Moses vs. Aaron: The Greater Teacher

Rabbi Israel Chait

Written by a student

These are the children of Aaron and Moses, on the day that God spoke with Moses on Mount Sinai (Num. 3:1). 

As Moses’ children are not mentioned, Rashi explains why Aaron’s sons fill the capacity of Moses’ “children”:

Whomever teaches his friend's son Torah, it is considered as if he bore his friend’s son.

The very next Rashi says:

Aaron's offspring were rendered as his (Moses') own, since Moses taught them what he learned from God's mouth.

These two Rashis seem redundant. What is the unique message of each one?

Psalms 27:10 says:

Though my father and mother abandoned me, the LORD will take me in.

Rashi comments: 

At the time of intercourse, the parents’ intent was for their own pleasure. Once they completed their pleasure, he turned his face to You and she turned her face to You.

Why should we honor parents? Rashi says parents gratified their instinctual urges, and that’s why a child exists. As parents intended to satisfy themselves, why should this demand honor from the child? They did not intend their intercourse to benefit a child, but only to satisfy their desires. This is the meaning of “my parents abandoned me”: although not yet existing during intercourse, the child is “as if” abandoned, since during intercourse, the parents paid no attention to the child-to-be, but only to their instinctual gratification. 

Rashi then says, “The Holy Blessed One ‎protected the drop [semen] and created the embryo.” ‎ The embryo’s life is due to God. Thus, honoring parents—honoring that institution that generates life—must target honoring God, who is the true cause. That is why the command to honor parents is placed in the first of the two tablets, which address man’s relationship with God. One might think honoring parents belongs on the second tablet that addresses interpersonal laws. But God—not parents—is the focus of the honor given to parents.

As honoring parents targets honoring God, one who teaches Torah to his friend’s son plays the true “parental” role: he causes the son to honor God in a far greater measure than the biological parent. The teacher fills the truer parental capacity that biological parents intend to fill: to imbue the son with honor for God. This is the meaning of the first Rashi: “Whomever teaches his friend's son Torah, it is considered as if he bore his son.”

The second Rashi says:

 Aaron's offspring were rendered as Moses' own, since Moses taught them what he learned from God's mouth.

This second Rashi must teach something new; Rashi isn’t redundant. Moses’ education of Aaron’s sons elevated them in manner that eclipsed Aaron’s education. When a person thinks, he relates to God. Moses imbued Aaron’s sons with a level of thought higher than what Aaron taught them. While Aaron provided the necessary foundation for his son’s knowledge of God, Moses elevated them to a higher degree. It is proper to say that the sons’ degree of knowledge of God is due to Moses, in a manner unrelated to Aaron’s education. It was Moses alone who brought Aaron’s sons to the higher level of knowledge of God they now attained. In this manner, Aaron’s sons were now rendered as solely Moses’ sons. The second Rashi says, “they were rendered as his own,”  unlike the first Rashi that says, “Moses bore them.” Rashi is precise.

As Moses taught Torah to Aaron’s sons, he shared with Aaron the role as a parent. That’s the first Rashi. But as Moses’ education surpassed Aaron’s education of his sons, Moses now functioned as the “sole provider” of that elevated knowledge of God. In this capacity, Aaron’s sons were no longer his, but solely Moses’ own creation. Aaron played no role in the higher level his sons attained due to Moses’ education.