It almost seems obvious what the definition of a “father” is. However, in this week’s parsha we see a broader definition of this term.
The pasuk says, “And these are the offsprings of Aharon and Moshe on the day that Hashem spoke to Moshe at Har Sinai; And these are the names of the children of Aharon: Nadav and Avihu, Elazar and Itamar” (Bamidbar 3:1-2). The glaring question is that these four offsprings mentioned are none other than Aharon’s children, not Moshe! Why is the Torah considering Moshe to also be the father of Aharon’s four children? Rashi brings the Gemara that states that “anyone who teaches their friend’s son Torah is as if he fathered him.” Rashi explains based on this Gemara that since Moshe taught Aharon’s sons the Torah that he learned from Hashem, from Har Sinai already it was deemed that they be considered his offspring.
Kli Yakar asks on Rashi: It wasn’t only Aharon’s children whom Moshe taught; Moshe taught the entire Jewish nation! Therefore, Moshe should be considered to have fathered the entire Jewish nation. Why then is only Aharon’s children being singled out?
Siftei Chachamim defends Rashi by explaining that Rashi doesn’t mean that since Moshe taught Torah to Aharon’s children at Har Sinai, that’s why it was deemed from Har Sinai that they were considered his offspring. Rather, what Rashi means is that since after the event of Har Sinai Moshe taught Aharon’s sons Torah (independent of the Torah he taught to the entire nation), therefore based on that future occurrence, Hashem even before that deemed it as if they were his children, since eventually he would teach them Torah at a later point.
The Siftei Chachamim seems to be explaining the difference as follows: The reason why Aharon’s sons are singled out for having been taught Torah by Moshe, as opposed to the entire nation whom Moshe also indeed taught Torah that he received from Hashem, is because Aharon’s sons were more unique in that Moshe taught them Torah in a more individual setting. As opposed to the entire Jewish nation, to whom Moshe taught Torah in a general setting, Aharon’s children were taught Torah by Moshe in a more individual setting, independent of the Torah Moshe taught to the masses at Har Sinai.
We can ask, what difference does it make if Moshe taught Aharon’s children in an individual setting, independent of the Torah Moshe taught to everyone at Har Sinai? Why should that grant Moshe the title of “father” to Aharon’s four sons? We can perhaps offer two explanations: 1) At Har Sinai, Moshe had a responsibility to teach Torah to everyone. Perhaps we can say it was his job so to speak. However, when it came to teaching Torah to Aharon’s sons, that perhaps was voluntarily, out of his own volition. This noble gesture, coupled with the immense value of teaching Torah, granted him the title of father. 2) The Torah that one teaches to the masses in a public setting is perhaps not as effective as when one teaches Torah in a more individual setting, giving more of his personal attention to the students. As opposed to the Torah that Moshe taught to everyone at Har Sinai that was in a more general setting, the Torah that Moshe taught to Aharon’s children was in a personal setting, and this perhaps made a greater impression on them. For this reason, Moshe perhaps gained the title of father.
Among the many ideas one can gain from this Rashi, such as voluntarily reaching out to others by teaching them Torah, or by learning or teaching Torah in a personal setting, the ultimate message remains for the fathers, and the extent of fathering: Even though one has hired the best of tutors, teachers, and rebbeim for their child, the value of personally teaching one’s child Torah can’t be underestimated. One may feel that since their child is already learning Torah in school, he doesn’t have a responsibility of teaching his son Torah. Moreover, even if he has hired tutors to give his child personal attention, one might feel that he is certainly not needed to teach his son Torah. However, Rashi is perhaps teaching us that even if one takes care of all of his son’s needs, one cannot fully claim to be a full-fledged “father” of his child if he has not personally taught them Torah.
As Shavuot arrives—the Yom Tov of Torah—one of the ways we can perhaps broaden our horizons in the area of Torah is both by teaching others Torah and thus gaining the title of “father,” as well as teaching our own children Torah and achieving the full spectrum of what it means to truly be a father.
Binyamin Benji is a graduate of Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He can be reached at [email protected]