Weekly Torah Commentary — Emor May 1, 2015

EMOR – Leviticus 21 – 24

As is often the case, the name of this week’s Torah reading is taken from a word in the very first verse: emor – “speak”. In fact, the act of speech appears three times in this verse:

And God said to Moshe: Speak to the kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and say to them: Let none [of you] defile himself for a dead person among his people (Vayikra 21:1).

There is nothing unusual in the verse that states that God spoke to Moshe; this is one of the more common phrases in the Torah. But the next two uses of the verb emor in this verse – translated here as “speak” and “say” – create an uncharacteristic passage.

One reason could be that the Torah is creating an emphasis that might otherwise have been absent. By doubling the use of the verb, perhaps the message is that Moshe is charged with speaking to the kohanim (priests) in a way that will be heard, so that the message is understood and internalized.

The noted commentator, Rashi, suggests that this verse implies the responsibility of adults towards children. Taken at face value, Rashi’s comment contains an uplifting message: Not only should adults take responsibility for themselves, they should invest in the next generation and guide the young and innocent away from sin. We might easily use this teaching as a springboard for a broader discussion concerning the importance of positive, proactive education and the need to take responsibility for the next generation.

However the Talmudic discussion actually stresses a far more ominous topic: Our verse is quoted in a passage that analyzes a number of cases in which an adult may be tempted to actually cause a child to sin. Far from an innocent or uplifting discussion of the virtues of religious education, the particular Talmudic passage we are referring to addresses adults who actively lead children to sin.

Causing someone to sin is akin to feeding them spiritual poison, and this behavior stains the soul of the instigator as well as the perpetrator – particularly when the transgression is committed by a young, unsuspecting and impressionable soul.

The conclusion we are forced to draw from a careful study of the first verse in Parshat Emor teaches responsibility: firstly, that we must educate the next generation, but equally important, it warns us against corrupting the next generation and causing our children to sin. This message is far more sobering for it brings into bold relief the issue of example. Do we tell our children ‘Do as I say, not as I do?’ or do we model for them the righteousness and integrity we want them to have in the future.

In Tune with Torah this week = setting a very high benchmark in our personal lives, mindful that as adults we are standard bearers. And the children are watching!

Shabbat Shalom

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