Frequently Asked Questions
Mishnah and Gemora
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Rabbi Simcha Wasserman
Developing the drive to learn more
How do we acquire the motivation to learn? If we learn something, and we understand it, it's a pleasure and we want more. If we learn something and we don't understand it clearly, it's a burden and it makes us tired. Therefore, if a person wants to be able to learn, the first thing he must do is to train himself to understand clearly what he learns.
It is a very important point to know that when I learn a piece of Rashi and my rebbe explains to me what Rashi says, my rebbe is teaching me! But if I will know every word of Rashi on my own, then, after a while, Rashi will teach me.
At present, I need my rebbe because I look at the Rashi and I don't know what Rashi is talking about. So my rebbe clarifies things for me and he tells me what Rashi is talking about. But if I would learn to understand the meaning of each and every word of Rashi, then when I look at Rashi myself I will get an idea of what Rashi is saying. And when I learn the same Rashi 4 or 5 times and every time I learn it I see a little more, then eventually, by myself I will be able to hear what Rashi says. Then Rashi will be teaching me and he is a much better rebbe than my rebbe.
So therefore, when learning Rashi, the first stage is to read each and every word correctly; to translate it correctly. Then I have to learn it a few times until I see how every word is necessary and that there are no extra words in it. When I reach that level, Rashi is teaching me and then I understand it and see the meaning much clearer than I would understand it if my rebbe would have taught it to me.
My rebbe is really a guide. He gives me the material and he shows me how to handle it; but it is my job to handle it myself. It's the same as when you go to a physics class. The teacher gives you experiments for you to do yourself. Why doesn't he merely tell you the law? The reason is because information you produce yourself is much clearer and more permanent than that which someone just tells you. Then, when you learn the laws by your own efforts, you understand them more clearly.
Similarly when I learn, I should not need to rely on everything being explained to me. I don't want to be always dependent on somebody else to teach me. I want to be able to open a Gemora and learn it myself. If I will not train myself to go over and translate exactly, one page of Gemora, I will never get it. And if I know one page of Gemora well, I know a lot of vocabulary. It pays to have the patience to go over the Gemora a few times, reading it exactly and translating it exactly.
In some cases, I advise people to write out a linear translation; a phrase of Loshon ha kodesh with its translation into English. Then when you review the Gemora, check yourself with your linear translation. Suddenly, you will discover that many things will light up in your mind. It is a different quality of knowing.
Also "The one who learns aloud will better retain his learning." When you pronounce what you read it imprints on your mind, like repeating a telephone number to help you remember it.
For this reason, the Mishna was composed in such a way that you'll have to go through a difficult time in order to know what it means. It was intentionally done to make learning hard, not to make it easy. You have to process it and then you'll find out the information by your own efforts. Then, when you learn the Gemora, you'll see that the Gemora is also trying to figure out what the Mishna means. Sometimes the Gemora cannot work out who is the author of the Mishna. Sometimes the reisha and the seifa seem to be contradictory. And sometimes there is a word that makes no sense. It's all done intentionally. The Mishna is giving you the opportunity to make the experiment by yourself, which is a unique way to learn. If you take the opportunity and the challenge, your learning will be clear and well-organized.
When you learn like this, it's not a burden. My father
The real study of Torah
The study of Torah does not refer to learning Shulchan Aruch. The posuk says a mitzva is a candle and Torah is a light. The difference between a candle and a light is that a candle is localized to one spot. When you have a candle burning, the room may be dark but you can always direct the candle to that spot which you want to see. In fact, Bedikus Chometz (searching for chometz) on Erev Pesach can be performed only with a candle because you have to focus on each and every spot and a big light doesn't give you the opportunity to notice every little detail.
On the other hand when you use a candle you don't see a panorama, you see only that spot and you don't see what's going on around you. You only have information on that spot. But when I learn Gemora I become familiar with the entire scene.
When I learn Gemora I don't have a candle in my hands; I have a bright light. The candle is in Shulchan Aruch. The Shulchan Aruch focuses on a specific mitzva and tells us how to do it, which is like a candle. The information which a person has to have in order to know when and how to make a brocha is not comprehensive Torah learning, it's the candle. When I'm talking about Torah learning, I am talking about the totality of learning, which includes learning even subjects which have nothing to do with immediate practice.
When you learn Gemora Kiddushin, unless you are practicing in the area of Gittin and Kiddushin, it is theoretical. When you marry you don't need your entire Gemora Kiddushin; you need a good kallah. Gemora Kiddushin gives you information, which is the big light that helps you to see the entire scenery. That's the Torah Ore.
The way to learn; learning to think
First we have to understand what Gemora is. As we mentioned before, the system of learning Torah is a special and unique system and it's built on the principle that the information that a person needs to have, he must work out for himself. You don't give him the information. You give him only the basic raw material and you teach him to decipher it, but he has tfithe information himself.
That's exactly how Torah was given. And that's why it says in the Mishna: "בתורה אתה עמל In the study of Torah you toil." "שתהיו עמלים בתורה That you should toil in Torah" Why do you need to toil? The answer is bHawants you to produce your information yourself. Then it will become paof you. Therefore it'snot given to you in a finished state. All the information is there, but you have to dig it out. That's what Gemora is.
