Parashat Emor comprises two major topics: the first is the sanctity required of the priests and the sacrifices, and the second is the calendar of the festivals. These are followed by three minor topics: the lighting of the Candelabrum, the weekly replacement of the showbread, and the incident of the blasphemer.

The first collection of laws concerns only the priestly caste—and indeed, is addressed to them specifically1—while the second is central to the life of the entire nation. As we know, the fact that both these topics are contained within the same parashah indicates that despite their apparent unrelatedness, they have a common denominator, and that this common denominator is expressed by the name of the parashah.

The name of the parashah, Emor, means “say.” As we know, the usual formula God uses when communicating His commands in the Torah is: “Speak to the Israelites, and say to them…,” prefacing the command to say with a command to speak.

In Hebrew, the words for “saying” and “speaking” carry different nuances of meaning. “Speaking” is “hard speech,” a straightforward, objective expression of the message to be conveyed, emphasizing the accuracy and precision of the content, and no more. In contrast, “saying” is “soft speech,” a subjective tailoring of the message reflecting full consciousness of its intended recipient, in order to facilitate effective communication.2

According to tradition, the unusual double expression with which this parashah opens—“Say to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them…”—means that Moses is not only to deliver God’s message to the priests; he is also to enjoin the elder priests to instruct the younger priests. As we will see,3 this is the Torah’s first injunction regarding education. Although this injunction is addressed to the priestly caste, we are all called upon to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,”4 and thus, God’s imperative that the “elders” educate the “youth” applies to all of us. Whenever we see in someone else a behavior or attitude that is in need of edification or correction, we are ipso facto immediately cast—by Divine providence—in the role of educator. In this sense, we may play the part of teacher not only when educating our students, but in dealing with our colleagues, our children, or ourselves, as well.

The implication, therefore, is that education—in all its contexts—must be carried out primarily with “soft speech”; in order to be effective, educators must empathize fully with their charges and tailor their style of delivery accordingly.5

Furthermore, we may infer from the repetitive “say…and say…” that in order for our educative efforts to be effective, we must make full and extensive use of our power of speech. Even though our sages have enjoined us to “say little and do much”6 and that “I did not find anything better for the body than silence,”7 this means that we should ensure that our speech carry content and that we avoid unnecessary repetition.8

The essential ingredient of effective education through “soft speech” is praising the student. All our potential “students” possess infinite, latent good; by praising the good, we draw these positive qualities out of them, thus allowing them to actualize their potential to a far greater extent than they could have done by themselves.

To be sure, when we assume the role of educator we must be fully aware of the spiritual state of those whom Divine providence has placed in our care, assessing their failings and shortcomings honestly and objectively. However, we must at the same time give them the benefit of the doubt, attributing their misdeeds to the circumstances of their lives.9 Judging them in this way does not absolve them from the guilt of having succumbed to temptation, because God only places people in difficult situations if He has given them in advance the necessary strength of character to overcome such situations. If they fail to do so, it is because this God-given inner strength has not been allowed to manifest itself as it should have—and the reason for that is because we, who are responsible for educating our charges, have not praised them enough! Had we used our “soft speech” as much as we should have, we would have elicited our charges’ latent potential and inner strength.

All educators should thus assume personal responsibility for the moral failures of their charges.


What is unique about the Jewish festivals is that it is the Jewish people who sanctify their dates. Whereas the holiness of the Sabbath is fixed—every seventh day being the Sabbath regardless of any act on our part—the dates of the festivals, by which we sanctify time, are fixed only after the Jewish people—as represented by the rabbinical court—determines when the month begins.

The cycle of the festivals, the sanctification of appointed meeting-times with God, is thus a further expression of the potency of speech, its power to influence and determine reality. By pronouncing a specific day the first of the new month, the Jewish people use their power of speech to “educate” time, to grant it a sense of holiness it would not otherwise possess—or rather, to reveal its intrinsic holiness that would otherwise remain hidden and latent.

As for the last three topics of this parashah, the first two—the Candelabrum and the showbread—can be considered a postscript to the section on the festivals, transferring the periodic inspiration of the festivals into the daily ritual of the Temple. The closing topic of the parashah, the incident of the blasphemer and his punishment, is clearly a dramatic illustration of the improper use of speech and its consequences. Only because speech possesses real power is such grave importance attached to its misuse.

Thus, after being told in parashat Kedoshim that Divine consciousness—sanctity—can indeed penetrate all facets of reality, we are told in parashat Emor exactly how much power we have to accomplish this goal. As “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” we have the power to affect and even determine reality through the proper use of speech, educating both our own, inner “youth” as well as our actual youth toward holiness, and imprinting time with holiness, as well.10