Parshas Emor; It’s not What you Said, But the Way you Said It!
A sedra is named after its first significant word. Therefore, the sedra Korach is not entitled by its first word ‘vayikach,’ nor is parshas Ki Sisa entitled ‘vayedaber,’ because these two words are relatively common and are thus not deemed significant enough to head a sedra. However, one’s ears prick up when it comes to our sedra of Emor. Why is the word ‘emor’ particularly significant that it gets to be the title of the sedra; it is just an instruction from HaShem to Moshe to tell over some more mitzvos. Where is the uniqueness?
We shall be particularly Jewish here, and we shall answer our question with another question. The gemarra[1] tells us that the word ‘dibbur’ connotes a harsher form of speech, whilst ‘amira’ refers to a softer form of speech, as Rashi points out several times. In fact, there is a wonderful illustration[2] of this in Megillas Esther, with regards to the event which led to Vashti’s execution. When Achashveirosh orders his servants to bring Vashti to his banquet, he uses ‘amira’ I.e. he asked her softly (1:10). But when Vashti refuses to come, it says that she refused the ‘dibur’ of the king (1:12). What happened was that the messengers reported Achashveirosh’s pleasant request to Vashti as a harsh sharp order, and that’s why she didn’t want to come. And after Vashti refuses, Achashveirosh asks his advisors what he should do with Vashti having ignored my ‘amira,’(1:15) my pleasant request - he was unaware that his servants had made his request a sharply spoken one. And this mix up in speech ultimately caused Vashti’s death. The Maharsha on our gemarra points out that whenever HaShem is telling over a mitzvah, the expression ‘vayedaber’ is used, for the importance (and difficulty) of the mitzvah necessitates a harsher form of speech, as it were. If so, what changes in our sedra; why, when HaShem tells Moshe to teach the laws of the Kohanim, does He specify that Moshe is to tell them over in a softer (‘amira’) tone?
The Ohr Hachaim[3] explains via a Midrash;[4] that HaShem introduced these opening laws [I.e. the laws of Kohannim not exposing themselves to the impurity emitted from a corpse] to Moshe by telling him that ‘it is not fitting for those who serve in front of Me (I.e the Kohannim) to look at the face of a dead person.’ The Ohr Hachaim continues to explain that the word/root ‘emor’ connotes being raised up a [spiritual] level; akin to the word ma’aleh. This is why the expression of ‘amira’ is used here; to convey to the Kohannim that these laws are raising them up a level in spiritual observance. This would be a reason as to why our sedra gets the title of ‘emor;’ because its significance lies in the fact that the Kohannim are being raised up a level. In fact, the Ohr Hachaim goes on to say that this explains the unordinary occurrence of the word ‘hakohannim’ being put before ‘bnei aharon’ here; it is in order to juxtapose the words ‘emor’ and ‘hakohannim,’ thus showing that their being raised up a level is a result of them being Kohannim, as opposed to the fact that they are Aharon’s children. In fact, the Ohr Hachaim elsewhere also explains an anomalous expression of ‘vayomer.’ In the introduction to the mitzvah of tzitzis, the word ‘vayomer’ is used.[5] Why? The Ohr Hachaim quotes the Tanna Debei Eliyahu, who explains that the mitzvah of tzitzis was preceded by the mekoshesh eitzim; the person who desecrated Shabbos and was put to death as a result. Moshe defended the mekoshesh by saying that had he been wearing Tefillin, he would never have committed this severe sin [one may not wear Tefillin on Shabbos]. As a result, HaShem gave us a mitzvah which reminds us of all the mitzvos and is a mitzvah which is performed all week; the mitzvah of tzitzis. It was the fact that the mitzvah is ‘reconciliatory,’ to an extent, which gave it its introduction via the word ‘vayomer.’
