Learning and Teaching, part II

Concluding the Meshekh Chokhmah’s comment on Devarim 28:61… In the first installment, 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 the second entry, 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 haqdamahto Shaarei Yosher, where Rav Shimon defines man’s contribution to others across the world, less so than focusing on spirituality in particular and perpetuation. But in any case, this contrast is far smaller than these two positions and that of Rav Chaim Volozhiner.)

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 Yochaiagree that we would stop [learning Torah] to make a sukkah or to set up a lulav? [Does not Rashbi 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 [tractate] 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 [travelling to] serve a talmid chakham. (see there)

According to this, the reasoning is astounding: If it were about learning Torah, isn’t that  something he could do before being born? Thus it is only to do. Therefore for the preparation for a mitzvah, such as the building of a sukkah, we also interrupt word of Torah. But 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 [Rav Zei’rah] the Jerusalemite is quoted in Peiah [22a; a guess since I found this citation, but couldn’t find on in the Y-mi Pei’ah], 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. Like 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] that an am haaretz [ignorant peasant] is someone who learned scripture and mishnah but didn’t apprentice to a sage, because [such a person] can’t help others.

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 That 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. 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 haKohein prioritizes mitzvos as followest:

Lowest priority is learning, 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 8 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.

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1 Response

  1. י״ג באדר א׳ תשע״ו – Sun, Feb 21, 2016

    […] Rav Chaim seems to be asserting that “Torah lishmah” means that that learning is supposed to be an end in itself. But before R’ Chaim, this was FAR from consensus. A simple reading of either Talmud (TY Shabbos 1:2, vilna 7b, TB Sanhedrin 99b) would conclude that Torah lishmah is learning in order to know how to observe, how to decide future questions, or to teach. And assuming the amoraim aren’t really arguing, any of these three motives is “lishmah”. The Yerushalmi goes as far as to say “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].” The Meshekh Chokhmah (Devarim 28:61) explains that this is because it the goal were to get Torah into the soul, full stop, then that is more easily accomplished before birth, as an intellect unencumbered by a body. (I translated this comment in the Meshekh Chokhmah: part I, part II [where this point is made], part III.) […]

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