May 22: 7:56 p.m.
The book of Bamidbar is called Numbers in English because that is an apt description of how it begins. This week we read about the census of the adult male Israelites and the totals for each tribe — except for the tribe of Levi. Later, following the description of the organization of the camp, the Torah records the separate census of the Levi’im.
What’s interesting is that the account of the Levite census begins, “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, Elazar, and Itamar.”
The gemara in Sanhedrin notes, “The Torah says, ‘this is the line of Aaron and Moses’ and yet names only the sons of Aaron. This teaches in that whoever teaches his neighbor’s son Torah, as did Moses, is considered as if he had given birth to him.” The Hafetz Hayim (Rabbi Israel Meir HaKohen, 1835-1933, Poland) adds, “We are obligated to provide food and clothing to the needy. How much more should we supply the spiritual and intellectual needs of those who are needy because they have not been taught.”
In Avot d’Rabbi Natan, we find, “The school of Shammai says, a man is to teach only one who is wise, humble, of good stock, and rich, but the school of Hillel says, every man is to be taught, because, they reason, we cannot know in advance who will be transformed by learning.”
But why talk about the importance of teaching Torah — isn’t that the rabbi’s job? Well, yes, rabbis are the master teachers of Jewish texts and halacha (Jewish law). However, Torah means much more than law. And just as every Jew is obligated to study Torah, every Jew, whether he or she knows it or not, is also a teacher of Torah.
About 30 years ago, Rabbi Neil Kurshan published a lovely little book (sadly, I believe, now out of print) titled “Raising Your Child to Be a Mensch.” His central thesis was that the best way to teach someone else, whether child or adult, to be a mensch is to be one yourself.
It doesn’t matter if you have no formal training as a teacher or you have never worked as one — you are always teaching. People see how you run your business, how you respond to requests for tzedakah, how you interact with your spouse and children, and how you speak to your boss’s boss, the waitress in your favorite coffee shop, and a beggar on the street. They see and they learn.
When it comes to teaching, “do as I say, not as I do” simply doesn’t cut it. Our actions speak as loudly, if not more loudly, than our words.
So think about it — what lessons are you teaching?
Rabbi Joyce Newmark, a resident of River Vale, is a former religious leader of congregations in Leonia and Lancaster, Pa.