Rav Chisda said, “Who is a Torah scholar? One who ‘sees a treifa for himself’.”
The phrase chosen by Rav Chisda — “sees a treifa for himself” — requires clarification as to what it means. (And of course a Torah scholar also must be somebody who learns Torah with great dedication!)
Rashi explains this phrase that defines a Torah scholar to mean someone who sees a possible sign of his animal being a treifa, which would forbid him from eating his meat after shechita. Although this animal’s owner has reason to forbid it and also reason to permit it, he is strict on himself and forbids it. This is despite the fact that if he would permit it he would have ample reason to do so, but chooses to forbid the meat to himself and suffer a monetary loss. This person, according to Rav Chisda, is a Torah scholar.
Tosefot writes that the significance of designating this person as a “Torah scholar” is one that has halachic ramifications for returning a lost object. Normally, a lost object is only returned to a person if the person can identify it properly, thereby showing that he is the owner who lost it. However, certain objects that are without identifying features, such as brand new kitchen glassware that has never been used, can be returned to a Torah scholar if he claims that he is certain that he recognizes the objects as being the objects that he lost. This concept is called teviat ayin.
This idea that Tosefot writes seems consistent with how Rashi defines a Torah scholar as being one who is strict to not eat from his animal if there is any doubt about its being completely kosher in order to avoid any prohibition. In the case of identifying a lost object by teviat ayin, this type of person would also not claim it to be his if had any doubt regarding his being the true owner.
The Maharsha, however, cites Rashi’s explanation for the phrase “sees a treifa for himself,” and, in addition, offers another possible explanation. The Maharsha suggests that this phrase, which describes a Torah scholar, refers to a person who will only eat meat if he himself checks it to be certain that it is not a treifa and is kosher. He does not rely on any checking of the animal that is done by anyone else. No hechsher (kashrut supervision) is trustworthy to him except for his own personal halachic ruling.
The Maharsha extrapolates to connect this statement of Rav Chisda to an actual event that the gemara records after Rav Chisda’s teaching. When Rav Elazar was invited to dine at the house of the Nasi (prince and leader of the Jewish people in the Babylonian exile), he declined to go to eat there. According to the Maharsha the reason was because Rav Elazar did not trust anybody else’s kashrut supervision. The reason he gave for refusing was based on a verse in Proverbs (15:27) that states: “One who hates gifts will live.” He rhetorically told the Nasi, “Don’t you want me to live?” Although his true reason for not eating there was that he relied only on his own kashrut supervision, it seems that he gave this particular excuse for not accepting the invitation in order not to insult the Nasi. (Sound like a familiar line, anybody?)
According to Rashi, however, Rav Elazar’s refusal to eat at the house of the Nasi is for a different reason, and not because he didn’t trust the kashrut. It appears that Rav Elazar’s reason is more literal according to Rashi. He did not want to receive gifts — including gifts of food that would be eaten at the Nasi’s table. This is because Rav Elazar was extremely careful to live according to the “good advice” taught by King Shlomo in Proverbs that “one who hates gifts will live.”