When you learn Talmud, you read a statement or you learn a Mishna and you think the statement means something. Then you start to analyze it and you find you have all kinds of difficulties. You have to constantly try to figure out what is going on. The Gemora gives you all the questions and all the answers but unless you put your own brains to it you don't know what is going on.
This also applies to Rashi. I haven't yet seen anything in Talmudic study that you can read straight as a book. It does not exist. And Rashi says, "`If you'll labor in my Torah'. Either you labor and you have it or you don't labor it and then you don't have it".
What is amazing is that after you go through all that torture over a page of Gemora, suddenly the concept becomes very clear. You don't know how. It comes into your mind and it becomes very clear. IMishlei it says, "I have given you a good taking, do not neglect my Torah". What is the meaning of this phrase, "...a good taking - לקח טוב"? It means that if you don't do the taking, you don't have it. If someone feeds it to you, it will neither be clear enough nor will you remember it.
The power of reasoning
The tendency of the human being is to not to want to have discipline, not to have obligations. This tendency is so strong that it brings about wishful thinking, like evolution. Evolution is wishful thinking. The danger of that kind of wishful thinking is its tendency to throw off obligations, to be clear of responsibility.
The degree to which reason will be influenced by emotions depends upon the strength of the reason. Reasoning can be through subjective thinking and objective thinking. Reasoning which is influenced by the person himself is called subjective reasoning. Non-influenced thinking we refer to as being objective. We find that non-intelligent people are more inclined to subjective thinking than intelligent people. The stronger the capacity of reasoning is, the harder it is for the emotions to control it.
Therefore, if we want to have clear, objective thinking, we can attack it from two aspects. From one aspect, we try to discipline and control our emotions so that they do not affect our reasoning. On the other hand we try to develop our reasoning capacity so that our emotions will not influence our ability to reason. And the stronger our ability to reason is, the less is the risk of being misled by our emotions.
This is one aspect of what the Gemora does for you. Gemora develops your analytical thinking. You analyze everything. You question everything. It trains you to think. By developing the power of thinking, you diminish the risk of subjective, wishful thinking.
Torah - the food for our soul
There is a gift that Torah can give to our personality. Torah conditions us for good behavior, for correct behavior. And this gift you can have also when you learn an apparently-simple posuk in Parshas Lech Lecha which doesn't make you think much. The Torah goes into your system. It purifies your system.
Torah is compared to bread, to food. When we eat, two things happen. All I am aware of about the food is the taste which I experience when I chew it. But there's more to food than that. The food enters into the body; there's a chemical laboratory in the body which separates the different constituents of the food and sends them to the bloodstream and to other parts of the body. This is all automatic and I don't even feel it.
It is exactly the same is when you learn. When you learn, all you are conscious of is the taste of chewing it. But you are also absorbing the Torah into yourself and that's why Torah is shaping and developing your character. Just as when I eat food, all I am conscious of is the taste of it, in the same way, when I learn and feel I understand the Rashi, or understand the Tosefos, what I sense is just the taste of chewing it. But really I am absorbing much more than that.
Rashi has something which the Ramban couldn't match. Rashi has that unique characteristic that you can read Rashi at every level of intelligence just as you can learn Chumash at every level of intelligence. My father z"l told me that to learn Rashi without knowing the Gemora is harder than learning Gemora without a commentary of Rashi. This is because Rashi is tremendously deep; but on the other hand he is very simple. You can learn Rashi at almost every level of intelligence.
Sometimes, Rashi in Chumash makes a statement and the Ramban, (Nachmanides) says, "That statement is so deep I can't explain it to you". So then I ask myself, "Why did Rashi write it?"
The answer is that Rashi feels that this is nutrition which we need. So, in effect, the Ramban says, "Swallow it down as you swallow a vitamin. Don't chew it because you'll break your teeth. It's too deep for you, but you need the nutrition, so just swallow it down."
What enters my system is much more than the "taste of chewing" - being conscious of what I understand in learning that piece of Gemora in Gittin or in Kiddushin. And the fact is, that you can see that Torah molds a person; his behavior and his manners. And it's not a question of whether or not what he is learning is precisely understood. It's more than that. I may chew something and have the taste of approximate information, but what I am absorbing inside myself may be exact information.
So what Rashi did with the Chumash was to point out whatever he felt a Jewish person needs to take into his system while learning Chumash. Sometimes it is something that you cannot chew, sometimes it is something that you can chew. But the Ramban says, "Read it and be satisfied with it; don't think about what are the `higher waters', what are the `lower waters', what is the `center'." On the other hand, the conclusion that what is maintaining these waters is the wish of the Creator, is easier to understand. So if you can take this, swallow it down; Ramban has nothing against it. But if you start to chew, you'll break your teeth.
This is really the strength of Torah; not the taste of the chewing but the ingesting - absorbing the nutrients - developing the conscience and the sub-conscience. If you learn Torah correctly, it is a living thing and it penetrates to your sub-conscience whether you understand it or not. It has been designed to make a full-bloomed Jew out of a seedling Jew. That's why it was given - to make a little Jew into a great Jew.
