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10 Av 5764 - July 28, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Purity in Education

by Rabbi N.Z. Grossman

Part I

Recent attempts by Israeli government bodies to interfere with chareidi education have aroused renewed concern in our community, as reported in our paper some weeks ago. Led by HaRav Eliashiv, gedolei Yisroel stated that any changes to Torah education must be resisted and fought with determination. The preservation of the purity of the Torah education that our children receive is one of the linchpins of our educational system.

Torah is transmitted totally differently from any other discipline. When a father dedicates his son to Torah, he does not do so in the hope that his son will emerge years later as a professor of Talmud; he hopes for much more than that. He wants Torah to build his son's character and shape his outlook on life. He is laying the foundations for his son's future fulfillment of his spiritual mission in life.

The slightest damage to the integrity of Torah's transmission can harm its special qualities -- its supreme importance, equaling all other mitzvos and its unique role as protection against the yetzer hora. The degree to which we must guard against the slightest negative influence on the Torah education that our children receive is shown by the way in which the geonim of past generations elucidated the following piece of Gemora.

Rabbi Chiya's Sublime Level

The Gemora (Bava Metzia 85) relates that Resh Lokish used to mark the caves where Torah scholars were buried, but was utterly unable to find Rabbi Chiya's cave. This dismayed him greatly and he said, "Ribono Shel Olom, haven't I debated Torah as prolifically as he did?"

A Heavenly voice told him, "You debated Torah as much as he did but you didn't disseminate Torah to the extent that he did."

In his Chiddushim al Ho'agados, the Maharal writes, "The fact that the cave was concealed from Resh Lokish indicated that Rabbi Chiya had qualities of mind; intellect is something which is separate from people, especially the attribute of pilpul, whereby new knowledge is deduced from that which exists.

"They told Resh Lokish that he hadn't disseminated Torah to the same extent as Rabbi Chiya; spreading Torah signifies an even more sublime intellect than pilpul. It is known that one who bestows Torah upon his friend will have a place in the Heavenly Academy, which is not the case with someone who learns by himself, for that is the attribute of a person who receives; Rabbi Chiya's cave was therefore concealed from him."

Disseminating Torah exceeds all other virtues; we pray daily to merit the opportunity "to learn and to teach" (Shacharis, Ahavoh Rabboh). Rabbi Chiya's Torah dissemination was of an order that we cannot comprehend. He arranged the Tosefta and taught numerous disciples. Yet Chazal chose one particular example through which to demonstrate the sublime nature of his deeds.

Rabbi Chiya declared that he worked to ensure that Torah would not be forgotten, and he described the lengthy process by which he did so. He sowed flax and made nets and traps from the fibers. He used these to trap deer, whose meat he distributed to orphans and whose skins he made into parchment. He wrote out the five Chumashim and the six orders of Mishnah and then went to places where there were no teachers for the young children. He taught each Chumash to one of five children and each seder of Mishnah to one of six and told them that in his absence they should teach what they had learned to each other. Rebbi said, "How great are Rabbi Chiya's deeds!" (Kesuvos 103).

The Causes of Obstacles

The obvious question is why did Rabbi Chiya devote so much time and effort to preparation before he actually began teaching his young pupils? He could have purchased scrolls that were already written, or blank parchments and given them to a scribe to write on.

The Vilna Gaon extracted a lesson from Rabbi Chiya's practice that applies to all methods of transmitting Torah. The following version of this idea (of which several are cited in Peninim Mishulchan HaGra by Rabbi Dov Eliach) appears in the introduction to Toldos Yitzchok vol. I, on Sefer Yetziroh by Rav Y. Cahana zt'l, a talmid of Rav Yitzchok Isaac Chover zt'l.

"When Hashem's Aron, our teacher the Gaon z'l, was taken, it was announced everywhere that he should not be eulogized by anyone who wanted to do so -- at the very least it should be only by people who had heard some Torah idea from him. A certain godol said in his hesped, `I heard a wonderful idea from his holy lips about . . . Rabbi Chiya . . . Why did he go to all that trouble and why was he praised to such an extent?

"`He z'l, said that Rabbi Chiya conveyed a lesson to the people about how to go about teaching Torah or [fulfilling] mitzvos. A person should ensure that the yetzer hora doesn't anticipate him with regard to what he intends to teach or to do, preventing him from doing it properly or causing him to forget the Torah or, with a young child starting to learn, making it difficult for him to accept the yoke of Torah.

For example, if a person buys parchment to write Torah on, or to teach a child from, it may be that the merchants lend money for the paper which the [scribe] pays for with interest, or some other forbidden business practice. Then, an impure spirit comes to rest on the paper because of that forbidden act. The writing can also involve prohibitions, like doing work on Shabbos etc. Further [impurity] thus comes to rest upon the volume that the child learns from, preventing him from studying successfully, or causing forgetfulness to overcome him, which happens because of the sitra acharo, as is known.'

"`Rabbi Chiya referred to this when he said he would ensure that Torah would not be forgotten. By seeing that the production of the seforim would be untainted by anything forbidden, no impure spirit would rest upon the scrolls that the children would learn from. Moreover, he first imparted holiness to them through the mitzvos that were done with them, giving the meat of the deer that he hunted for the parchment to orphans. The holiness of the mitzva attached itself to the preparation of the parchment for the sefer. This is why Chazal praised Rabbi Chiya's deeds - - because they would greatly assist the children in their learning and prevent them -- and the Jewish nation -- from forgetting Torah.' "

The Purest of Intentions

Rabbi Eliach quotes from handwritten notes by the Gaon's talmidim (collected in Knesses Yisroel): "Our teacher z'l said that the reason why our Torah is not as successful as it was in their days is because our Torah has an unstable foundation. The father wants his son to become a scholar, while the teacher wants the money. Had Rabbi Chiya gone to purchase ready-made parchment from a scribe there would have been impure motivation involved. That is why he did everything himself, hunting, tanning, making the parchment, writing and teaching, so that there should be no other interest involved and the foundation would be one of truth."

The Maharsha (on Bava Metzia 85) explains this Gemora along the same lines. He writes, "Everything undertaken for Torah is for Heaven's sake, without any other impure motivation or intention being involved. Had he bought an animal for its skin, impure motivation would have been involved because of the seller's intention. However, the cultivation of the flax was carried out for the sake of Torah and mitzvos, as he concluded, `I fed the meat to orphans . . .' to the point where every child learned and taught, which is the highest level of Torah. Thereby, Torah would not be forgotten by Yisroel."

End of Part I

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