Rabbi Yitzchok Etshalom
Talmud Torah 5:1
1. Just as a person is obligated to honor and be in awe of his
father, similarly, he is obligated to honor and be in awe of his
teacher more than his father. Because his father brings him into
this world but his teacher - who taught him wisdom - brings him
to *Olam haBa* (the World to Come).
If he saw an *aveda* (lost item) of his father and an *aveda* of
his teacher, [returning] his teacher's takes precedence.
If his father and his teacher were each carrying a burden, first
he relieves his teacher's burden and then his father's.
If his father and his teacher were both held as captives, first
he redeems his teacher and then he redeems his father.
If, however, his father was a *Talmid Hakham* (Torah
student/scholar), he redeems his father first.
Similarly, if his father was a *Talmid Hakham*, even if he is not
as great as the teacher, he returns his *aveda* first, then he
returns the *aveda* of his teacher.
There is no greater honor than that due a teacher, and no greater
awe than that due a teacher. The Sages said: (Avot 4:12) The fear
of your teacher should be like the fear of Heaven.
Therefore, they said (BT Sanhedrin 110a): "Anyone who challenges
the authority of his teacher is considered as if he challenges
the authority of God, as it says: (Bamidbar [Numbers] 26:9) 'Who
led a revolt against God' [note: this is a description of Korach
and his henchmen who rebelled against Moshe's authority].
Anyone who engages in controversy with his teacher is considered
as if he engaged in controversy with God, as it says: (Bamidbar
[Numbers] 20:13) 'Where the Jews contested with God and where He
was sanctified' [note: this describes the waters of Meribah,
where Moshe struck the rock as a result to the people's
quarreling with him].
Anyone who complains against his teacher is considered as if he
complained against God, as it says: (Shemot [Exodus] 16:8) 'Your
complaints are not against us, but against God.'
Anyone who thinks disparagingly of his teacher is considered as
if he thought disparagingly against the Divine Presence, as it
says: (Bamidbar [Numbers) 21:5) 'And the people spoke against God
Q1-3: At the beginning of the Halakha, R equates the honor and
awe due to the teacher to that due the father. His formulation
leads to three questions:
Q1: Why does he use the honor/awe due the father as the given
model, and the honor/awe for teachers as the "new" law, compared
to that of the father?
HH (H.H.): The honor/awe for
teachers is not in the Decalogue.
YE (Yitz Etshalom): As R himself stressed in
several places (most notably, in the Moreh Nevuchim [Guide for
the Perplexed] 3:32), education always begins with the known to
the new. The relationship with father is not only an earlier
one, it is also an instinctual and/or environmental one with
which most people are familiar from an early age. The *hiddush*
- novel idea- is that a similar relationship applies to teachers.
Q2: Why does he only mention "father" - when both parents are
equally the objects of our honor and awe, as spelled out in the
HH: In R's time, all teachers were male. R compares a teacher to
a father for the sake of parallelism.
YE: As Rashi (Vayyikra [Leviticus] 19:3) points out, awe for
father is more natural. It seems from other places in R (TT 2:2,
4:5), that awe is the predominant focus of the relationship;
therefore "father" is a closer model than "mother".
Q3: He uses the familiar *K'shem* - "Just as" - and then
demonstrates that the honor and awe due to the teacher is GREATER
than that due the father.
YE: The word *K'shem* is used in three ways by R in MT: a)
Building on something we know from our own experience (e.g. De'ot
5:1) b) Building on something which is explicit in the Torah
(e.g. Ishut 3:20) OR c) Building on something which has just been
clarified (e.g. Melakhim 5:12) In none of these cases is the
implication that the new case is exactly the same - just that it
is patterned after an already known model. Honor/awe for father
is known from the Torah (and, to some extent, from experience) -
so the *K'shem* shows that the honor/awe for teacher is build
upon that model. In the next line, R points us further - that
the honor/awe for teacher goes beyond that for father.
Q4: Why are these three cases (*aveda*, relieving a burden and
redeeming from captivity) the examples of how honor for the
teacher is greater than that for the father?
YE: Financial loss (concern for property); Physical discomfort
(concern for comfort) and Life-saving intervention (concern for
life). In each case, I would not know that teacher comes first.
Q5: Why does the father come first if he is a *Talmid Hakham* -
even if he isn't as great as the teacher?
HH: The honor due to a father added to the honor due to a Talmid
Hakham is greater than the honor due to a great teacher.
Q6: Why do we want to "equate" our relationship and attitude
towards the teacher to that with God? Isn't that a dangerous
approach that can lead to "teacher-worship"?
YE: Look ahead to TT 5: 12-13. If the teacher only knows our
Halakha but not those two at the end of our chapter, that danger
is indeed great.
Q7: Why does the Gemara in Sanhedrin pick on these four negative
behaviors towards ones teacher (challenging, engaging in
controversy, complaining against and thinking disparagingly)?
HH: Because these four behaviors are refered to in the
YE: To add to Harald's response, we find that all four of these
are things which some members of Bnei Yisrael did in their
relationship with Moshe. This is instructive, as it puts the
honor we are due our teacher in a league with the honor due Moshe
- and the dire result of offending that honor.
Q8: What is meant by engaging in controversy with the teacher?
Is the student allowed to critically evaluate the teachings,
pointing out areas s/he sees as flawed, in order to have the
teacher correct the student?
YE: We certainly find cases in the Gemara where students
challenge their teacher; the difference is between challenging
with the goal of seeking wisdom and challenging just to challenge
- to disrupt the authority of the teacher etc. R. Hayyim of
Volozhin's explanation of the Mishna (Avot 1:4) "sit in the dust
*avaq* of the [Sages'] feet" plays on the word *avaq* - which
also comes from the root "to wrestle" - that, although we realize
that we are in the dust of our teacher's feet and that their
knowledge far exceeds ours, we still must wrestle with them if
their teachings contradict other teachings or do not seem to make
sense. The Gemara (BT Kiddushin 30b) relates to the teacher and
student being like enemies, in battle with each other, during the
time of study. This does not at all imply a docile relationship.
-Q9: What safeguards are there against the teacher abusing his
position of honor? Does a "dishonorable" or "failed" student
imply a discrediting of the teacher?
YE: To the first question: students may leave at any time and go
to another teacher. The most egregious case of this abuse is, of
course, that of R. Gamliel (see BT Berakhot 27b-28a) where there
was out-and-out rebellion and impeachment of the head of the
As to the second question, see Yoma (86a) where one of the
motivations for ethical and polite behavior is that God's Name
should become beloved because of you - that people would say:
"Happy is his father who taught him Torah, happy is his teacher
who taught him Torah..." however, if his behavior is unpleasant,
people say: "Woe to his father who taught him Torah, woe to his
teacher who taught him Torah..." See also BT Berakhot 17a-b
where the prayer [of the students of the house of Rav Hisda (or
R. Shmuel bar Nahmani) when they would leave each other to go
home] focussed on not having students who bring shame upon their
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