn’t expressly teach them with our lips - speaking and saying - then we cannot assume they know.
We can only assume that if we didn’t speak and say and impress it, then they don’t know!
If we don't teach them, then we are setting our children up for sin. If we didn’t speak and say and impress upon them the ways of YAHUAH, then we bear some of the responsibility for their actions because we didn't teach them the right way.
"Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he turns not away from it." (Mishle/Prov. 22:6)
“For I have known him [Abraham], so that he commands his children and his household after him, to guard the way of יהוה, to do righteousness and right-ruling, so that יהוה brings to Abraham what He has spoken to him.” (Ber/Gen. 18:19)
And anyone who’s ever taught anything knows that when one teaches, one learns. The more we teach our children, the more we learn ourselves. A double benefit.