The role of the teacher
Rambam says that the Torah was so complete when it was given to Moshe Rabbainu that we will never need any other revelation. All the information is already in it. If you learn what is taught explicitly and utilize the 13 Methods you will always have the information available to you.
When Moshe taught the Torah, he spoke to the elders of the people first. Then it says, he placed before them all those words. What does it mean he placed? Rashi says (21:1), "אשר תשים לפניהם...Which you shall place before them" "אמר לו הקב"ה...The Almighty said to Moshe": Do not entertain the thought that you will repeat for them the portion and the halacha two or three times until it will be organized in their mouths according to its Mishnaic text, and (then say), "I will not exert myself to make them understand the meanings of the subject, and its explanation". Therefore the passage says, `which you shall place before them', like a table which is set and ready for the meal...."
What does Rashi say? Rashi says that the Almighty says to Moshe, "Do not think that you will satisfy yourself by teaching the people two or three times...." So, I would like to athatRashi a little bit.
Today, when we learn Talmud, we learn the Mishna, and then we discuss it. On one or two lines of a Mishna you may have ten, fifteen, twenty lines of Gemora, or more, following, discussing the same felines of Mishna.
They never learned differently. Even Moshe taughtwith the same system. The systwas always to learn by heart. They had a text, and the text itself called for explanations. And this text was designed for that purpose. It was a very short text and the text leaves itself open to questions so that by questioning you can find information.
So the next stage was not to teach them anything but to guide them in dealing with the difficulties, in trying to understand; to show them the difficulties so that they can then try to find the explanations. After these Torah discussions, everything became clear. This was the method of learning.
Returning now to the first part of Rashi, let us see what he says. The Almighty says to Moshe, "Do not entertain the thought that you will repeat for them the portion and the halacha two or three times until it will be organized in their mouths ato its text, (which means that they will have the text clear), and I will not exert myself to make them understand the meanings and the explanation". It doesn't say, "and I will not explain to them", because no one asked Moshe Rabbainu to explain.
Moshe Rabbainu was supposed to give them a Mishna, a very short Mishna, but structured in a way that there is no easy way to understand it.
You know they say that when you travel in Florida on the freeways you can fall asleep because it is all straight and all flat. The Mishna is not a Florida highway. By us, the teacher doesn't teach. On the contrary, the teacher makes it difficult. The teacher shows that here there is something missing and there something is missing and that this is a contradiction. Figure it out by yourself. This is called exerting yourself (le'hatriach atzmo) to make them understand. Try to figure out ways to get them to work it out for themselves. It doesn't say just to explain - which is much easier.
"Exert yourself to make them understand". This describes the system exactly.
But then Rashi says, "...where is it in the wording of the Torah that he should do so in this fashion, that this is the type of instruction required?" It says, "Set it in front of them like a table which is laid and ready!" (This is the origin of the name `Shulchan Aruch'). But what does it mean?
There is a small Rashi, in Eruvin (21b) and many people overlook its significance. Rashi says there that King Solomon made a masorah for the Mishna. A masorah is a cross count of words and letters. You will find at the end of the Chumash how many words and letters are in each section. In case somebody has a doubt whether he remembers the whole section correctly he can check it with the total number of words and see whether or not he missed a word.
The names of the Tannaim in the Mishna - for example, Rav Meir and Rabbi Akiva - are later additions which were added after Solomon, but the basis comes from Moshe Rabbainu and was very short and very abstract. Sometimes when you learn the Mishna you can recognize which part is ancient and which part is added.
The Gemora says that people who make decisions of law out of the Mishna are doing no more than confusing people and are actually misleading them because if you do not digest the text of the Mishna you can make all sorts of mistakes. If you take something crude, you can't use it directly. It has to go through a refinery. The Mishna itself, when it's not refined, can lead to a wrong interpretation.
By the way, I noticed not long ago a revolution in the approach to education in America. Now they are trying to introduce computers as teachers, not only to have computers to teach the students, but also to make the students figure things out. And that's the revolution. And I don't think they will succeed because it's too easy, too luxurious with the computer.
And America still thinks that everything can be done with money, but it's not true. Just feeding somebody information will not work. It has to be with toil. Whatever you achieve though toil, you have. If you learn a piece of Gemora with Tosefos, is everything really clear to you? You have to toil, you have to sweat. The extent to which you toil determines the quality of the Kesser Torah - the Crown of the Torah on the head of the talmid.
"לא עליך הדבר לגמור..." You don't have a contract to deliver a certain amount of goods. I once complained to my father, z"l. that when I learn with talmidim I am slow. I don't cover much ground. I explained to him that I want to understand what I am learning clearly and I want to chazer it, so the learning takes time and I can't go fast. So he said, "Nu, `לא עליך הדבר לגמור....' - Don't go fast."
So Rashi is explaining that Moshe should set it in front of them - but not put it in their mouths - not to feed them. This, they have to do themselves. So that is the task of the rebbe - to provide the talmid with the information he needs and to train him to work things out - but the actual working-out - that the talmid must do for himself.
