Laws of De'os - Chapter 2, Law 5
Chapter 2, Law 5
The Torah Speaks for Itself
"A fence for wisdom is silence (Pirkei Avos
3:17). Therefore, one should not hurry to respond and not speak
excessively. One should teach his students with composure and calmness,
without screaming and lengthy speech. This is as Solomon said, 'The words
of the wise, [when spoken] with gentleness, are heard' (Koheles 9:17)."
For the past few weeks, we have been discussing the value of silence. In
this law, the Rambam discusses a related but somewhat different idea. The
theme of Law 4 was the importance of silence as a means of growing into
the Torah's wisdom. The student, rather than being overly assertive,
should remain silent, allowing himself to be shaped by wisdom greater than
he. The teacher too must be concise in his words. Rather than explaining
every last detail to his students, he must leave it to them to work it out
themselves. Each student must grow into his studies and fathom precisely
what the Torah means to him.
Here we talk about silence being a "fence" for wisdom. The meaning
according to the Rambam is that silence preserves the Torah's sanctity.
Speaking too much cheapens words of wisdom. The Torah's wisdom must be
safeguarded -- not in the sense that we keep it from others: our mission
is of course to spread G-d's word rather than keep it for ourselves.
However, we must be careful not to sell the Torah short in the process.
One who speaks too much, screams, employs theatrics, and attempts
to "convince" others he has the truth, has lost the battle before it has
even begun. The Torah's wisdom must speak for itself. We must spread it
with "composure and calmness," allowing others to appreciate the Torah for
what it is, rather than attempting to dress it up in a way we feel most
alluring to contemporary man.
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 14a) writes that when the great scholar R. Zaira
received rabbinic ordination, people sang, "No mascara, no make-up, and no
hair-color, and he finds favor." Likewise, when R. Avahu would depart from
a visit with the Caesar, the matron of the house would run after him
singing his praises. Perhaps these scholars were no Don Juans or prince
charmings (actually the Talmud elsewhere writes that R. Avahu was
strikingly handsome (Bava Metsiah 84a)), but even the non-Jewish observer
realized that it really didn't matter. True greatness can be seen and
admired -- even by the most superficial among us. The beauty of their
Torah knowledge spoke for itself.
The Torah does not need make-up or sprucing up in order to be made
presentable to the masses. Of course, the experienced educator knows which
topics to introduce and emphasize, and modern-day examples give the Torah
important relevancy. Yet our focus must not be on marketing and PR. The
Torah really does speak for itself; its messages are as meaningful today
as ever. We must only teach it sincerely and truthfully and it will speak
One of the more refreshing aspects I've found with the on-line classes I
write is that I teach classic texts in their original. I allow the reader
to see what the Rambam or Sages had to say themselves. There's nothing
that need be hidden or rewritten in more modern style. The students may
see the Sages' own (albeit translated) words. Of course, again, I bring
out ideas which I feel will most resonate with my readers, but I'm not
coming to cover for the Sages or to use their words as a front for my own
pontifications. I simply attempt to bring out some of the many thoughts
which I believe the Sages themselves intended to convey.
Further, we should never feel we must force the Torah down others'
throats. Certainly, we must attempt means of disseminating wisdom to those
who would otherwise gain no such exposure, but it must not be done in such
a way as to cheapen the Torah and all it stands for. The Talmud writes
that if one lives in a generation which does not appreciate the Torah, he
should keep his wisdom to himself, rather than cheapening it attempting to
impress it upon the apathetic (Brachos 63a). As much as we want to teach
the world the wisdom of G-d, it must never be done in a manner which
compromises its wisdom so wholly. We must never appear as the beggars, as
if the students are doing *us* a favor coming to study.
I actually feel it's a kind of sad situation today that we make so much
effort to do precisely what the Rambam says we should not. There should be
no need to "market" the Torah, to dress it up and lure others to study it.
In spite of the wonderful work organizations such as Torah.org do,
disseminating Torah in nice, tasty bite-sized portions, attempting to
attract the not-so-interested, it really shouldn't have to be this way.
Perhaps there's no choice nowadays, but it certainly dims the Torah's
beauty when the teacher must go running after the student, "convincing"
him that it's worth his while to study Torah.
A good while back I started receiving e-mails from some competing
organization which took the liberty to "sign me up" for their weekly Torah
mailing, I suppose in an attempt to make me more religious. (I'll be the
first to admit, I could use it too... :-) I wrote them back asking to
be "unsubscribed" (a word my spell-checker does not like), in the process
telling them that in my opinion they're doing more harm than good signing
up people without their knowledge and against their will, being that it
turns a religious organization into a bunch of nudniks. (For the Yiddish-
challenged, Yiddish words generally sound like they mean; I'm sure you get
the idea... ;-) (Meanwhile, my spell-checker didn't like that one either.)
Anyway, it turned into a back-and-forth between me and whoever those folks
were, in which I wholly unsuccessfully tried to convince them that any
gains they may make with an occasional "hit" is far outweighed by the
degree to which they lower the esteem of the Torah in the eyes of the
masses -- both Jew and Gentile. (For that matter, they probably had
more "hits" among the Gentiles, but that's another discussion... ;-)
(Incidentally, for its part, Torah.org practically falls over itself
apologizing when someone is signed up against his or her will.)
In conclusion, perhaps it *is* a tragedy that authentic Torah wisdom is so
unappreciated today, and that we must make such efforts pursuing the
uncommitted. Yet perhaps that is just the situation today. People are
simply not ready for the unadulterated truth. And so, we must apply a
little make-up, but hopefully only enough to enhance the Torah's inner
beauty. We must never lose sight of the preciousness of what we're
Obviously we must not cheapen the Torah beyond recognition. Handing out
Torah leaflets at bus terminals, or sending out mass mailings to anyone
with a last name remotely Jewish will only result in getting a lot of
Torah thrown in the garbage. And certainly, we must never "modify" our
timeless Torah in an attempt to make it more acceptable to the
uninterested. Never act desperate -- even if you think all will be lost if
you do not. Ultimately the preservation of the Torah and Israel's future
is in G-d's hands. In Scripture (Deuteronomy 31:21), G-d states that He
knows this song (of Deut. 32) will never be forgotten from Israel. The
Talmud comments that this verse contains within a promise that the Torah
(also considered a song) will never be forgotten from Israel (Shabbos
138b). (See also Isaiah 59:20-21.) There will always be those who will
appreciate and who will patiently study and preserve. Thus, we make our
effort to disseminate the Torah and hope we will be heard. But ultimately,
as with all things, the outcome is in the hands of G-d. And we trust that
He will assure our continuity and our ultimate triumph.
Text Copyright © 2008 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and Torah.org