Education is paramount in Judaism. "Without kid-goats, there can be no billy-goats", the Sages mused; the continuity and endurance of the Jewish people hinges on education. Still, the Torah surprisingly does not mandate education until parashat Emor, fourteen Torah portions after the giving of the Torah (in parashat Yitro), and even then, it only refers to the necessity for the entire people to educate the young indirectly - through an injunction to the priests.
…the Torah takes education for granted.
Why is this? Because the Torah takes education for granted. There is no need for it to mandate basic education; it treats it as a given. The centrality of education in Judaism goes back all the way to Abraham (Gen. 18:19).
"G‑d said to Moses: 'Say to the priests, and you shall tell them'…." (Lev. 21:1)
[The redundant expression, "and you shall tell them" serves] to instruct the adult priests to caution the junior priests [regarding the ensuing commandments]. (Yevamot 114a, quoted in Rashi on the verse)
The Torah does instruct us, however, to make education "shine". Instead of sufficing to set an elementary standard for our youth or feeling content with their basic observance of the mitzvot, the Torah urges us to teach them to perform the mitzvot optimally, even beyond the letter of the law, so that they - the mitzvot and the children - sparkle. The Sages alluded to this in their interpretation of the verse quoted above: the Hebrew word they used for "to caution" ("lehaz'hir") also means "to make shine".
The Torah teaches us this lesson through its instruction to the priests because, first and foremost, their role demands a higher standard of observance, and, secondly, their task is to help others rise spiritually and become close to G‑d (through the sacrificial service). We are to educate our youth not to merely be well versed in the Torah and punctilious in observing its commandments, but to be part of "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" - to go beyond the letter of the law and be dedicated to G‑d.We are to educate our youth...to go beyond the letter of the law and be dedicated to G‑d.
This lesson appears after most of laws of the Torah, towards the end of the Book of Leviticus - the book most focused on the mitzvot - to suggest that this emphasis on education be all-encompassing and that it is predicated on the Jew's basic commitment to study and observance.
Furthermore, this message appears appropriately in parashat Emor, for this portion contains the mitzvah of Counting the Omer and is annually read in the season of that mitzvah's observance. This is because the Counting of the Omer signifies our collective education as a people.
The Exodus marks the birth of our people; the giving of the Torah celebrates our collective bar mitzvah, i.e. entrance into adulthood. Between them, the phase of education unfolds, during which we cultivate proper attitudes through the preparatory exercise of counting the Omer. The Torah requires our counting and spiritual cultivation to be "complete", embracing and refining all 49 components of our emotional infrastructure. Indeed, the Hebrew word used for "counting" ("sefira") also means "gleaming" or "shining" (see Lev. 23:15 and its commentaries). What more appropriate a mitzvah than the Counting of the Omer to convey this message of optimal and resplendent cultivation of our children - of the child in years, the child in Jewish knowledge, and the child within each of us.
[Editor's note: In addition to preparing for the giving of the Torah, which will take place on the upcoming holiday of Shavuot, by counting the Omer we also prepare for the ultimate revelation of the Torah's deepest dimensions in the messianic era (see Rashi on Song of Songs 1:2; Vayikra Rabba 13:3).]
Based on Sefer HaSichot 5750, vol. 2, pp. 443-7; HaYom Yom, 10 Iyar
Copyright 2001 Chabad of California / http://www.LAchumash.org