Iyun and yedios
Sometimes, a person who starts learning a mesechta immediately looks up how many blatt there are: say, 117 blatt. He works out how much time it will take him to finish. So the foolish one already has his eyes on the end! It's like a person who goes into a business. So before he starts selling, he wastes time figuring out how much money he'll make. Forget it. Concentrate on making money. After the day you'll count up your earnings. This is one of the meaning of "It is not your obligation to finish (everything)" When you learn a page, concentrate on that page. Forget about getting to the end of the mesechta. You'll come to it eventually. Now, your focus is on that page.
On the other hand, when we are young we have to get as many yedios as we can. So how should we learn? Should we learn slowly for achieving clarity or should we learn fast in order to accumulate yedios?
The seder of learning should be as follows. The main seder of learning should be in learning b'iyun. For example, when I learn a Rashi and the Rashi is a little sh'ver - perhaps there is one word which I don't understand - then I look in Achronim or, even better, I look in Rishonim. I look at the Tosefos; I look at the Rashba; I look at a few other Rishonim. Then I find out where there is a problem and what is Rashi's shita. That's real learning.
But this is slow and holds you onto one place. So there should be a seder for iyun kal, for Gemora and Rashi without Tosefos and just one p'shat. This is what I heard from Gedolim; yedios comprises Gemora and Rashi. So make a seder two hours a day for iyun kal. Iyun kal means that if a point is problematic, I know that it's problematic, but I go further. And then I review it.
We need to retain a sense of priorities. On the one hand, when I learn, I have to think I'll one day become that great talmid chacham. But, on the other hand, because of that ambition, I cannot consider myself free to mevattel Torah by not pursuing the topic which I am learning now, until it becomes clear to me and I understand it properly. There is no such thing. An ambition cannot be mevattel Torah. Even without mistaken goals of bekius haTorah we have problems of bittul Torah. And the reward is according to the discomfort. Learning is betzaar, without luxuries; never being mafsik. The hatzlocha in learning is learning without a hesik ha daas. That's why there is so much of a problem in America.
We do have to accumulate as many yedias as we can. The fact is that memory deteriorates each and every day. Compare the power of retention of a 6 year old with that of a 20 year old. This means that regarding memory, the 20 year old has already aged. Regarding Havana the situation is just the opposite. Havana develops as we age. Therefore, the Gaon advises that we have to try to accumulate as many yedias as possible when we are young. But the shyla is, "Whais the meanof yedias?" It's true that in a shiur, learning shittas of Acharonim is also yedias. But the ikkur yedias are Gemora with Rashi. That's the yesod.
If we learn a Tosefos and in that Tosefos there's one word tI can't jus, I can't go further - I don't know the Tosefos: II continue on, I'm just fooling m. That's not p'shat. If I want to cover ground faster, then I ask somebody. Or I try learning it again myself. But before I understand the function of each and every word in Gemora or in Tosefos I have no business going further.
If, after I have gotten every word clear, something is still hard, then that is something else. For example, if I learn something and it's sh'ver - I have a kasha - then there are 2 ways to deal with it. One way is to sweat it out and try to answer the kasha. The other way is to notate the kasha and go on further. I think this what the Gaon is referring to when he advises "Don't sweat to answer the kasha." When you are young, go further - but make a note of the kasha.
Depth versus speed
Rav Azriel Rabinovitz, z"l, in Telz was the last Rosh Yeshiva in Telz before the churban and during the churban. He was a young man; he was my age. When Rav Azriel was a young bochur his way of learning was learning fast but not chazering anything. One year, everybody left after Rosh Chodesh Nisan and I remained another 10 day. So I came over to him and I said, "My chavrusas are away, can you learn with me? Can I join you?" He said, "I'm learning fast." I said, "I'll try." I learned through the whole of Pesachim with Tosefos in 5 days. But it was just with notating what was sh'ver.
That was his way of learning. He learned through mesechta Pesachim with all the Tosefos in less than a week. In another 2 weeks he learned it again another 4 or 5 times, then he started learning another mesechta with the same speed. That was normal for him. I most probably wouldn't be able to learn like this. I was running after him. I wouldn't say this is the derech halimud for everyone, but on the other hand, we should learn fast at the pace that we can.
If we have a word that we don't know the function of, if it takes too much time to think through, we write down that this point we don't know and we go further. And noting down and then re-learning the same thing 10 times is a moredika derech (a tremendous method).
Learning to learn
While we are learning, we have also to train ourselves how to learn. This was the derech in all the yeshivas. I don't know how the derech of learning was in Volozhin before Reb Chaim, z"l; how the Netziv used to say shiurim, how Reb Yosef Ber used to say shirium, but there was a big difference in their learning. From their seforim you can see that Rav Yosef Ber was like a storm, he was storming everything. The Netziv was very pleasant, very easy, but what he told you he had already figured out in his mind from all the shass, and it came out smooth, glatt. From the Netziv you heard easy maskonas; it was a pleasure. Rav Yosef Ber, z"l, challenges you, "This is sh'ver and this is sh'ver and this is sh'ver."
