Thursday, June 02, 2016

Learning in Order to Teach

By HaRav Mordechai Greenberg
Rosh HaYeshiva, Kerem B'Yavneh

"Count the heads of entire the community of Yisrael" [Bamidbar 1:2]. The sages felt that counting Bnei Yisrael is related to the following verse: "He counts the number of the stars" [Tehillim 147:4], viewing stars as an allegory for Yisrael. In Tehillim the stars are called "stars of light" [148:3], meaning that every star gives off its own light. However, there are some stars whose light is not visible to us – not because they do not shine but because they are so far away that their light does not reach us. The comparison to stars teaches us that even though there are some Jews who are so far removed from our nation that we feel they have no spark of Judaism left in them, in reality they are stars which give off light but that are so far away that we cannot see it.

Another meaning of the comparison between Yisrael and the stars is seen in the commentary of the sages on the verse, "Those who teach righteousness to many" [Daniel 12:3] – this refers to those who teach small children. Why are they compared to stars? It is because they maintain humble in their own eyes and in the way others see them, but in reality the sages say that they are at a very high level, because they teach many others to be righteous. And even though they do not shine out like the prominent people who espouse brilliant sermons, they remain small stars which have great power even if their light is not normally seen.

On this Shabbat, before the holiday of Shavuot, we read the chapter of Pirkei Avot which lists the elements needed for taking possession of the Torah. In this chapter, the sages give a list of forty-eight ways of gaining possession of the Torah. These can be counted one day at a time during the period of the Omer. The forty-fourth element, "to learn in order to teach," corresponds to the eve of Rosh Chodesh of Sivan. Chassidut sees this as corresponding to the verse, "Man was born to labor" [Iyov 5:7]. The word "le'amal" – to labor – can be taken as an abbreviation of the Hebrew for "to learn in order to teach." At first glance this seems hard to accept, since a person can remain unsatisfied from teaching, and he might feel that the time taken for teaching can interfere with his own personal development. It is especially difficult for a person to teach young children, because it is hard to see any personal benefit from such actions. However, the truth is that man was created to perform labor and the main role of a person is to take care of others. This is a real way to take possession of the Torah, and when a person teaches others he will himself become greater and greater in Torah knowledge.

The Talmud teaches us that Bnei Yisrael arrived at Mount Sinai on the first day of the month of Sivan, and on that first day the Holy One, Blessed be He, did not say anything to them because of "their weakness due to the journey." [Shabbat 86b]. Shem MiShmuel writes that this is referring to those people who were rejected by the Clouds of Honor. It is written about Amalek, "He struck those who were last and were weak" [Devarim 25:18]. The Holy One, Blessed be He, even waited for those who were rejected by the Cloud, since they too have a relationship to the Torah. This is the great character trait of those who teach little children, who teach righteousness to the many, in that they care about maintaining the righteousness of the people. They take care of others, even though their actions might conceivably slow down their own personal development.

"Just as Judaism cannot exist without faith, so it cannot exist without an embracing community. Anybody who relates to Judaism only through his own individual personality and feels that it is sufficient for him to serve the Holy One, Blessed be He, in this way, and that he remains a Jew by doing so – is sorely mistaken. This is the same as saying that a person is Jewish but that he does not believe in the basic tenets of Judaism." [Rav Charlap].

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