By: Chaya Sora Jungreis-Gertzulin
This Shabbos we begin the fourth of the five books of Torah, Sefer Bamidbar. Bamidbar means in the desert, in the wilderness. It tells the story of our nation’s forty year trek through the vast, open desert land. We learn of their ups and downs and the spiritual life lessons gleaned while on their journey to Eretz Yisroel.
They crossed miles of barren land, where they were far from the distractions of “city life”. It was their time to grow spiritually, to meditate upon the words of Torah, and build a connection between themselves and HaShem.
It was a time to take in beautiful sunsets and magnificent sunrises. Nighttime, they were able to look above at the black velvet-like dark sky, open and clear, with a bright moon and twinkling stars illuminating the heavens. It was Bnei Yisroel’s special time to observe HaShem’s amazing world, and realize that it is not man who is in control, but the guiding hand of HaShem.
With a desert comes the blessing of an oasis. Palm trees, flourishing plants and vegetation grow in the midst of the dry, parched land. Bnei Yisroel came to understand that while one may experience difficult days, like an oasis in the desert, there is always blessings to be found in one’s life.
Sefer Bamidbar relays yet another message. In English, it is known as the Book of Numbers, for it is in Bamidbar that HaShem instructs Moshe to take a census of the nation. In doing so, HaShem transmitted to Moshe (and us) a memorable lesson regarding the value and importance of every individual. “According to the number of names.” (Bamidbar 1:18). To see people not as numbers, but as individuals with names. Ramban cites a Midrash, that in instructing Moshe to take a census, HaShem imparted to him to count Bnei Yisroel in a manner that accords honor and dignity to each person. “You shall not say to the head of a family ‘How many are in your family? Or ‘How many sons do you have?’ rather, each one will pass before you with awe and respect and you will count them”.
“And these are the generations of Aaron and Moshe, on the day that HaShem spoke to Moshe on Har Sinai. These are names of the children of Aaron… Nadav, Avihu, Elazar and Issamar.” (Bamidbar 3:1-2)
A precise counting of Bnei Yisroel is recorded in the Chumash. It is followed with a special mention of Aaron’s children. Rashi questions why are only the sons of Aaron mentioned, when the posuk clearly states “These are the generations of Moshe and Aaron”?
Additionally, the words “On the day that HaShem spoke to Moshe on Har Sinai” seem out of place. What does HaShem speaking to Moshe on Har Sinai have to do with the sons of Aaron? Rashi cites a teaching from the Talmud (Sanhedrin 19b) “Shekol hamelamed es ben chaveiro Torah… k’ilu yelado, Whomever teaches his friend’s son Torah, it is considered as if he himself fathered him”.
Moshe, was so much more than an uncle to his nephews, the sons of Aaron. He was their Torah teacher, their life mentor. They were like his children. “These are the generations of Moshe and Aaron”. Yes, Aaron’s children were Moshe’s generations as well.
In taking a count of the nation, Moshe understood that he must recognize the individuality and value of each member of Bnei Yisroel. It is with this mindset that Moshe became Moshe Rabbeinu, Moshe our teacher. To Moshe, each person whom he taught was someone special. They became children to him.
Moshe did so much for his people. He stood up to Pharaoh. He led the nation out of Egypt and on their journey to freedom. Yet, when we refer to Moshe, we don’t attribute a title of leadership to him; rather, we call him Moshe Rabbeinu, Moshe our teacher. The Chumash is giving us a powerful message. True leadership means teaching with love and patience, understanding and compassion. Moshe realized the value of each individual, and made an effort to reach each person’s neshamah by teaching Torah to them, thereby becoming their spiritual father.
I once heard a beautiful dvar Torah on the words from Tehillim, “Ur’ay vanim l’vonechah sholom al Yisroel, May you see children from your children, peace upon Yisroel.” (Tehillim 128:6) It can also be understood as “Ur’ay vanim”, if you will see (view) children, “l’vonechah” as your children, there will be peace upon Yisroel. If we extend love to all children, and teach them as our own, we will be able to bring peace.
Every Friday, my mother a”h would receive “Good Shabbos ‘Torah Ima’ phone calls” from the many people whose lives she touched and brought closer to Torah and mitzvos. My mother also merited to make many shidduchim. Vera was one of the many. She shared the following story with me. She was a newlywed kallah, who had years earlier lost her mother. My mother would spend time on the phone with her, asking about how she and her husband were doing.
Like a typical mom, Ima asked Vera what she was cooking for Shabbos. The young bride would speak about her soup, her kugels, and her chicken. One Friday, when my mother asked Vera what she was cooking for Shabbos, there was dead silence. And then came out a strong “Nothing”. “Nothing?” my mother asked. “He doesn’t deserve to eat. You should only know what he did.” My mother didn’t ask what did he do or what happened. Instead, with her wisdom, she said “Sheifelah, you are not cooking for your husband, you are cooking for the Shabbos Queen.”
My mother never asked or found out what transpired. But later on, Vera’s husband would share that on that Shabbos, he had the best meal ever.
To be a teacher extends far beyond classroom lessons. It means giving of yourself to another person. It means being there to counsel and give advice. To make a difference in someone’s life.
How fortunate are those who had teachers who left an indelible mark upon them. Teachers, whose words and passion for their students can be recalled even years later. Teachers, who like Moshe Rabbeinu saw every individual as special.
We can all convey knowledge to others. By doing so with love and compassion, we can bring shalom al Yisroel, peace to Bnei Yisroel.
Chaya Sora can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was written L’zecher Nishmas / In Memory Of HaRav Meshulem ben HaRav Osher Anshil HaLevi, zt”l and Rebbetzin Esther bas HaRav Avraham HaLevi, zt”l