But from Reb Chaim, z"l, on, we know that in yeshivas there have always been shirium geared to train bochurim in havana. So therefore we have to have a part of our time devoted to a shiur in havana. But still there should be a part of your learning-time when you have to go ahead. But on one condition: That when you learn you do not leave it until you have clarified the function of every single word. If it's not like that, we're just fooling ourselves.
Now, it happens some times that we hear chiddushim from Roshei Yeshivos. The emess is that we have no business to know anything unless we need to know it. Therefore unless I have some idea about "Why did the Rosh Yeshiva have to say this?" there is not much so benefit in learning the answer - knowing the kasha is more important than knowing the teretz. You have to know the kasha, to know what's sh'ver and only then can you appreciate the teretz.
Sometimes even if I learn Rashi, I ask, "Why did Rashi say it ? The Gemora's said that p'shat. What did Rashi add?" So the first thing to find out is what was sh'ver on that Gemora. Most probably I overlooked something; most probably there was something to clarify. If I have no shyla, the tshuva has no value.
The skill of discovery
If I look at my finger, I see the skin, I see the nails, but there is an entire system of very complicated machinery inside: Muscles, nerves, blood vessels. But it's under the surface. Anything which the Ribbono Shel Olom has created has much more under the surface than on the surface. This is what we call a discovery. A man who discovers something doesn't create anything new; he has just noticed something which was unnoticed before.
The wisdom of Torah is endless. When we learn, we have to possess the capacity of discovery. The more a person trains himself to discover, the more he can discover what's under the surface. Learning Chumash does not train your mind analytically. Neither does Mishna nor Shulchan Aruch do it. Gemora does it. The Rambam says that Gemora is especially designed for this.
All information should become productive. Productive information means that when I have a certain amount of information, I can produce further information. When you learn geometry, you make use of axioms and then you try to develop more information out of those axioms.
In order for information to be productive, the first condition is clarity. It has to be very clear. When I understand something very clearly, then I can see where it's leading to. As long as I am not clear, it is only a source of confusion. Then it does not lead me any further and the information is unproductive,.
Mishnayos and Gemora
The original system of studying was to learn each mishna by heart. They learned everything by heart and they had to remember the text of the mishna exactly. Then they tried to figure out the significance of each and every word and extract every possible piece of information.
A baraisa is a text they learned by heart, almost like the Mishna. Before Rabainu HaKodesh edited the mishna, all baraisas were mishnas. But when he edited them, those he omitted were then called baraisos. The word Baraisa means that it remained outside the accepted texts.
Learning mishnayos by heart was not so easy. Gemora was much easier. In Gemora, people didn't have to remember the exact words. If something is explained to me, I can remember the idea of what was explained to me and later I'll be able to explain it to somebody else using my own words. But if I have to remember the exact wording, it's a strain on my memory - like remembering poetry.
Because they had to remember each and every word of the Mishna, the text of the mishna is very short, very concise, in order not to overburden the memory. But the mishna is so worded that when you try to analyze it, you can derive from it almost all of the information that the Gemora finds in it. Rabainu HaKodesh edited the mishna into the most concise form.
If somebody has a good memory, a photographic memory, he can afford to learn a mishna with a longer text, and instead of guessing and trying to guess what the mishna means to say, he remembers the text. Reb Chiya was a student of Rabainu HaKodesh. He and his friend Reb Oshia made an additional collection of Mishnayos which have more wording and are more explicit. If someone feels that he can burden his memory with more, he should go and learn them. Those are the baraisas of Rebbe Chiya. The collections are the Tosefta - additional mishnayos. Those give more explicit details than are in the mishna.
In Perek 6 in Hilchos Dayos the Rambam says that sometimes a person has to run away from society completely. Our first priority is to guard ourselves from negative external influences. The nature of a person is that he does not always think independently; he does nalways examinthe material independently. The more a person has learned Torah and Gemora, the more he develops the capacity for analyzing things and to see through things.
If somebody learns Torah with the real dhavana he develthis independence, but stillhe might accept things because they are accby others. Perhaps he will accept things because he is used to constantly hearing the same thing. As the old saying goes, "Iyou keep on repeating the great lie, people will believe you."
Many times we accept something, not because we figured it out or analyzed it but because it is accepted. When you learn, let's say, a small piece of Gemora and you perceive its depth and the fact that there is no end to that depth, and when you realize the wisdom of Torah is such that it never makes a mistake, and never fails, then the more you learn, the more you are convinced that it cannot be human. And if it is not human then the next step is Torah min hashomayim. So I get my chizuk that Torah is min hashomayim by learning.
The more I learn Torah, the more I know that it couldn't be a human product.
The wordשמע has many meanings. One meaning of שמע is to hear. Another meaning of שמע is to listen, to follow orders, and another meaning of שמע is to understand. When we say Shema Yisroel it is referring to all three meanings: we should hear, follow orders and understand that HaShem Elokim ...
"אם שמוע תשמעו" means the same; it means the understanding, it means the listening. The listening is shemiras hamitzvos. The understanding is Gemora. "ושמרתם את בריתי" is to learn Mishnayos and to know every word of Mishna by heart. "אם שמוע תשמעו בקולי" is to be mifalpel in the Gemora in order to understand what the Mishna says. And then "והייתם סגולה" you will keep yourself separate from other peoples. You will not adopt the ways of other nations; you will know that you have your own and thereby you will be my treasure.
