What It Means to Have a Rabbi
Based on Parasha U’Likcha by Rabbi Moshe Grylak
by Braha Bender
What does it mean to be a parent? Are adoptive parents as “real” as biological parents? What about spiritual parents? When someone comes along and is such an incredible role model and teacher that they fundamentally change your entire way of thinking and living, are they considered a parent?
The third chapter of Parashas BaMidbar begins, “These are the children of Aharon (Aaron) and Moshe (Moses) on the day Hashem spoke with Moshe at Mount Sinai: These are the names of the sons of Aharon, the firstborn was Nadav, and Avihu, Elazar, and Itamar.” (BaMidbar-Numbers 3:1-2)
The verses promise to list the children of both Moshe and Aharon but list only the children of Aharon. Why?
The Talmud answers, “Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani said in the name of Rabbi Yonasan: ‘Anyone who teaches Torah to another man’s child, it is as though that child is his own’, as it says, ‘These are the children of Aharon and Moshe…’” (Talmud Sanhedrin, page 19)
Birth is the most important event in anyone’s personal history. The moment of birth brings a human being from nonexistence into life. It’s extraordinary – the moment comes and a real, live person appears who was never there before. They weren’t in another room or behind a curtain. That individual simply didn’t exist before, and now they do. It boggles the mind. But an even more extraordinary moment of birth takes place when the unique spiritual potential of a person comes to light.
When your greatest role model teaches you Torah, he or she plugs your soul directly into the living expression of the Almighty flowing like electricity through His words – and you are changed by it. You wake up. Who you can be and what you can do lights up in your heart and your brain like neon signs, like a waterfall, like a quiet whisper of a fragrant breeze wafting past your face on a summer day. Something moves, a key in the lock keeping you from yourself. When you’re really learning Torah, you can feel the key turning. It’s a moment of birth in the most real way.
A person’s rabbi is his spiritual father. A parent no less than those who gave him physical life. His father gave him a physical foundation to build his life on, but his rabbi gives him life itself.
This concept is taken so seriously that it has practical implications in everyday Jewish law:
“A lost object of his father and a lost object of his rabbi – his rabbi’s take priority” (Talmud Baba Metziah, chapter 2)
In other words, if a person finds two lost objects, one of his father’s and one of his rabbi’s, and cannot return both of them at the same time – “his rabbi’s takes priority”. He is obligated to return his rabbi’s possession first.
“Because his father brought him to this world, and his rabbi who teaches him wisdom beings him to the life of the next world” (ibid).
This was the priority ladder mapped by the sages, a way of thinking so revolutionary that it changes the definition of life itself. In a world where nobody is considered alive until they have discovered and revealed their unique spiritual potential, the value of Torah learning rises above anything else.
The verses make sense because the children of Aharon really were also the children of Moshe. Moshe, the great teacher, molded Aharon’s sons among his closest students. As his Torah woke them up, they came to life. Their eyes opened to the meaning, significance, and identity of all that was around them, including themselves. Birth, a miracle when one who didn’t exist suddenly is present in the world, took place thanks to Moshe, their father in the truest sense.
In practical terms: get a rabbi. You never know how far such a relationship could take you…