Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
You Can Say That Again!
Parshas Emor begins with a warning to the Kohanim, the Priests of
the nation, to guard themselves from ritual impurity:
"Speak to the Kohanim, the sons of Aaron, and say to
them: [You] shall not contaminate [yourselves] to the soul
of a dead person... (21:1)"
Rashi notes an apparent redundancy in the pasuk (verse), "Speak
to the Kohanim, and say to them..." Why doesn't the Torah simply
state, "Say to the Kohanim... ?"
Rashi comments that the redundancy comes to teach us an
additional law regarding ritual purity:
"It comes to caution the adults regarding the youth (Le-
hazhir ha-gedolim al ha-ketanim)."
Since there are young Kohanim who might not be yet capable of
guarding themselves from ritual impurity, the responsibility to do so
is placed upon the shoulders of the adults of the priestly community.
The simple explanation is that this lesson is derived from the extra
wording, "and you shall say to them..." Since there is nothing
superfluous in the Torah, each apparent redundancy must come to
teach us an additional lesson which we otherwise might not have
known. In this case it comes to teach us the need for the elder
Kohanim to watch over the youngsters.
Perhaps, however, we could suggest a different understanding of how
the redundancy teaches us this lesson. When watching over the
young, it is important that the elders remember that one warning is
not always enough. The nature of the young is such that they often
require many warnings and cautionings. "Speak... and say to them -
To caution the adults regarding the children," i.e. to forewarn the
elders that when caring for the youth, they may sometimes have to
"speak" and "say" things again and again.
In a more general sense, mefarshim (Torah commentators) apply the
concept of "To caution the elders regarding the children" to all
aspects and facets of chinuch (Torah education). The first thing a
mechanech (a provider of chinuch) - whether teacher or parent - must
realize, is that children must be taught using methods which are age-
When instructing an adult, we expect to teach something once. One
doesn't have to repeat oneself over and over again. When teaching
children, we have to bear in mind with whom we are dealing; children
are not adults, and they're not on our level. They are not likely to
integrate lessons as quickly or as efficiently as we might hope.
The lesson of "Speak... and say" must be applied to our methods
when providing our children with a Torah chinuch. We may often
have to say things over and over again. Don't expect things to sink in
all at once. Chinuch is all about repetition. That's to be expected, and
it's part-and-parcel of educating children. Lessons must be enforced,
re-enforced, and doubly re-enforced, until, eventually, they reach their
Every parent and every teacher has experienced the frustration of
having given a "major speech," elaborating on some aspect of good
manners, Torah values, etc., only to find - moments later - his
children/students doing the exact thing he has just spent so much
time and effort teaching them not to do. Where, we ask, are the
results? Have all our carefully chosen words fallen on deaf ears? Was
our derasha (speech) a colossal waste of time and energy?
No. Chinuch is a gradual process. It is the integration of Torah
values, middos tovos (positive character traits), derech eretz (good
manners) et al into everyday life. This integration will (usually) not
occur as the result of a "one-timer," powerful though it may be.
Change, especially in children, takes lots of time, and lots of patience.
Think back to your own childhood. More than anything, we recall
those lessons we were taught over and over again; stories we heard
more times than we'd like to remember. Yet these very lessons are
now engrained in our minds - they have become part of our psyche;
they are us.
The Gemara tells the story of Yehoshua ben Chananya, who, as an
infant, his mother would wheel him in a stroller to the study hall every
day, so that his ears would absorb the Torah being learned there.
Eventually, he emerged as one of the greatest Talmudic Sages of his
generation. His mother understood that chinuch isn't just an
occasional powerful lesson. Rather it is the constant and consistent
exposure to Torah values and middos tovos that plants the seeds of
Torah within the young.
If our home environment is one which re-enforces and bespeaks
Torah values and good middos, these values will slowly (sometimes
very slowly) but surely seep into the moral fibre of our children. There
comes a day when parents find themselves pleasantly surprised to
observe that so many things they were sure had no effect on their
children, have in fact become a part of them. This is what chinuch
is all about: Constantly, consistently, and firmly conveying to our
young the values, ideals, and concepts that mean so much to us.
"Speak... and say." When dealing with the young, we must constantly
remind ourselves the lesson of "Emor... ve-amarta." Lessons sink in
with time. Be patient. Be consistent. Above all, don't give up. And you
will find (hopefully!) that the values which matter to you, about which
you speak (and speak...), and which you bespeak, will indeed find
themselves in your progeny.
Text Copyright © 1999 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.