Shiur #29: Torah Study (3)

  • Harav Baruch Gigi

I. Studying Torah For the Sake of Teaching It

In his Sefer ha-Mitzvot, the Rambam writes:

The eleventh commandment is that He commanded us to study the wisdom of the Torah and to teach it. This is called "Torah study," and this is the commandment: "And you shall teach them diligently to your sons" (Devarim 6:7). In the words of the Sifre: "'To your sons' – these are your disciples." And similarly you find in many places that disciples are called sons, as it is stated: "And the sons of the prophets came forth" (II Melakhim 2:3). And there it is stated: "'And you shall teach them diligently' –the words of the Torah should be on the tip of your tongue; when a person asks you a question, do not speak hesitatingly, but rather tell him immediately." (Sefer ha-Mitzvot, positive commandment 11)

According to the Rambam, the mitzva of Torah study has two components:

  1. A mitzva upon each person to study Torah himself.
  2. A mitzva upon each person to teach his sons or his disciples.

Some of the Rishonim who enumerate the 613 mitzvot count these two parts of the mitzva as two separate mitzvot. Thus, for example, Rav Sa'adya Gaon counts studying Torah and teaching Torah as two separate mitzvot, as do Sefer ha-Mitzvot ha-Katan (nos. 105-106) and the Sefer ha-Yere’im (nos. 254,[1] 256[2]).

This raises the question: Why doesn’t the Rambam also count the two components of the mitzva as two separate mitzvot, to study Torah and to teach it?

Perhaps this can be explained in accordance with what the Sefer ha-Yere’im writes:

"And you shall teach them diligently" – I already explained this in context of the mitzva of studying Torah and the mitzva of teaching your son Torah (no. 225). We learn from "And you shall teach them diligently" that there is also a mitzva upon a person to teach himself. As it is taught [in a Baraita] in the first chapter of Kiddushin (30a): "'And you shall teach them diligently' - that the words of the Torah should be on the tip of your tongue; so that if a person asks you something, you will not speak hesitatingly, but rather you will know what to say immediately, as it is stated: 'Say unto wisdom: You are my sister' (Kohelet 7:4)." (Sefer ha-Yere’im 258).

The Sefer ha-Yere’im emphasizes that at first glance there is nothing new in this section, as he already counted the mitzva to study Torah as well as the mitzva to teach Torah, and he does not distinguish between the mitzva of teaching one's sons and the mitzva of teaching one's disciples (as is explained in no. 256). He therefore writes that this verse, "You shall teach them diligently," indicates a novel aspect of the mitzva of Torah study.

According to the Sefer ha-Yere’im, it is not enough for a person to study Torah, but rather he must study Torah in a way that ensures that the words of the Torah should be on the tip of his tongue, so that he can teach them to others whenever this is necessary. The novelty here is diligent self-learning which will enable one to teach others.

It may be suggested that this is the reason that the Rambam does not distinguish between the mitzva to study Torah and the mitzva to teach it. Since one is obligated to study Torah in a manner which will then enable him to teach it, and because the words of the Torah should be on the tip of a person's tongue so that he can pass them on to others, the foundation of the obligation to study Torah is for the sake of teaching it. Moreover, what emerges from this is that the mitzva of studying Torah and the mitzva of teaching it are not separate entities, but rather the combination of the two together complete the definition of Torah study, of the Torah student who diligently engages in his own Torah study so that he can pass the Torah on to his sons and disciples in a clear way.

If so, despite the fact that the other enumerators of the mitzvot maintained that there are two different mitzvot at hand, the Rambam maintains that they form a single mitzva, since they have a common objective. A person's self-study is subservient in its scope and its intensity to the teaching of others.

Support for this explanation is found in the Rambam's own words in the aforementioned passage in his Sefer ha-Mitzvot. As we saw, the Rambam cites the verse, "And you shall teach them diligently to your sons" as the source of the obligation to teach others, and also as the source of the law that the words of the Torah should be on the tip of your tongue (based on Kiddushin 30a). In other words, the obligation to study Torah with clarity and diligence allows one to teach Torah diligently to his own sons and disciples.

II. The connection to the Giver of the Torah

Despite the reasonability of our proposal regarding the position of the Rambam, according to which a person's own Torah study is subservient to the teaching of others, it seems that this does not exhaust the matter. In this section we wish to expand this matter and thus to deepen the relationship between learning and teaching.

