Subscribe to a Weekly Series

Posted on June 7, 2024 (5784) By Rabbi Label Lam | Series: | Level:

These are the offspring of Aaron and Moshe on the day HASHEM spoke with Moshe at Mount Sinai. (Bamidbar 3:1)

These are the offspring of Aaron and Moshe: It mentions only the sons of Aaron, yet they are called “offspring of Moshe” because he taught them Torah. This teaches us that whoever teaches his friend’s son Torah the verse speaks about him as if he had fathered him. (Rashi) (See Sanhedrin 19B)

Why is the statement by the sages worded that way? Why does it refer to “his friend’s son”? What would be lacking if it had just stated that someone who teaches another person or a child in his class?! I would like to offer two approaches from two completely different angles.

I found this statement to be valuable in prepping the mindset of my teachers and rebbes and myself. Again, why do the sages speak of one who teaches Torah to “his friend’s son”? What is the advantage?

Let us say there are 25 boys in Rebbe G’s class. Not every child is on the same level. Some get it easily and some only after much effort. There are also some that struggle even after trying and trying and one might easily conclude, “Learning just isn’t for everyone!” Now let us say that one of those struggling students in Rabbi G’s class is the son of his good friend Chaim. He is not just going to meet him one time at PTA but he sees him every day in Shul. He can’t hide from “the situation”. He sees this boy every Shabbos. He cannot ignore him and dismissively “write him off” as a loss. No, he will take a little extra time every day and stand by his desk and point inside and feed him words of encouragement. He will care enough to see this child attain the sweet taste of success.

This child is not just one of 25. He is his friend Chaim’s son and that wakes up enough motivation to treat him with special individualized attention. That way of viewing this particular child will make the difference for his friend Chaim’s son and even for the other more talented students as well. Every child is someone’s son and “all Jews are friends”- “Chaverim Kol Yisrael”. (Yerushalmi Chagiga 3A)

I used to have one sign in my office that read, “Every child is somebody’s whole world!”, and another sign that said, “Parents are only as happy as their unhappiest child!” That is one practical approach to the wisdom of this statement by the sages.

Now, here is a recent discovery. Something completely different! Not long ago I received a desperate call from a close friend and colleague, a very accomplished educator, Rav, Rebbe, school administrator, lecturer and you name it. The conversation turned out to be hours-long. There were volumes of emotion filled anecdotes he needed to unpack to make his point clear. I listened and listened. The bottom line was that he was annoyed to no end about his son’s lack of drive and underachievement. “When I was his age, I was Laining the Torah every week in Shul and he lounges around reading magazines and shopping for cool clothing.” He could no longer hold back his disapproval and growing resentment. He started lashing out at him. They clash on Shabbos, all Shabbos. It’s become a misery for both of them. I asked him if his son is good at anything. He gave me a short and very impressive list of his talents. His friends call him up. He listens well, they trust him, and he gives them good advice. I told him, “Why don’t you ask him for some advice?! Begin to build a positive relationship with him.”

He agreed that it is a great idea but he cannot do it because he feels so much anger watching him wasting his time. Then it dawned on me, a solution. I said to him, “Let me ask you a question, please. If this would be your neighbor’s kid, would you be able to ask him some advice and bring him close? Would you know what to do?” His answer was, “Of course!”

It is because he is so close and personally involved, he has lost all objectivity. My advice to him was, “Treat him like the neighbor’s kid!” Why didn’t the sages tell us that anybody who teaches Torah to someone as if he was his own child, it will be considered like he gave birth to them? Why such a limited parameter, “the son of your friend”?

Now it occurs to me that even your own child needs to be treated like the neighbor’s kid, no different than the son of your friend.