4: If he wished to study Torah and he had a son [who wants] to
study Torah, he takes precedence over his son. If his son was
more perceptive and brighter than he was, his son takes
precedence. Even though his son takes precedence, he should not
ignore [TT]. For just as he is commanded to teach his son,
similarly he is commanded to teach himself.
Q1: The rule of precedence here undoubtedly refers to financial
decision-making; but why is there a brain-valuating mechanism
here? Why does the son's ability change the value ruling?
Keith Bierman (KB): Can't it also refer to
time investment? I'd say that the talent evaluation may be
related to a overarching societal goal, the society needs the
best scholars, and the good of the community overrides the good
of the individual. Also, if the child is the better student, the
child can eventually teach the father.
Q2: The second half of this Halakha is worded strangely:
obviously, everyone is obligated to learn. We assume that the
*din kedima* - (law of precedence) discussed in this Halakha is
not for the absolute Mitzva of TT; rather it is for the
concentration of time and resources and devotion to study - why
would we think that the father would not be obligated to study,
just because his son was brighter?
KB: We might think that the child is acting, in a sense, as
"shaliach" [agent] and that the parent is thereby yotsay
[fulfills his obligation].
YE (Yitz Etshalom): Perhaps the statement is
exhortative - that a father whose son outshines him may feel
embarrassed about study. Alternatively, R may be commenting on
the dialectic: on one hand, we have a great concern for the good
of society (as KB proposes) and that is why the bright son takes
precedence; yet each individual must reach his or her greatest
potential and must not "waste" his time and life. In other words,
there is a communal need for great scholars; yet there is a human
need for growth and wisdom.