Learning and Teaching
Rav Meir Simchah haKohein miDevinskzt”l writes in the Meshekh Chokhmah on Devarim 28:61 a comment that goes to the heart of what learning Torah is about.
The translation below opens with the verse in question understood as I think one would most naturally before seeing Rashi, to provide the initial assumption Rashi and the Meshakh Chokhmah draw our attention to and reject:
גַּ֤ם כׇּל־חֳלִי֙ וְכׇל־מַכָּ֔ה אֲשֶׁר֙ לֹ֣א כָת֔וּב בְּסֵ֖פֶר הַתּוֹרָ֣ה הַזֹּ֑את יַעְלֵ֤ם ה֙ עָלֶ֔יךָ עַ֖ד הִשָּׁמְדָֽךְ׃
Also every sickness and every plague which is not written in this Seifer Torah, Hashem will raised against you until you are destroyed.
יעויין רש”י פרשת נצבים כי הטפחה תחת ה”ספר”, ו”הזאת” הוא על “התורה”, לכן לשון נקבה, יעויין שם. דלמאן דאמר “ויכתוב יהושע את הדברים האלה בספר תורת אלקים” (יהושע כד, כו) על שמונה פסוקים מ”וימת שם משה”. אם כן מיתת צדיקים להגין על הדור, כמו משה, כתוב “בספר התורה”, אבל לא בתורה עצמה, כי אחרי מות משה אין “תורה”, כמו שאמר (מלאכי ג, כב) “זכרו תורת משה”. וזה עיקר משלושה עשר עקרים.
Look into Rashi on Parashas Nitzavim. For the tipechah [a pausal trop mark] is under “beseifer” [in this book], and the “hazos” [this] is on “haTorah” [the Torah, as per the meircha-esnachta trop pair joining them]. That is why it [zos] is in the feminine. (And see there.) Therefore it says “And Yehoshua wrote these things the the seifer Toras E-lokim” on the last eight verses, from “Vayamas Moshe.” It is so that [we can learn that] the death of the righteous is to protect the generation, like Moshe, it is written in the seifer Torah. But it is not Torah itself. After Moshe died there is no more Torah, like it says , “Remember the Torah of Moshe”, and it is an article of faith among the 13 articles.
According to haRav Meir Simchah, the concept of seifer Torah refers to more than the Torah. The Torah is that which Hashem gave us via Moshe. We can only get Torah through Moshe, as per the Rambam’s article of faith. However, there is an opinion that the last eight verses of Devarim, which discuss Moshe’s death, couldn’t possibly be written by Moshe — that would be too similar to having Moshe lie. Instead they were transmitted via Yehoshua. We are obligated to include in the scroll, in the seifer Torah, not only the Torah but those eight verses as well, to teach us a lesson about how to relate to the death of a tzadiq. His proof is a grammatical point first made by Rashi. The three words in question are “בְּסֵ֖פֶר הַתּוֹרָ֣ה הַזֹּ֑את”, which if we parse as per the trope, becomes “which are not written in the book, this Torah”. And it must be parsed this way, because “Torah” is a feminine noun, “seifer” is masculine, and “hazos”, being feminine for “this” (or “her”), can only refer to “Torah” without the “seifer”.
Rav Meir Simchah haKohein miDvinskzt”l segues from the idea that the last eight verses of the seifer Torah were added via Yehoshua to the Torah itself that we received through Moshe in order to teach us about the effect of the death of the righteous on the generation.
והאמר רב לרב שמואל בר שילת, אחים לי בהספידאי, דהתם קאימנא.
“Rav said to Rav Shemu’el bar Shilah: Prepare for me a touching eulogy, for I will be there.” (Shabbos 153a)
יבואר בהקדם מה שהאדם קיים במין מצד חומרו ככל הנמצאים השפלים, וקיים באיש מצד נפשו השכלית ככל האישים העליונים וכגרמי השמים. והנה טרם בריאתו היה גם כן שכל נבדל משיג את בוראו כמאמרם בנדה דף ל:, והיה קיים אישיי, וירד לעולם השפל כדי לעשות מצוות מעשיות התלויים בחומר, וכתשובת משה למלאכים: כלום יש בכם גניבה וכו’. ולכן אמרו: הלומד שלא על מנת לעשות [ירושלמי (ברכות א:) פרק היה קורא] נוח לו שנהפכה לו שליתו על פניו (עכ”ל הירושלמי), משום דגם אז היה שכל נבדל משיג בוראו יתברך [קרבן אהרן בהקדמה]. וכן אם מלמד לאחרים, אז לימודו לתכלית, היינו שהוא קיים במין מצד הנפש. ולכן גם הלומד שלא על מנת ללמד אמרו כן: נוח לו שלא נברא וכו’.
