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Speak Responsibly

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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.

Kids say the funniest things. In fact, there have been TV shows that provide entertainment simply by talking with children and airing their funniest replies. Whether it’s a brutally honest answer or a cute misunderstanding, children say things that make us laugh. But beware: Among the funniest things that children say are direct quotes that they overhear from the adults in their lives.

While it can be entertaining to hear a five-year-old speak like a fifty-year-old, sometimes the things they say are not so funny. Sometimes, when a child repeats what they heard an adult say, the results are embarrassing or frightening. Whether it’s a bad word or a prejudiced opinion, sometimes the worst things adults say end up in the mouths of the best children.

This week’s Torah portion begins: “Speak to the priests, the sons of Aaron, and say to them . . .” The Jewish sages notice that this verse seems redundant. It could have just said, “Say to the priests . . .” Why “speak to” and “say to?”

The sages explain that there is a double message in both these sayings. The first message is that Moses must speak to the priests. The second message is that the priests need to be careful with what they say to their children. The title of this week’s Torah portions is Emor, meaning “speak.” We need to be extremely careful with what we say, especially when it comes to our children. The words we say today will be the words they speak tomorrow.

Children’s minds are different than the minds of adults. Children more readily absorb everything in the world around them, especially words. This is why children are much better at learning languages than adults. When five-year-olds move to Israel from any place in the world, they are speaking like Israelis in a few months. But an adult in the same situation won’t sound Israeli even after years have passed! Children are created to integrate what they hear around them. This means that everything we say in front of a child has more influence than we can ever imagine!

Every time we speak to children, we have an amazing power over what they will say and believe for the rest of their lives. And children are listening even when we don’t realize it – when we are driving our car or having a conversation with our spouse. If we use words filled with hate, hopelessness, and intolerance, that’s what our children will learn. But if we choose words filled with love, faith, and understanding, you can be sure those words will be echoed in the future. So let’s speak responsibly – for the sake of our children.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President

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