Parashat Emor- A Lesson in Parenting
The opening section of Parashat Emor discusses the special restrictions that apply to the Kohanim, specifically, restrictions on whom they may marry and when they may become Tameh (ritually impure). This section begins with God instructing Moshe, “Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aharon, and say to them…” (“Emor El Ha’kohanim…Ve’amarta Alehem”). There is an obvious redundancy in this verse, as God twice tells Moshe to convey to the Kohanim the information presented in this section. Once God instructed Moshe, “Say to the Kohanim,” there was seemingly no need for Him to then reiterate, “and say to them.”
Rashi explains that God here tells Moshe to convey this information to the Kohanim, and also to have them relay the information to their children. As Rashi writes, “Le’hazhir Ha’gedolim Al Ha’ketanim” – “to instruct the adults with regard to the children.” Moshe was to “say to the Kohanim” these Halachot, and then “say to them” that these laws must be transmitted to their children.
Accordingly, this verse constitutes the Biblical source of the most important and most difficult Misva in the entire Torah – the Misva of Hinuch, educating children. Moshe was to tell the adult Kohanim to convey these laws to their children, and from here we derive the general obligation upon each and every Jewish parent to raise children according to the Torah tradition.
The obvious question arises, why did the Torah choose to introduce this most fundamental Misva specifically in this context? The section dealing with the Kohanim actually seems like the least apropos framework in which to establish the obligation of Hinuch, as it applies only to a small segment of the Jewish people. Why did Hashem deem this context the most appropriate place in the Torah for introducing the Misva of educating children?
Every parent can identify with the difficult challenge of imposing upon their child restrictions by which other children are not bound. Inevitably, the child protests and asks, “So how come so-and-so is allowed to do that?” It is difficult to force a child to comply with special rules that other children do not have to comply with. Sometimes, though, we simply have no choice.
This, perhaps, is why the Torah chose the laws of the Kohanim as the paradigm of Hinuch. No group had a harder time educating their children than the Kohanim, who were bound by a special group of restrictions that did not apply to other children. If a child’s friends are going on a trip that passes through a graveyard, he cannot join them. When he grows older and meets a divorced woman whom he wishes to marry, he must be told that he cannot marry her. Kohanim have no choice but to explain to their children that they are different, that they are special, that they have been chosen for a unique level of holiness and closeness to Hashem. This is the only way they can transmit the special laws of the priesthood to their children.
And this is the model that all parents must follow. We must explain to our children that they, and we, are bound by special rules and restrictions because we are special, we are different, we have been given the opportunity to build a unique, close bond with our Creator. This is why the section of the Kohanim was chosen as the source for the Misva of Hinuch. Just as the Kohanim must explain to their children that they are special and different, similarly, we must convey to our children the unique distinction for which Am Yisrael is chosen, and the great privilege we have been given to accept and follow God’s Torah. The Kohanim offer us the model we must follow in this daunting but critical job of raising and educating our children. They demonstrate the importance of explaining to children the value and beauty of the lives of Kedusha for which we have been chosen, and which set us apart from other peoples.