Then the Ribbono Shel Olom says, "That is what you will do; now, what will I do for you?" "והייתם ממלכת כהנים וגוי קדוש- And you will be to Me a mamleches kohanim and a holy nation".
"This is what you should say to Bnei Yisroel", Rashi says, no more and no less. Just as you train a salesman to say no more and no less, so the Ribbono Shel Olom trained Moshe Rabainu and told him, "This is your sales talk, no more and no less."
Rashi explains that "Beis Yaakov" refers to the women. To them you shall say it in a soft way. "Bnei Yisroel" refers to the men. Say it to them - strongly, sharply. But if Moshe Rabbainu has only the one sales pitch, how can he say to the women one thing and to the men something else? The answer is that this is the nature of Torah... there is no word in the Torah which was not given together with its Torah she'balpeh.
When you start learning (first grade or second grade) you start learning Chumash. I used to insist on having a Chumash with Rashi. The kids couldn't read Rashi, but they know what it is. Their eyes should get used to the fact that there is no Torah she'bichtav without Torah she'balpeh: Torah she'balpeh is halacha, Torah she'balpeh is agadah.
Kovod Hatorah - realizing and respecting the real nature of Gemora
She'hosif Moshe yom echod m'daato (Shemos 15:15 -Rashi) vehiskim HaKodesh Boruch Hu imo (Shabbos 87a).The Gemora says that Moshe Rabainu made a kal v'chomer. Moshe Rabainu said that rather than Klal Yisroel receiving the Torah one day earlier, instead Klal Yisroel should prepare itself one day more for Kabbolas HaTorah. And the Gemora attests that HaKodesh Boruch Hu agreed to Moshe Rabainu's addition.
If you are not prepared to learn Torah, if you do not realize when you are learning that it is divrei HaShem, if you are not learning Torah b'tahara or b'kedusha then it is not the Torah it is meant to be. If a person opens a Gemora and he does not realize that Gemora is full of the names of HaShem, if a person doesn't understand that he must treat his Gemora with respect, his Torah is less. That is Moshe Rabbeinu's lesson - that it is better to have the Torah given to Klal Yisroel one day later, and then, as the Gemora says in Megilla, let them be better prepared and let them develop within themselves the ability to esteem, to value and to honor and respect Torah.
K'vod Torah is even greater than Torah. People don't realize this because usually people learning in a beis medrash are so preoccupied with the trees, they do not look at the forest. So seldom does someone in a beis medrash attempt to gain a bird's eye view.
We seem to have picked this up from the Maskilim who had historians and researchers who were not interested in knowing the emess. Their only interest was in building theories; like Darwin who sought a theory to contradict emunah in Hashem. So they built theories that mishnayos originated from Rabainu HaKodesh, maybe Rabbi Akiva, maybe Rabbi Meir. Some hypothesized maybe Hillel, but not before. But we have to understand that Moshe Rabainu learned mishnayos. This is evident in the beginning of parshas Mishpatim from Rashi and from Rashi in Mesechet Eruvin 21b where he states that Shlomo HaMelech made a masorah for mishnayos.
The Masora of the Mishna
What is a mishna? It is a text in the format of our written text, but it was not written down initially. It was geared towards helping transmit the oral law from man to man, verbally. The text is basically unchanged as see from our sages (Chazal) who retained the same text which they learned as students from their Rebbeim. This is evident from the 3rd Mishna in the 1st chapter of Eduyot (pg. 2a): "Hillel says that a full hin of drawn water renders a mikvah unfit, but a man is compelled to speak in the language of his teacher..."
The Vilna Gaon explains that Hillel's teachers, namely Shemayah and Avtalyon, were converts who could not pronounce a `hay' and had to add the word 'full' (maley) to prevent any misconceptions through their verbal transmission of this mishna. Hillel pointed this out and thereby taught us fundamental principles. One is not permitted to omit a single word in the text learned from a Rebbe and he warned us to prevent someone from inserting a meaning for the seemingly redundant word.
This latter point is further stressed by the fact that even an extra letter such as a `vav' found within a mishna must be analyzed to seek out a meaning. Every nuance in a mishna, every letter, has significance. This is how all the Torah is embedded within the mishnayos.
For example, from where in Mishna do we learn the principle that we do not extract money from an individual based on following the majority trend? Let us study the beginning of the 3rd chapter in Baba Kamma (27a), where the mishna states: "If one leaves a jug in a public domain and a second person stumbled over it, and broke it, he is exempt from payment of damages. If he is injured by it, the owner of the barrel is liable to pay for the injury."
The Gemora, which is a commentary on the mishna, asks "How can one start with a jug and conclude with a barrel ?"
Other similar cases are brought and then it states: "Rav Papa said that the same container is sometimes called a jug and sometimes a barrel." What is the significance? The answer is that the significance is regarding buying and selling. It cannot be talking about a place where a jug is never called a barrel and a barrel is never called a jug as these two terms are specific and distinct. It must apply to a place where although the majority of people refer to a jug as a jug and to a barrel as a barrel, yet there is a minority who call a barrel a jug and a jug a barrel. In such a situation, I may be inclined to say that the law follows the majority. Therefore the mishna tells us that we do not follow the majority. We understand from this that it is a general rule that we do not follow the majority trend in legal monetary matters."
