Rabbi Yitzchok Etshalom
The laws of Talmud Torah include two positive Mitzvot:
- To study Torah;
- To honor her [Torah's] teachers and scholars...
Q1: Why does Rambam include Talmud Torah in Sefer Mada (The
first of R's fourteen books - dealing with basic philosophical
and attitudinal issues)? And why it's particular placement after
Hilkhot De'ot (attitudes) (shouldn't it be before) and before
Avodah Zarah (Laws of Idolatry)?
YE: (Yitz Etshalom ):Although our rabbis have
commented on various Mitzvot that they are "equal to all the
Mitzvot" - e.g. denouncing idolatry, living in Eretz Yisra'el,
etc., Rambam only makes this statement in regards to Talmud Torah
(3:3). And, he makes that statement quite forcefully (see
there). I believe that the placement of Talmud Torah is quite
intentional as follows: Rambam, being a philosophically oriented
religionist, sees the basics as cognitive - he also sees a direct
relationship between the cognitive and behavioral. Yesodei
haTorah (The Basics of the Torah) must come first, as it
establishes the basic propositions for the rest of the work.
De'ot must follow, as it establishes the fundamental relationship
between man and God - to imitate God. Talmud Torah then becomes
the vehicle for learning about how to accomplish this goal. Since
the basic is the cognitive affirmation of God, Avodah Zarah is
the first point of knowledge- followed by Teshuvah (Repentance),
which is the ultimate statement about the relationship with God.
Q2: Why does Rambam include honor for scholars here - shouldn't
that be included in Hilkhot Mamrim, where the definitions of a
scholar are found? (Parenthetically, why are the laws of honor
for parents included in Hilkhot Mamrim? Wouldn't they be more
appropriate in Hilkhot Evel (Laws of Mourning), since mourning
for parents is part of honor?)
YE: Whereas honor for parents is fundamentally a biological
affair - regardless of their behavior, we are obligated to honor
them, the station and honor due a Talmid Hakham is a function of
two things: his knowledge and the quality/quantity of his
teaching (i.e. how many student and what level of learning) - see
BT Ketubot 17.
Q3: Note how Rambam defines the Mitzvah in the Introduction -
"Lilmod Torah" - one would expect a time definition, such as "to
study Torah every day" (as we find in the introduction of the
Laws of Tefillah) or "to study Torah day and night" (similar to
that which he says in the introduction of the Laws of Reading the
YE: Talmud Torah does have a notion of set time (see BT Menachot
99, Nedarim 8a); however, unlike Tefillah and Sh'ma, it is more
of a framework for the minimal Mitzvah. Regarding Tefillah, the
ultimate goal is worship of God daily; for K'riat Sh'ma, it is
reciting those particular words at those two times; however, the
ultimate goal of Talmud Torah is: Learning! As Rabbi Soloveitchik
zt"l pointed out numerous times, the Rambam seems to indicate, in
the introduction, the ultimate goal of the Mitzvah; whereas, in
the text, he details the specific parameters and methods for
achieving that goal. For instance, In the Laws of Repentance,
the introduction reads "that the sinner should return"; yet in
the text, Rambam immediately introduces verbal confession - the
detail and vehicle for achieving the goal. R. Soloveitchik zt"l
made the same observations about Tefillah (Intro: To worship:
Text: To pray) and mourning.
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