This week's parasha, Emor, begins with the verse:
וַיֹּאמֶר ה' אֶל־מֹשֶׁה אֱמֹר אֶל־הַכֹּהֲנִים בְּנֵי אַהֲרֹן וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם לְנֶפֶשׁ לֹא־יִטַּמָּא בְּעַמָּיו:
And G-d said to Moshe: Say to the Kohanim (priests), the sons of Aharon,
and you shall say to them,
"[Each of] you shall not become ritually impure to a dead person from among his people."
Rashi identifies a scriptural anomaly and asks why this verse uses the term "say" twice. He says "Emor v'Amarta" (say and say): in addition to telling the priests themselves to observe these laws, Moshe warned the adult priests about educating their children to observe the laws, as well.
The literal meaning of this verse is that priests should be careful about maintaining their spiritual purity, and the adults have a responsibility to teach their children about these priestly duties.
On a broader level, we can interpret this as a general statement about the responsibility of Jewish adults to teach their children the basic principles of our faith and their duties as Jews. But this broader lesson must be about more than just reminding parents to teach their children of the differences between right and wrong and how to live as a Jew...because that lesson should have been taught right after receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai, back in the Book of Shemot (Exodus). Moreover, why would we learn such an important general lesson from the relatively narrow context of laws for the Kohanim?
Even Avraham understood the importance of educating his descendants. In Parashat Vayiera (Bereisheet/Genesis 18:19), G-d praises Avraham "because he commands his children and his household after him to keep the way of G-d, doing charity and justice." So what does our verse in Emor add? This must come to teach us something even greater than what Avraham did.
The rabbis suggest that there is a hint in Rashi's language, which he paraphrases from the Talmud, when he says. "Warn the adults about teaching their children." The Hebrew word for "warn" is "L'hazhir." This word is very similar to the word "Zohar," which means enlightenment. The adults in our lesson are encouraged to teach in a manner that adds light and clarity.
Now we can also see why this important lesson is best derived from the responsibilities of the Kohanim/priests. Their role is to inspire and nurture the spiritual health of the Jewish people. Their educational enlightenment serves as a symbol for the enduring educational traditions and values of our faith. The goal of adults should not be limited to teaching children in general terms, but also to raising them up so that they can reach their highest potential and become fully-formed members of the Jewish people, passing on our traditions and values from generation to generation without fail.
Today, the 11th day of Iyar, corresponding this year to May 19, is the first yahrtzeit for Morton J. Macks, zichrono l'vracha (of blessed memory).
Together with his wife Louise, Morty was a tireless advocate for Jewish education in Baltimore. He gave generously of his time and resources to support the expansion of Jewish educational opportunities in our community precisely as the Kohanim were directed: to ensure that adults do everything they can to guarantee that younger generations will learn about their people, their traditions, their mutual responsibilities and their destiny to be a holy people.
Morty's many philanthropic and leadership commitments included Beth Tfiloh Congregation and Community Day School, Beth Israel Congregation and religious school and Capital Camps. He was an active leader at The Associated, where he served as trustee and Campaign Chair, inspiring others to give by setting an impressive and powerful example. He and Louise made a major capital commitment to the Associated which resulted in the CJE becoming renamed as the Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Jewish Education.
All of that would be enough to mark this occasion and mention the praise that Morty deserves. But he did more. He talked the talk and walked the walk. He was an honorary Kohen. He taught his children and grandchildren about the importance of assuming leadership roles in the Jewish community. He modeled this behavior daily in his own life, and it is clear that the lessons have been heeded by the next two generations of Macks progeny. As his daughter, Genine, has said, "He changed the landscape of Jewish education in Baltimore and beyond," and we are all still inspired by his example.
May Morty's memory serve as a blessing for his family, friends and the entire community. May his family be ever-inspired by the examples of his generosity and the stories about his life experiences which produced such a beloved and honorable leader.
Source: Sefer HaSichot, 5750
Best wishes to all for a Shabbat Shalom!