Talmud Tips

For the week ending 25 November 2017 / 7 Kislev 5778

Maccot 9 - 15

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Learning Torah with Others

Rabbi Yossi the son of Rabbi Chanina said, “What is meant by the verse: ‘A sword is on the badim’? This means that ‘a sword is on the necks of the ‘haters of the Torah scholars’ (a euphemistic way of saying ‘a sword in on the necks of the Torah scholars, in order not to say ‘on the necks of the Torah scholars’) who learn Torah individually and not with others. And not only this, but they become ‘stupid’; and not only this, but they sin.”

Rabbi Yossi b’Rabbi Chanina teaches on our daf these quite serious and harsh warnings to those who study the Torah by themselves. He derives them from a verse in the Prophet Yirmiyahu 50:36.

We see from here the importance of being involved in Torah study together with a chevruta (study partner), a Yeshiva with many students, and with a Rabbi to guide each person’s Torah study. A person who studies Torah without others is in danger of incorrect and improper study, which can lead to thoughts, speech, and actions which are not in accordance with the true way of the Torah.

This gemara reminds me of a true story that I heard in my youth. A businessman in Jerusalem worked for many years, and then decided one day to retire and devote himself entirely to Torah study. So he closed up his store to customers, and began to study Torah all day — day after day — by himself in his closed-up store. After many years he died. But he left an unusual written request: “I insist that when I die that all of the notebooks of my Torah writings from my Torah study during my retirement should be buried along with me.”

Word of his request quickly reached the leading Rabbis of Jerusalem at the time. They felt quite conflicted and uncomfortable about burying and “losing” all of this man’s many Torah “novel ideas” that he had written. The Rabbis decided on a course of action. They sent a group of young, leading Torah scholars (avreichim), led by a then-young Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld (1848-1932), who later became a very great leading Rabbi of Jerusalem and for the Jewish People.

When this group of scholars quickly went and found the notebooks, they opened the first one and saw a question and answer the man had written regarding Yaakov’s dream. The verse states, “And he dreamed, and behold, a ladder set up on the ground and its top reached to Heaven; and behold, angels of G-d were ascending and descending upon it.” (Gen. 28:12)

“There is a difficulty in this verse”, wrote the man. “Everyone knows that angels have wings. Why, therefore, did they need a ladder to go up and down on?”

The answer he wrote was, “The verse in the Torah is speaking about baby angels.”

I don’t know whether the young Rabbis who saw this laughed or cried, but they realized that their investigation was concluded, and that the man was correct in requesting that his writings be buried along with him…

  • Maccot 10a

Teaching Torah to Others

Rabbi Yossi the son of Rabbi Chanina said, “Much have I learned from my rabbis, even more have I learned from my colleagues, but from my students I have learned more than from anyone else.”

The success of Torah learning is proportional to the degree of questions and discussions of a Torah subject, which lead to greater understanding. Rabbi Yossi b’Rabbi Chanina is certainly not downplaying the importance of what he learned from his teachers and friends. However, he teaches that one’s greatest understanding results from the process of intense questioning and reasoning with the various viewpoints of his students who seek to understand the Torah in a clear manner from him (Maharsha). Any teacher of Torah can easily identify with this phenomenon!

  • Maccot 10a

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