By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
May 30, 2003
In preparation for their entry into the land, the Children of
Israel are commanded to organize their camp. A census is taken of all the
tribes, except for Levi, and the position of each tribe is described in
relation to the Mishkan, which resides at the center of the camp.
Then the census and tasks of the tribe of Levi are described separately,
beginning with the Kohanim:
And these are the generations (TOLEDOT) of Aharon and Moshe,
on the day that Hashem spoke with Moshe on Mount Sinai. And these are the
names of the sons of Aharon: the firstborn Nadav, and Avihu, Elazar and Itamar.
These are the names of the sons of Aharon, the anointed Kohanim, who were
consecrated to officiate. But Nadav and Avihu died before Hashem, when they
offered a strange fire before Hashem in the wilderness of Sinai, and they had
no children; then Elazar and Itamar officiated in the presence of Aharon their
father (Bamidbar 3:1-4).
As explained by Ramban and Malbim, these verses define the Kohanim as
consisting of Aharon and his four sons, who were the anointed at the time that
the Torah was given (on the day that Hashem spoke with Moshe on Mount Sinai).
At that stage, Pinchas son of Elazar was not designated as a kohen; he and his
descendants became so only after the incident of Zimri ( Bamidbar, chapter
25). After the death of Nadav and Avihu, however (as related in Vayikra
chapter 10), the only Kohanim were Aharon and his two remaining sons.
The problem in this passage is in its opening words:
And these are the generations (Toledot) of Aharon and Moshe…
This leads us to expect that after the children (TOLEDOT) of Aharon are
mentioned, the Torah will list Moshe’s two sons, Gershom and Eliezer, who were
born in Midian (Shemot 2:22;18:3-4). And yet, they are not mentioned at all.
According to the pasuk’s wording, Aharon’s sons seem to be considered Moshe’s!
Rashi poses this problem as follows:
“And these are the generations of Aharon and Moshe (But it only mentions the
sons of Aharon, and they are called) the generations…of Moshe.”
Rashi’s solution is based on Sanhedrin 19b:
“This teaches that anyone who teaches his friend’s son Torah is considered by
the text as if he bore him.”
By teaching Aharon’s four sons Torah, Moshe became their parent, jointly with
their own father. Of course, all of the Children of Israel learned the Torah
from Moshe. But, the text singles out the sons of Aharon in order to indicate
that Moshe taught them with special care and intensity, as though they were
his own children. And indeed, they are accounted as his children.
Moshe’s actual sons, Gershom and Eliezer, on the other hand, are not mentioned
here. In fact, nothing at all is said about them in the rest of the Torah.
Eventually, we are told only that Moshe’s children were accounted among the
tribe of Levi (Divrei HaYamin I 23:14), but they are not otherwise
distinguished. The Midrash (Tanchuma Pinchas 11) reports that Gershom and
“sat and did not engage in the Torah,”
and therefore they did not succeed Moshe in the leadership of
the people. Unfortunately, they did not follow in their father’s footsteps.
Moshe’s successor was Yehoshua, who ministered to him and was his closest
Aharon’s sons, were also the “generations” of (TOLEDOT) of Moshe, and became
so when they learned Torah from him. This is because the relationship one has
with the person who teaches him Torah is equivalent to the relationship one
has with a parent. The Halachah requires us to treat our Torah teachers with
reverence and honor (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deiah 242). In fact, the Chochmat
Shlomo (commentary by Rabbi Shlomo Kluger, 1785-1869, to the Shulchan Aruch)
conjectures that, by teaching Torah to others, one might thereby fulfill the
obligation to “be fruitful and multiply” (Even Ha’Ezer 1:1).
The transformative power of teaching Torah is seen in the following:
“Resh LaKish said: ‘Whoever teaches his friend’s son Torah is considered by
the text as if he made him’ (Sanhedrin 99b).
Torah Temimah calls our attention to the fact that Resh Lakish knew this from
his own experience: after spending many years as an unprincipled gladiator, he
was taught Torah by Rabbi Yochanan, who made him into a leader (Bava Metzia
84a) Thanks to Rabbi Yochanan, Resh Lakish was made anew.
Maharal discusses these ideas in depth in his commentary to the Aggadot
(Sanhedrin 19a, 99b) and in Netivot Olam (Nitiv HaTorah, ch. 8,10). A person
without Torah, he says, is incomplete and insubstantial. One who enables that
person to learn Torah gives him his very existence; he is his “maker” and
Rabbi Shlomo Heiman, Rosh Yeshiva of Torah Vodaas in New York during the early
part of the 20th century, said that one whose own children do not pursue the
path of Torah can compensate by teaching Torah to the children of others. He
interprets the verse in Tehillim (128:6) accordingly:
“And you will see children” – you will be able to regard the children of
others as your children – if you teach them Torah (Novellae of Rabbi Shlomo –
Writings and Responsa, pg 276).
Rabbi Heiman may have had Moshe, whose children did not continue in his path,
in mind. Perhaps, this is why Moshe became a second “father” to his nephews by
paying special attention to their Torah learning.
What was the special attention? Perhaps the key is found by returning to our
verse, as read by Rashi:
“On the day that Hashem spoke with Moshe on Mount Sinai These
[Aharon’s sons] became his “generations,” and he taught them that which he
learned directly from the mouth of Hashem.”
We might add, by way of elucidating Rashi: The day of the
giving of the Torah is not merely the day when Moshe became qualified to teach
Aharon’s sons Torah. It characterized the manner in which they learned Torah
from him. Whenever he taught them, they heard it as though it were the moment
when Hashem gave the Torah. That is the type of Torah learning that
transforms, that recreates.
It is this type of Torah study to which we dedicate ourselves as we approach
the festival of Shavuot.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
Parashat Bamidbar begins with a census of Bnei Yisrael. Unlike the first
census back in Parashat Ki Tisa, this time the people were counted
directly and not through the half-shekalim collected from each individual.
How, asks the Kli Yakar, can we account for the difference?
At the first census, the shekalim were needed in order to protect the
Jewish people from the ayin hara, the “evil eye” that would have been
aroused by a direct count. At this census, however, there was no reason to
fear an ayin hara.
The Kli Yakar explains the difference with an example. When a pauper pulls
out a wallet full of bills, he may activate the ayin hara, because he
poses an unusual sight and is likely to stir up the jealousy of others.
However, when a rich person displays an equal, or even a far great amount
of wealth, there is no fear of ayin hara, because he is known for his
The first census was taken shortly after Bnei Yisrael were taken out of
Egypt, where they had been enslaved and persecuted for generations. No one
expected much of the weakened nation of Israel and therefore the results
of the census were surprising. At that time there was certainly good
reason to fear the ayin hara.
By the time the second census was taken, however, Bnei Yisrael’s greatness
had already become known to all. A direct count of the people would not
arouse an ayin hara, for the great number of Bnei Yisrael would be of no
surprise to anyone.
Following the Holocaust, Jews were at first reluctant to express their
connection with the new State of Israel. Most of those who immigrated to
Israel had simply nowhere else to go.
Today, however, there is no reason to fear an ayin hara, for the strength
of our land and our people is well-known to all and no longer surprising.
Michal Roness, Ramat Beit Shemesh
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320