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Q & A: Adding To The Rabbi’s Discussion (Conclusion)


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QUESTION: Upon concluding the Shabbat morning services at our local synagogue, we have an informal kiddush during which our rabbi discusses the Parasha of the week. At the conclusion of his talk he opens an informal discussion, inviting questions or comments. Occasionally I will make a brief comment relating to the rabbi’s talk, sometimes quoting an applicable passage from the Torah. Recently a friend told me that it was not proper for me, a lay person, to comment even briefly by directly quoting the Torah, as quotes should be stated exclusively by the rabbi.
I believe, however, that lay people are to be encouraged to study and quote relevant passages from the Torah. Additionally, the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) encourages us to “… teach it (Torah) to your children, to speak of it in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you arise…” Thus, it seems the Shema is urging us all, including lay persons, to quote the Torah. My rabbi told me he was not bothered by my quoting Torah verses during these discussions, but I would also like to know your opinion.
Name Withheld by Request
ANSWER: We began our discussion last week with the comment in Yoreh De’ah (242:31) that a scholar is not to speak (during a Torah discourse) in the presence of a greater scholar, even if the former has not learned anything from the latter. This is due to the tremendous honor we accord Torah scholars, and we can understand the obligations a lay person must have toward his rabbi. We quoted the verse, “Lo yamush sefer haTorah hazeh mipicha ve’hagita bo yomam va’layla…” (Joshua 1:8). This was part of the instruction Joshua received from G-d. Radak (ad loc.) examines whether this instruction was intended exclusively for Joshua or for all Jews. He explains the term ‘ve’hagita’ as a requirement to have the words of the Torah in our hearts and minds always. In that case, any conversation with another Jew would inevitably contain quotes from the Torah. The Gemara (Chullin 95:b) underscores the honor due to a scholar, an honor the scholar has the right to demand. Given the constant thoughts about Torah one is to have according to the instructions to Joshua, we were left with the question of how one converses with a scholar without violating his honor.* * *

Our Sages provide us with a formula in Tractate Avot (6:5-6) on the acquisition of Torah knowledge. R. Shimon (Avot 4:12) refers to the three crowns of Israel: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of royalty. The crown of Torah is available to each and every Jew, the crown of priesthood is restricted to the progeny of Aaron, and the crown of royalty is limited to the anointed kings of the Davidic dynasty.

The Mishna (6:5) states, “Torah is even greater than priesthood or royalty, for royalty is acquired along with thirty distinctions [described in Sefer Ha'Aruch under "melech"], and priesthood along with 24 gifts (which are detailed in Tractate Bava Kamma 110b). Torah, however, is acquired through 48 qualities” – which are:

Study, attentive listening, articulate speech, intuitive understanding, discernment, awe, reverence, humility, joy, purity, ministering to scholars, close association with colleagues, sharp discussion with pupils, deliberation, [knowledge of] Scripture and of Mishna, limited business activity, limited wordly matters, limited pleasure, limited sleep, limited chatter, limited laughter, slowness to anger, a good heart, faith in the Sages, acceptance of suffering, knowing one’s place, being happy with one’s lot, making a protective fence around one’s words, claiming no credit for oneself, being beloved, loving the Omnipresent [Hashem], loving mankind, loving righteous ways, loving the ways of justice, loving reproofs, keeping far from honor, not being arrogant with one’s learning, not enjoying decision-making, sharing his fellow’s yoke, judging him favorably, setting him on the truthful course, leading him unto peace, thinking deliberately in his study, asking and answering, listening and contributing to the discussion, learning in order to teach, learning in order to practice, making his teacher wiser, pondering over what he has learned, and quoting a thing in the name of the one who said it. Thus we learn that whoever repeats something in the name of the one who said it brings redemption to the world, for it is stated (Esther 2:22), “And Esther told the king in the name of Mordecai.”

Among these numerous methods of acquiring Torah a few stand out – “Close association with colleagues” and “sharp discussion with pupils”: these two very clearly refer to ongoing discussions of Torah as crucial to its acquisition. “Asking and answering” and “listening and contributing to the discussion” are even higher levels where one is able to resolve difficulties that arise from the discussion.

Regarding “listening and contributing to the discussion,” Rashi (ad loc. s.v. “shome’a”) explains that “he listens to all that his teacher says to him, and he adds to it, but does not negate any of his teacher’s words.” This seems to address your question. We also find the quality of “making his teacher wiser.” This is clearly self-explanatory. The student, through discussions with his teacher, adds to his teacher’s knowledge, as we find in the Gemara (Perek Hasocher et Hapo’alim, Bava Metzia 84a): When R. Shimon b. Lakish [who was a disciple and colleague of R. Yochanan] died, R. Yochanan was grief-stricken. The Sages, upon seeing that he was deeply affected and kept away from the house of study, decided to send a student to console him, and thus cajole him back to the house of study. They sent R. Eleazar b. Pedat, who was uniquely sharp in his studies.

