These are the names of the sons of Aaron, the priests that were anointed, whom he consecrated to minister in the priest’s office. (Bamidbar 3:1)
Rashi: Only the sons of Aharon are mentioned, yet they are called the offspring of Moshe because he taught them Torah, teaching us that one who teaches his friend’s son Torah is as if he gave birth to him.
The obvious understanding of this idea that is being projected is that life is not just to exist, but rather it has purpose. The purpose of life is to live in the sphere of Torah and to do the Mitzvos. Being that this is so, not only is it necessary to have biological parents, but it is also necessary to have the tools which allow one to accomplish his purpose in life. Therefore, the one who gave him the tools – meaning the Torah that teaches how to live one’s life – has given him life just as a biological parent has given the child life.
Chazal tell us in other places that this relationship is reciprocal. Not only does it tell us that the Rebbe is like a father, but also the student is like a son, and this “son” carries the same obligation to the Rebbe as a son carries to the father in the mitzvah of kivud av.
The Kli Yakar and others tell us more. Moshe was called “their father” because he prayed for them and saved their lives, thus giving them life. It seems to me that this should be understood as part of the reciprocal relationship between a Rebbe and a student. Just as one would understand that a father would pray for his son’s wellbeing, and a son would pray for a father’s wellbeing, so too should the understanding exist in the spiritual sphere, between a Rebbe and a student as well.
I heard once about a Rebbe in a cheder in Los Angeles who met a student of his from thirty years ago. The student introduced himself by saying his name and the Rebbe immediately added in his mother’s name, too. The student – now a grown man – was shocked. How could the rebbe know his mother’s name? And the Rebbe explained “I treat my students just as I treat my children: Just as I pray for my children every day, I also pray for my students’ success every day.”
The Tiferes Shlomo takes this even further. He explains that sometimes the offspring are the purpose of the parents, as the medrash Tanchumah says (Chayei Sarah 6) on the word “bi’hibaram”: “The world was created in the merit of Avraham.” Meaning the purpose of the parent was to father the offspring. Here too, we can read the words of Chazal “Someone who teaches someone else’s child it is as if he bore the child” – that child could have been the sole reason that the Rebbe was born.
I have seen this idea in place in the world of social work. Many times there is a person who has lost his purpose in life and by becoming involved in projects of chesed (such as helping the elderly) the person finds true fulfillment and purpose. At that point, we may ask who must thank who? The one who receives the benefit or the one who has come to fulfillment by being a giver!
As many are preparing to say Tefillas Hashla next week, we should reinforce the idea of how important our tefillos for our children are.