By: Rabbi Moshe Gordon (alum of Long Island NCSY)
Dare to be Different
Parshas Emor begins with a problematic phrase: “HaShem says to Moshe, Speak to the Kohanim, the children of Aharon; And you should say to them that they should not come in contact with the dead.” There seems to be both an ambiguity and a redundancy here! What exactly was Moshe being commanded to say to the Kohanim in the first part of the sentence? Also, isn’t the phrase “And you should say to them” a bit repetitive? Why does the Torah begin the Laws of the Kohanim with such an unclear verse? The Ohr HaChaim raises another question as well. He points out that it would seem more proper to have written “the children of Aharon, the Kohanim…” instead of “the Kohanim, the children of Aharon.” After all, the term “the Kohanim” is just a title and the real people Moshe was speaking to were “the children of Aharon” (in fact, the Torah usually writes the seemingly more proper expression of “the children of Aharon, the Kohanim…”)? What message is being imparted here?
Rashi helps us begin to understand the Pasuk (as always!). He refers us to a Gemara in Yevamos 114a. The Gemara tells us that the double expression of (in Hebrew) “Emor…V’Amarta” is teaching us that the parent Kohanim have an obligation to ensure that their children keep the Mitzvos associated with the Kohanim. In essence, the Torah is saying “speak to the parents and make sure they speak to their children”.
However, a deeper look at the discussion in the Gemara and Halachik sources implies that this is not so simple. Without getting in to all of the details (but if you’re interested, take a look at Tur Yoreh Deah 373 & Orach Chaim 343 with the commentary of the Beis Yosef. The Gur Aryeh’s commentary on our Parsha discusses many of the relevant points,) there’s a basic question on this Halacha. According to many authorities, the Halacha that requires parents to safeguard their children from violating Torah prohibitions applies to all areas on the Torah, not just to Kohanim. If so, why does the Torah express this concept again in connection to the Kohanim? Yet, according to other authorities, in other areas a parent does not have a Torah level obligation to keep their kids far away from sin (i.e. if a parent sees their child about to eat non-kosher food, the parent might not be Biblically obligated to stop him! Of course, the general principle of “Chinuch” still applies.). If so, why do the Kohein parents have a different obligation than others?
There is a simple but profound explanation that applies to all of us, even the “regular” Jews! The Kohanim have numerous additional Mitzvos to keep. They live a different life from those surrounding them. Being different is not always easy. The Torah teaches us that extra care must be taken to raise extra special Jews on an extra special level. Their parents need to do everything they can to make sure the kids grow up feeling proud to be unique and confident in their mission. That’s why the Torah tells us to “speak to the Kohanim” (before identifying them as “the children of Aharon”)- let them know why they are different and what makes them special! They are “Kohanim” and should be excited to maintain a different standard.
The truth is that message applies to Klal Yisrael at large. No question about it, we’re different than the rest of the world. It takes a lot of planning to make sure that we and our kids understand what makes us different and why. We need to maintain a constant vigilance to guarantee that a deep sense of pride and confidence is planted in each one of us and our children. As much as this true for each individual parent and family, we also have a communal responsibility to look out for all of Klal Yisrael’s children. As NCSY alumni, we’ve all experienced the passion and excitement for Yiddeshkeit in NCSY that has helped make it easier for so many teens to dare to be different! And, as alumni, let’s all think of ways to stay involved and help the next generation of teens feel the excitement and passion too!