A teacher should impart life lessons. Rabbi Diana Villa uses Parashat Bamidbar to illustrate how Jewish texts show teachers offering life messages.
On this Shabbat we begin to read the book of Numbers, the fourth book of the Pentateuch. In Hebrew it is called “Bamidbar”, after the first significant word in the first verse.
After a census that is described in the first two chapters, the third chapter begins as follows:
These are the descendants of Aaron and Moses at the time that the LORD spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai.
These were the names of Aaron’s sons: Nadab, the first-born, and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.
The parashah begins by counting all males over 20 years of age that can bear arms, and the Levites and the priests are not included in this census. It then proceeds to count the Levites, from the age of one month on (as they could not bear arms, being over the age of 20 was not relevant) and among them the priests, descendants of Aaron. But first, according to the verse we just mentioned, the Torah is supposed to list Moses and Aaron’s descendants. However, this is not the case! Only Aaron’s sons are mentioned! It would seem that the text is incomplete. Why is this?
Rashi, the famous 11th century scholar and biblical commentator, based on a Talmudic comment by a scholar from the land of Israel, Rabbi Samuel bar Nahmani in the name of Rabbi Jonathan, explained that if anyone who teaches his acquaintance’s son Torah, it is as though he had fathered him.
RASHI: These are the generations (descendants) of Aaron and Moses – and Moses’ sons are not recorded, only those of Aaron. And they are called the generations (descendants) of Moses, who taught Torah. If anyone who teaches his acquaintance’s son Torah, it is as though he had fathered him.
Another famous scholar, Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish, went even further. It says in the book of Genesis that Abraham and his family actually “made” those people who followed them to the land of Canaan, and that is what a teacher does for his student.
What does this mean? The influence of a teacher is much more significant than just transmitting knowledge or even methodology. A good teacher will actually help a student to obtain insights from what he or she learns that will influence the course of his or her life.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the 19th century Modern Orthodox scholar, understood that to “make” someone, means to actually create that person, by influencing the spiritual path to be followed. The Torah expects us to follow a spiritual as well as an ethical path, since ethical commandments are the basis for a truly religious way of life.
By paying attention to the particular way in which the Torah narrates its stories and noticing the contradictions, the missing pieces, the repetitive ones and so many other aspects of our most sacred book, we learn very important life messages. In this case, we learn about the importance of a teacher’s role from the fact that Moses’ sons’ names are not even mentioned.
A rabbi is first and foremost a teacher. Let us hope that our communities’ teachers and rabbis live up to the important task of showing our members, congregants and even our sporadic visitors that we see them as our spiritual children whom we hope to enrich with the important values our Torah teaches us, just as Moses influenced his nephews, whom the Torah describes as his own descendants.
SHABBAT SHALOM FROM SCHECHTER
Diana Villa lectures at the Schechter Rabbinical School. A native of Argentina, she has degrees in Philosophy, Jewish Philosophy, Psychology and Talmud as well as rabbinic ordination. Rabbi Villa was a researcher at the Center for Women in Jewish Law, where she co-authored two books on halakhic solutions to the agunah problem and responsa on current issues. She represents The Schechter Institute at I.C.A.R. (International Coalition for Agunah Rights), and is a member of the steering committee and the Committee on Jewish Law of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel. She is the proud mother of one daughter and twin granddaughters.