Rav Moshe Feinstein offers[6] another wonderful approach as to why HaShem told Moshe to tell the laws to the Kohannim via an ‘amira’ form. He points out that the entire tribe of Levi had a unique role within Klal Yisrael. As the Rambam writes,[7] their role was to teach Torah to the people. This, the Rambam says, is why they did not inherit a block of Eretz Yisrael like the other tribes (rather, they had cities dotted around the Land), and was why they did not go out to war alongside the rest of the Bnei Yisrael, and also explains the fact that they are supported by the state via various gifts. This, says Rav Moshe Feinstein, is the why the word ‘emor’ is used. It is because it is imperative that the Kohannim, as teachers of the people, do not feel that their work is a burden on them. Moshe was to tell the Kohannim their special laws in a soft (‘amira’) manner in order to make the Kohannim realise and internalise that their role is a privilege and not an unwanted burden. This way, their role of educating the people would be more successful; a successful Torah educator is one who transmits his love for the subject in question, and this means that he must not see his role as overbearing. This, indeed, is why the sedra is entitled ‘emor;’ because of the message it conveys that Kohannim (and Torah teachers in general) are to feel that their job is a privilege, and not a burden.
Moreover, Rav Shimshon Refoel Hirsch points out a complementary principle in chinuch from Rashi.[8] Rashi points out that the way the ner tamid was lit in the mishkan was that it was gradually lit ‘until the flame rose by itself.’ Rav Hirsch noted that this teaches us what the role of a Torah teacher is; to instil within the student the ability to ‘rise up by himself,’ and foster his own self-growth independently. This only occurs if the approach of a teacher is an ‘amira’ approach; I.e. if the teacher can speak softly to his student and make them feel that it is a privilege, not a burden, to learn and to teach Torah. In fact, this could even tie in with the Ohr Hachaim’s explanation that ‘amira’ is an expression of being raised a level; because it is this soft-spoken approach which allows the person spoken to realise that his role is a privilege, and the result is that he can raise himself up a spiritual notch. Indeed, Rashi in our sedra[9] points out that the double expression of ‘amar’ in the opening pasuk of the sedra comes to place the responsibility of Kohannim’s children obeying these laws, upon their parents. It is fitting that the expression of ‘amira’ is used here too; the grown-up Kohannim are themselves supposed to pass on their laws and responsibilities to their children with this soft-spoken message of the fact that it is a privilege, not a burden.
We can broaden Rav Moshe’s idea to apply to all of us, via something which Rav Chaim Shmulevitz points out with regards to Yaakov Avinu. When Yaakov came before Pharaoh in parshas Vayigash (47:8-9), Pharaoh asks him ‘how many are the years of your life,’ to which Yaakov responds ‘the years of my life are 130. Few and bad have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not reached the life spans of my forefathers in the days of their sojourns.’ The Midrash says[10] that because Yaakov complained about the events HaShem had dealt him in life, he lived 33 years less (147) than his father (180); one year for each word of complaint he uttered. But Rav Chaim Shmulevitz notes that the only way to reach the total of 33 is if one includes the question of Pharaoh in the calculation. But why should this be included? He answers that Yaakov looked as if he had been through a lot in life and portrayed the image of someone who felt that his life had been a burden (one has to remember that he lived through the Esav episode, Lavan’s trickery, Yosef’s absence). Thus, it was Yaakov’s look/image that provoked Pharaoh to ask the question in the first place, and this was why Pharaoh’s question formed part of the calculation.
Making sure we do not look at life or our responsibilities as a burden is not just a message for Kohannim; it is a message for all of us in life. Have a great Shabbos
[1] Gemarra Makkos 11a [2] I think this is the explanation of the Pri Megadim [3] Ohr Hachaim Vayikra 21:1 [4] Midrash Tanchuma 1 [5] Bamidbar 15:37 [6] Darash Moshe [7] Rambam hilchos Shmittah ve’yovel 13:12-13 [8] Rashi Shemos 27:20 ‘leha’alos’ (he is quoting gemarra Shabbos 21a) [9] Rashi Vayikra 21:1 [10] Midrash quoted in Da’as Zekeinim there.

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