Talmud Tips

For the week ending 17 December 2022 / 23 Kislev 5783

Nedarim 37-43

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Torah is Free

“Just as I, Moshe Rabbeinu, taught you for free, likewise you (teachers of Torah) must likewise teach Torah for free.”

Our gemara derives this from examining a verse in which Moshe tells the people, “And Hashem commanded me at that time to teach you” together with another verse with him saying, “See! I have taught you statues and judgments as Hashem commanded me.” (Deut. 4:5, 14)

How do we see from here that Moshe was told to teach for free and that likewise all teachers of Torah should teach for free?

After Moshe told the people that he was commanded to teach them Torah, he added the words “as Hashem commanded me.” What exactly was Moshe conveying to the people with this seemingly enigmatic phrase? Logical deduction shows that this can only mean that Moshe was commanded to teach Torah for free. The reasoning: Could it mean that Hashem commanded him to take payment? This is not logical since why should he be forced to require payment? Or it could theoretically mean that Moshe was teaching Torah just as Hashem taught it to him, and they should not doubt his teachings? This is also not logical since the Torah states that Hashem guaranteed that the people would always trust Moshe as their prophet and teacher: “And they will also believe in you (Moshe) forever.” (Ex. 19:9) Therefore, the words “as Hashem commanded me” can only mean a directive to teach Torah for free. (Rabbeinu Nissim; for halachic sources and rulings regarding this topic see Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De’ah 246)

Nedarim 37a

One Who Has Knowledge Has Everything

Abayei said, “We have a tradition from our Forefathers and Rabbis that there is no true poverty except for one who is lacking Torah knowledge.”

This is what was taught by the Sage in Bavel. Our gemara relates that a similar idea was taught in Eretz Yisrael in the following manner: “One who has knowledge has everything; without it, what does he have? Whoever has acquired knowledge, what is he lacking? One who has not acquired knowledge, what has he acquired?” (By the way, it is quite a snappy-sounding statement in Aramaic!)

Our Sages teach that the word “zaken” does not necessarily refer to an elderly person, but is an acronym for a Torah scholar — “zeh kana chochma” — “this person has acquired knowledge.” One might recognize that the words “zeh kana” (this one acquired) can be seen in the word “zaken,” but how do we see that he has specifically acquired “chochma” — Torah wisdom — and that the word zaken therefore refers to a Torah scholar? The answer: The only real acquisition a person has is Torah. Material assets come and go and are external to the person, while Torah is eternally part of the person who ‘acquires’ it. Torah knowledge and wisdom is our only true acquisition. (Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, “The Steipler Rav”)

Nedarim 41a

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