When I was pregnant with my first child, many people peppered me with all kinds of helpful advice. Many advised me about practical things, like which diapers and stroller to buy, while others were candid in the fact that in the years since they had children, they secretly coveted the high-quality sleep they used to have.
Some of the advice that I received was a little more thoughtful. Many people told me that a parent’s love for a child was more than one could imagine until they themselves had children. They also told me that my perspectives and world view would change as I came to understand the world differently by looking at the wonder in which a child experiences the world.
As part of this advice, people kept highlighting their hopes for their children. They hoped that they were being good parents. They hoped to provide the right kind of education that nourished their children’s physical and mental wellbeing. And to make their children feel safe and secure.
This week’s Parsha starts with the verse:
וַיֹּ֤אמֶר ה֙ אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֔ה אֱמֹ֥ר אֶל־הַכֹּהֲנִ֖ים בְּנֵ֣י אַהֲרֹ֑ן וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ לֹֽא־יִטַּמָּ֖א בְּעַמָּֽיו׃
The LORD said to Moses: Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: None shall defile himself for any [dead] person among his kin
The structure of the sentence includes a repetition of the word “אמר” the Hebrew word for “speak.” Rashi immediately jumps on this verse and quotes a verse from Yevamot 114:
לְהַזְהִיר גְּדוֹלִים עַל הַקְּטַנִּים
To warn parents about their children.
In Rashi’s view, the repetition of this word is to warn the parents about the necessity of needing to educate their children.
On a plain reading, this verse conveys the importance of the priests educating their children about how to remain Tahor so that they could complete their holy work in the Temple. However, as this verse opens the Parsha, it contains extra significance as it includes broad timeless guidance for all Jewish parents.
In a Sicha on Parshat Emor in the year 5750, the Lubavitcher Rebbe took this message one step further. Instead of understanding this verse as merely instructing parents to educate their children, the Rebbe understood this verse to be more nuanced. He noted that the Parsha was alluding to a more advanced approach to education of one’s children: one which becomes necessary when a child has already learnt the basics but requires ongoing examples of righteous behavior to emulate and copy to advance themselves.
During the time we are in, where we count the days and weeks leading up to Shavuot from Pesach, we see this approach reflected in the counting of the Omer. Chasidic thought explains that the Sefirah, the counting each day of the Omer is an advanced form of education. This is because, with each day, we commit ourselves to advancing ourselves to do better and progress forward to a higher spiritual place.
This personal refinement allows one to better themselves day by day with each progressive count and that is an example that can be emulated by children and those around them.
So, when Rashi notes that the purpose of the opening verse of the Parsha is to warn parents, he uses the word לְהַזְהִיר. This word is interconnected with the Hebrew word זוהר which means to “light.” The Rebbe explained that this means that for children to flourish, parents must educate them daily and understand that by demonstrating thoughtful behaviour, the children will copy them which will result in the children themselves following the examples set by their parents and shining with light.
As we edge ever close to Shavuot we accept that this unique period, in which we add daily spirituality through the counting of the Omer will soon cease, but that does not mean that we should cease infusing spirituality into our day.
We have the ability to actively choose to increase our spiritual growth and by doing so, we provide an example for our children and those around us to emulate so that they too continue their advance themselves. And in this way, we can take the heart of the message of this week’s Parsha and internalise it into our daily actions.