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Torah Attitude: Parashas Korach: Learn to teach
This Torah Attitude is dedicated on the occasion of the birth of a son to Moshe and Melanie Mernick. May they merit to bring him to Brit Milah, and bring him up to Torah, Chuppah and good deeds.
The next thing the Mishnah mentions, that is necessary to acquire Torah, is "to study in order to teach". A person learns more from his students than his teachers and colleagues. Already when an individual studies Torah on his own, he shall have the intention to teach it to others. Whenever the Torah instructs us to study its laws and commandments, the instructions comes in the form of teaching it to our children. Every Torah scholar is obligated to teach students even if they are not his offspring. The Torah obligates us to study Torah to the extent that we will be able to teach and answer questions in regards to what we have learned to our children and other students. Joshua ben Gamla saved the study of Torah and ensured its continuity. There is a basic Torah commandment of the parental obligation to teach and educate their children. The Maharal explains that the Torah was not given to individuals but to the nation in totality. Everyone has their unique situation to which extent they can disseminate Torah knowledge. Only when we study Torah with the intent to teach it to others, do we show that we want to spread the word of G'd to every member of the Jewish people.
The next thing the Mishnah mentions, that is necessary to acquire Torah, is "to study in order to teach". This seems very strange. This Mishnah discusses a list of forty eight things needed to acquire Torah. These are tools to help the Torah student to comprehend and understand what he is studying. Why does it include that one must have the intention of teaching others what one is learning? We would expect this to be a separate obligation.
Earlier the Mishnah mentioned that one of the things needed to acquire Torah is to debate with students. We can understand that that this will help the teacher to get the subject clearer. As it says in Tana Devei Eliyahu (Chapter 27): "If a person knows words of Torah, he shall share his knowledge with others, so that his wisdom will grow and expand." This corresponds to what the Talmud (Taanis 7a) teaches that a person learns more from his students than his teachers and colleagues (see Torah Attitude: Parashas Chukas: Acquire a friend, June 16, 2010).
Intention to teach
However, here the Mishnah says that already when an individual studies Torah on his own, he shall have the intention to teach it to others. What is the significance of this? Would it not be sufficient for him to concentrate now on understanding what he is studying, and then at a later stage to deal with the obligation to teach others?
Teach children and grandchildren
If we analyze this further we find an amazing insight. Whenever the Torah instructs us to study its laws and commandments, the instruction comes in the form of teaching it to our children. In Parashas Va'Eschanan (Devarim 4:8-9) it says: "And which is a great nation that has righteous decrees and ordinances as all of this Torah … Only beware … that you do not forget the things … and inform them to your children and your children's children." The Rambam (The Laws of Torah Study 1:2) explains that this teaches us that just as a person is obligated to teach Torah to his child, so he is obligated to teach his grandchild.
The Rambam adds that this obligation does not pertain only to one's biological children. Rather, says the Rambam, every Torah scholar is obligated to teach students even if they are not his offspring. As it says in the first portion of Shema (Devarim 6:6-7): "And these things that I command you today … And you shall constantly teach them to your children." The Rambam quotes from our sages who explain (see also Rashi in the name of Sifri 34) that here "children" refers to students. This is not unusual. We often find that students are referred to as children. As it says (Melachim II 2:3): "And the children of the prophets", meaning the students of the prophets.
Constant and thorough study
It is interesting to note that the Sifri points out that the Torah uses an expression that obligates us to engage in a constant and thorough study of Torah. Says the Sifri, this teaches us that a person should review his studies until he knows the Torah that he has learned so well, that if someone asks him a question, he should be able to answer immediately without any hesitation. The Torah here obligates us to study Torah to the extent that we will be able to teach and answer questions in regards to what we have learned to our children and other students. This conveys the same instruction as the Mishnah; that one must study Torah with the intent to teach others.
Rabbi Joshua ben Gamla
In the second portion of Shema, we find the same pattern. There it says (Devarim 11:18-19): "And you shall place these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul … and you shall teach them to your children." The fact that the Torah expresses the obligation to teach in reference to one's own children clearly shows that the preferred way is that every father educates and teaches Torah to his own children. The Talmud (Bava Basra 21a) relates that this is how it used to be. However, the sages saw a flaw in the system as there was no one to teach the orphans. In order to take care of this they established yeshivot in Jerusalem. However, this did not solve the problem since many orphans did not have anyone to bring them to Jerusalem. They therefore organized regional central yeshivot where teenagers could come and study. Apparently, this still did not work out so well as the relationship between teachers and students was not always so good and many of the students would leave the yeshivot. Finally, the Kohein Gadol, Joshua ben Gamla, instituted that every place and town should open a yeshiva where the local children could come and study already at the young age of six or seven. In this way, they were still under parental supervision and were slowly introduced to learning at the yeshiva. Thus, says the Talmud, Joshua ben Gamla saved the study of Torah and ensured its continuity. And right up to present day, this is how every Jewish community conducts itself, putting a great emphasis on the education of our children.
However, although we are blessed with many excellent schools and yeshivot we must still remember the basic Torah commandment of the parental obligation to teach and educate their children. As we quoted earlier, the Torah says, "And you shall place these words of Mine upon your hear and upon your soul … and you shall teach them to your children." The Torah prefaces the obligation to teach our children with the personal obligation to place the Torah upon our hearts and souls. Unless we study ourselves and show our children that Torah study and observance are important to us, we will not succeed. We must keep in mind that in order to fulfill our obligation to teach our children it is not sufficient just to send them to a yeshiva or school. Whoever has the ability to do so must make an effort to fix times to teach one's children oneself. This has several benefits. Besides fulfilling personally the Torah obligation of teaching one's children, it also creates a bond between parent and child of shared values that will continue to have an impact when the child grows up and eventually establishes his own home, where we can expect that the same scenario will repeat itself.
Torah given to the nation
From all of the above, we clearly see that the Torah puts a strong emphasis on studying with the intent to teach and to actually do so. However, the question still remains, why is it so important to have the teaching in mind when we study ourselves? We have mentioned previously (see Torah Attitude: Parashas Behar: Torah will always flow, May 12, 2011), that the Maharal explains that the Torah was not given to individuals but to the Jewish nation in totality. We must therefore realize that when we study Torah it is not just for our personal benefit and to amass Torah wisdom for ourselves. Rather, we study in order to ensure that every member of the Jewish people should possess Torah knowledge. The late Rabbi Chaim Kaufman of Gateshead once quoted from the Zohar that just as we are prohibited from sharing gossip and slander with others, we are obligated to share words of Torah with our fellow beings.
Everyone has their unique situation to which extent they can disseminate Torah knowledge. One person has the ability to teach his own children. Another is in the position to share Torah thoughts with a friend or acquaintance. Some of the more learned can teach classes or give lectures verbally, whereas others are gifted to write books and essays. But everyone can do something, and this is what we must keep in mind when we study Torah.
G'd gave us His Torah for this specific purpose. If a person just studies by himself, he may acquire some knowledge but it is not Torah the way G'd wants it to be. Only when we study Torah with the intent to teach it to others, do we show that we want to spread the word of G'd to every member of the Jewish people. When this is our intent we have truly acquired the Torah the way G'd wants. For in this way, the word of Torah spreads out and will continue to do so for generations to come.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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