The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them: ‘A priest must not make himself ceremonially unclean for any of his people who die . . . ’” — Leviticus 21:1
The Torah portion for this week is Emor, which means “speak,” from Leviticus 21:1–24:23, and the Haftorah is from Ezekiel 44:15–31.
When I was living in America, I was used to people referring to each other with terms of affection like “sweetheart” or “honey.” It was normal to see a parent calling his son “buddy” or “sport.” When I got to Israel I had to readjust my language. Here, it is quite normal for a mother to call her son tsaddik, which means “saint” or “righteous one.” Even a cab driver might call you tsaddik. Another common term of endearment is neshama, which means “soul.” Parents, teachers, and workers alike commonly refer to others as neshama.
It took some getting used to, but now I truly appreciate these terms that have become standard Israeli jargon. How beautiful to remind each other who we really are! My guess is that a child who grows up being called tsaddik may be just a bit more likely to become one.
This reminds me of a conversation that I had with a secular Israeli with almost no connection to the Jewish tradition. He mentioned to me the name of his great-grandfather because he had once heard that this man was a well-known rabbi. It was a name that I knew quite well. When I responded enthusiastically to his great-grandfather’s name and gushed about his reputation, suddenly this detached Israeli stood a little straighter. I could see pride shining through his eyes. It was clear that he saw himself differently – all from knowing who his great-grandfather was. He was part of an important legacy, and I like to think that perhaps that chance encounter had a profound impact on his life.
This week’s Torah portion begins, “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them . . .’” The verse could have more simply stated, “Say to Aron’s sons . . .” The Jewish sages teach that there were two things that Moses was to say to the priests, which is why there is the double language of first “speak” and then “say.” First, Moses was to say to the priests, “You are the sons of Aaron.” Only then would the rest follow.
It is so important for people to know who they are so that they can fulfill their life’s mission. In the case of the priests, they had to be reminded that they were Aaron’s sons, heirs to a prominent legacy. In our case, we need to remember that we are “all sons of the Most High” (Psalm 82:6). As we contemplate that we are children of God, we should stand a little taller and feel a bit more confident. Most importantly, once we know who we are and whose we are, we must behave accordingly.