It was explained in the beginning that a person exists in his intellectual soul, like all the lofty people and like the heavenly causes. Before he was created, a person was also a seikhel nivdal [separated intellect; i.e. a pure intellect with no body, like angels; metaphysical] which grasped its Creator. As it says in Niddah pg. 30. [The soul] had personal existence and descended into the lower world in order to do mitzvos maasios [mitzvos that are actions] which require material substance. Like Moshe’s answer to the angels [when they asked that Hashem leave the Torah with them rather than give it to us at Sinai], “Do theft etc… have meaning for you?” Therefore they said, “One who learns but not in order to do, would have been pleasanter that his umbilical cord would have prolapsed in front of his face [and he never came into the world.” (Yerushalmi ch. “Hayah Qorei” [I found it elsewhere — Berakhos 1:1, vilna 1a; Shabbos 1:2, vilna 7b, but not at the stated location. -micha]) Because then [before birth] too he was a seikhel nivdal who grasped his Creator, may He be blessed. (Qorban Aharon, introduction) Similarly if he teaches others then his learning has a purpose, which is to preserve the species on a spiritual level. Therefore also, the one who learns but not for the sake of teaching they thus said, “it would have been pleasanter for him not to have been created.”
ואף הקיום במין מצד חומר מצאנו בתורה שכוונתו שיהא קיים במין מצד הנפש, כמו שאמר השי”ת (בראשית יח:יט) “כי ידעתיו למען אשר יצוה את בניו… אחריו”. ולכן אמרו ביש נוחלין (בבא בתרא קטז.): “בכו בכה להולך” (ירמיה כב:י), (ואמר רב יהודה אמר רב) להולך בלא בנים. (אלא אמר רב יהושע בן לוי, הוא דאמר) תלמיד (עכ”ל הגמרא). היינו ששניהם קיים במין ולתכלית אחד.
Even his creation on the physical level, we find in the Torah that it is for the intent of his preserving the species on a spiritual level. As Hashem (blessed be He) said [of His selection of Abraham], “For I know him, that he will teach his children after him…” (Bereishis 18:19) Similarly, it says in “Yeish Nochalin” [Bava Basra 116a, quoting Yirmiyahu 22:10] “‘Weep for the one who goes…’ Rav Yehudah said that Rav said: the one who goes with no male children. Rav Yehoshua ben Levi said: it is one who goes without a student.” Both preserve the species and to the same effect.
ולכן אמרו בחלק (סנהדרין צט: על איוב ה:ז) “כי אדם לעמל יולד” וכו’, זה ללמוד על מנת לעשות ללמוד על מנת ללמד, שרק לזה יולד, וכמו שבארנו.
As it says in chapter “Cheileq” [Sanhedrin 99b, on Iyov 5:7] “Man was born to toil” that is the toil of learning in order to teach, learning in order to do. For it is only for this that he was born, as we explained.
The Meshekh Chokhmah further develops this idea, and returns back to Rav’s funeral instructions and the importance of the last eight pesuqim of the Sefer Torah. But that’s for an upcoming post; I decided that putting it all here would further delay the post, but worse — would bury the point that made me want to blog his comment on this pasuq to begin with.
Rav Meir Simcha haKohein argues that if the purpose of learning was purely to know, then not only is there not purpose to being born, birth actually interferes with that goal. It is easier to learn Torah as a pure intellect, unencumbered by a body. Rather, we are born because the goal of learning is to practice what one has learned, and to teach others.
It’s an interesting comparison to R’ Shimon haKohein Shkopzt”l’s version of a person’s raison d’etre. Both define the purpose of life in terms of our contribution to the greater whole.
