Earlier this week, we noted the Torah’s seemingly peculiar introduction to its list of the names of Aharon’s sons – “These are the offspring of Aharon and Moshe…” (3:2). Although the Torah lists only the names of Aharon’s sons, it introduces this list by speaking of the offspring of both Aharon and Moshe. Rashi, based on the Gemara (Sanhedrin 19b), explains that Aharon’s sons were considered Moshe’s sons because Moshe taught them, and, in Rashi’s words, “whoever teaches his fellow’s son Torah is considered as though he fathered him.” Therefore, Aharon’s sons are introduced as the products of both Aharon and Moshe.
Rashi’s remark resembles the Gemara’s comment in Masekhet Sanhedrin (99b), “Whoever teaches his fellow’s son Torah is considered as though he made him.” The Gemara famously reaches this conclusion on the basis of the Torah’s reference to “ha-nefesh asher asu be-Charan” – people whom Avraham and Sara had “made” when they lived in Charan, and who joined them when they migrated to Canaan (Bereishit 12:5). Targum Onkelos there explains this as referring to people whom Avraham and Sara influenced to worship the true God. The Torah speaks of Avraham and Sara as having “made” these people, showing that teaching somebody is considered like “making,” or creating, that person, insofar as the teacher builds the student’s character and inner world.
Rav Eliyahu Baruch Finkel noted the distinction between Rashi’s comment and the Gemara’s remark. Rashi analogizes a teacher to a parent, whereas the Gemara compares a teacher to a craftsman, who creates something. The difference between these two analogies, Rav Finkel explained, is subtle but significant. A craftsman creates his product and then does not necessarily continue to have any connection to it. A parent, however, does not simply create a child, but remains attached and committed to the child forever.
Accordingly, these two passages reflect the dual nature of education and its goals. On the one hand, the teacher must strive to be the student’s parent – a figure whose example and instruction continue to guide, influence and inspire the student throughout his or her entire life, much as a parent’s example and instruction continue to accompany a child throughout his or her life. At the same time, however, a teacher’s job is to “create” students in a manner that enables them to stand on their own. A good teacher does not produce carbon copies of himself or herself, but rather produces students with the training and skills to develop their own approach. Even as they continue to be guided and influenced by the teacher, the goal must be for them to emerge as independent scholars, whose conclusions, methodology and perspectives may differ from those of their mentor. Of course, at a certain point a student can no longer lay claim to the title of the teacher’s student if he or she veers too drastically from the course charted by the teacher. Nevertheless, a successful teacher is the one whose students assume a level of independence in their thought, even as they remain loyally committed to their teacher’s general approach and forever carry with them the teacher’s unmistakable imprint.