QUESTION: I recently read your Daf Yomi column (JP, June 13, 2003), where you cited the Chikrei Lev’s comments regarding the standard of ‘Sinai’ in Torah study, that is, having extensive knowledge of the Torah. He stated that this is not as important today because the Mishna has been recorded.
My question is: Was the Mishna not recorded in Rashi’s time? Commenting on the first verse in Parashat Bechukotai, Rashi notes (based on Sifra) that “Im bechukotai tele’chu” means “shetih’yu amelim baTorah.” In yeshiva I was taught that this means that one must toil with much effort to learn and understand Torah. If so, how can one not be expected to have an extensive knowledge and yet be amel baTorah?
Zvi Kirschner
(Via Email)
ANSWER: Indeed, you are very perceptive in your observation. Let us review this entire matter and perhaps then we will be able to resolve this difficulty.

The Torah states in Parashat Bechukotai (Leviticus 26:3), “Im bechukotai tele’chu ve’et mitzvotai tishmoru va’asitem otam – If you will follow My decrees and observe My commandments and perform them.” The parasha then continues with the blessings that will ensue, all conditional on the fulfillment of these instructions.

Rashi (ibid.) explains that one might think that “bechukotai” refers to the performance of commandments, but when the verse continues to state “ve’et mitzvotai tishmoru – and [you will] observe my commandments,” we understand that it is the latter phrase which refers to the
commandments. Thus, what does “im bechukotai tele’chu” refer to? Rashi answers that we are told here to study Torah with effort and diligence.

The Daf Yomi column was based on the siyum (completion) of Tractate Horayot (14a), which states, “R. Yochanan said, R. Shimon b. Gamaliel and the sages were in disagreement on the following matter. One said, ‘Sinai’ [lit. Mt. Sinai, where the entire Torah was revealed, meaning a scholar, possessing extensive knowledge of the Torah] is greater, and the other said, ‘oker harim’ [lit. one who can move mountains, that is, one who possesses a keen and analytical mind] is greater.”

We call someone described as sinai a baki, a knowledgeable person, and an oker harim a charif, a sharp-minded individual.

The Gemara continues, “R. Yosef [is described as] ‘sinai’ [as he had vast knowledge of every subject matter in the Torah and Talmud] and Rabbah [is described as] ‘oker harim’ [as he had a great analytical mind].”

To help reach a conclusion as to which method of Torah study is preferable, a query was sent to the learned rabbis in Eretz Israel. They responded that ‘sinai’ is greater, as the master taught, ‘Everyone is dependent on the owner of the wheat’ (Rashi s.v. “Hakol tzerichin lemarei
chatya” explains that R. Yosef would be described as “the master of the wheat” since “the mishnayot and the baraitot are organized in his mind as if they were given [to him] on Mt. Sinai. The mishna and the baraita are the forefathers [i.e., foundations or sources] of the halachot.”

Even so, R. Yosef, in his great humility, would not accept the leadership upon himself, therefore Rabbah ruled as nasi for twenty two years, and afterwards R. Yosef ruled as nasi. During all the years that Rabbah ruled, R. Yosef did not call any expert to his home [Rashi s.v. “Umna leveitech” explains that to do so would show that he wished to benefit from the
trappings of high office – therefore if he had need for hakazat dam, bloodletting, he would go to the home of Rabbah where the expert would be found.]

The Gemara continues, describing how Abaye, Rava, R. Zera, and Rabba b. Mattena were sitting [and learning together] and they wished to choose a leader. They decided that the method of choosing such a leader would be as follows: They agreed that whoever would deliver a dvar Torah and it could not be refuted will be the leader. The result was that each of
those present said a dvar Torah, which was refuted by the others. Abaye’s words, however, remained unrefuted. Rava then noticed that Abaye raised his head, and he called out to Abaye: “Nachmani” [Abaye, also known by the nom de guerre Nachmani, grew up in the house of R. Nachman and was thus referred to affectionately as his son], “begin and speak.”

The Gemara concludes with the following query: “R. Zera or Rabba b.R. Mattena – who is greater? R. Zera, who possesses a great analytical mind and asks many difficult questions [Rashi s.v. “charif u’maksheh” explains that through his method of deep analysis, R. Zera felt the need to pose questions, but he was also able to answer them], or Rabba b. R. Mattena,
who is deliberate [and thoroughly researched, see Rashi] but arrives at conclusions [according to halacha, see Rashi]?” The answer recorded in the Gemara is “teiku,” which is how the Gemara refers to questions that will be resolved by Elijah the Prophet. That term is an acronym for “Tishbi yetaret kushiyot u’va’ayot,” Elijah the Tishbi will resolve all questions and
undecided matters.

According to Chikrei Lev, today we have our Mishna, Talmud, and Shulchan Aruch recorded, therefore, the most pressing need in Torah study is the ability to arrive at conclusions based on the sources which are readily available in print. Since the main purpose of Torah is to learn and do, as we find in Avot (4:5), “R. Ishmail says, ‘One who learns in order to do [is far better and] is given the ability to learn in order to teach, to keep, and to do.'”

Thus, we see from Chikrei Lev’s comments that one may [and should] use all means available in one’s time to enhance Torah study. Using available means, such as the printed Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch, does not detract from the required hard work necessary for Torah study.

(To be continued)

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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