The Other Father

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The Talmud’s description of the bond between Torah teacher and student is so strong that it alters our image of the relationship. A Torah teacher does not merely teach information or even a way of thinking. He remakes the student’s worldview, inspiring him and implanting within him a new personality. Such a relationship is transformational, akin to a rebirth.

It is no surprise, then, that when the Torah (Num. 3:1) announces the names of Moses’ and Aharon’s descendants but only lists Aharon’s, Rashi explains that Aharon’s sons were also Moshe’s. “Whoever teaches someone Torah is as if he fathered him.” As the primary Torah teacher of Aharon’s sons, Moshe was considered their father, as well.

However, as powerful as this comment may be, it seems like an understatement when compared with the Mishnah. On describing the obligation to return a lost object to its owner, the Mishnah (Bava Metzi’a 33a) states that of someone finds two lost objects, one belonging to his father and the other to his Torah teacher, the latter takes precedence. While his father brought the finder into this world, his religious mentor brings him into the next world. If so, why would Rashi say that a Torah teacher is life a father? A Torah teacher is greater than a parent!

I suggest that the answer lies in Prof. Gerald (Ya’akov) Blidstein’s explanation of this Mishnah. Prof. Blidstein (“Rabo Shel Adam Le-Umas Horav” in Iyunim Be-Machasheves Ha-Halakhah Ve-Ha-Aggadah, p. 88) explains that this is not a pragmatic comparison, that the Torah teacher to the spiritual which is greater than the physical world. Rather, the Torah teacher is also a father. And in choosing between fathers, you should choose the father who brings you into the greater world.

With this, we can understand Rashi’s comment about Moshe. A Torah teacher is a father. Like Aharon, Moshe was the father of the men listed. But he was their Torah mentor, the father who brought them into the next world as opposed to Aharon, the other father, who brought them into this world.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

5 comments

  1. iirc this is understood to apply only in the case of a rebbe muvhak, a very high standard and one not so easily measured. Also if the rebbi was paid by parent i think the result might be different.
    KT

  2. explains that this is not a pragmatic comparison, that the Torah teacher to the spiritual which is greater than the physical world. Rather,

    This does not make sense to me. Gramatically or intellectually.

  3. אמר רבא בשעה שמכניסין אדם לדין אומרים לו: נשאת ונתת באמונה? קבעת עתים לתורה? עסקת בפו”ר? צפית לישועה? פלפלת בחכמה? הבנת דבר מתוך דבר?

    Out of the 6 justifications given here for entering the World to Come, the first 4 are generally provided by the father, not the rebbe. I suspect the that the rebbe’s role is greater than the father’s only when the father is an am haaretz (the Mishnaic type) and/or a rasha.

  4. “Grammatically”, of course.

  5. There is one unstated premise that needs to be reiterated and underscored as a necessary prelude to this post. Parents, not yeshivos, have the initial obligation to instruct their children in halachic and hashkafic basics. IOW, noone expects parents to hand over the halachic and hashkafic intricacies , but rather parents have the obligation to familiarize a child with the rudimentary facts of a life committed to Torah and Mitzvos, and demonstrating they subscribe to its importance to their children. That is the key element of the Mitzvah of chinuch, which has a different definition, mitzvah by mitzvah, but one which is obligatory on parents.

    I once heard RHS say that the definition of Piryah vRivah changed after Matan Torah frtom merely having children to raising children who would continue in the Mesorah of Torah and Mitzvos as handed down initially by their parents, and that many Acharonim and Monei HaMitzvos write that parents who don’t do so are considered as if they did not fulfil the mitzvah. IMO, we err as parents and as a society, if we assume that the educational instituitions to which we entrust are children are the sole basis for their being trained in Torah and Mitzvos.

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