Weekly Torah Portion

Emor – The Joy of the Mitzvot

Vayikra, 21:1: HaShem said to Moses: Say to the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: Each of them shall not contaminate himself to a [dead] person among his people.”
Rashi, Vayikra, 21:1: sv. Say to the Kohanim: Say’ (emor) and ‘say’ (amarta), [the repetition is] to warn the adults with regards to the children.”
HaShem twice uses the expression of ‘saying’ when instructing Moshe Rabbeinu to teach the laws of purity of the Kohanim.  Rashi, based on the Talmud, explains that the repetition is coming to teach us that the Kohanim must also teach their sons to observe these laws.[1]  This teaches us a principle in parenting that applies to all of Torah; that a parent must ensure that his children observe the Mitzvot. 
Rav Baruch Sorotskin zt”l asks in the name of his father, Rav Zalman Sorotskin zt”l, since this lesson applies equally to all other Mitzvot, why, then, was it taught specifically in the context of the Mitzvot of the Kohanim? 
He explains that there is a significant factor that makes it more difficult to educate young Kohanim in their Mitzvot; with regard to other Mitzvot, all Jews are equally required to observe the Torah and therefore there is less chance that a Jewish child will be influenced to do something forbidden by his fellow children.  Only the non-Jews do not observe the laws of the Torah and there was little risk that a child would think their actions are acceptable for a Jew who follows the Torah.[2] 
However, the laws of the Kohanim are unique in that most Jews do not have to observe them.  Therefore, there is the added risk that a young Kohen will not realize the severity of the Mitzvot that only pertain to Kohanim.  Accordingly, the Torah chooses these Mitzvot in particular to stress the significance of educating one’s children in the Mitzvot.[3]
The challenge that in those times was greater with regards to Kohanim, now seems to apply to all Jews.  This is because, sadly, there are many Jews who do not observe the Mitzvot.  Moreover, even within the groups who do strive to observe the Mitzvot, there are many different levels of sensitivity with regard to areas such as use of modern technology and involvement in the secular world. 
How, then, does a person strive to bring up his children to adhere to the level of values that he aspires to and not be adversely influenced by others?[4]
An answer to this question can perhaps be found in the words of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l in his commentary on this verse in Emor.[5]  He explains, based on Rashi, that the two lashonos (expressions) of ‘saying’ come to teach us that there are two aspects in educating our children about Mitzvot.  The first is simply to teach them about their obligations and the accompanying challenges that they will need to overcome.  However, this alone is insufficient; for if a child only hears this then he may feel that he is not strong enough to overcome the numerous challenges that he will inevitably face.  
Accordingly, the second ‘saying’ comes to add that the father must communicate the joy of keeping Mitzvot to his children.  In this way the child will receive the message that Torah observance is not simply a difficult challenge that must be overcome, rather it is the source of our well-being in this world as well as the next. 

In this vein, Rav Feinstein mentioned a phrase that was common amongst Jews of previous generations: “it is difficult to be a Jew”. He says that children that heard this message from their parents were being implicitly taught that Torah observance is a yoke that one must bear, despite all the challenges and difficulties it involves.  As a result, many of these children grew up to see Torah as a burden and rejected it in their desire to achieve a ‘better’ life.
In this vein, the following story was told; in the early part of the twentieth century many Jews who moved to America faced the tremendous challenge (nisayon) of not working on Shabbos.  Most employers insisted that their employees work on Shabbos and if they refused they would be instantly fired.  Many Jews succumbed to this nisayon and worked on Shabbos.  Yet there were a minority who remained steadfast in their Shabbos observance despite the great challenges that this posed. 
There were two such men who did this, yet their children developed very differently.  One of them merited to have children who devotedly followed in his footsteps to be G-d fearing Jews.  But the children of the other man did not grow up in the same way and rejected Torah observance.  The second man once approached Rav Aaron Kotler zt”l and asked him why his children had not followed in his footsteps whilst those of his friend did. 

He answered that whilst both men refused to work on Shabbos they expressed very different attitudes to their children. This man would return home on Friday after he was fired and come to the Shabbos table despondent, saying how difficult it was to keep the Torah in America.  He constantly bemoaned his financial situation and worried about how he would find another job.  His children would hear this and see how difficult Shabbos observance was; Shabbos, and by extension, all Torah, in their minds, became a difficult, unpleasant burden that only brought pain and sorrow every week.  Unsurprisingly, as soon as they grew up, they were unwilling to undergo such ‘suffering’ and dropped Shabbos and the other Mitzvot. 
In contrast, his friend came home with an entirely different attitude.  He came to the Shabbos table with great joy and enthusiasm, happy to have remained steadfast in his Shabbos observance.  He saw it as a privilege to have stood up for the honor of Shabbos and was confident that HaShem would enable him to provide for his family.  Thus his children grew up seeing Torah observance as the key to a rewarding and meaningful life.[6]
This essential lesson from Rav Feinstein and Rav Kotler provides us with the key to answer our original question.  Our children will inevitably see others of different levels of Torah observance and standards, however if they are taught that observing the Torah is a joyous opportunity then they are far more likely to not be tempted by seemingly ‘easier’ or more ‘pleasurable’ lifestyles. 
One example of this is how parents approach Jewish holidays that require considerable work and preparation, such as Pesach.  If the atmosphere in the home is one of tenseness at the burden of having to clean the house then the children will likely grow up with the attitude that Pesach is a burden.  But if the hard work is approached in a positive way then they will see Pesach as a time of great happiness. 
One final vital point is that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to communicate the joy of Torah observance to one’s children, if the parent does not feel that joy himself.  Children are influenced far more by how we live, then what we say. 
Thus, as well as a key message in parenting, this is an essential lesson in our own lives; that Torah is the only way to achieve true meaning and life satisfaction. If we inculcate that into our own lives then our children will surely emulate us.

Notes and Sources

[1] Yevamos, 114a.
[2] This explanation is clearly based on the fact that almost all Jews observe the laws of the Torah as was the case in the time of the Gemara.  As we will discuss below, the fact that this is not the case now has ramifications in chinuch.
[3] MiShulchan HaGavoa, Vayikra, p.177.
[4] In modern society, this seems to be an issue that is relevant to everyone no matter where they live.  This is because even if a person tries to shield their children from foreign influences it is very likely that they will at least be aware of such influences.  Needless to say, it is more relevant to people that have more exposure to secular society, whether it be through less observant family members, neighbors or friends.  People involved in the great Mitzvo of outreach may well face this test on a more constant basis. 
[5] Darash Moshe, Parshas Emor, p.97.
[6] Rav Mattisyahu Salamon shlita tells over a similar account in the  name of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l. (With Hearts Full of Love, pp.90-91).  He points out that there were of course other factors that could come in to play with regards to how children grew up, but that as a general rule, the difference expressed above was at the root of the reason as to why some children kept Torah when they grew up, and others rejected it.

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