Torah students become the children of their teacher

Bemidbar Numbers 1:1-4:20 I Samuel 20:1 8-42

The Talmud Sanhedrin 19b asserts a rather radical and important notion based on verses in this week's Torah portion, Numbers 3:1-3. They say: "These are the offspring of Aaron and Moses on the day G-d spoke with Moses at Mount Sinai. These are the names of the sons of Aaron; the firstborn was Nadav and Avihu, Elazar and Ithamar. These were the names of the sons of Aaron, the appointed priests whom he inaugurated to minister." Rashi points out that although the Torah starts by declaring that "These are the offspring of Aaron and Moses," it proceeds to mention only those of Aaron, alone. Rashi brings the Talmud Sanhedrin 19b here, which concludes that one who teaches Torah to his friend's child is considered as if he fathered him. Moses, in this case is seen as a "father" to Aaron's sons. Rashi adds that the verse speaks of "the day that G-d spoke to Moses" because it was from this day on that Aaron's children became Moses' sons. It was then that Moses taught them what he had learned from G-d. Rashi also comments on the verse in Deuteronomy 6:7, "And you shall teach them diligently unto your children." He states that "your children" includes "your students." We can see students being referred to as sons in other areas of scriptures. King Chizkiyahu calls the Jewish nation banim (children) because he personally taught them Torah. Just as students are referred to as children, the teacher is thought of as a father. The prophet Elisha laments his great teacher Eliyahu by exclaiming "Avi, Avi" ("My father, my father!"). Rabbi Elimelech Moller notes that Jewish people are often referred to as banim l'Hashem, children of G-d. Aren't all people children of G-d in that He created us all? Why is this distinction made? Why would the Jewish people be more prominently seen as His children than anyone else? Moller suggests that our singularity results from our having accepted the Torah. Through acquiring the knowledge of Torah, Moller explains, one becomes a new human being, which is why the teacher-student relationship can be compared to that of a father and son. G-d told Moses that He would make him into a new person. This suggests that to teach is to create a new entity. It breathes new life into a person. Thus one who teaches Torah to a student is playing a primary role in his spiritual conception. One might reasonably wonder why, when Moses taught all of Israel, the Torah particularly singles out the sons of Aaron as Moses' children, and yet there is no mention of Moses' own children. Did Moses not teach them? Chasom Sofer addresses this by painting a picture of Aaron's children coming to Moses. Moses' own sons did not. Moses, encumbered with the concerns of an entire nation, failed to adequately supervise his children's education. The Torah says in Exodus 33:7, "And whosoever sought G-d went out to the tent of meeting." Those who did not seek Him out did not go. Moses' sons did not go on their own and he, because of his enormous responsibilities of state affairs, did not address their education. Exodus 19:14 says, "Moses went down from the mountain to the people." Rashi comments that Moses did not turn toward home but went directly to the people from the mountain. Thus Aaron's sons are considered to be the sons of Moses while his own sons did not merit this title. Sadly, this failure to educate and supervise one's own children is not unheard of among community educators and leaders. It is a trap that some have fallen into, becoming so involved in and overwhelmed by communal and educational obligations that family responsibilities suffer as a result. If one so great as Moses could overlook the education of his own children because of his boundless love and concern for the Jewish people, surely those of us involved in the needs of the Jewish community today must learn from this and be ever vigilant. Shabbat shalom.