We Are All Moshe’s Children
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While the Torah portion of Bamidbar does not contain any of the 613 mitzvot, it does contain many important Torah lessons. One of them is about the special relationship of a Torah teacher to his or her student.
A Student Is Like a Son
When introducing the family of Aharon, the Torah writes (Numbers 3:1), וְאֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת אַהֲרֹן וּמֹשֶׁה בְּיוֹם דִּבֶּר ה׳ אֶת מֹשֶׁה בְּהַר סִינָי – “These are the generations of Aharon and Moshe at the time that the L-rd spoke with Moshe on Mount Sinai.”
Rashi points out that although the Torah writes, “These are the generations of Aharon and Moshe,” it only lists the children of Aharon. In his explanation, he quotes the Talmud (Sanhedrin 19b) that says, “Anyone who teaches another person’s son Torah, the Torah considers it as if he gave birth to him.” (See also Sanhedrin 99b and below.)
Rabeinu Bachaye adds that the mention of Mount Sinai in the verse is because it was through the Torah that Moshe received on Mount Sinai that he became the “parent” of Aharon’s children.
The same lesson can be learned from how Elisah called his teacher Elijah the prophet “Father, father, the chariot of Israel and its riders!” upon seeing him ascend to Heaven in a fiery chariot (Kings II (2:12).
Praying for Someone and Become their Parent
On a similar but slightly different note, the Ohr HaChaim says that Aharon’s sons were considered to be Moshe’s sons also because he prayed for them and thus averted their death. (See Deut. 9:20 and Rashi there.) The Kli Yakar adds that this prayer was said by Moshe when he was on Mount Sinai and found out that G-d was angry at his brother Aharon for the role he played in the sin of the golden calf (see Deut. 9:20). This is why the verse mentions “the generations of Moshe… on Mount Sinai,” because Moshe became their “father” through praying for them on Mount Sinai.
This idea is similar to the teaching in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 19b) that one who sustains his fellow is considered to be his parent.
(See there that this is why all of the Jewish people are considered to be the “children” of Yosef HaTzadik (see Tehillim 77:16) as he sustained them during the famine.)
Moshe’s Family Is Also Listed
The Ramban gives a more straightforward interpretation and says that the Torah mentions Moshe in reference to verse 27 of this chapter where it lists “the family of Amram” among the Leviyim. (The verse says “For Kehat, the Amramite family, the Izharite family, the Hebronite family, and the Uzielite family; these are the families of Kehat.) Since Amram only had two sons and the sons of Aharon were already listed, that verse is referring to the descendants of Moshe.
The Da’at Zekeinim adds that the children of Moshe are not listed individually (as the sons of Aharon were) because their status was the same as that of the other Levites.
In other words when the verse in the beginning of the chapter says “These are the descendants of Aharon and Moshe on the day that the L-rd spoke to Moshe at Mount Sinai” it is referring to the descendants of Aharon who are listed by name and to the descendants of Moshe who are alluded to later on the chapter.
Moshe Was Already Perfect
The Tzror HaMor (by Rabbi Avraham Sabe 1440 – 1508, the grandfather-in-law of Rabbi Yosef Karo) adds that the Torah enumerates the children of Aharon in order to emphasize Aharon’s greatness in that he had such righteous children. Moshe, on the other hand, was on the level of absolute perfection (שלימות האמיתי), so there was no need to name his children and their qualities in order to praise him.
Only Applies to Deep and Applied Teaching
The Haamek Davar (based on the wording of the She’iltot of Rav Achai, Parshat Lech Lecha) explains that not every Torah teacher can consider his students to be his children. This concept only applies to one who teaches his students deep Torah knowledge and imparts it to them in a manner that they internalize and observe it. This is why the Torah specifically mentions that the sons of Aharon were the children of Moshe even though Moshe also taught Torah to all of the Jewish people. The difference is that although he taught Torah to all the Jewish people, he only taught it in a deep manner to the sons of Aharon (as explained above) . When the Jewish people were on the Plains of Moav however, he repeated the Torah to them in a particularly meaningful way (Chumash Devarim) which impacted them to the extent that they internalized it and then fulfilled his teachings when they entered the land of Israel. From that point on, all of the Jewish people became his children.
