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Torah Attitude: Parashas Pinchas: Clarify what one is studying
The next thing the Mishnah mentions is "to clarify what one is studying." Torah study is compared to a fig tree. When a person studies Torah many times, eventually it will become engraved in his mind and he will even be able to review it by heart. Obviously, when one is en route whether by foot or driving a vehicle it is difficult to review the Torah that one has studied from a text. "To clarify what one is studying" is especially important when a student sits by his teacher. The Chasam Sofer did not mind if his student repeated what he had learned by him in the student's own name. Says Rabbi Solomon, the more a student holds his teacher in high esteem, the more careful he will be to absorb his every word and to be exact when he repeats what he was taught. Reb Elchanan used to travel to Radin to spend the High Holidays with his teacher the Chofetz Chaim. Reb Baruch Ber was extremely particular and would analyze every word he heard from his teacher Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik. "Moses received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Joshua." There is a detailed list of all Torah scholars, generation by generation from the time of Moses to the year 5060 (1300 CE). When one writes a Torah scroll the scribe must have an existing Torah scroll in front of him to copy from. Only people who exhibit a high level of integrity can be trusted to be a link in the eternal chain of the transmission of Torah.
Clarify what one is studying
The next thing the Mishnah mentions, that one needs to acquire Torah, is "to clarify what one is studying." The Midrash Shmuel explains that this teaches us that when one studies Torah it is not sufficient to study the subject superficially. In order to acquire the material the student must delve into the depth of the subject. In this way he will get a clear comprehension of what he has studied and understand what it is based on. This will maximize his understanding and help him retain the material as well.
Obviously, this kind of comprehension requires that one reviews the material many times. This was especially important at the time when the Talmud was studied orally. In those days it was not uncommon for students to review what they were learning one hundred times (see Talmud Chagigah 9b). But even nowadays it is imperative to review what one studies on a regular basis. One of the rabbis of Jerusalem, Rabbi Yechiel Tikutzinksy learned with Rabbi Zvi Pesach Frank, as a study partner in his youth. After they studied the tractate of Yevamos fourty times Rabbi Tikutzinksy suggested that they should move on to another tractate. Rabbi Frank answered that he wanted to review further till everything was crystal clear. He added that now that they had a good grasp of the simple understanding, every additional review would open new vistas that they had not noticed before.
This is exactly what the Talmud (Eruvin 54a) teaches. The Talmud asks: "Why is Torah study compared to a fig tree?" Says the Talmud, just like every time one goes to pick figs from the tree, one will find new ones that have ripened, in the same way, every time one delves into a Torah subject, one will find a new and clearer understanding.
Review by heart
When a person studies Torah many times, eventually it will become engraved in his mind and he will even be able to review it by heart. This is what the Torah instructs in the first portion of Shema, when it says (Devarim 6:6-7): "And these words that I command you today shall be upon your heart. And you shall teach them constantly to your children, and you shall speak about them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on your way."
Obviously, when one is en route whether by foot or driving a vehicle it is difficult to review from a text. However, the Torah expects us to utilize our time constructively and review what we have studied by heart. Nowadays, there is a host of recorded lectures that one can listen to. Therefore, even if someone is not able to review by heart, he still has ample opportunity to use his travelling time constructively. As an added bonus it will help the person en route not to be distracted and look at things that he would be better off not seeing.
Student and teacher
The Machzor Vitri explains that "to clarify what one is studying" is especially important when a student sits by his teacher. First of all, the student must make sure that he fully understands what the teacher says. Later, when he repeats what he heard from his teacher, he must be extremely careful neither to add nor to detract from what the teacher said.
The great leader of Hungarian Jewry, Rabbi Moshe Sofer, better known as the Chasam Sofer, once quipped to a student that he does not mind if the student repeats what he has learned by him in the student's own name. But he does mind if the student says a Torah thought what the student developed himself in the name of the Chasam Sofer.
Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon
Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon, the Mashgiach of Lakewood Yeshiva, points out that the previous thing mentioned in the Mishnah, that one needs to acquire Torah, is "making one's teacher wise". As we mentioned in the previous Torah Attitude, this includes holding one's teacher in high-esteem. Says Rabbi Solomon, the more a student holds his teacher in high esteem, the more careful he will be to absorb his every word and to be exact when he repeats what he was taught.
Reb Elchanan and the Chofetz Chaim
The great Torah scholars, Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman and Rabbi Baruch Ber Levowitz, exemplified this. Reb Elchanan used to travel to Radin to spend the High Holidays with his teacher the Chofetz Chaim, even after he headed his own yeshiva. One year after the Chofetz Chaim spoke, someone commented that the previous year the Chofetz Chaim had given the same lecture. Reb Elchanan answered and told the person that he made a mistake for the Chofetz Chaim had used several words differently than the previous year.
Reb Baruch Ber Levowitz and Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik
Similarly, Reb Baruch Ber was extremely particular and would analyze every word that he heard from his teacher Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik. Many of Reb Baruch Ber's lectures were built upon what he had learned from his great teacher. Sometimes he would develop a whole lecture based on just one fundamental thought. For example, he once gave a whole lecture based on just three words he had heard from Reb Chaim. Reb Baruch Ber in turn had great students of his own. One of them, Rabbi Nachum Partowitch, who later became Rosh Yeshiva in the Mirrer Yeshiva in Jerusalem, was known for his photographic memory. He would often repeat verbatim what he had heard from his great teacher decades before. He used to tell his students that it is not sufficient to have a general idea of what one learns by one's teacher. It is important to analyze every word that the teacher says. Reb Nachum himself taught hundreds of students over the years who today disseminate what they learned from him.
Transmission of Torah
This is how the transmission of Torah is passed on from generation to generation, starting from Moses at Mount Sinai. As it says in the beginning of Pirkei Avos (1:1): "Moses received the Torah from Sinai and passed it on to Joshua." Moses transmitted exactly what he had heard from G'd, and as the Mishnah continues Joshua passed it on to the elders, and the elders to the prophets, etc.
Detailed list of Torah scholars
In every generation, the Jewish people has had great Torah leaders who were responsible to pass on the correct understanding of the Oral Torah. Rabbeinu Menachem Meir, writes in the introduction to his commentary, Meiri, on Pirkei Avos a detailed list of all Torah scholars, generation by generation from the time of Moses to the year 5060 (1300 CE) when he finished his commentary. Similarly, the Rambam, in his introduction to his magnus opum, the Mishnah Torah, describes every leader of the Jewish people who was responsible for the transmission of Torah from Moses to the time of the Rambam.
Copy Torah scroll
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 274:2) rules that when one writes a Torah scroll the scribe must have an existing Torah scroll in front of him to copy from. This ruling is based on the Talmud (Megillah 18b). The Talmud teaches that it is prohibited to write even one letter that is not copied from a text. The Shulchan Aruch further rules that the scribe must pronounce every word verbally before he writes it. In this way, we are instructed to take the utmost caution to ensure the accuracy of every existing Torah scroll. When we raise the Torah scroll at the time of reading in the synagogue we therefore have no qualms to say (Devarim 4:44): "This is the Torah that Moses placed before the children of Israel." There is absolutely no difference between the text we have today and the text that Moses presented to the Jewish people in the wilderness. It is also common practice that if the reader of the Torah portion makes even the smallest mistake, he will immediately be corrected. In this way we ensure that not even a minute mistake is made in the reading and transmission of the written Torah.
The same applies to the transmission of the Oral Torah. Whoever wants to be part of this transmission must be very particular as he listens to his teachers and take pains to be articulate when he passes it on to his own students. Only people who exhibit a high level of integrity can be trusted to be a link in the eternal chain of the transmission of Torah. In this way we ensure that we acquire the true meaning of the Oral Torah from our teachers and pass it on to future generations.
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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