Emor: Kohanim set example for education

Laws related to the Kohanim (Priests) occupy much of the Book of Vayikra (Leviticus). Hence, the rabbis refer to Leviticus as Torat Kohanim — the Torah (Laws) of the Priests. While both this week’s Torah and Haftorah portions follow this theme, they seem to introduce a dissimilitude.
Ezekiel, the prophet, seems to assign different responsibilities to the Kohanim, ones that seem to contradict the Torah.
The last verse of the Haftorah states that Kohanim may not eat the beast or fowl that dies on its own, or is torn to pieces.
Do these regulations pertain only to the priests? Surely, every Jew must refrain from eating meat not ritually slaughtered, or nonkosher meat. Did Ezekiel mean that the priests were to be the religious professionals? Was it to be their sole responsibility?
Indeed, there were periods in Jewish history when the Kohanim stood out as guardians of Jewish tradition. Aaron tried to resist attempts to make an idol at Mount Sinai. Mattityahu led the rebellion of the Maccabees against the Greek-Syrians and the Hellenists.
Yet there were times when the Kohanim led and inspired the people away from God. The prophets railed against the priests during the First Temple. The House of Tzadok, mentioned in this week’s Haftorah, was the backbone of the Sadducees, who sought to undermine Jewish life during the Second Commonwealth.
Yes, the Kohanim were to lead by example. But, by no means were they to be the sole practitioners of Jewish observance. Rather, this was the responsibility of all.
In this week’s portion of Emor, the Kohanim are directed to educate their young. Only then could they inspire the people. Likewise, educating the young is necessary for all segments of the Jewish nation. It is not merely for Kohanim or professionals, but for everyone.
Parents today must often make decisions about their children’s well-being. The most important decision a parent must make about a child’s education is — to which high school to send him or her.
More important than a day school education is a high school education. We know, both statistically and anecdotally, that the high school years make the biggest impact on a youngster. No boy or girl is immune to outside values and pressures. A child must have a rich reservoir of Jewish values to draw from as he or she begins to make critical lifestyle decisions. We are accustomed to our young people receiving a college education, and beyond. Jewish education and the ability to instruct its values in life cannot lag behind.
Studies show us that a child who receives a Jewish education through high school is more likely to live a Jewish life, and far less likely to intermarry.
If a Jewish high school education is followed by a year of study in Israel — then the intermarriage rate drops drastically.
In a time when, painfully, the rates of intermarriage and assimilation are above 50 percent, investing in a Jewish high school education is a modest price, indeed.
Rashi explains that the adult Kohanim were warned to educate their new generation of Kohanim. Nowadays we are all Kohanim — “And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” We must all make this commitment.
While there are certainly no insurance policies for the future, a Jewish high school education is certainly the closest we can get to assure a vibrant Jewish future.
We are fortunate that in Dallas we have several Jewish high schools from which to choose. We must allow our sons and daughters to benefit from these Jewish opportunities.
Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi Wolk is community chaplain at Jewish Family Service and rabbi emeritus of Congregation Shaare Tefilla.

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