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Title: Warn The Adults

Major Focus: Education

Minor Focus: Responsibility

Abstract: The phrase "speak to the priests...and say to them," suggests a double emphasis, so that both priests and parents know what their responsibility is toward children.

Format: Rabbinic Argument


"God said to Moses: Speak (emor) to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them (ve'amarta): None shall defile himself for any deceased person among his family, except for the relatives that are closest to him: his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, and his brother..."

Leviticus 21:1-2

    Why the repetition, "Speak to the priests...and say to them..."?

  1. Ramban: God was speaking to Aaron and the people of his generation as parents. God was warning Aaron that his children, the future priests of the nation, must be taught and guarded from defilement, even if they are young.

    God was reminding them that they are priests. Under no circumstances are they to defile themselves. They are not to have anything to do with the deceased, even during times they are not officiating in the Sanctuary.

    1. How do you think the concept of repetition in speaking to someone clued Ramban into the idea that God was speaking to Aaron and his entire generation as parents?
    2. Why couldn't an off duty priest do normal things like other people? Can you think of any other profession where "off duty" still isn't "normal"?

  2. Rashi: The repetition was to warn the adults about the children. It was a warning to tell the adults they are not to assist in the defilement of their children, but God does not hold them guilty if the children get into trouble on their own.
    1. What kinds of things might parents be likely to expose their children to that would upset God?
    2. Why shouldn't parents be responsible for their children's misconduct? How is this rule applied in contemporary society?

  3. Yebamoth 114a: A person must not tell a child to do something they know is wrong. If a child is visiting their grandparents, and eats non-kosher food, it is not necessary to take the food from the child. The child did not know any better. The grandparents should have.
    1. Why do you think the Rabbis ruled it was not necessary to take non-kosher food away from a child, so long as you didn't give it to them?
    2. What do you think parents and grandparents can or should do now if their children keep kosher and they do not?

  4. Chasam Sofer: I agree. It is a warning to the adults with regard to their children. Since the next section of the Torah deals with the death of family members, the adults are being warned not merely to concern themselves with a fine, respectable funeral, but also to think about their children.

    If young children are left orphaned, the surviving adults in the family must give their attention to them. They must make certain they are cared for properly.

    1. Is it wrong to have a fine and respectable funeral? What priorities is the commentator worried about?
    2. There are specific warnings in the Torah about the care of orphans. Why is the commentator using this piece to emphasize it again?

  5. Ibn Ezra: God was speaking to the priests, the sons of Aaron. They were the spiritual parents of all Israel. The responsibility of teaching Torah and admonishing the people fell upon them. The repetition was to tell the priests just how important is their responsibility, and specifically to tell them what their personal responsibilities were going to be from now on.
    1. How has Ibn Ezra shifted the argument from biologic parents to spiritual parents? Why did he do that?
    2. Who are your spiritual parents? Who can society look to for spiritual parenting?

  6. Jonah Ibn Ganach: There is essentially no difference between the words emor and ve'amarta. The double usage is not uncommon in the Bible. Together, they emphasize the importance of the subject being discussed.
    1. What aspect of Torah commentary and Hebrew language would you guess this commentator is most interested in?
    2. Has he added to our understanding or trivialized the discussion?

  7. Vayikra Rabba: The repetition was to emphasize the truth, purity, and permanence of God's words. It is the way of the world that a mortal king comes to his people and promises them all sorts of wonderful things. Then, he dies in his sleep the very next day. Where then are his words and great promises? It is not so with God!
    1. What new direction has the midrash taken us in this discussion? Why is it important to look at other pathways of reasoning and logic?
    2. What does the story about the death of a king mean?

  8. Psalm 19,10: The fear of God is pure and lasts forever. As Rabbi Levi has said, Aaron was afraid to approach the altar, especially after the death of his sons, so God spoke to him this way. God had to tell him, and his children, the future priests, how to deal with death and yet remain pure and in fear of God.
    1. What does "the fear of God" mean to you? Are you concerned that God will strike you or a loved one down, as happened to Aaron's two sons?
    2. Why did the priests have to stay away from death houses and deceased persons?

  9. Hirsch: The words emor and ve'amarta are not the same. One refers to speaking and one to informing. Speaking is the expression of thoughts in words, words that may be falling on deaf or apathetic ears. Informing is to tell someone in such a way that one knows they are getting the message. Emor implies that the thoughts are being addressed to the mind and feelings of another person, concise, and pregnant with meaning. They are being absorbed.
    1. What is the nature of Rabbi Hirsch's disagreement with Jonah Ibn Ganach?
    2. Have you ever been frustrated by speaking to a person you suspect is not listening, caring, or concentrating on what you are saying? When that happens, do you shift tone so you know they are being informed?

  10. Tanhuma: The concept is repeated to emphasize that it is the priests God is instructing. At the end of the last parasha, the Torah warned that it meant death to consult any kind of psychic medium, oracle, or spiritualist. People might ask, "If we can't use them, the dark powers, who can we turn to when we need spiritual guidance?" God makes it clear who they can turn to. The people must learn to turn to the legitimate priests of Israel. It is the priests' duty to know the Torah and provide guidance for the people.
    1. Chasam Sofer connected this verse to the next section on funerals, but Tanhuma is connecting it to the previous section on fortune-telling and magic. Why are they both working so hard to make intra-Torah connections?
    2. Why was God so strict about the issue of turning to "dark powers"? What is the real issue?