Friday, May 2, 2014

In Service:Speak Softly and Carry a Big Kohen (Kohen Gadol); the Torah Portion of Emor


This week's Torah portion focuses on laws regarding the priestly class, the Kohanim. As an introduction, the parashah starts with the following somewhat repetitive words:

 
 
1. And the Lord 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.
  


א. וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה אֶל משֶׁה אֱמֹר אֶל הַכֹּהֲנִים בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם לְנֶפֶשׁ לֹא יִטַּמָּא בְּעַמָּיו:

Rashi picks up on the repetition of th word "speak" and comments as follows:

Rashi: Speak to the kohanim: Heb. אֱמֹר וְאָמַרְתָּ “Speak [to the Kohanim …] and say [to them],” lit. “Say…and you shall say.” [This double expression comes] to admonish the adult Kohanim regarding the young ones.

Rashi is telling us that, first and foremost, the Torah portion is about education. The laws of the Kohanim are not just for one generation of children of Aharon, but for all future generations as well.

In what manner is this education to take place? In the way of Emor, a softer embracing type of speech, as explained in Rashi's comment to the the verse in Shemot (Exodus 19:3):

3. Moses ascended to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, "So shall you say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel,

ג. וּמשֶׁה עָלָה אֶל הָאֱלֹהִים וַיִּקְרָא אֵלָיו יְהוָֹה מִן הָהָר לֵאמֹר כֹּה תֹאמַר לְבֵית יַעֲקֹב וְתַגֵּיד לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:
 

Rashi: to the house of Jacob: These are the women. Say it to them [Tomar, from the verb Le'emor] in a gentle language. — [from Mechilta]

Parents and teachers sometimes have the illusion that if they scream enough, their point and/or their authority will come across and their children will learn how to behave. This is rarely effective in the short-term and even less effective longterm. Gentle language (along with consistent rules and discipline) leads to much better results.

Interestingly, if you look closely, the verb Le'emor  ("to say") is not used twice, but actually three times in the verse: 1) from Hashem to Moshe; 2) from Moshe to the Kohanim regarding the Kohanim themselves; 3) from Moshe to the Kohanim regarding their children.

In great part, the world runs in a way of cause-and-effect and reciprocity. In education, the way you educate your children more like than not will be the way your own kids will educate theirs, and so on and so forth. So important was the principle of educating in a gentle manner that even Hashem Himself speaks to Moshe in a way of Le'emor as opposed to Ledaber or Lehagid (other less gentle words for speaking). Moshe in turn speaks in the same manner to the Kohanim; the Kohanim to their children; the children to their children, etc. No wonder the Kohen Gadol is called Ish Chassidecha (a man of Your kindness).

Furthermore, the way you speak to your kids (and the rest of the world for that manner) is the way they end up speaking to you. The world is a mirror. Even the way you treat Hashem and His commandments is the way you end up being treated by Him as well. This is known as Middah Keneged Middah.

We probably all agree that we could each use a little more kindness and gentleness in our lives. There is a very easy way to achieve that: starting with ourselves. The ripple effects will be felt beyond your wildest dreams.
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