Making sense of the sedra: Emor
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Making sense of the sedra: Emor

Education equals empowerment and encouragement

In the journey of education, the words of parents, teachers and mentors hold immense power. How we respond to a child’s setbacks can shape their confidence and self-esteem for years to come. Parshat Emor, in the book of Leviticus, offers timeless wisdom on the importance of encouragement and nurturing in the process of education. It contains a wealth of commandments and teachings relevant to Jewish life. Among these, a sizeable portion is devoted to the responsibilities of the kohanim (priests), guidelines for the observance of festivals, and laws pertaining to purity and impurity.

Embedded within these commandments is the concept of chinuch (education), which is highlighted by Rashi, the renowned medieval commentator. Rashi focuses on the verse instructing Moses to speak to the priests: “Say to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them,” (21:1). Why does the verse state to “say to the priests” as well as again mention “say to them”?

Rashi explains the verse to mean that elders are instructed to warn the younger generation. This understanding highlights the responsibility of the older generation to guide and teach the younger generation, ensuring that they understand and uphold the commandments

The Ohr Hachaim, another commentator, suggests that the use of emor (speak) implies elevation, indicating that education should uplift and instil pride in its recipients.

Consider a scenario where a child faces disappointment despite their hard work. The traditional response might be to admonish them, warning of the consequences of not studying hard enough. “You need to study hard, or you will get bad marks again,” we might say, inadvertently discouraging them. However, an alternative approach acknowledges their effort and potential: “I know you tried hard. I believe that you can do better next time.” This simple choice between discouragement and encouragement can significantly impact a child’s self-esteem and confidence.

The parshat’s emphasis on the identity of the kohanim provides a poignant lesson in education. Imagine a child who is a kohen, a descendant of Aaron, the High Priest. Playing football near a cemetery, the ball goes over and the rabbi’s son and the kohen’s son go to retrieve it. When the kohen‘s child is stopped, he questions why he can’t go. The father responds by affirming his son’s identity: “You are kohen.” Here lies the essence of Jewish education – teaching children their unique identity and worth.

The secret of effective education lies in showing children that they are children of God – the King of the world. By instilling a sense of pride in their heritage and identity, children can navigate challenges with confidence, knowing they come from a lineage of greatness.

This deeper understanding sheds light on the Rashi’s phrase: to warn the elders to shine with pleasure in performing God’s commandments. The adults’ enthusiasm and pride in their heritage serve as the best example for the younger generation, guiding them to embrace their identity and fulfil their potential.

In the realm of education, encouragement and empowerment are paramount. Instead of instilling fear, we should uplift and inspire. Parshat Emor teaches us that our words and actions have the power to shape the confidence and self-esteem of the next generation. Let us choose to nurture, encourage, and empower, guiding our children towards a future filled with pride and potential.

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