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Torah Sparks

May 2, 2003 - 5763

Annual Cycle: Lev. 19:1 - 20:27 (Hertz, p. 497; Etz Hayim, p. 693)
Triennial Cycle II: Lev. 19:1 - 19:37 (Hertz, p. 497; Etz Hayim, p. 693)
Maftir: Numbers 28:9 - 15 (Hertz, p. 695; Etz Hayim, p. 930)
Haftarah: Isaiah 66:1-24; 1:23 (Hertz, p. 944; Etz Hayim, p. 1220)

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Torah Portion Summary

(19:1-14) Laws of holiness, including the mitzvah of imitating God: "You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy."

(19:15-22) Miscellaneous mitzvot which express the overall theme of this Torah portion, including just judicial proceedings, love of one's neighbor, and respecting elders.

(19:23-37) Other mitzvot, including "orlah", the prohibition of eating a tree's fruit until its fourth year; prohibitions of pagan and occult practices;the requirements to respect the aged, treat the stranger fairly, and have honest weights and measures.

(20:1-27) Miscellaneous prohibitions and a concluding passage on the laws of holiness which sanctify the Jewish people and make them distinctive among the nations.

Discussion Theme: A Parental Obligation

“The Lord spoke to Moses , saying: Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy. You shall each revere his mother and his father, and keep My sabbaths: I the Lord am your God.” (Lev. 19:1-3)


  1. The problem is why my child should revere me. Unless my child will sense in my personal existence acts and attitudes that evoke reverence—the ability to delay satisfactions, to overcome prejudices, to sense the holy, to strive for the noble—why should he revere me? (Abraham Joshua Heschel)
  2. To the extent that we are observed in action by children, we are all teachers. We become their models and what they watch forms the memories from which their own actions are drawn. Role modeling is the most powerful form of teaching, even as it was when Aristotle crystallized the idea for his students in ancient Greece: “The soul never thinks without a picture.” (Author unknown)
  3. My children constantly ask me why I’ve done things I didn’t realize I was doing. They noticed even if I did not. I am astonished to hear them repeating verbatim entire sentences I’ve uttered days before—including words I’d rather not have them know. Whenever I don’t give money to a homeless person on the street they demand an explanation. Every action or omission conveys some message that our children receive, and that is all the more true of minute interactions with them, multiplied by the tens of thousands every year. We either teach Torah or something else at every moment, “when we lie down and when we rise up.” If we do not teach Torah enough of the time, the opposite of Torah will prevail in the world... Home remains, even now when we spend so much time outside of it, the center of the moral self’s activity and so of its concern... Home is the daily battleground where theory and practice skirmish, and so the place where the Torahs’ words are most often heeded, stifled, distorted, or ignored. Deuteronomy takes a child’s-eye view: unimpressed by books that he or she cannot read, but impressed for life by what goes on about the house...” (Arnold Eisen, “Taking Hold of Torah”)
  4. The father is bound in respect to his son, to circumcise him, redeem him if he is a firstborn, teach him Torah, take a wife for him, and teach him a craft. Some say to teach him to swim too. (Talmud Kiddushin 29a)
  5. The parent imparts information and in addition creates a living environment which embodies educational values. Values are not only transmitted through formal learning but also through the living and intimate community of the family... In moments of crisis, one derives the strength to overcome weakness and temptation not only from one’s critical reasoning powers, but also from “significant others” who have impressed themselves upon one’s consciousness. Parents as living models can instill courage in moments of crisis. (David Hartman, “Memory and Values”)

Sparks For Reflection/Discussion

The Talmud’s discussion in Tractate Kiddushin of a child’s obligation to parents begins with parents’ obligations to children. One would have thought that the obligations of a child towards parents would have taken priority given that the Torah commands children to revere parents (Lev. 19:1-3) and honor them (Exodus 20:12 and Deuteronomy 5:16). How do you explain that paradox?

What are the obligations that parents have towards children? To what extent is the fulfillment of those obligations a precondition for children fulfilling the obligation to revere and honor their parents?

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