Ketubot 102 - 108
How to Spread Torah Study
What is the ideal formula for spreading Torah study among Jews? The great sage Rabbi Chiya offers us this fascinating account of his own activities in this area:
"I made sure that Torah would not be forgotten by Jews. First I planted flax. I then used the flax to make nets with which I trapped deer. The meat of these animals I gave away to feed orphans and from their skins I made parchments. I then proceeded to a community where there was no one available to teach children Torah. On five parchments I wrote the five Chumashim of the Torah which I taught from and presented to five of the children. I also taught each of six children one of the six orders of the mishna. Then I instructed each one of them to teach the others what I had taught him until I would return to check on their progress. In this way I made sure that Torah would never be forgotten."
Why was it necessary for Rabbi Chiya to make such elaborate preparations for the main task of teaching? Why couldn't he simply purchase written Chumashim and save all the time required for planting flax, fashioning nets, trapping animals and making parchment?
Maharsha explains that Rabbi Chiya understood that in order to succeed in his monumental undertaking to preserve Torah, he had to make sure that every single step was taken purely for the sake of Heaven, and that there was no earthly interest mixed into it. Should he buy an animal for its skin, there would be the interest of the seller to gain money from the sale. If the meat of that animal would not be utilized solely for the sacred purpose of feeding helpless orphans, there would again be some dilution of the purity of his actions.
Even after assuring that every step of his educational preparations was 100% pure, Rabbi Chiya did not see his task completed until he turned every one of his students into a teacher of others. The highest level of Torah development is reached only when one shares his learning with others, and this would be the guarantee that Torah study of the highest quality would go on forever.
Little wonder then that the greatest of teachers, Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi (Rebbie), said of these actions: "How great are the achievements of Chiya!"
The Sage Who Wouldn't Pray
When Rabbi Yosef's disciples appealed to him to pray for relief from the famine from which they suffered, he thus explained why he could not do so:
"The Prophet Elisha was so great a Torah sage and had so many disciples that even when most of them took leave of him at the conclusion of their daily studies he was left with 2,200 who ate at his table. He nevertheless did not pray for relief from hunger in his time, so how can I dare to do so?"
Rabbi Yosef's humility as a reason for hesitating to pray for relief from famine is extremely difficult to understand. In Mesechta Ta'anit we learn of many sages who prayed for relief from the famines that threatened their communities, and it is doubtful that they were greater than Elisha or had more disciples than he did!
Maharsha distinguishes between two sorts of famine: When the famine was so intense that it posed a threat to life there was no hesitation upon the part of the sages to pray for relief. The famines in the days of Elisha and in the days of Rabbi Yosef were only a shortage of rain, which resulted in a difficulty in providing sufficient food for the disciples dependent on these masters, but posed no threat to life. Rabbi Yosef's reasoning was that if Elisha, who had so many more disciples to feed, failed to see such an emergency requiring a special appeal to Heaven, how could he with so many less to feed presume to do so?