Rabbi Yitzchok Etshalom
Talmud Torah 1:02
2. Just as a person is obligated to teach his son, similarly he is
obligated to teach his grandson, as it says: "Inform them [what
you saw at Sinai] to your children and to the children of your
children" (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 4:9). Not only [is this said]
regarding his son and his grandson, rather it is a Mitzvah upon
each and every Sage in Israel to teach all of the students, even
though they are not his children. As it says: "You shall teach
your children" (Devarim 6:7); from our tradition we learned that
"your children" refers to your students, since students are
called "sons", as it says "the sons of the prophets went out"
(Melakhim II [Kings II] 2:3). If so, why was he commanded
regarding his son and his grandson? To place [the teaching of]
his son before his grandson and [the teaching of] his grandson
before the son of his neighbor.
Q1a: How many obligations are there here? We have to study, to
teach our biological children; to teach our biological offspring
(assuming that the obligation upon grandparents does not stop at
a second generation) and to teach the students. We could claim
that there are two: To study and to teach. There could be three:
To study, to teach your children/descendants and to teach the
Q1b: Once we define how many obligations there are, are they
functionally the same? Is my obligation towards my students the
same as that towards my children, except that the children come
first? Or is there another, more fundamental difference in what I
am to teach, to what degree etc.?
YE (Yitz Etshalom):
It seems fairly clear from the Introduction that there is one
Mitzvah - Lilmod (to study) Torah. It is equally clear that
there are at least two distinct manifestations of that - the
obligation to study (amounts are presented later in the text) and
the obligation to teach - although there is an interweaving of
them, as follows:
The underlying obligation is to continue the Mesorah - both by
strengthening your own link, - through your own learning and
through your relationship with your Rabbeim (hence, perhaps, the
inclusion of the second Mitzvah - honoring sages - in these
Halakhot)- and by producing and strengthening the next link -
i.e. the next generation. Rambam seems to be equating (*K'shem*
"just as") the obligation to teach children with that of
grandchildren - and with teaching other students. By widening the
scope in this way, Rambam raises the problems we discussed last
time - and to which Jay raised several key challenges. Let's
approach from a statement in the middle of this Halakha, which
may help us with the rest.
"You shall teach your children" - the tradition teaches us that
"children" - *banekha* here are the students. (Rambam uses the
proof presented in the Sifri). Perhaps Talmud Torah as a Mitzvah
is really a universal - I am obligated to teach every potential
member of the Mesorah community of Talmud Torah. I have a
telescoping scale of priorities in this obligation - my own
children, then other members of my family, then every Jew. The
question then becomes - what is my obligation towards myself - am
I the center of the telescopic range, or is my obligation to
learn a fundamentally different one? One other question - if it
is a different obligation, is it totally removed from my
obligation to teach, or is it a necessary prerequisite?
Rambam's phrasing in 1:3 helps answer this: "If his father didn't
teach him, he is obligated to _teach himself_"
So, we may present one obligation here: to teach every potential
member of the Mesorah community. This should help us with the
questions from the previous posting: We maintain that there is
one obligation, such that you are first obligated to teach
yourself, then to teach your children, then your other
"descendants" and then others. This obviates question 1b.
Q2: From Rambam's language, it sounds as if the masoretic
understanding of "banekha" - your children - is specifically
students. Does that mean that we regard the straightforward
meaning of the verse - the *pshat* as intending the students?
Where does that leave children?
YE: Banekha does mean your students; as the Sifri indicates;
however, there is a particular twist on this. Since the Torah
wants us to give preference to our biological children in the
matter of teaching, it phrases the obligation such that
"children" is the explicit mention.
Q3: In the final clause, Rambam says: Why was he commanded
regarding his son and his grandson...? Wouldn't it have been
smoother in the text to say: Why was he commanded about his
children before the grandchildren? [with the accent on before] -
which then justifies the final order of preference given at the
YE: For the clincher: Once we were taught that this Mitzvah is a
universal obligation, (not confined to family), we might have
thought that preference is given to wisest student, or the one
with the best background - or that there is no Halakhah of
preference. Therefore, the Torah, in commanding us to maintain
and transmit the events at Sinai, specifically mentions our
children and grandchildren. Once there is any preference given
to family, it is obvious that children come first - as in all
obligations where there is any correlation between relationship
and level of obligation (e.g. Tzedakah), children come first.
Therefore, Rambam is only concerned that family members be
mentioned at all, in order to indicate that this Halakhah,
although it obligates us beyond the family, does follow a "Karov,
karov kodem" - preference based on family closeness - model.
The final upshot is that this Mitzvah is, indeed, very much like
Tzedakah. Our first obligation is to ourselves (which is why the
Rabbanan in Usha established a Tzedakah-ceiling of 1/10 or 1/5 -
BT Arachin 28a), then to our blood family (*Umibsarcha Lo
Tit'alem* - you shall not ignore your flesh relations - Yeshaya
[Isaiah] 58:7), then to the poor of your city, etc. Although the
specific targets of this Mitzvah are not the same (because the
community of Tzedakah-beneficiaries is not the same as the
community of Mesorah-recipients), the concept is similar.
Rambam, Copyright (c) 1999 Project