To Rav Shimon, this is is defined “horizontally”, the community of Jews and all of humanity alive when I am. “[T]o be to do good to others, to individuals and to the masses, now and in the future, in imitation of the Creator…” And it is fundamental on all levels of interaction — physical support no less or more than spreading Torah.
But to the Meshekh Chokhmah, it is defined down the generations — qiyum hamin mitzad hanefesh, preserving the species on a spiritual level. Even our physical aid is in order to provide people the opportunity to develop spiritually. “And you shall teach your children” includes students because it is the passing down of our values, beliefs and knowledge that is the primary purpose of parenthood, not genetics.
Both visions stand in stark contrast to that of Rav Chaim Volzhiner. In the 4th section of Nefesh haChaim, Rav Chaim teaches that the essence of Jewish life is Torah Lishmah, Torah purely for its own sake. That this clarifies the soul like a miqvah removing impurity, even in ways that go beyond understanding. In the other 3 sections, Rav Chaim Volozhiner draws a picture of man integrated with the metaphysics of the universe — so much so that repairing either requires repairing both. And it is this repair which is man’s purpose in life.
In contrast, HaRav Meir Simchah haKohein miDvinskzt”l plays down the value of learning Torah just to know Torah for oneself.
RCV’s notion of a person’s job to improve the world around him is on mystical and metaphysical planes. This would of course include R’ Shimon’s “bestowing good” and R’ Meir Simcha’s notion of advancing the species’ spiritual progress. Just as the Meshekh Chokhmah believe in the value of learning, even if it’s not to his mind inherent. These are three approaches to the same Torah . But they are different derakhim, non-identical approaches that yield differences in self-image and thus prioritization.
Concluding the Meshekh Chokhmah’s comment on Devarim 28:61… In section I, we saw Rav Meir Simcha haKohein miDvinskzt”l distinguish between Torah, which could only being given via Moshe, and the Sefer Torah, which also includes the last eight pesuqim even if they were transmitted through Yehoshua after Moshe Rabbeinu’s passing. That there is something about the passing of a teacher that is an integral part of the linkage between the abstract Torah and its presence in this world (the sefer). We didn’t get what that is, yet. In section II, the Meshekh Chokhmah says that the value of Torah is in teaching it and performing its mitzvos. Learning Torah “simply” to know Torah is something one could even do better as a pure intellect. Or, as the gemara put it, someone who only learns to know, rather than learns in order to do, is better off not having been born. And indeed, the central goal a person should pursue in life is the perpetuation of the human species on the spiritual plane. Teaching, and providing people the physical wherewithal to be students and spiritual beings. (And I noted the difference between this position and that of R’ Shimon Shkop in the haqdamah to Shaarei Yosher, where Rav Shimon defines man’s contribution to others across the world, less so than focusing on spirituality in particular and on perpetuation. But in any case, this contrast is far smaller than these two positions and that of Rav Chaim Volozhiner.)
ובזה יובן מה שכתבתי בחדושי לכתובות על הא דמצאנו בירושלמי ברכות (א:): מי לא מודה רבי שמעון בן יוחאי שמפסיקין לעשות סוכה, לעשות לולב. ובסוכה פרש”י שהולכים ללמוד תורה פטורין מן הסוכה ולולב. ופרשתי תמן דלשימוש תלמידי חכמים – היינו לימוד גמרא – שרי, עיין שם.
With this, what I wrote in my novellae on [tractate] Kesuvos can be understood that which we find in the Yerushalmi Berakhos [1:2, vilna 8a]: Does not Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai agree that we would stop [learning Torah] to make a sukkah or to set up a lulav? [Does not Rashb”i agree that one must study in order to do, and not to study not in order to do, for someone who studies not in order to do is better off not having been born?] In [BT] Sukkah [25a], Rashi [“sheluchei mitzvah”] explains that those who are going someplace to learn Torah are exempt from sukkah and lulav. I explained there that the gemara is speaking of [traveling to] serve a talmid chakham. (see there)
לפי זה הטעם מופלא, דאם ללמוד תורה, הלא היה יכול טרם שנברא, ועל כרחך רק לעשות. ולכן להכנה דמצוה, היינו עשיית סוכה, גם כן מבטלים דברי תורה. אבל ללמד, אף הכנה דילה גם כן עדיפה מקיום מצוה, דמצות תלמוד תורה גדולה, באפשר לקיים המצוה על ידי אחר, וכמאמר ירושלמי פאה.
