Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Children - Reason to Live
Parshas Bamidbar begins with an extensive census of the Jewish
nation during their second year in the desert. The tribe of Levi was
counted separately from the rest of the nation. Before counting the
tribe of Levi, the Torah lists the children of Aaron. "These are the
names of the sons of Aaron: The firstborn was Nadav; and Avihu,
Elazar, and Issamar... And Nadav and Avihu died before Hashem,
when they offered a foreign fire before Hashem, and they had no
Mefarshim (Torah commentators) are bothered by the seemingly
parenthetical interjection that Nadav and Avihu had no children. How
does this relate to their death?
Chazal, our Sages, find in these words a suggestion of the reason
behind their death. "Nadav and Avihu died because they had no
children," [Vayikra Rabbah 20:9]. Yet doesn't the Torah itself state
that they died, "because they offered a foreign fire before Hashem?"
And why would their untimely death not have occurred had they had
The Chasam Sofer offers two explanations. Firstly, we find in Chazal
an additional reason for the cause of their death. The Gemara (Yoma
53a) says that they died, "because they rendered a halachic decision
in the presence of Moshe, their teacher [without consulting him first]."
Perhaps, says the Chasam Sofer, these reasons are connected. There
is no greater learning experience than trying to make mentschen out
of our children. As we observe how our children behave, and see in
them different attitudes and attributes, some of which we like, and
some of which we don't, it begins to dawn on us that some of the
things we most abhor to see in our children are still found in
ourselves. The more we concentrate on improving our children's
middos (personalities and characteristics), the more attune we
become to our own behaviour.
Had Nadav and Avihu had children, they would surely have been
sensitive to the great respect a teacher and parent expects and
demands from his children and students. They would have realized
how inappropriate it is to teach in the presence of one's teacher.
Thus, both reasons lead to the same concept: As bachelors, they
were not endowed with the required sensitivities, and they came to do
other wrongs. Having children is a responsibility; it makes us more
responsible for our own actions.
It is told that at an advanced age, the Chafetz Chaim zt"l (who lived
into his nineties) decided that he wanted fulfil his lifelong dream live
in Eretz Yisrael. Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzensky, one of Lithuania's
most respected rabbis, came running to the Chafetz Chaim in protest.
"How can you leave us!" he cried. "We still need you here!"
The Chafetz Chaim responded that at his advanced age, he was no
longer capable of teaching, writing, and distributing his numerous
pamphlets, booklets and sefarim. As such, he was no longer of any
use to the community, and he desired nothing more than to spend
his last years in Eretz Israel.
Reb Chaim Ozer had come prepared for this response. He related to
the Chafetz Chaim an idea of the great ba'al mussar (teacher of
ethics) Rabbi Yisrael Salanter. A parent, when educating his children,
constantly mixes criticism with encouragement, feedback and rebuke,
hopefully steering his children in the right direction. As we all know,
it's a battle; at times it seems we never stop criticising and correcting.
When, however, the Zeideh (grandfather), comes to visit, and he sits
himself down at the head of the table, all the children are
miraculously quiet. The Zeideh doesn't have to yell or scream. The
Zeideh doesn't have to chastise or rebuke. The mere presence of the
Zeideh is enough to make the children behave properly.
"Zeideh," said R' Chaim Ozer to the Chafetz Chaim, "it doesn't matter
if you can't teach or write; we still need you here at the head of our
generation! The Zeideh can't leave us to go to Eretz Yisrael!"
Sometimes, says the Chasam Sofer (in his second explanation) a
parent's time on this world has come. Yet he is allowed to remain
alive in order to be there for his children. After all, who else is capable
of giving chinuch (Torah education) with the love and care of a
parent? True, Nadav and Avihu were liable to death for having offered
a foreign fire before Hashem. Yet had they had children, they would
have been permitted to remain alive in their merit - for it is not the
children's fault that their father sinned, and they don't deserve to
Sometimes, when as parents we are most frustrated at having to deal
with our children, it would be valuable to take a moment to reflect on
Nadav and Avihu, who had no children, and had no merit to continue
living. More than any other mitzvah we do, the children we bring into
the world - and with Hashem's help give a Torah education - give us
an eternal connection to the Torah and the Jewish nation.
Text Copyright © 1999 Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Project Genesis, Inc.