Talmud Tips

For the week ending 1 December 2018 / 23 Kislev 5779

Menachot 93 - 99

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Where Did His Torah Go?

Rav Yosef taught, “From here we learn that a Torah scholar who forgot his learning due to no fault of his own should not be disrespected.”

From where does he learn this important teaching? G-d told Moshe regarding the Second Tablets, “And I shall inscribe on the Tablets the words that were on the First Tablets, which you shattered, and you shall place them into the Ark.” (Devarim 10:2). We learn from hear, says Rav Yosef, that the Second Tablets, which were not broken, were placed together in the Ark with the broken First Tablets. The lesson from this act, he explains, is that “a Torah scholar who forgot his learning due to no fault of his own should not be disrespected.”

At first glance, it is not clear how we see from this verse that both the Second Tablets and the First, broken Tablets, were placed together in the Ark. The straightforward meaning is that Moshe was commanded to place the Second Tablets — which were received on Yom Kippur, and on which was written the same Torah as the First Tablets which Moshe had rightfully broken when he found the people with the Golden Calf on the 17thof Tammuz — inside the Ark. But where is it mentioned in this verse that the broken First Tablets were placed in that Ark as well?

The Maharsha resolves this mystery. He writes that although the verse is certainly speaking about the Second Tablets, the “close positioning” of the words “asher shibarta, which you broke” — which refer to the First Tablets that were broken — to the words “v’samtam b’aron, and you will place them in the Ark,” hints that the broken First Tablets had already been placed in the Ark, and now the Second, whole Tablets were to placed with them there as well. Together. The “unbroken” together with the “broken”.

A Torah scholar, who has internalized his Torah study and practice, and has made himself into a “walking Torah scroll” is deserving of the honor due to the Torah. This is true even if he has now “forgotten” his Torah studies through no fault of his own, such as when he has become unwell, or is under extreme pressure to earn a livelihood (Rashi). We should continue to clearly see him as one who still carries the Torah within him, as part of his very being, and he should therefore not be treated with even an iota of disrespect, G-d forbid. (A great rabbi in Jerusalem once told me that this phrase “l’onso” — through no fault of his own — would not apply to a Torah scholar who forgot his Torah studies due a negligent lack of review of his Torah studies.)

The Mishna at the end of Masechta Sotah states that when Rebbi passed from this world, the trait of humility ceased to exist. The very same Rav Yosef who teaches on our daf not to disrespect a Torah scholar who forgot his learning due to circumstances beyond his control comments on that mishna, saying: “Don’t teach that humility has ended, because I am here!” Obviously, this seemingly incongruous statement begs for an explanation.

It is important to note that Rav Yosef was a great Sage whose teachings are recorded in a great number of places in the Talmud. Yet, despite his great scholarship achieved through learning and teaching Torah, and despite the lofty Torah knowledge he had attained, we are taught that Rav Yosef became blind, and as a result of his illness he forgot his Torah learning.

In this light, we can understand Rav Yosef’s point. He was not saying, “I am humble, and therefore the trait of humility has not ceased from existence, since humble people still exist in the world.” Rather, he wassaying: “Do not say that there cannot be humble people around anymore. Please look at me. As long as I am around, people can look at me and see what can happen to a person. Let them see that a person can be a Torah scholar, learn a vast amount of Torah, teach countless students — and yet forget it all, if it be the will of God. One who truly “gets” this point will become humble, or, at least, will likely become humble. The key to humility is realizing that everything we have is a gift, and it can all be lost at any given moment.

  • Menachot 99a

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