by Rav Yehoshua Shklar
From My Talmidim I Learned the Most of All
Sometimes HaKodosh Boruch Hu opens our eyes to reveal
great treasures--gal eini ve'abitoh niflo'os
misorosecho. During Chol Hamoed Succos this past year a
rosh yeshiva presented a fabulous chidush on
the well-known gemora about R' Yehoshua Ben Gamla
(Bovo Basra 21a), who introduced universal education
for Jewish boys by organizing melamdim in every town
and province for the sake of fatherless children, because
otherwise Torah would have been lost to Am Yisroel.
Perhaps, said the rosh yeshiva, herein lies a deeper
matter; perhaps Torah can only be properly passed on by a
father, because a father gives all of his heart and soul to
his son and only through such a conduit of mesirus
nefesh can the holy Torah be conveyed.
Thus the gemora says that before R' Yehoshua Ben
Gamla's time "the fatherless did not learn Torah"; only a
father--by giving a part of himself--can provide the inner
enthusiasm needed to pass the Torah on to the next
generation. R' Yehoshua Ben Gamla's chidush was that a
rov who teaches talmidim with love and mesirus
nefesh could also pass on Torah like a father to his
Writes the Rambam, "Just as talmidim must respect
their rov, so too must the rov respect his talmidim
and encourage them. Said Chazal, `Cherish your
talmid's honor as much as that of your peers.' And one
must watch over his talmidim and love them, for they
are the sons who bring him pleasure in This World and in the
World to Come (Hilchos Talmud Torah 5, 12).
What does the rov gain from his talmidim, asks the
Rambam? "The talmidim increase the rov's knowledge and
broaden his heart. Said Chazal, `I have learned much from my
rabbonim and more from my peers, and from my
talmidim I have learned the most of all.' And just as
a small stick lights a log, so too an [unlearned]
talmid sharpens the rov, refining his knowledge by
asking questions" (ibid. 13).
The Rambam's teachings about the relationship between the rov
and his talmidim--his "sons"--contain lessons for all
A well-known story is told about a man who came to the
Steipler zt'l to ask how he could foster his son's
success in talmud Torah and yiras Shomayim. The
father has partial responsibility through his efforts,
replied the Steipler, but the essence is to constantly pray
and entreat Hashem for siyata deShmaya.
Likewise Tanna Devei Eliyohu relates the story of a
Kohen who kept his fear of Heaven to himself. All of
his ma'asim tovim were performed out of view and every
day he would pray and prostrate himself and ask for mercy and
lick dirt to keep any of his sons from coming to do an
aveiroh or any unseemly act. Eventually Ezra emerged
and through him HaKodosh Boruch Hu brought Am Yisroel,
including this Kohen, out of Bovel. The Kohen
did not depart from This World until he had lived to see his
sons and his sons' sons become kohanim gedolim and
pirchei kohanim for 50 years" (Chap. 18). Here lies a
good example of earnest entreaties by a father for his
Today besiyata deShmaya our sons fill the yeshiva
halls, numbering in the thousands. At the beginning of the
zman parents happily sent their dear sons off, wishing
them success throughout the long winter months, but these
same parents must be made aware that their job has not ended.
Parents must keep track of their sons' progress by
maintaining ties with the mashgiach and the
ramim to ensure the bochur is enjoying his
learning; if not, efforts must be made to solve the problem,
even if the solution requires large expenditures.
Says Tanna Devei Eliyohu, "As long as talmidei
chachomim are in the beis medrash and they take
pleasure in their Torah learning, HaKodosh Boruch Hu
has mercy on them and infuses them with chochmoh,
binoh and daas and haskel to perform
ma'asim tovim and engage in divrei Torah"
The late HaRav Shimshon Pincus expressed a very similar idea,
that in saying Veha'arev no we essentially request
that we derive pleasure and delight in our Torah learning.
Even though following brochos on other mitzvos (e.g.
tzitzis, netillas lulov) we do not recite requests
asking that we perform the mitzvah with kavonoh and
shleimus, without taking pleasure in Torah learning
the mitzvah itself is lacking. According to my rebbe, the
Steipler zt'l, Bircas HaTorah falls under the
category of Bircos Hanehenim, for Torah learning
provides genuine pleasure.
"Vayomer orur Keno'an eved avodim yihiyeh le'echov.
Vayomer boruch Hashem Elokei Sheim viyehi Kenaan eved lomo"
(Bereishis 9:25-26). According to Even Ezra (based on the
Ramban's interpretation) Noach prayed that his son, Sheim,
would make Kenaan a slave to him and to Hashem in order to
force Kenaan to serve Heaven.
Here we see Noach's tremendous dedication to his grandson
Kenaan. Even after cursing him, Noach refused to leave Kenaan
to wallow in the mud. Despite all of Kenaan's wrongdoings
Noach does not allow him to remain in his wretched state and
even in cursing him Noach prays he be induced to serve
This case serves as a good example of the importance of
avoiding despair in trying to educate the members of one's
household, even in dire situations.
The Maharsho offers a fabulous chidush on believing in
every Jew's ability to attain high levels of Torah learning
and knowledge. Says the gemora, "If one prevents a
talmid from learning halocho it is as if he
robs him of his forefathers' inheritance, as is written,
Torah tzivoh lonu Moshe moroshoh kehillas Yaakov--an
inheritance from the Six Days of Creation" (Sanhedrin
91b). The gemora does not say, "If one does not
teach Torah," explains the Maharshoh, but rather, "If one
prevents . . . "
Here the gemora refers to the case of a slow learner
such as R' Preida's talmid; R' Preida would learn with
him 400 times before he knew the material thoroughly. The
gemora says one who withholds learning, even from the
weakest talmid, deprives him of his rightful
inheritance, for the Torah has been the legacy of all Am
Yisroel since the beginning of Creation. Every Jewish child,
adds the Maharshoh, has a special quality imprinted in him
since Creation--"all of Israel is fit to study Torah"
(printed in Yalkut Maamorim, I, Ve lo nossan Hashem
For thousands of years Am Yisroel has been imprinted with a
special ability and inclination for Torah study. On several
occasions we have seen talmidei chachomim become
transformed into different people after praying--HaKodosh
Boruch Hu turns "poor" people into "rich" people.
The words "vechayei olom nota besocheinu" reveal that
Hashem implanted all of Klal Yisroel with a
predisposition for Torah learning. May He grant us eternal
life--lives of Torah and yir'oh--together with all of
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