What would be a purchase? Someoneplaced an order a hundred barrels and paid in advance. The next morning the seller delivered a hundred jugs, which are smaller than barrels. The buyer protested and demanded his money back. The seller answethat he did not undthe buyer to mean actual barrels as he (the sel) is one of that minority group of people who to barrels as jugs and therefore he obligated himself only to supply jugs and hence refused to return the money.
The buyer answered that according to the majority of people who deal in this field, a barrel is a barrel and a jug is a jug. The seller claimed that he is not from the majority and being that he has the money and full proof is required to legally extract money we will apply this rule and decide that the buyer does not retrieve his money, but loses.
Thus the mishna teaches us that in money matters we can not extract money based on a majority. We require full proof. Where is this ruling evident in our mishna? Simply from the fact that it starts with a jug as the object and ends with a barrel. This is sufficient for our mishna to hint to the ruling that we have just learned. This is how laws or rulings are sometimes presented in the mishna. Thus, one has to undertake much research to uncover everything that a mishna potentially discloses.
Rashi said that you shall guard the Torah because within the mishna is the guard. It is the same as having a written text which contains everything. All we are required to do is to research it and this is what the Gemora does for us. When Moshe Rabainu came and taught the "Dor Ha Midbar" the Torah, he also taught the mishnayos - a concise formula which contains a huge amount of information which has to be thoroughly investigated and deeply analyzed, constantly. If there is a word which does not seem to be precise, which needs to be delved into, one will find something under it.
The basic requirement is that one has to know the mishna. Afterwards one endeavors to understand it, but, first and foremost, one must know the mishna. So Hashem said to Moshe Rabainu, "Don't satisfy yourself with letting them depart when they know the mishna. Try and make them understand it, teach them the meaning of the mishna. First they should learn the text and then you should try and teach them what the text means."
Let us look at the Rashi at the beginning of parshas Mishpatim (Shmos 21:1). HaKodesh Baruch Hu said to Moshe that he should not entertain the thought that he will learn the Mishnayos with them 2 or 3 times until it will be fluent in their mouths (the text of the mishna), but he will not exert himself to make them understand the reasoning behind the mishna. Hashem rejects this notion and says, "Serve it before them as a table which is set and prepared before a person, ready for him to eat from it. "
The mishnayos contain everything but it is analogous to raw food which cannot be used yet. One has to "cook it" or learn the Gemora. Then it is a table that is set before a person and prepared for eating.
The original Mishnayos
Are the mishnayos we have exactly the same as that taught by Moshe Rabainu?
At the beginning of Baba Kamma (2a) it states a few basic categories (avos) of damages. The ox, the pit, Ha'maveh and fire. Ha' shor (the ox) is a term which we know how to translate. Ha'bor (the pit) we also know how to translate. Ha'heveor (the fire) we can also deal with. With Ha'maveh we have trouble.
In the Gemora the meaning of ha'maveh is the subject of an argument between Rav and Shmuel. Rav claimed that maaveh denotes man, whereas Shmuel claims that it denotes the damage caused by the animal tooth and each supports his view with a possuk from Tanach. Because the origin of the mishna is so old, later generations were not clear about the vocabulary. Thus we lost the meaning of words.
There's another Gemora where Rabbi Akiva clarifies the meaning of a phrase in Bereishis (50:5) where Yaakov said to Joseph "Bury me in their burying place asher koreisi lee...." Rabbi Akiva stated that when he was traveling overseas he found people who used the term koreisi to denote a sale. Therefore he knew that the passage means, "The grave that I purchased."
So we see that even during Rabbi Akiva's era the meaning of some words, even from Chumash, were lost - likewise in the Mishna. So we can appreciate why they were seeking the meaning of "מבעה" from Tanach. The Gemora (Baba Kama 6b) continues that maybe מבעה denotes fire, based on a possuk from Yeshiah 64:1 "As when the melting fire burns, fire causes water to bubble."
But the Gemora continues further by asking "How can you say that `maaveh' is fire ? It says hever (fire). If you are going to say that `hever' (fire) is the translation of `maaveh' we will end up with only three varieties, whereas there are four principle categories listed."
If not for the proof from the mishna that maaveh and hever are 2 separate categories (two fathers...) the Gemora could have assumed that מבעה is הבער (fire) and the latter is a translation of `מבעה' which a rebbe in a beis medrash added as a translation. Thus מבעה would be from the original text and we would assume that הבער is a later addition because a man is compelled to speak in the language of his teacher so he could not exclude מבעה so he added הבער.
There are other similar Gemoras which also indicate that a repetitive word is used to translate a preceding word. This provides an insight into how the present-day mishna developed. There is the basic mishna given to Moshe Rabainu at Mount Sinai that is very short, but later generations added words to clarify certain aspects of the text. For example, whenever "כיצד" (" how") is found in a mishna, it introduces an explanation to the preceding text.
