Enjoy four short thoughts and a video adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Parshat Emor.

True Education

Our Sages explain that the opening verse of our Torah reading teaches us 'lihazhir gedolim al hakatanim', which literally translates as “to warn the elders concerning the children.” Implied is that a parent must take responsibility for the education of his children. We cannot sit back passively and expect their education to happen naturally. It won’t. Unless effort is invested — personal effort, not merely relying on teachers and schools — a child’s character will not grow. In that vein, the Rebbe Rashab taught that just as the Torah requires us to put on tefillin every day, it requires us to spend half an hour each day thinking about our children’s education.

The term lihazhir contains a further allusion. Zohar, its root, means “shining” or “splendor.” We can infer that by working to educate our children, our own souls will shine with splendor. The most effective way to educate a child is to lead by example. When a parent continuously and systematically manifests a virtue in his or her conduct, it would be highly unlikely for his or her child not to possess it.

There is also a reciprocal effect. As we endeavor to communicate and teach our children, we grow ourselves. The positive traits which we deem important - and therefore seek to impart - become reinforced and strengthened through sharing them with others.
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The Power of Words

The name of this week’s Torah reading, Emor, means “speak,” highlighting the power of our words. Our Sages state: “Lashon hara (malicious gossip) kills three: the one who speaks, the one who listens, and the one who is being spoken about.” We can understand why the speaker and the listener suffer. They have committed a serious transgression. But why should the person spoken about be affected?

In resolution, the mystic sages of the Kabbalah explain that speaking about a person’s negative qualities provokes their expression. Although the person might not even be aware that he is being spoken about, the fact that his character flaws are being discussed fans the revelation of those qualities.

The converse is also true. Consistent mention of the good a person possesses — and within every person there are unfathomed reservoirs of good — will facilitate the expression of that good in the person’s conduct.
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Is Impurity Evil?

Parshat Emor begins with the command to the priests to avoid the impurity stemming from contact with a human corpse. Impurity is not evil. On the contrary, burying a corpse is a great mitzvah and yet a person who does so becomes impure.

It is a result of the descent experienced by mankind after the Sin of the Tree of Knowledge. Before that sin, man was intended to live forever. The body and the soul would function in utter harmony. The sin, however, brought about the potential for the separation of the body and the soul — death. The vacuum created by that separation is the source of impurity.

In the era of the Redemption, G‑d says, “I will cause the spirit of impurity to depart from the earth.” Man will return to an Eden-like existence. Indeed, it will be more than a return to Eden, for in the Ultimate Future, it will be revealed that the body has a higher spiritual source than the soul. In the present era, the body derives its vitality from the soul and dies when the connection between the two is severed. In the Ultimate Future, the soul will derive its vitality from the body and appreciate the transcendent G‑dliness invested in material existence.
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Counting & Refining

This Torah reading of Emor contains a description of the festivals G‑d commands the Jewish people to celebrate. It begins with the festival of Pesach, for that is when our people became a nation. The next holiday mentioned is the holiday of Shavuot. But unlike all the other holidays mentioned in this passage, a specific date is not mentioned for Shavuot. Instead of specifying the day on which the holiday should be celebrated, the Torah gives us the mitzvah of Counting the Omer and states that on the fiftieth day of the Counting of the Omer, Shavuot should be observed.

The Counting of the Omer does more than chronologically bridge the gap between Pesach and Shavuot. The spiritual import of the mitzvah enables the two holidays to complement each other. On Pesach, “the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, was revealed” to the Jewish people. They, however, were not able to internalize the revelation for they were still sullied by the impurity that had become attached to them through the years of Egyptian exile. As our Rabbis say: “It took G‑d one moment to take the Jews out of Egypt, but forty years to take Egypt out of the Jews.”

Moreover, in a complete sense, “taking Egypt out of the Jews” — i.e., the personal refinement the Jews must undergo — must come from their own efforts and not from a revelation from Above. This defines the nature of the divine service prescribed for the Counting of the Omer: to refine and elevate our personalities. The 49 days of the Counting of the Omer correspond to the 49 dimensions of our personalities.

Chassidic thought sets out an entirely new set of parameters for this task. Not only must we abandon our undesirable character traits and polish the positive ones, we must focus on conquering our fundamental self-concern, the dimension of our personalities labeled as yeshut, self-concern. At that point, our emotions no longer focus on “what I want” and “what I feel,” but they become aligned with the middos Elyonus, G‑d’s emotional qualities, and reflect them. That is the inner meaning of the term sefirah. Not only does it mean “counting,” it also means “shining forth.” A person is given the potential to beam forth G‑dly light.
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Counting Down

When counting the fifty days between Passover and Shavuot, instead of counting “Today is the first day of the Omer” and so on, we count, “Today is one day of the Omer.” This isn’t just semantics. The days of the Omer correspond to the days which led up to the giving of the Torah. As the Jews counted the days, they weren’t simply focused on the number of days that had passed. Each day represented another day closer to receiving the Torah: