Teaching by Example by Rabbi Joel Grossman


This week’s Parashah begins with the Pasuk, “VaYomer HaShem El Moshe, Emor El HaKohanim Bnei Aharon VeAmarta Aleihem”, “Hashem said to Moshe, say to the Kohanim the sons of Aharon and tell them” (VaYikra 21:1).  The Gemara (Yevamot 114a) raises a question on this Pasuk: Why does HaShem say both “Emor” and ”VeAmarta,” seemingly repetitive language? Rashi (Yevamot 114a s.v. Emor El HaKohanim Bnei Aharon VeAmarta) answers that HaShem was warning the adult Kohanim to make sure their children don’t become impure. Rav Moshe Feinstein ZT’L raises an interesting point against Rashi in his Sefer Darash Moshe: Both expressions are speaking about adult Kohanim, so where is there an allusion to children? Rav Feinstein brilliantly answers that when it comes to educating children, phrases such as, “This is allowed and that is forbidden” are worthless. A child must see with his own eyes in order to realize that what his parents instruct truly means something to them, and should mean something to him as well. Many years ago, I was hired to help out a ten year old boy who was having difficulty in Judaic Studies. The first time we met, the boy said to me, “I don’t know why this is so important to my father, as I never see him open a Sefer.” After the hour-long lesson, I asked the father to learn with me for the next three weeks instead of the son. The father was very surprised, yet he agreed. Never again did I need to tutor the child.

If children are constantly hearing positive things from their parents such as, “it is not difficult to keep the Torah,” and, “Mitzvot are wonderful,” the child’s education has a great chance of being affected positively.


Now we understand why Hashem commands Moshe with “Emor” and “VeAmarta”, for he was first to teach the basics of these Mitzvot and then explain to the Kohanim why they should feel the sweetness and uniqueness of the Mitzvot: through observing these Mitzvot wholeheartedly, their children will be growing up in the proper atmosphere.

Later in Parashat Emor, the Torah introduces the Yamim Tovim, beginning with Shabbat (VaYikra 23:3). Shabbat itself is not a Yom Tov, so what motivated HaShem to start with it? Rashi (ibid s.v. Sheishet Yamim) explains that one who violates Yom Tov is compared to someone who violates Shabbat, and one who keeps Yom Tov is considered as if he keeps Shabbat. If one decides he wants to keep only Shabbat or he only wants to keep the Yamim Tovim, both are egregious sins, as half-hearted faith is no faith at all. Shabbat is a constant reminder that Hashem created the world, while Yom Tov is a constant reminder that Hashem continues to run the world. Rav Moshe Feinstein writes, “Now we can understand why the Mitzvah of Shabbat is next to Yom Tov, since these fundamentals of faith are interchangeable and essential to being an observant Jew.”

Now we can bring these two ideas together. Just as adult Kohanim must teach their children by example, so too, each and every one of us must fulfill our special Mitzvot of Shabbat and Yom Tov with immense happiness so our children will learn to enjoy observing Shabbat and Yom Tov. This will illustrate to them that Hashem both created the world and continues to run it, and the children’s Simcha and Shemirat HaMitzvot will carry over to the fulfillment of Kol HaTorah Kulah.

As we count the Omer and prepare for the holiday of Shavuot, we must realize that Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim in order to not only receive the Torah on Har Sinai, but to keep the Torah strong in our daily lives as we practice it constantly.

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