Rabbi O’s Weekly Parsha: Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20) The Unique Feature of the Torah Teacher

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 eldest is Nadav, then Avihu, Elazar, and Ithamar. Nadav and Avihu died before G-d because they offered a foreign fire before G-d; they had no sons, and Elazar and Ithamar served as kohanim in the face of Aaron their father.” (3:1-3)
The verse begins by stating “These are the offspring of Aaron and Moses,” but then only mentions the sons of Aaron. Why are Aaron’s sons called “the offspring of Moses?” Rashi answers this question explain that Moses was their main teacher in Torah, therefore they are called his offspring. Even though Aaron surely educated them, Moses was their main conduit of Torah ideology. Rashi, quoting the Talmud (Sanhedrin 19b), derives a principle from this unusual wording in the verse.
They are considered descendants of Moses because he taught them Torah. This teaches that whoever teaches Torah to the child of his fellow, Scripture regards it as if he had begotten him.
This idea is remarkable because it demonstrates the uniqueness of the ideas contained in the Torah. It’s not just a book of laws or rituals. As such, it differs from secular knowledge in that it is the Master Designer’s instruction book for life. He created the world and gave a playbook (Torah) for how to enjoy it. Secular subjects are crucial (who could live without science, medicine, and other areas of academia) but serve a different purpose. What is the objective of a teacher of secular subjects; what is his or her main goal? (S)He is responsible to successfully impart the knowledge of the subject. Whether its geometry or George Elliot, if they have exerted full effort to prepare the material and present it in the best possible way, they can go to sleep with a clear conscience because they have not neglected their duty. They don’t necessarily need to be connected to the lives of their students. How many people do you know that have remained in contact with a high school teacher or college professor (in a non-career based friendship)? In 1997 Mitch Albom wrote a best seller called Tuesdays with Morrie, about a friendship he rekindled with a professor he had sixteen years earlier. This was truly an anomaly and the only reason Albom re-engaged was because he saw his former professor being interviewed on TV because he was plagued with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). The reason most (perhaps all of us) lost touch with our secular teachers was because they taught us what they needed to. That was there job; there is nothing immoral about that.
This is not the case with one who teaches Torah. (S)He is tasked with viewing the student as if (s)he is his or her biological offspring. How would a parent feel if his or her child misbehaved or was not able to comprehend the material? That, says the Torah, is how a teacher of Torah must feel. All solutions would be sought to help the child. Whether it meant educational testing, looking into the home environment or anything else that might to explain why (s)he has not been successful in grasping the material. If a father found out that his son had been humiliated in class, he would be incensed. If he learned that the teacher only focused on the brightest students and neglected the others, he would be infuriated. If the child was expelled, he would do everything in his power to have him taken back.
In school, when a student is a disciplinary nightmare, extreme action is required, especially when the bad behavior is affecting the wellbeing of other students. When a student needs to be expelled-when situation has become so bleak that the teacher says “it’s him or me”-it is not made with the same level of reluctance as parent who must evict a child from the house. It might be necessary to ask the child to leave, but it’s painful. Although a teacher might be relieved to be discharged of having to deal the troublesome student, a parent will be heartbroken.
My oldest son, Eliezer, once studied at the Kol YaakovYeshiva in Jerusalem. A student had become so disruptive that the Rosh HaYeshiva (Academic Dean) had determined that all avenues had been explored and that the only option left was to expel him. Before doing so, he fasted for three days at the tragedy of having to send away and deny a Jewish young man an education in his Yeshiva. Rav Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky (1867-1948) was once involved in a similar situation and felt he had no choice other than to expel the student. For the rest of Rav Dushinsky’s life he fasted on the day he agreed to expel the boy. He remarked that it was his Tishva B’Av, his personal day of mourning.
One does not need to have a formal teaching position to be considered a Torah teacher. Men and women throughout the world take time talking to people at work, having one on one learning sessions, and even set up and teach classes to both the affiliated and unaffiliated. There’s even an organization, Partners in Torah, whose mission it is to pair people so that everyone will have the opportunity to either teach or learn Torah. Phone or skype partners all over the world meet at their convenience to transmit the wisdom that has been a beacon for the Jewish people for thousands of years.
The Shavuos holiday begins this Saturday night. It commemorates the giving of the Torah and is the only holiday without symbols attached to it. No Shofar or fast day; no Sukkah, Matzah, Menorah, or Megillah to commemorate it. The Torah is so unique that there is no symbol to which it can be attached. Unlike secular knowledge, it is the birthright of every Jew. The student of literature doesn’t feel (s)he is missing out because (s)he isn’t studying String Theory or Quantum Physics. The reproductive endocrinologist doesn’t feel (s)he is missing something by not reading Chaucer or studying about the Peloponnesian War. However, Torah has something for every Jew. Although it might seem antiquated and irrelevant to some, no other branch of wisdom has been able to accompany a people through exile, persecution, and tragedies in life more than the Torah-and no other branch of wisdom has been able to provide the feeling of meaning, happiness, and fulfillment to a nation who has had to live and die with these vicissitudes.
Let’s rejoice this Shavuos over the wonderous inheritance we possess and inspire ourselves to teach it and share it with others.
Good Shabbos/Good Tom Tov
(Sources: Twerski on Chumash pp. 273-274; Collected Writings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch v. I pp. 183-184 )