April 29, 2021 / Iyar 17, 5781 • Parshat Emor
Issue 664
Dedicated in loving memory of Mrs. Miriam Friedman

And the L-rd said to Moses: Speak to the kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: Let none of you defile himself for a dead person among his people, instruct them to say these laws to their children, in order to train them in their observance.

Leviticus 21:1

Although the continuity and endurance of the Jewish people hinges on education, the Torah does not mandate educating the young until here—fourteen parshiot after the giving of the Torah (in parshat Yitro)—and even here, it mentions only the priests’ duty to educate their young, leaving us to infer that this duty devolves upon the rest of the people, as well.

It is thus clear that the Torah takes education for granted, relying on the example set by our forefather Abraham, for which G-d chose him to be the progenitor of the Jewish people. In this context, it postpones the mention of education until this point in order to teach us some specific lessons.

We note firstly that the sages refer to the priests’ duty to educate their children as their responsibility “to caution” them, the Hebrew word for which (להזהיר) also means “to make shine.” This implies that rather than being content with setting an elementary educational standard for our youth or training them in the perfunctory observance of the commandments, we should teach them to perform the commandments optimally, even beyond the letter of the law, so that they—both the commandments and the children—sparkle.

This lesson is emphasized by the fact that the Torah teaches it to us through its instruction to the priests. The priests’ task is to help others rise spiritually and become close to G-d (through the sacrificial service); so too, we should strive to educate our youth not to merely be well versed in the Torah and punctilious in observing its commandments, but through this study and observation draw close to G-d.

Secondly, this lesson appears in the Book of Leviticus—more of whose content is devoted to the exposition of G-d’s commandments than in is of any of the other books of the Torah—and specifically toward the end of this book, after most of the laws of the Torah have been given. This suggests that this emphasis in education should be all-encompassing and predicated on our basic commitment to study and observance.

Finally, this message appears in parshat Emor, which contains the commandment of counting the Omer. As we will see, this commandment allegorically represents our collective education as a people, and the word used for “counting” (sefirah) also means “gleaming” or “shining.” What more appropriate a commandment than counting the Omer to convey this message of optimal and shining cultivation of our children—of the child in years, the child in Jewish knowledge, and the child within each of us.

—From the Kehot Chumash