In his introduction to his Mishneh Torah, the Rambam describes the way that the Torah was taught by Moshe to the people of Israel, and the way it was passed down from generation to generation until the completion of the Talmud. Owing to the importance of this passage, we will quote from it:

Moshe, our teacher, personally transcribed the entire Torah before he died. He gave a Torah scroll to each tribe and placed another scroll in the ark as a testimonial, as it is stated (Devarim 31:26): "Take this Torah scroll and place it [beside the ark…] and it will be there as a testimonial." He did not transcribe "the mitzvah" - i.e., the explanation of the Torah.. Instead, he commanded it [verbally] to the elders, to Yehoshua, and to all of Israel, as it is stated (Devarim 13:1): "Be careful to observe everything that I prescribe to you." For this reason, it is called the Oral Law.

Even though the Oral Law was not transcribed, Moshe taught it in its entirety in his court to the seventy elders. Elazar, Pinchas, and Yehoshua received the tradition from Moshe. [Moshe primarily] transmitted the Oral Law to Yehoshua, who was his [main] disciple, and instructed him regarding it. Similarly, throughout his life Yehoshua taught the Oral Law and many elders received the tradition from him. Eli received the tradition from the elders and from Pinchas. Shemuel received the tradition from Eli and his court. David received the tradition from Shemuel and his court. Achiya of Shilo was one of those who experienced the exodus from Egypt. He was a Levite and heard [teachings] from Moshe although he was young in Moshe's lifetime. Afterwards, he received the tradition from David and his court. Eliyahu received the tradition from Achiya of Shilo and his court. Elisha received the tradition from Eliyahu and his court… Ezra and his court received the tradition from Baruch and his court.

[The members of] Ezra's court are referred to as Anshei Keneset ha-Gedola (the men of the great assembly). The court included Chaggai, Malakhi, Daniel, Chananya, Mishael, Azarya, Nechemya ben Chakalya, Mordekhai the linguist, Zerubavel and many other sages – 120 elders in all.

The last [surviving] member of this group was Shimon the Righteous. He was included among the 120 elders and received the Oral Law from all of them. He served as the High Priest after Ezra. Antigonos of Sokho and his court received the tradition from Shimon the Righteous and his court. Yose ben Yo'ezer of Tzreida and Yosef ben Yochanan of Jerusalem and their court received the tradition from Antigonos and his court…

Rabban Gamliel the elder received the tradition from his father, Rabban Shimon, who was the son of Hillel the elder. Rabban Shimon, his son, received the tradition from him. His son Rabban Gamliel received the tradition from him and in turn his son, Rabban Shimon, received the tradition from him. Rabbi Yehuda, the son of Rabban Shimon, who is hence referred to as Rabbeinu ha-Kadosh ("our saintly teacher"), received the tradition from his father, from Rabbi Elazar ben Shamu'a, and from Rabban Shimon and his colleagues. Rabbeinu ha-Kadosh composed the Mishna.

From the days of Moshe, our teacher, until Rabbeinu ha-Kadosh, no one had composed a text which could be used to instruct the Oral Law in public. Instead, in each generation, the head of the court or the prophet of that generation would take notes of the teachings which he had received from his masters, and teach them verbally in public… This continued until [the age of] Rabbeinu ha-Kadosh. He collected all the teachings, all the laws, and all the explanations and commentaries that were heard from Moshe, our teacher, and which were taught by the courts in each generation concerning the entire Torah. He composed the text of the Mishna out of all of these texts. He taught it to the Sages in public and revealed it to the Jewish people, who wrote it all down. They spread it all over so that the Oral Law would not be forgotten by the Jewish people.

Why did Rabbeinu ha-Kadosh make [such an innovation] instead of perpetuating the status quo? Because he saw that there were fewer  students, there were new difficulties, the Roman Empire was  becoming more powerful, and the Jewish people were being dispersed to the far ends of the world. [Therefore,] he composed a single text that would be available to everyone, that could be studied quickly and wouldn’t be forgotten. He and his court taught the Mishna to the masses throughout his life.

These are the great Sages who were part of the court of Rabbeinu ha-Kadosh and who received the tradition from him: His sons, Shimon and Gamliel, Rabbi Efes, Rabbi Chanina ben Chama, Rabbi Chiyya, Rav, Rabbi Yannai, bar Kafra, Shemuel, Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Hoshaya. Thousands of other sages received the tradition from [Rabbeinu ha-Kadosh] together with these great sages.

