By Rabbi Thomas Louchheim

Teach Your Children Well

Saturday, April 27, 2013

31st Torah portion, 8th in Leviticus

Emor 21:1-24:33 (124 verses)

32nd Day in the counting of the Omer


Laws regulating the lives and sacrifices of the priests are presented. The set times of the Jewish calendar are named and described. God commands the Israelites to bring clear olive oil for lighting the sanctuary menorah. The ingredients and placement of the displayed loaves of sanctuary bread are explained. Laws prohibiting profanity, murder, and the maiming of others are outlined.


It is well-known that the child of a priest is also a priest. That is to say, when the child becomes an adult, he becomes a priest, not due to any special qualities of his own. His mission is imposed upon him at birth. The father is responsible to give his son the proper education in the various intricacies of the laws related to the kohanim. In introducing the laws related to the priests the Torah uses the words, “Speak (emor) to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say (amarta) to them…” (21:1). The two italicized words are from the same root and have the same meaning, “say” or “speak.” The question is why use the same verb twice in this verse? The Talmudic explanation is that this usage conveys a l’haz’hir, “warning” to the adults concerning their children (Yevamot 114a). The father is “forewarned” about how important it is to educate his child. It appears that this duty of the adult priest to teach his son is a much more severe acknowledgment of the parental duty of v’shinantam, “teach” or “repeat” to your children, found in the v’ahavta.

We learn of two elements regarding the priesthood through the rabbis’ warning. First there is an element of necessity related to this education. It is not simply that children of priests become priests; they need to be taught the rules. The second element is the anxiety which stems from the “warning” that priests will simply acknowledge that their son will become a priest and do nothing to educate him. The necessity and anxiety are fused together into the Talmudic charge to the adult priest to show the child the way. The term used to denote warning to the adult priests is l’haz’hir, whose root reminds us of the word zohar, “brilliance.” Rabbi Reuven P. Bulka in his commentary (Torah Therapy) says, “The parent priest is to educate through illumination, through shining example.”

In the last half century, we have witnessed the disappearance of traditional Jewish neighborhoods.  Without a Jewish neighborhood, new generations of Jews grew up outside of an encompassing Jewish cultural environment.  As adults, this group of “culturally deprived” Jews felt insecure in their Jewish knowledge and uncomfortable in Jewish settings.  As parents, they lost the ability to convey practice and meaning of Judaism to their children, and Jewish schools had to assume this responsibility. Many parents allow the Jewish and secular education of their children to be done by “the experts.” However, without the active support of parents and the surrounding neighborhood, what these children learned in school was disconnected from community and home.

This commentary reminds each of us of the necessity and the responsibility of education by parents. Yes, our children, like the priests, are Jewish by birthright; but the affirmation of that inheritance is by example and by teaching. We, ourselves, must imbue our children with an “illuminated” commitment. As parents, it is up to us to “light up” a path for our children. Our children are literally our world’s future. This means that we must realize this to be a lifetime state of awareness of our obligation to both live by example and teach the values of our faith which have helped Jews survive, thrive and make a difference. We are enjoined to be the best parents we can be; like the priests of old, we must instruct and lead our children toward kedusha, “holiness.”             


  1. When I am most effective as a parent or friend, how is that effectiveness quantifiable?
  2. When I am least effective as a parent or friend, how is that ineffectiveness quantifiable?
  3. Are there ways that I educate my children in the sacred rites of Judaism even though I am not an “expert” by modeling passion, tradition, and values? Can I do more? What      would that be? (Maybe, ask the rabbi?)


                Find one Jewish value and discover one way to “light” a path to it for yourself andfor your child or a dear friend.

Follow Rabbi Louchheim on Twitter for a daily inspirational reading: @RabbiLouchheim


Join the weekly conversation on Facebook: Rabbi Louchheim Weekly Torah Portion