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22 Cheshvan 5766 - November 23, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
HaRav Shach's Approach to the Essence of a Torah Disseminator

by HaRav Shmuel HaKohen Deutsch

The Study Approaches

The primary goal of study is to clarify a sugya in order to understand it at a basic level. The purpose of in- depth study of a subject is to illuminate it — and not to innovate ideas and new halachic safeguards or other such corollaries. If, in the course of study, one encounters difficulties, one can later dwell upon them in intensive study. But there is no call for writing one's own shtikel Torah on what one has covered.

A person should try to understand and accept what straightforward logic dictates, and not dig up questions merely for the sake of asking. He can, of course, question what puzzles him and offer a logical sevora explanation. Most explanations, even far-fetched ones, are likely to be found already written somewhere, so that he should adhere to what he understands and not try to deal with things that he does not understand or does not understand well.

If a bochur reviewed a basic idea, even if it was well known and accepted but apparently, the bochur himself had not understood it fully — at this, HaRav Shach expressed his vexation.

He was disturbed by the various attempts to compile and compare different works, to correlate or challenge, reconcile and recap, or to show how what one scholar wrote upholds or negates what another stated. For example, "According to what it says in sefer X, what it says in sefer Y does not make sense," or, "according to what Ploni says we can explain this." He said that in the interchange, one forgot all about the original question and the basic understanding of the subject but got embroiled in sophistries.

I once wrote a shtikel Torah on a certain subject and showed it to him. He showed his dissatisfaction and said, "You write the words of the commentators very nicely — but where are you in all this? What do you say?"

He was not comfortable with the method of study which has been introduced in some of the yeshivos which calls for understanding everything through human logic. He said that this was not correct; this is not the true approach to understanding Torah.

He recommended using R' Chaim (Brisker)'s approach to understanding and would praise his own master, R' Itzele Ponevezher, effusively. The two of them, he said, established and bequeathed to us a discipline for understanding things properly.

He noted, however, that even in this approach, there were some who took it to extremes and dissected every single thing by the famous shnei dinim even when it was uncalled for.

Disseminating Torah

He was most concerned that one who bore the title `rosh yeshiva' should be worthy of it. A rosh yeshiva must be a man of truth, yirei Shomayim, one capable of understanding the very soul of each student and toiling for the sake of Heaven with the goal of educating his talmidim. It must be his will to mold and perfect his students and not use them as a means for his own advancement in learning, or for his own honor so that he can be the head of a yeshiva. He was displeased with roshei yeshiva who did not meet these criteria and even if he could not deny that their yeshivos were flourishing and succeeding, it did not change his attitude and he could not make peace with the situation.

He used to say that a Torah disseminator was not meant to only teach Torah to his students but also to tend to all of their needs. To make menschen out of them, to mold their characters and instill yiras Shomayim in them.

He was also irked by roshei yeshiva who delivered shiurim that their students could not manage to understand.

Aside from being concerned for his students' welfare with all his heart and soul, he was also concerned for the yeshivos as a whole. When any rosh yeshiva passed away, he would always see to it that a suitable replacement be found quickly and that the transition be smooth. He would continue to keep his finger on the pulse of the yeshiva to see that everything went well and that the new rosh yeshiva was succeeding.

A successful student who became a maggid shiur in a weak yeshiva once came to Maran asking if he should leave that position in order to continue studying Shas and halochoh on his own. Upon hearing his request, Rabbenu rose to his feet animatedly and rebuked him. "Come out and say openly that you don't want to be marbitz Torah!"

He brought an example from a famous talmid chochom who, even though he was employed in a yeshiva not worthy of his stature, nevertheless taught Torah there and produced fine students. We see that even in such a situation, harbotzas Torah is very important in its own right.

Delivering Shiurim

In his opinion, a maggid shiur should present in his daily lecture only what is relevant to expand and develop upon the teachings of the major acharonim, like the Ketzos HaChoshen or R' Akiva Eiger. He should not indulge in chiddushim and presenting new and different ways of learning the sugya. He held that anyone who did not teach this way was among those of whom it is said, "Cursed is he who performs the service of Hashem deceitfully" (Yirmiyohu 48:10).

A maggid shiur should not present new ideas, interpretations or approaches. He should only present material that directly applies to understanding the sugya with the Rishonim, the Ketzos and R' Akiva Eiger. He used to say that, generally, the students got more benefit from the Ketzos than from R' Akiva Eiger, for the former leaves room in his words for dialectics and alternative approaches, and considering why the Ketzos did not follow those alternatives.

It is common knowledge that he considered R' Akiva Eiger his rebbe muvhak by whose word we live. Once, when he was studying about a controversy between R' Akiva Eiger and one of his peers, and he could not help but lean towards that other opinion which differed, it pained him and he said, "How can it be that I do not understand these things the way R' Akiva Eiger explains them?"

When he taught R' Akiva Eiger's commentary in Yevomos about the co-wife of a co-wife, and R' Akiva Eiger asks the obvious question that the whole world asks, he explained that R' Akiva Eiger did not want to simply tell us the question, which is really self-evident, but he wanted to have us understand that the question was truly difficult, and that the answers supplied are not satisfactory, so that the original question still stands.

He exerted himself to the utmost to understand the rationale of the Rambam and his approach to a subject. Once, after toiling greatly to understand something that the Rambam wrote, he was told, "Why are you working so hard when the Kessef Mishnah already explained it?"

He said that the Rambam wrote what he did that was different from the simple explanation of the gemora, and given this, the Kessef Mishnah explained what he said. "But I toil and exert myself to understand why, altogether, the Rambam — who could have gone with the simple explanation in the gemora — did not do so in the first place."

(Compiled and arranged by HaRav Shimshon Ortzel.)

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