Even though all of the eleven sages mentioned above received the tradition from Rabbeinu ha-Kadosh and attended his study sessions, [there are differences between them. At that time,] Rabbi Yochanan was of lesser stature. Afterwards, he became a disciple of Rabbi Yannai and received instruction from him. Similarly, Rav received the tradition from Rabbi Yannai, and Shemuel received the tradition from Rabbi Chanina ben Chama. Rav composed the Sifra and the Sifre to explain the sources for the Mishna. Rabbi Chiyya composed the Tosefta to explain the subjects [discussed in] the Mishna. Rabbi Hoshaya and bar Kafra composed Baraitot to explain the matters [discussed in] the Mishna. Rabbi Yochanan composed the Jerusalem Talmud in Eretz Yisrael approximately three hundred years after the destruction of the Temple. Among the great sages who received the tradition from Rav and Shemuel were: Rav Huna, Rav Yehuda, Rav Nachman, and Rav Kahana. Among the great sages who received the tradition from Rabbi Yochanan were: Rabba bar bar Chana, Rav Ami, Rav Assi, Rav Dimi, and Rav Avin.  Among the Sages who received the tradition from Rav Huna and Rav Yehuda were Rabba and Rav Yosef. Among the sages who received the tradition from Rabba and Rav Yosef were Abaye and Rava. Both of them also received the tradition from Rav Nachman. Among the Sages who received the tradition from Rava were Rav Ashi and Ravina. Mar bar Rav Ashi received the tradition from his father Rav Ashi and also from Ravina.

Thus, there were forty generations from Rav Ashi back to Moshe, our teacher, of blessed memory. They were: 1) Rav Ashi [received the tradition] from Rava. 2) Rava [received the tradition] from Rabba. 3) Rabba [received the tradition] from Rav Huna. 4) Rav Huna [received the tradi­tion] from Rabbi Yochanan, Rav, and Shemuel[…] 18) Shimon the Righteous [received the tradition] from Ezra. 19) Ezra [received the tradition] from Baruch[…] 32) Elisha [received the tradition] from Elijah. 33) Eliyahu [received the tradition] from Achiya. 34) Achiya [received the tradition] from David. 35) David [received the tradition] from Shemuel. 36) Shemuel [received the tradition] from Eli. 37) Eli [received the tradition] from Pinchas. 38) Pinchas [received the tradition] from Yehoshua. 39) Yehoshua [received the tradition] from Moshe, our teacher. 40) Moshe, our teacher, [received the tradition] from the Almighty. (Rambam, Introduction to Mishneh Torah)

            This passage in the Rambam is exceedingly puzzling. Why does the Rambam describe the chain of tradition twice, first from Moshe to Ravina and Rav Ashi, and then a second time from Ravina and Rav Ashi back to Moshe?

It seems that the Rambam wishes to emphasize the importance of the dual nature of the tradition: On the one hand, the development of the Torah from the time it was received at Sinai through the last generation mentioned; on the other hand, the relationship between the Torah student in the last generation to Moshe who received the Torah at Sinai.

At this stage, let us examine the second description, from Rav Ashi to Moshe, from the mouth of the Almighty. As the Rambam concludes his words: "Thus, [the source of] all these people's knowledge is God, the Lord of Israel."

The Rambam emphasizes that the handing down of the Torah from one generation to the next, in a long chain of links that cannot be severed, creates the connection between those studying the Torah throughout the generations to the study room of Moshe and the Almighty on Mount Sinai.

It seems that the objective here is not only to see the latter-generation Torah student as learning directly from God, by way of an uninterrupted chain of tradition from one generation to the next. In my opinion, we are dealing with an even more fundamental principle. The focus of the importance and intensity of Torah study lies in the Torah student's cleaving to God's word in His Torah. As is stated in the Zohar, the people of Israel, the Torah, and God are one.

The desire to connect the Torah student to God stems not only from the aspiration that the student learn directly from the source, but primarily from the aim to create a necessary relationship between the student and He who gave the Torah, so that the student may reach a state of closeness with Him.

III. The Focus of the Blessings Recited Over the Torah

It is with this in mind that we can understand why the blessings recited over the Torah focus on the relationship between the people of Israel and God.

According to Rav Huna in the Gemara in tractate Berakhot (11b), the finest of the blessings recited over the Torah is: "Who has chosen us from among all the nations and given us His Torah." In this blessing, we don’t only thank God for giving us His Torah, but rather we emphasize that we were chosen by Him, and that we are connected to the Giver of the Torah because He loves us and chose us.