In Moshe’s Words
The Lev Simcha (the sixth Gerer Rebbe) writes that even a rejected idea which is mentioned in the Torah has some truth to it. In this regard, he quotes the verse where Moshe complains (Numbers 11:12), “Did I conceive this entire people? Did I give birth to them?” Although Moshe’s intention with this rhetorical question was to say he had of course not given birth to the people, nevertheless there was a kernel of truth in his remark, which is that spiritually he had indeed given birth to them.
Torah Gives us Our Raison D’être
The Ketav Sofer (Parshat Bechukotai) explains the reason why one who teaches Torah to another person’s child is considered to have given birth to him. The Talmud says (Eiruvin 13b) that it would have been better for a person not to have been created, but now that he was created, he should examine and correct his ways.
The question is, why did G-d create us if it is not in our best interest? He explains that the reason it is best if we were not created is that we have an evil inclination that entices us to sin. If we fall in his trap and lead a life of sin, we damage our souls and the world, in which case it certainly would have been better for us to not be created. Therefore G-d, in His kindness, gave us the antidote to the evil inclination, that is, the Torah, (see Kiddushin 30b) which enables us to overcome temptations. Since most people do not follow the Torah properly, the Talmud says that it would have been better had we not been created. But if one succeeds in learning and internalizing the teachings of the Torah, his creation is undoubtedly worthwhile. This is why one who teaches another person Torah is as if he gave birth to him as he (the teacher) is giving him (the student) the spiritual fortitude to make his life one worth living.
Another source in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 99b) expresses the above teaching slightly differently. Based on the verses that Avraham went to the land of Canaan with the souls he had “made” in Charan (Gen. 12:5), the Talmud says that these were the students of Avraham and Sarah and that because they taught them Torah, it was considered as if they had made them.
The Maharsha explains that the text uses the word soul because the body is not “made” by Torah study. It is the soul and specifically the intellectual soul (also called the G-dly soul) which is made (i.e., internalized) by the Torah. This means that without Torah one will live a hedonistic lifestyle and is therefore no better than an animal. But through Torah study, one elevates himself to the level of a (proper) human being.
The Talmud goes on to say that one who teaches Torah is considered to have “made” that Torah. The Ben Ish Chai explains that our sages say that one who learns Torah but refuses to teach it to others will eventually forget his Torah learning. So by teaching the Torah to others, one is “making the Torah” remain within himself.
A Wise Man Takes Souls
The Talmud recounts (Bava Metziah 85a) that when Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, passed away, Rabbi Yehudah, the Prince (Rebbi), came to his town. He asked the people if Rabbi Elazar had left a son. He was told that Rabbi Elazar had a son (by the name of Yossi) but that he was living a sinful lifestyle. So Rabbi Yehudah called the boy “rabbi” to encourage him to return to his studies and put him under the tutelage of Rabbi Shimon son of Lekunya who was the boy’s uncle. After studying for several years the boy became a Torah scholar and came to study in Rebbi’s yeshiva. Rebbi recognized his voice as it was similar to the voice of his father and realized who he was and saw that he had become a true Torah scholar. He then said the following verse about him (Mishlei 11:30), “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; A wise man captivates (literally: acquires) people.”
He explained that Rabbi Yossi is the “tree of life” who is the “fruit of the righteous” i.e., Rabbi Elazar. While Rabbi Shimon is the wise man who “acquires souls” i.e., he is considered to have made and “acquired” Rabbi Yossi, by teaching him Torah and restoring him to a life of Torah.
Acquiring the Future Generations
The Maharsha (on Sanhedrin 99b) points out that in the verse Rebbi quoted it says that a wise man acquires people in the plural whereas, in fact, Rabbi Shimon had only “acquired” one soul. He explains that if one brings another to the path of Torah then all of that person’s subsequent generations who continue in the path of Torah are considered to be “his” souls. Rebbi was sure that Rabbi Yossi’s descendants would go in the path of Torah since he was the third consecutive intergenerational Torah scholar in his family. And the Talmud says (Bava Metzia ibid) that if one is a Torah scholar and his son and grandson are as well, he can be assured that Torah will remain in that family.
May we merit to bring many souls to the Torah!
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom Umevorach and a Good Yom Tov.
May we all Merit to Receive the Torah with Inward Joy!