Rabbi Yakov Haber
Rabbi Yakov Haber

Children of All Levels

After hearing the complaints of B'nei Yisrael instigated by the Eirev Rav that they desired meat, Moshe pleads with Hashem: "Why have you harmed your servant, and why have I not found favor in Your eyes that you placed the burden of this entire nation upon me! Have I conceived this entire nation, have I given birth to them, such that you tell me, 'Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries the suckling babe,' to the Land which You have promised to their forefathers?...I cannot bear this entire nation myself, for it is too difficult! And if you do this to me, kill me if I have found favor in your eyes, and let me not witness my suffering!" (B'ha'alos'cha 11:11-15).

Why is Moshe "giving up" when he courageously led the Jewish people up until now in the face of much adversity and complaining, including the tragic episode of the Eigel HaZahav when the Jewish people were frighteningly close to losing their entire destiny? Moshe, the staunch defender of the Jewish nation, who tells Hashem that he will not let go of Him unless He forgives the Jewish people (see B'rachos 32a) suddenly "throws up his hands" and does not even pray from them!

Rav Yosef Dov HaLeivi Soloveitchik zt"l[1] explained that Moshe's words: "Have I conceived this entire nation, have I given birth to them, such that you tell me, 'Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries the suckling babe'" are the key to our understanding why Moshe's attitude differed here from previous situations. Moshe felt as a result of the Jewish people's desirous demand for flesh that he would no longer be able to relate to them. Confronted with this paganistic[2] attitude, Moshe gave up. "I am their teacher, not their mother. I cannot handle such people alone!"

To this claim of Moshe, Hashem's answer was: "Yes, you must be both father and mother, teacher and parent to them. Not all of your students will be attentive; not all of them will be righteous; not all of them will be obedient. Some of them will even have paganistic tendencies! But you must love them all and draw them to My service!" However, for this additional task, Moshe was given the help of the seventy elders who would assist him in leading the people. The Rav expanded upon the enormous implications of this charge for Jewish leadership especially in our era.

A similar idea is alluded to in the haftara. There we read of the promise of Hashem to Yehoshua Kohein Gadol. "'im bidrachay teileich v'im es mishmarti tishmor... v'nasati l'cha mahl'chim bein ha'om'dim ha'eileh." "If you walk in My ways, and you guard my charge... I shall give you a pathway among these standing ones" (Z'charya 3:7). The commentaries explain that the "'om'dim" refer to the heavenly angels. An angel is referred to as an "omeid", one who stands still. A person is referred to as a "m'haleich", one who moves. Angels do not elevate themselves; they are always on the same spiritual level as the time they were created. People are always moving, either elevating or lowering their level. Vilna Ga'on teaches: "if a person is not elevating himself, he is lowering himself." R. Yochanan (Chagiga 15b) analyzes the passage in Malachi (2:7): "For the lips of the kohein guard wisdom; they will seek Torah from his mouth, for he is an angel of G-d." If the Rav is like an angel, then seek Torah from him; if not, then do not seek Torah from him. On a simple plain, this refers to the teacher's level of righteousness. I heard another interpretation from Mori v'Rabi Rav Meir Twersky shlita in the name of the author of Rashei Sh'arim, Rav Aryeh Ze'ev Gurewitz zt"l. In order to be successful, the Rebbe has to be like an angel and be able to "stand still" and relate to the level the student is at. The teacher usually is leagues above his student both spiritually and intellectually. But, to be successful in education, the teacher must relate to the student at his current level and elevate him according to his level.

Rav Soloveitchik once gave an impromptu Chumash test to high school students at Maimonides. After the students correctly answered questions on Rashi, the Rav was overjoyed. A staff member inquired of the Rav, "but Rav Soloveitchik, when you grew up, you were used to teenagers well on their way to b'kius b'Shas! Why such joy that a teenager knows Rashi on Chumash?" The Rav answered that our joy must be expressed based on the level of the student and the student's generation, not based on our level or the level of our generation.

A recently published parenting book[3] noted that the way sea mammals are trained to jump over ropes suspended in the air is by placing a rope on the floor of the pool and then feeding them fish for swimming over it. Then the rope is gradually lifted ever so slightly - at first under water; again, each time the whale would swim over it, it would be rewarded until it is able to jump over the rope suspended in the air. So too with educating and raising our students and children we must "create success" at the level of the student to bring out the potential of each one. May Hashem bless us with success in our roles as parent-teacher and teacher-parent of our children and students.


[1] The full shiur is available at www.bcbm.org. My presentation of the Rav's ideas is based on this lecture as expounded upon by Rabbi A. Rakeffet.

[2] The Rav distinguished betweed pagan-worship - 'avoda zara - and a paganistic, or hedonistic lifestyle. They are usually linked. See Sanhedrin (63b) - "the Jewish people knew that idolatry is meaningless; they only worshipped it to allow themselves to commit open immorality."

[3] All Children Flourishing: Igniting the Greatness of Our Children, by Howard Glasser, Vaughan Printing.

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