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Monday, 16 March 2015

Want to acquire knowledge? Teach!

Daf Yomi Kesubos 42

Today’s Life Yomi has been dedicated by Chuck Feinstein in memory of his uncle, Alan Haisser, Laban ben Dov Beryl z”l.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, the author of the great Kabbalistic work, the Zohar, spent twelve years living in a cave with his son, Elazar.  At the time, the Romans had prohibited all Torah study, at penalty of death, and so they took shelter in the cave to study in peace, burying themselves up to their necks in the sand to avoid the need to launder clothing and eating from a carob bush. 

When they finally emerged from the cave, the first person they encountered was a farmer.  Rabbi Elazar turned to his father and exclaimed, ‘How could this man toil in the earth and forsake Torah study?’  Immediately, the field ignited and a Heavenly voice proclaimed, ‘Return to your cave, you are not ready to live in My world!’

Following a twelve-month transition period, Rabbis Shimon and Elazar emerged once more from the cave.  This time, they saw a man hurrying along the road with two bundles of myrtle branches. 
‘What are these for?’ they asked.
‘Why, to infuse my house with beautiful fragrances for Shabbos,’ the man replied.
‘But why two bundles?’ they continued.
‘One in honour of the Torah’s dictum to Remember the Sabbath and one in honour of Keep the Sabbath.’
Rabbi Shimon exclaimed, ‘How precious are the Jewish people!  Despite their persecutions at the hands of the wicked Romans, they have maintained their faith and love for Hashem and His mitzvos!’

The Mishnah states: If a maiden was seduced, the payments for her humiliation, tarnished reputation, and the Torah-mandated fine, go to her father.  Rabbi Shimon says: If they did not manage to collect prior to the death of the father, they belong to the maiden herself.

The Gemara asks: If these first compensation payments have the status of real money (as opposed to the fine), the father should bequeath them to his sons.  Why do they accrue to her?  They belong to her brothers!
Rava answers: This matter was perplexing to Rabbah and Rabbi Joseph for twenty two years, and it was not resolved until Rabbi Joseph took over the leadership of the academy and resolved it, as follows:

The Torah declares, “The man who slept with her shall give the father of the maiden fifty silver coins.”  The father is not granted the Torah’s acquisition until the point of giving. 

While the literal meaning of the Gemara is that the Torah does not grant ownership of the money to the father until it has physically been given to him, there is a deeper message here: You don’t acquire the Torah until you have given it over to others.  The mitzvah of Torah study is, “You shall teach them to your children.”  Obviously if you haven’t learned Torah yourself, it’s impossible to teach it and so within this verse is an implicit commandment to learn Torah.  But the ultimate is to teach the Torah to others.  And of course, we’re all familiar with the Talmudic explanation: ‘your children’ means your students, not necessarily your biological children.

Living in a cave and learning Torah is wonderful, but if you emerge and fail in your ability to impart that Torah to others, what is the point of all those years of study?  You might as well stay in the cave.  Only once you are able to relate to others and understand that the Almighty placed us into this physical, mundane world for a reason, does your Torah become potent.  

Rabbi Hanina would say, ‘Much have I learned from my teachers, and from my colleagues even more than my teachers, but from my students, most of all!’  When you teach you are forced to grasp the meaning of the Torah so clearly that it becomes solidified in your mind completely.   Explaining a concept to others, especially a multitude of others, requires knowing the material incredibly well.   Thus, one only truly acquires the Torah at the point of giving it over.

Torah is not in Heaven.  We were placed on this earth to learn Torah and to convey the Torah’s teachings to those around us.  There are always people who know less than you do with whom you can share the Torah’s wisdom.  How about you start by sharing today’s Life Yomi with someone?!  May you merit acquiring the Torah by giving it over to many, many of your spiritual children!

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