The Making of a Talmid

Rabbi Ari Ginsberg

This week’s parsha, Bamidbar, describes the promotion of the Leviim into a priestly tribe, entrusted with the duty of protecting the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash from desecration. In introducing the ascension of the Leviim, the Torah enunciates the role of Aharon and his sons as kohanim, primarily responsible for serving in the Mishkan. Although this minimal introduction appears to be redundant and unnecessary, chazal derive important lessons that highlight the nature of teaching Torah to others. These pesukim subtly demonstrate the unique relationship forged between a rebbe and their student through the process of Torah study.

The Torah states, “These are the offspring of Aharon and Moshe, on the day in which Hashem spoke to Moshe at Har Sinai. These are the names of the sons of Aharon, the eldest is Nadav, then Avihu, Elazar, and Isamar. Nadav and Avihu died before Hashem because they offered a foreign fire before Hashem; they had no sons, and Elazar and Isamar served as kohanim in the face of Aharon their father.” (Bamidbar 3: 1-3) Rashi and the Ramban both quote the gemara Sanhedrin 19B to answer an obvious question that emerges from the above sequence. The pesukim begin by recalling the offspring of Aharon and Moshe, however, the Torah only recounts the sons of Aharon? Why are Aharon’s sons mentioned, whereas Moshe’s children are omitted? The gemara therefore responds by teaching that whoever teaches his friend’s child Torah, it is as if they had given birth to that child themselves. In truth, the Torah treats the sons of Aharon as Moshe’s children as well, because Moshe had taught them Torah.

Although this idiom is superficially beautiful, its real meaning demands analysis. In what sense is teaching Torah analogous to begetting offspring? Furthermore, why do chazal focus on teaching a friend’s child Torah, shouldn’t this concept apply to teaching anyone Torah? The Torah Temimah quotes another gemara (Sanhedrin 99B) in reference to this chazal, which is almost identical. The gemara explains that anyone who teaches his friend’s son Torah, it is as if he has fashioned him. This is learned from a pasuk referring to Avraham and Sarah, “and the soul which they had made in Charan.” (Breishis 12:5) Rashi explains that Avraham would convert the men of Charan to monotheism, and Sarah would convince the women of Charan to adopt monotheism. As such, the Torah considers it as if they had created them; giving support to the statement that teaching Torah to someone is similar to fashioning that person. Why does chazal express these two statements in different ways? What is the difference between fashioning a person, and begetting a person, in conjunction with teaching Torah?

Perhaps, these two chazals reveal the distinct and wondrous effects of teaching Torah. The comparison made between teaching Torah and producing offspring demonstrates the impact of the rebbe’s Torah on the student. A child can certainly be viewed as a reflection of their parents. They typically possess similar physical characteristics, personality traits, and intellectual ability. So too, a student picks up on the method of thinking and analysis of their rebbe, and thus emulates their teacher as a child would emulate a parent. It is very common to hear a speaker express an idea or concept that is independent, but clearly demonstrates the influence of their rebbe. In this sense, teaching Torah is akin to producing offspring. The Torah of the student naturally echoes the Torah that has been received from the rebbe. In addition to this concept, the process of teaching Torah is compared to the making of the individual. Every person innately possesses raw abilities which include but are not limited to the intellectual and emotional realms. The job of the rebbe is to mold and fashion these talents into a functioning unit that has a proper direction and purpose. Through Torah study, a Jew should be able to approach life with greater clarity. This explains the relationship between teaching Torah and fashioning the student. The student’s natural strengths and weakness are synthesized into a new entity that is capable of further spiritual growth.

Both of the aforementioned gemaras focus on teaching Torah to a friend’s son, as opposed to any Torah seeking Jew. Why? The idea seems to point to an underlying psychological association that is necessary for Torah to have its greatest effect. The son will undeniably view his father’s friend as an authoritative figure, which will foster the ability of the rebbe to fashion the student’s outlook. Further, this relationship will also result in a greater probability that the student will reflect the style and method of their teacher. However, when one teaches a colleague, it is more difficult to have this impact because they have already potentially adopted an unwavering viewpoint. Even so, the gemara is not excluding the limitless impact of Torah on any person; it is merely expressing Torah study in its most optimal situation.

Chazal utilize a seemingly unnecessary section in this week’s parsha to illustrate the boundless effects of Teaching Torah to others. Through the process of teaching Torah, the rebbe is capable of having a permanent and lasting imprint on their student. One should therefore appreciate the exceptional properties of Torah teaching and Torah learning, and give gratitude to Hashem for this gift.