In its account of the genealogy of the tribes of Israel, the Torah outlines the offspring of Moshe Rabbeinu and Aaron HaKohen Gadol. The Torah includes Aaron’s sons as being part of the offspring of Moshe, as well as of Aaron. Rashi explains that Aaron’s sons are described as the offspring of Moshe, because Moshe taught them Torah, and one who teaches Torah to his friend’s son is considered to have given birth to him. Therefore, since Moshe taught Aaron’s sons, they are considered to be his sons. The Maharal asks that Moshe did not only teach Aaron’s sons, rather he taught all of Klal Yisroel, and yet we do not see that Moshe is considered to have given birth to all of the Jewish people. He answers that Moshe was commanded to teach the Jewish people, and he taught them that which he was instructed. However, he taught the sons of Aaron over and above what he was commanded. It is this Torah that he voluntarily taught them that earns him the merit of being considered to have given birth to them.
My Rebbe, Rav Yitzchak Berkovits Shlita proves from another episode in Sefer Bamidbar, that HaShem, b’davke wanted Moshe to give of himself from his own volition. In Parshas Pinchas, Hashem instructs Moshe to appoint Yehoshua bin Nun as his successor. He tells Moshe to place his hand on Yehoshua, but Moshe places both hands on Yehoshua. Why did HaShem only ask Moshe to use one hand and why did Moshe use both? Rav Berkovits answers that HaShem wanted Moshe, of his own volition, to lay the second hand on Yehoshua, so that a significant part of Moshe’s transmission to Yehoshua would be voluntary . Moshe understood this and acted accordingly.
It still needs to be explained why only a person who teaches someone voluntarily is considered to have given birth to him, but one who does so out of obligation is not given this accolade. Rav Berkovits Shlita, explains that a when a person has a child he gives part of himself into the new offspring, in that his genetic make-up constitutes a very significant part of this new being. When a person teaches someone Torah, he gives of his own spiritual make-up and puts that into his student. In that way, he is similar to one who has children, the only difference being that the true parent gives of his physical self, whereas the teacher gives of his spiritual self. The Maharal’s explanation demonstrates further that a teacher is only considered to merit this level of giving of himself when he does it purely out of a ratson (desire) to teach the person, and not simply because of obligation. This is because when a person teaches another out of a sense of obligation he is unable to totally give of himself, because his intention is not purely to be mashpia (spiritually influence), rather it is to fulfill his chov (obligation). As a result, there is a qualitative lacking in the transmission process, to the extent that the Torah of the teacher is not fully internalized by the student. Therefore, the student is not considered to be the offspring of the teacher. However, when one teaches because of a desire to share the spiritual wonders of the Torah with another, then he is giving over of his own spiritual essence and this is transmitted to the student. Accordingly, the teacher is equivalent to the child’s parent.
The principle that there is a qualitative difference between Torah taught out of obligation and Torah taught out of one’s own volition, applies to a wide variety of people and situations: A parent is obligated to teach his child Torah, but if he only acts out of his sense of chiyuv then the child will surely sense it and the transmission process will be hindered. Another common example relevant to this topic is when a person who has spent most of his life in yeshiva and kollel may, for a number of reasons, decide to look into a career that involves teaching of some kind. It seems that the main kavannah that motivates him will play a significant role in determining how effective he becomes as a teacher. A person who does so because he feels compelled to do so for financial or other reasons, will not reach his potential as a conveyor of the Mesorah. In this vein, Rav Nochum Pirtzovitz zt”l stressed to his students that parnassa should not be the primary motivation for taking a position in teaching.
This lesson seems to also be relevant to a person who is not in a position to teach children or students on a fixed basis. Firstly, we are all placed in situations where we need to teach others some kind of lesson, and the motivating factors in doing this will play a key role in the effectiveness of the lessons transmitted. Secondly, the principle applies to all forms of giving, not just teaching Torah. Giving out of obligation is far less praiseworthy than giving out of a desire to help one’s fellow. The recipient of the chessed will often sense any feelings of compulsion in the giver and will feel discomfort for placing the giver in a situation he would rather not be in. Furthermore, it seems clear that Rav Dessler’s principle that the great benefit of giving that it leads to greater love for the recipient is only limited to cases where one gives out of volition, and not out of obligation. Indeed, giving because one has no choice, often causes resentment. We have seen how Moshe Rabbeinu merited to have been considered to have given birth to Aaron’s sons because he taught them over and above his actual obligation. May we all merit to emulate Moshe and voluntarily give over of our Torah and ourselves.