Emor can be divided into two sections, the latter half of the Sedra contains details and descriptions of the festivals of the Jewish Calendar while the opening section is dedicated to the laws and status of the priestly family – the Cohanim.
Cohanim are set apart from the Jewish People and are subject to laws pertaining to their daily lives, who they can marry, and how they maintain a status of ritual purity. The Sedra continues to detail what they can eat as well as their work in the Temple. Reading this reminds us that God is elevating the spiritual status of a Cohen in our society, to something different and special.
The first law elucidated to the Aaron and his sons is that they must avoid spiritually contamination by coming into contact with a dead body. We are all familiar with this rule and it is why there is a separate section for the Cohanim at a funeral.
Rashi in his famous commentary of the Torah explains that within the words of the text, by referring to the Cohanim as “the sons of Aaron”, the Torah is specifically emphasising the importance for parents to teach their children these laws. This seems strange, it is important for all the commandments to be clearly taught and passed on to our children, why specify in relation to this one?
The answer not only explains Rashi’s query, but leaves us with a deeper lesson. When a parent teaches their child to do something, it is usually reinforced in the home. This can be as simple as turning off the lights when you leave the house, to more vital tools like crossing the road safely. When imbuing our children with important life principles and lessons, we should be living them and leading by example. This allows our children to experimentally learn from our behaviour, thereby cementing the lessons we are trying to impart.
The Torah realises that in the case of Cohanim’s children, because they will see “everyone else” taking part in the regular practice of funerals, and so might not truly understand the special requirements incumbent on them, therefore the Torah chooses to put extra emphasis on educating them in these laws.
Just like Cohanim different from other Jews because of their responsibilities and obligations, similarly the Jewish People are set apart from other communities. The only way the next generation will know what to do is if we internalise our teachings and practices and live it throughout our daily lives. When we teach one thing at home, and our children see another on the street, it can be misleading and confusing. As parents, teachers and friends, must show those around us what it means to be Jewish by acting as constant living examples of the principles that our faith and heritage teaches. When we live it – they will live it, when we bring it alive – it will come alive for them.