Parshat Bamidbar: Giving Birth to Ourselves and to Others

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Where are Moshe Rabbeinu’s Children?

After a census of the Children of Israel has been taken, the fourth section of our Torah portion, Bamidbar, opens with the verse, “These are the generations of Aaron and Moshe….” The Torah then goes on to enumerate Aaron’s four sons. Moshe Rabbeinu’s two sons, however, are not mentioned.

Rashi explains the absence of Moshe Rabbeinu’s children with a teaching from the sages. When a person teaches Torah to another, it is as if he has given birth to him. So actually, the Torah never meant to describe Moshe’s offspring, only his brother Aaron’s. But, because Moshe Rabbeinu was the one who had taught Aaron’s sons Torah, it includes him as their progenitor to make this point. Thus, Moshe Rabbeinu (which literally means “Moshe our teacher”) is revealed as the quintessential Rebbe of the entire Jewish people. Therefore, in a certain sense Moshe Rabbeinu is like our father.

Revelation and Essence

To understand this statement we have to introduce the manner in which biological fatherhood differs from educational fatherhood. The intellectual makeup of every individual includes (at the very least) two aspects: the actual intellectual apparatus with which they think and the mental material (such as understandings and thoughts) contained therein.1 In the terminology of Chassidut, these are called the essence of thought and the light of thought, respectively.

The biological father gives his offspring the essence of their intellect, i.e., their actual intellectual apparatus. In comparison, even the best teacher or Rabbi can only coach and nurture his students’ pre-existing intellectual capacity. Unlike the biological father, a teacher cannot alter the essence of his disciples’ intellectual apparatus. So the biological father provides the essence while all other teachers subsequently transfer light.

It follows then that transmitting the Torah, its energy, and insights to another person can be compared to the revelation of spiritual light. But, in the act of bringing physical offspring into the world, one is not merely transmitting light, but rather giving of one’s very essence. Why then do the sages equate teaching Torah to another with giving birth to that person?

The Rebbe

Chassidut explains the difference between an ordinary teacher and a teacher like Moshe Rabbeinu. Every teacher and Rabbi conveys insight and light to his student. But, every generation has a Rebbe who is considered the manifestation of Moshe Rabbeinu in that generation. And like Moshe Rabbeinu himself, the Rebbe imbues his very essence—his entire heart and soul—into the holy words of Torah that he conveys. This devoted instruction is so intense that the teachings of the Rebbe enter the soul of his disciples, impregnating them with his very essence.

The relationship between the Rebbe and his students can only be compared to a second birth. But the union between a devoted disciple and a Rebbe does not only recreate the disciple. In a certain sense it also gives birth anew to the Rebbe. By impregnating his disciple with the essence of his own self through the Torah that he teaches, the Rebbeuncovers an even deeper essence of his own soul, and is also renewed. 

The Song of Songs is the parable for the marriage of God with the Jewish people. This parable also applies to the relationship between a true Rebbeand his disciple, who at a spiritual level manifest the same relationship (sometimes even deeper) as a married couple. Their spiritual offspring are the new essence born in the disciple and the deeper essence uncovered in the Rebbe. In this way, the disciple becomes more of a son of his Rebbethan of his biological father. Indeed, the sages teach that there are many laws that require a person to honor his Rebbe even more than his biological father.2 When the Rebbe has given birth to his disciple, his status as a father is ensconced even in Jewish law.

The Spark of Moshe in Each of Us

Every Jew has within him a spark of the quintessential Rebbe, Moshe Rabbeinu.3 Hence, every person can aspire to convey the Torah that he has learned with his whole heart and soul. This is much more than simply sharing thoughts—even lofty Torah thoughts—with others. It requires total devotion to the Torah, so that the Torah becomes one’s very life. In this state, we are able to not only transfer information to others, but to convey our very essence. For his part, the dedicated disciple will open his heart and soul to integrate his Rebbe’s essential teachings into his own essence.

The Wonder of Re-Creation

The very first commandment given to Adam is to be fruitful and multiply.4 This of course applies to the literal commandment of bringing children to the world. Kabbalah explains that another application of this commandment occurs when a person merits new flashes of Torah insight. He is then being fruitful and multiplying in the holy essence of his mind.

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe and author of the Tanya, explained that this commandment implies that every Jew must make another Jew, not only biologically, but spiritually as well. The Torah calls upon us to devote so much of our essence to another Jew until we actually re-create him.

People commonly think that the main role of a Rebbe is to work miracles. But, a deeper understanding of the role of the Rebbe leads to the realization that the greatest wonder and miracle he performs is imbuing his students with his own essence. When the Rebbe teaches Torah from the depths of his heart and soul to his students, it is as if he has taken a piece of wood and created it anew as a human being.

Actualizing the Spark

The Torah addresses every individual at all times. By alluding to Moshe Rabbeinu’s role as father of his disciples, parshat Bamidbar instructs the spark of Moshe in each of us to be fruitful and multiply in our interpersonal relationships. God gave us life not just to share our Torah knowledge, but to actually impregnate other souls with the Torah essence of our own souls. Then together, we give birth anew to ourselves and to others, filling the entire world with the revelation of God.

 

Notes:

1. In the terminology of Maimonides these are called “knowledge” (דָעַת ) and “that which is known” (יָדוּעַ ). There is of course a third aspect, the person himself who contains the faculty of thought, which Maimonides refers to as the “knower” (יוֹדֵעַ ). In our material realm (including of course in human beings) these three aspects are distinct and can exist independently of one another. For example, a book contains “that which is known” but is neither the knower nor the (faculty of) knowledge. A computer, to some degree contains (the faculty of) knowledge, but of course is not a knower, and if it was just turned on and its memory is still empty, contains no information or “that which is known.” As Maimonides explains (and as the Tanya places in context in the world of Emanation), by the Creator, all three aspects are essentially one and the same, and cannot exist independently.

2Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 472:5. Yoreh Dei’ah 242:1, 34, 35, etc.

3Tanya, ch. 42.

4. Genesis 1:28.

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