Rabbi Yitzchok Etshalom
Talmud Torah 4:6
6. [Students] should not ask questions of the teacher when he
enters the House of Study until he gathers his powers of
concentration. And the student should not ask until he (the
student) is seated and at rest. Two should not ask at the same
time. The teacher should not be asked a question on a subject
which is different [from the one which he is teaching], but one
should ask only on the relevant subject, in order that he won't
be embarrassed. The teacher may mislead his students with his
questions and actions which he does in their presence in order to
sharpen their wits and to see whether they remember what they had
learnt or not. Needless to say, he may ask them about a different
subject, which they are not presently involved with, in order to
spur them on.
Q1: Why shouldn't the student ask until he is sitting? What if
the student thought of this question beforehand?
YE (Yitz Etshalom): Three possibilities: a)
the student may ask hastily; b) the student needs to settle in to
see if his question is appropriate and relevant; asking a
question is not a student-centered activity - it depends upon the
entire environs (other students and especially the teacher) c) as
noted in the Yahrzeit shiur (posted with TT 4:1-2), the endeavor
of Talmud Torah is a joint process and therefore the student must
be in the same stance as the teacher.
Q2: If the students can only ask about "relevant" questions, how
and when do they ever address other questions?
YE: This Halakha only applies to a session of the *Beit Midrash*
(House of study); as to what happens when students approach their
teachers privately, that is not discussed here. It seems clear
from the gemara that students would approach their teachers to
ask other questions - but, in the session of the Beit Midrash,
the teacher sets the subject and the course of discussion.
Q3: Why is the teacher allowed to ask them about a different
subject? How does this "spur them on"?
YE: If they know that they could be asked about anything they
learned with that teacher, even in previous sessions and on
previous topics, they will be careful to always review their
material. In the setting R is describing, (see TT 4:5 at the end
and 2:2) the students are in awe of their teacher and afraid of
"not having the answer".
Rambam, Copyright (c) 1999 Project