Love is connected with the giving of the Torah in the basic blessing over the Torah,[3] the blessing of Ahava Rabba, "Great love"/Ahavat Olam, "Eternal love." This blessing emphasizes God's great love for His people, which caused Him to give us His Torah. Because He chose us out of love, He gave us and continues to give us His Torah.

This is the way the Maharal explains the following Gemara in Nedarim in his introduction to Tiferet Yisrael:

Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: What is meant by: "Who is the wise man, that he may understand this [for what is the land destroyed etc.]?" (Yirmeyahu 9:11)?  Now, this question was put to the Sages, the Prophets, and the Ministering Angels, but they could not answer it, until the Holy One, blessed be He, Himself did so, as it is written: "And the Lord said, Because they have forsaken My law which I set before them, and have not obeyed My voice, neither walked therein" (ibid. v. 10).  But isn’t "have not obeyed My voice" the same as "neither walked therein"? Rav said: [It means] that they did not recite a blessing over the Torah before learning it. (Nedarim 81a)

The Maharal comments:

It is astonishing that the land was destroyed because they did not recite a blessing over the Torah before learning it, and not because of the idolatry, forbidden sexual relations and bloodshed which were rampant during the First Temple period… Therefore, if they had recited a blessing over the Torah, saying, "Blessed is He who has given the Torah to Israel," and they would have expressed their love toward God for having given the Torah to Israel, as this is the essence of the blessing recited over the Torah, (that He is blessed for this, and that one loves God for the good, that He has given him the Torah;) this would have been the reason that the Torah would be fulfilled in Israel. For God would have put it in their hearts to keep, perform, and fulfill the Torah. Even if they occasionally transgressed a mitzva, they would immediately go back to keeping, performing, and fulfilling the Torah. This would come from God, who is the cause of the Torah, and also the cause that it not be cancelled. This may be likened to damage to a branch coming out of a tree. In such a case, the trunk of the tree causes new growth from the roots, which is the source of the growth, for without the root, the tree cannot live at all. Therefore, had they recited a blessing over the Torah, thus acknowledging that God is the cause of the Torah and that He gave them the Torah, and had they cleaved to Him with love for having given the Torah to Israel, this cleaving would have influenced God to ensure that the Torah not be cancelled. But because they did not recite a blessing over the Torah, because they did not cleave to Him with love for having given the Torah to Israel, there was no point in maintaining the Torah in Israel, and they came to transgress the Torah, and this caused the land to be destroyed. (Maharal, Introduction to Tiferet Yisrael)

Thus, we see that the essence of Torah study lies in the student's cleaving to God who gave Israel the Torah by choice and with love.

 

Translated by David Strauss

 


[1] Sefer ha-Yere'im 254: "Torah study – The Holy One, blessed be He, commanded that [the people of] Israel study the Torah, and toil over it, as it is written in Parashat Va-Etchanan: 'That you may learn them, and keep, and perform them' (Devarim 5:1). And it says in the first chapter of Kiddushin (29b): And if his father did not teach him, he must teach himself, as it is written: 'That you may learn them… and do them.'"

[2] Sefer ha-Yere’im 256: "To learn, to teach, to keep, and to perform – The Holy One, blessed be He, commanded that they teach Torah to their fellows, as it is written: 'And you shall teach them to your children' (Devarim 11:19). And it is written: 'And you shall teach them diligently to your children' (Devarim 6:7) – not only to your biological children, but rather, all of your disciples are called children."

So too in no. 225, which relates to the same mitzva: "Teach your children God's Torah and His commandments. Our Creator has commanded us in Parashat Va-Etchanan: 'And you shall teach them diligently to your chidlren, and you shall talk of them, etc.' And it is written in Parashat Ekev: 'And you shall teach them to your children.' The verse doesn’t refer only to biological children, but rather, anyone whom one teaches Torah one fulfills: 'And you shall teach them diligently to your children,' as it is written: 'And you shall teach them diligently to your children' – this refers to your disciples."

[3] Thus we find frequently in the Yerushalmi, that the blessings over the Torah are the blessings of Ahava Rabba (or Ahavat Olam). The Yerushalmi does not mention any other blessing, and even from the Bavli, it is clear that this blessing is a blessing over the Torah, as was noted in earlier shiurim.