According to this, the reasoning is astounding: If it were about learning Torah, isn’t that something he could do before being born? Thus [learning] is only in order to do. Therefore, for the preparation for a mitzvah, such as the building of a sukkah, we also interrupt words of Torah. However, to teach, even the preparation for [teaching], is dearer than fulfilling a mitzvah. For the mitzvah of teaching Torah is greater because one can only do the mitzvah via someone else, as it says in the Yerushalmi Pei’ah.
וזהו שימוש תלמידי חכמים להבין טעמי ההלכה על בוריה, שאז יוכל ללמד לאחרים. שבלא שימוש תלמידי חכמים אינו יכול ללמד לאחרים, וכמו שאמרו בסוטה (כב.): מבלי עולם – אלה תלמידי חכמים המורים הלכה מתוך משנתם. ומטעם זה אמרו בברכות (מז:) איזה עם הארץ? (אחרים אומרים, אפילו) קרא ושנה ולא שימש תלמידי חכמים (הרי זה עם הארץ) – משום שאינו יכול להועיל לאחרים.
This is the apprenticeship-service of a sage to understand the halakhah as it was established [i.e. with its underlying reasoning], for then one can teach others and without apprenticeship-service of a sage one is not able to teach others. As they say in [tractate] Sotah [22a], “‘Swallowers of the world’ … — these are the sages who teach halakhah from their study of mishnah [i.e. decided law in without also the mastery principles and having a feel for the mechanics gained through apprenticeship].” For this reason they said in Berakhos [47a] Who is an am haaretz [ignorant peasant]? (Others [i.e. Rabbi Meir, later in life,] says,) “Someone who learned scripture and mishnah but didn’t apprentice to a sage, (is an am ha’aretz) –because [such a person] cannot help others.
ולכך לקיום מצוה מבטלים מלימוד תורה, דעל זה נברא, וזה היה יכול לקיים גם קודם שנברא. וזה שאמר רב (שבת קנג.) “אחים לי”, דרב לימד לאחרים, והרבה ישיבות, וכמו דפרש”י ריש גיטין (ו.) מכי אתא רב לבבל, ובבבא קמא פ.. ולכן רצה שיתקיימו הישיבות והלימוד תורה שקבע בחייו, למען יהיה קיום גם במין מצד הנפש. וזהו “דהתם” (היינו בעולם החומרי) “קאימנא” – מצד הנפש גם כן, והבן.
Therefore [summing up the “astounding reasoning”], to fulfill a mitzvah we interrupt from learning Torah. For this [the mitzvah] was why he was created, and that he could do even before he was created. And this is why Rav said “eulogize me”, for Rav taught others and many schools. As Rashi explained in the beginning of [tractate] Gittin, “when Rav went to Bavel”, and in Bava Qama he explains [further]. Therefore, he wanted that his yeshivos [that he founded in Bavel] and the Torah study he established in his life would persist so that there would be preservation of the species also on the spiritual level. That is over there (in the physical world) persists on the spiritual level also. And understand this.
Rav Meir Simchah haKoheinzt”l prioritizes mitzvos as follows:
Among mitzvos, learning has the lowest inherent priority in life, since we could do that even without being born. Learning derives its value from its being necessary in order to be able to do anything else. Then come other mitzvos. Then comes teaching. And not just the teaching of facts, but the internalization of modes of thought that can come only through shimush, apprenticeship. This is the spiritual development of the next generation, our entire purpose in having been born. In contrast to Rav Shimon Shkop’s notion of imitating Hashem by bestowing chesed on others, where becomes unified with all other people primarily in the now. Rav Meir Simcha haKohein sees a person’s value as being unified with the chain of mesorah and the spiritual progress of the human species.
This was the great truth Yehoshua needed to record in the last eight verses of the Seifer Torah. Just as Rav left behind his seifer, his academy and students. Moshe Rabbeinu was just that — rabbeinu, our mentor. He contributed to the spiritual development of the species, and in that way endures beyond his lifetime and his transmission of the Torah itself.