He sat before R. Yochanan and after every statement of R. Yochanan he would immediately remark, ‘I have found a baraita that supports your view.’ It was obvious to all the Sages and to R. Eleazar himself that they hoped that R. Eleazar would be accepted as the new disciple in place of Resh Lakish.

R. Yochanan was not satisfied with this student and exclaimed, “You think you are like the son of Lakish. When I made a statement, the son of Lakish used to ask 24 questions to which I would give 24 replies, and from that the Torah study would develop and spread. You, on the other hand, keep offering me support from a baraita; don’t I know that my statements are correct?!” He then proceeded to tear his clothes and cry aloud, exclaiming, “Where are you, O son of Lakish, where are you, O son of Lakish?” until he lost his senses. The Sages then prayed for mercy from Heaven on his behalf and he died.

We see that if the best student, R. Eleazar b. Pedat, does not challenge his teacher, he is not very useful to him. But Resh Lakish, through his brilliant questions and challenges, had brought out the best in R. Yochanan.

R. Yosef Caro lists – and the Rema elucidates – many things that are required in the behavior of a student toward his teacher, such as the honor he has to show him (Yoreh De’ah 242). We also find the following (242:32): If one’s primary teacher (rav muv’hak) from whom one has learned the most forgives the honor due him in regard to any or all of the previously listed matters, from any or all of his students – his honor is forgiven. However, even though his honor is forgiven, it is still incumbent upon the student to show him honor. (The Rema adds, “and surely not to embarrass him.”)

This halacha is based on Tractate Kiddushin (32a-b), where the Gemara compares the Torah teacher to Hashem, for it is stated (Exodus 13:21), “VeHashem holech lifneihem yomam valayla … – And Hashem went before [the Children of Israel] day and night [when they left Egypt] …” – which means that Hashem, master of the universe and of the Torah, clearly forgave His honor. Thus, one who teaches Hashem’s Torah may surely do so.

Your friend is critical of your quoting passages from the Torah in the course of your conversation with the rabbi. This argument is not totally without merit, as we find in the Talmud (Temura 14b): “R. Abba b. Chiya b. Abba said in the name of R. Yochanan, ‘Those who write halachot [laws] are considered as if they are burning the Torah.’ Rashi (s.v. “Kesorfei Torah”), obviously referring to the Gemara (Shabbos 115a), explains this, in accord with R. Huna, to mean that we do not save such writings of the Oral Law from a fire on the Sabbath.

Rambam (Hilchot Shabbat 23:26) rules accordingly that Torah matters written in any language other than Hebrew may not be saved from a fire on the Sabbath. Thus putting it in writing is considered similar to burning it. Those who learn from these written halachot do not receive any Heavenly reward.

R. Yosef Caro (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 334:12), however, disputes this rule of Rambam. He states, as does the conclusion of the Gemara in Temura (as we will see), that we save any written Torah matters, in any language, from a fire. Thus the Halacha follows R. Chisda even though, usually, when R. Chisda argues with R. Huna, R. Chisda’s view is discounted.

R. Yehuda b. Nachmani, the “interpreter” of Resh Lakish (it was the style that a sage would deliver his lecture and another appointed scholar would repeat and explain the lecture to the masses), said that while the verse (Exodus 34:27) opens with, “[Vayomer Hashem el Moshe] Ketov lecha et ha’devarim ha’eleh… - [Hashem said to Moshe], Write for yourself these words…” it concludes with, “… ki al pi ha’devarim ha’eleh [karatti it'cha brit ve'et yisrael] – For according to these words [I have sealed a covenant with you and with Israel].”

We derive from this verse that you are not allowed “to say” in written form matters which are oral, “be’al peh,” and matters which are in written form may not be said orally. This refers to the written Torah – the Pentateuch, the Prophets and Hagiographa – which may not be recited orally (that is, without looking at the text), and the Oral Law – the Mishna and the Talmud – which may not be put down in writing but only studied orally.

The Gemara now offers a proof: “We learned in the study hall of R. Yishmael, ‘Write for yourself these words’. These [words of the Torah] you may write, but you may not write halachot - oral laws.”

Others say that a novel halachic matter may be different, for R. Yochanan and Resh Lakish would gaze in the book of Agga’deta (oral traditions) on the Sabbath, and they would expound from the following verse (Psalms 119:126), “Et la’asot L’Hashem, heferu Toratecha – It is a time to act for Hashem, they have voided Your Torah.” [Rashi s.v. "Et la'asot L'Hashem" explains that when a matter is being done to exalt Hashem, it is proper to void a Torah rule]. They were saying that it was better to uproot this Torah rule so that Torah shall not be forgotten in Israel.

As you note, we might have thought that there is a problem not only with your quoting Torah passages orally, but with your rabbi’s encouraging it as well. However, this Gemara teaches us that we utilize all means to further the study and practice of Torah, at times in contravention of established rules.

May we wish you and your friend to continue to drink with great thirst the words of Torah as you study with your rabbi.

About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.


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