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When emor isn’t enough

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This week’s Torah portion, Emor, begins, “And G-d spoke to Moses, ‘Emor – say to the kohanim priests, the sons of Aharon, ve’amarta (and tell them).’” The famous commentator, Rashi, expounds on the repeated word-root “emor” and says that the Torah is teaching us that “the adults should warn the children”. In other words, not only do adults need to be careful to follow the Torah’s laws, they should also warn and inspire children to do so.

The idea is that when it comes to Jewish education, it’s not enough just to have emor (speech). It’s also necessary to have ve’amarta. When a parent or teacher wants to impart a lesson to their child or students, it’s not enough to think about the lesson or even to speak about it. The educator must be involved in hands-on, down-to-earth participation.

The sixth Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, risked his life for Jewish education, being imprisoned in Soviet gulags, given a death sentence later commuted to internal exile, until he was finally allowed to leave the Soviet Union. On one occasion, he quoted his father as saying, “Just as wearing tefillin every day is a mitzvah commanded by the Torah to every individual regardless of his standing in Torah, whether learned or simple, so too is it an absolute duty for every person to spend a half hour every day thinking about the Torah-education of children and to do everything in his power – and beyond his power – to inspire children to follow the path along which they are guided.”

Rabbi Moshe Sofer (1762-1839), also known as the Chasam Sofer, was a brilliant scholar and well respected halachic codifier. Many people came to him seeking his halachic rulings and endorsements. Once, two people came to seek his approval – one to become a shochet and the other to become a teacher of young children. The Chasam Sofer met the potential shochet first, asked him a few quick questions, and then gave his endorsement. When the Chasam Sofer admitted the potential teacher, he asked many in-depth questions and continued to meet him throughout the week.

One of the Chasam Sofer’s students asked the Chasam Sofer, “Why were you so brief with the shochet, while you continue to have long meetings with the teacher? If the shochet invalidates the ritual slaughter of an animal with a minor inaccuracy, the animal is rendered non-kosher. Eating such meat is a Biblical offence. Yet the teacher will simply read from a textbook to a small number of students each year.”

The Chasam Sofer answered, “The shochet’s job is to take the life of an animal. If he is G-d fearing, we can trust him in his duties. However, the teacher’s job is to give life to his student. Being G-d fearing isn’t enough. If he misuses his judgement, he could kill his student’s potential forever.”

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