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Torah Sparks

May 31, 2003 - 5763

Annual Cycle: Num. 1:1 - 4:20 (Hertz, p. 568; Etz Hayim, p. 769)
Triennial Cycle II: Num. 2:1 - 3:13 (Hertz, p. 572; Etz Hayim, p. 774)
Haftarah: I Samuel 20:18 - 42 (Hertz, p. 948; Etz Hayim, p. 1216)

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Discussion Theme: Everyone Has Something To Teach

"This is the line of Aaron and Moses at the time that the Lord spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai. These were the names of Aaron's sons: Nadav, the first-born, and Avihu, Eleazar and Itamar; those were the names of Aaron's sons, the anointed priests who were ordained for priesthood." (Numbers 3:1-3)


  1. A beraita teaches: Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani said in the name of Rabbi Yonatan: Anyone who teaches his friend's child, Scripture regards that person as if he/she gave birth to that child, as it says in Numbers 3:1 "This is the line of Aaron and Moses" after which the Torah states in Numbers 3:2 "These were the names of Aaron's sons." This juxtaposition of verses teaches that Aaron bore them but Moses taught them, and thus those children are identified as his too. (Sanhedrin 19b)
  2. To what extent is one obligated to teach one's child Torah? Rav Yehudah said in the name of Shmuel: Learn the answer from the example of Zevulun ben Dan, a student in the days of the rabbis. For his grandfather taught him Scripture, Mishna, Talmud, the laws and the legends of our traditionà.This position of Shmuel's is similar to what is taught in a beraita: Deuteronomy 11:19 states "You shall teach them to your children," from which we learn that one has an obligation to teach children. From where do we know that one has an obligation to teach grandchildren? It is learned from the verse in Deuteronomy 4:9 which states (But take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously, so that you do not forget the things that you saw with your own eyes and so that they do not fade from your mind as long as you live.) And make them known to your children and to your children's children." Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: Anyone who teaches his grandchild Torah, Scripture regards that person as if he or she received it on Mount Sinai. (Kiddushin 30a)
  3. Anyone who has the obligation to learn Torah has an obligation to teach it. (Kiddushin 29b)
  4. Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and handed it on to Joshua and Joshua to the Elders and the Elders to the Prophets and the Prophets to the members of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment; raise us many disciples; and make a fence around the Torah. (Avot 1:1)
  5. Up to this point, we may suppose that Judaism is a religion for professors of law and public administrators and for their students. Nothing could be further from the truth. For the climax of the first saying refers to Torah, and Torah speaks to all Israel, not only to judges and apprentices. What the age does, everyone should do-it is not merely an issue of knowledge. In all, the message of the men of the great assembly sets the stage for what follows. For it has two points of interest: the life of doing, hence, judging and teaching; and the life of learning, hence, Torah. (Jacob Neusner, Torah From our Sages: Commentary on Pirkei Avot 1:1)
  6. Our sages say: Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: If one withholds a teaching from his pupil, it is as though he has robbed him of his ancestral heritage, as it is written in Deuteronomy 33:4, "Moses gave us the Torah, the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob." (Sanhedrin 91b)
  7. Rabbi Yannia was once walking along the road, and saw a man who was extremely well endowed. Assuming he was an important, scholarly, influential man, Rabbi Yannai said to him: Would you like to come to our house? The man replied: Yes. Rabbi Yannai brought him into his home, and gave him food and drink. And as they were eating and drinking together, he examined him in his knowledge of Bible, and found out that he had none; examined his knowledge of Mishnah, and realized that he had none; his knowledge of legends, and saw that he had none; his knowledge of Talmud and saw he had none. Rabbi Yannai then told him: Wash and recite grace. Said the guest: Let Yannai recite grace in his own home. Seeing that he could not even recite a blessing, Yannai told him: Can you at least repeat what I say? Said he: Yes. Said Rabbi Yannai: Instead of grace after meals, say: 'A dog has eaten Yannai's bread.' Offended, the man stood up, and grabbed Rabbi Yannai, saying: My inheritance is with you, and you are withholding it from me! Said Rabbi Yannai with puzzlement: What legacy of yours is there with me. He replied: Once I passed by a school, and I heard the voices of the little children saying, 'Moses gave us the Torah, the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob.' They did not say 'the inheritance of the congregation of Yannai,' but the 'congregation of Jacob.' (Midrash Leviticus Rabbah 9:3)
  8. The Torah does not belong to Rabbi Yannai and his friends but to the entire Jewish people. The Torah is not the property of a certain group or brotherhood. In the Jewish people, there is no sect of "knowers" to whom, and to whom alone, the Torah was given. Rather, the Torah is for the entire Jewish peopleàWe are commanded and obligated to make sure that it will reach the hands of all of its potential inheritors, all those who belong to "the congregation of Jacob." Our great task is to create a Jewish mission: not to convert Gentiles, but to proselytize Jews.One who holds even a tiny portion of this treasure, of this estate of the entire Jewish people, has no right to keep it for himself, for it belongs to all... This is a direct, personal calling; it is not the responsibility of lawyers or of specially committed institutions or organizations. It is the simple, humane duty incumbent upon me, who sees the princes roaming the streets naked and barefoot, while I am holding their plundered property in my hand." (Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz "Heritage and Inheritance")

For discussion:

Each of these sources describes an obligation to teach that goes beyond our obligation to teach our own children. We have an obligation to be teachers to our grandchildren, to our friends' children, to all in the "congregation of Jacob." To paraphrase the Talmud, once we have learned Torah, we have an obligation to teach that Torah. And we pray to God everyday before the Shema for the courage and inspiration to "learn and to teach, to preserve and observe, and to fulfill all the words of the Torah." Yet, while we may see ourselves as teachers of our children, we are reluctant to be Torah missionaries to our fellow Jews. What prevents us from taking up Rabbi Steinsaltz's challenge "to create a Jewish mission: not to convert Gentiles, but to proselytize Jews?"

Rabbi Jerome Epstein, Executive Vice Pres. of the USCJ, echoes this challenge when he writes: "Our challenge is to establish and train a serious corps of Conservative Mitzvah Missionaries in our synagogues who will be dedicated to missionizing Jews and bringing them in touch with higher degrees of Jewish living." If the very future of Jewish life is at stake, how do we combat the discomfort we may feel encouraging others to become more committed to Judaism?

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