Another example is found in the mishna in the second chapter of Shabbat which those who daven nusach Ashkenaz say every Shabbat evening during tefilla: "With what may we light (the Shabbat lamp)...not with tallow (hard fatty animal tissues which the Torah forbids for food consumption Vayikra 7:23). Nachum the Modai says that we may light with boiled tallow, but the Sages say that whether boiled or raw, we may not light it (with tallow)."
So this mishna includes an addition. The original mishna stated, "...not with tallow". Later a disagreement between Tanaim emerged about the meaning of tallow in the mishna, whether it includes raw tallow or not. So the argument was added to the mishna. There are many similar examples of disagreements arising regarding the meaning of a preceding word in the text.
Additions arose from almost every beis medrash and students followed their rebbe's text. Therefore, at the time of Rabainu HaKodesh there were a large number of parallel mishnayos where the essence of Moshe Rabainu's text was intact but the additions varied a little. Rabainu Ha Kodesh selected the most concise mishnayos and he made a seder of Mishnayos for Klal Yisroel. This is our seder of mishnayos which Rabainu HaKodesh guaranteed contains the whole Torah.
The remaining texts remained outside our official seder. These are our baraisas. (Baraisa means "מין הבר" - from outside.) Rashi says in Chullin (12b, 13a) that if an Amora says something and we see it in a Mishna, we say, "What is he telling us? It's a Mishna!" But we do not question if he said something we find in a baraisa, as we do not expect him to know all of the Baraisas.
Some sages said that they could remember a longer and more explicit text. This is the Tosefta which incorporates and is consistent with our mishna. Rashi also stated that Levi, a talmud of Rabainu Ha Kodesh, made a set of Toseftas for himself, so that he could learn from them.
This provides a picture of the origin of our mishnayos which incorporate the untouched portions from HaKodesh Baruch Hu as given to Moshe Rabainu. To discern which portions are the untouched parts of the original mishna is a difficult task but there are seforim (Doros haR, T'kufas ha'Mishna, T'kufas ha'Tanach), which accomplish this task, covering nearly half of our mishnayos.
The author of Doros haRishonim was Rabbi YitzHaLevi Rabinovitz, who was the founder of Agudas Yisroel. He was a gaon and a close friend of HaRav Chaim Soloveitchik, z"l, and HaRav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky,z"l. He was a businessman who lived iBud Homburg (near Frank). HaRav Yitzchak HaLevi was the onewho said that we have to fight the maskilim, so he inAgudas Yisroel to unite the religious forces into an organized unit, especially because of Zionism. At the same time he wrote many deeply researched historical works where he quoted and exposed the falsifications of the maskilim. In these works he went through many mishnayos where he showed the basic text and explained the text. The seforim he wrote are difficult reading because they entail analyses and complex proofs, but they are interesting.
The conditions for learning Torah
Actually, there are two conditions for learning Torah: One condition is that I am to understand what I'm learning; to understand to the limit of my capacity. It says "קול השם בכח - בכוחות של כל אחד ואחד". I am not expected to understand to the depths of the Vilna Gaon. I am not the Vilna Gaon. But I am expected to understand on my level of intelligence; this is what is expected of me.
The second condition is that I must learn the Torah with the intention to live up to it. Without this, the Torah is a shell, it has no life. This is the other condition of learning Torah: That when I learn about something, I store it away within me to fulfill when the occasion or the season will come.
We have to know that there is "
Torah has no special time. You can learn Torah at all times. You can learn Pesachim today. But you must practice the mitzva in the appropriate time.
He says, "Learn Torah at all times, and the mitzva store away to apply it when the time will come". This is how Torah learning should be. If somebody learns Torah and he learns about Pesach and he does not intend to fulfill the mitzvos of Pesach, his Torah is not Torah; it is disqualified. The intention to store away the mitzva, to do it when the time will come makes it Torah; without it, it's not even Torah.
We have to understand that the aim of learning is knowing Torah. But the condition of learning is "To learn in order to do!" I can learn Torah today about things for which the conditions of their fulfillment may never arise - but I have to learn Torah. I have to know what the Torah tells us; because the Ribono Shel Olom wants our brains to be enriched with the knowledge of Torah.
For example, it says that when Moshe Rabainu was told about building the Mishkan - the Tabernacle - he was told about the Menora (candelabra). The Chumash tells us that there is a great deal of artistry and craftsmanship that goes into the Menora. It also must be created out of one piece, not from individual pieces that are then put together. It is a very difficult item to craft.
Rashi says that Moshe Rabbainu was unable to make it, so Hashem told him, "Don't worry - take a piece of gold; throw it into the furnace, it will come out as required." So it was formed by a miracle because Moshe Rabbainu couldn't make it.
Then it says, "And Hashem said to Moshe, `And look and understand, and learn all the details of it.'" Why did Moshe have to learn the details? It was produced by a miracle anyway.
The answer is that every mitzva of the Torah is given for the human being - for his essence of being human.
Who is the human being? My hands are my tools. It's not me. Who is me? Even my brain may be my tool. I have tools which are farther away from my personality and tools which are closer to my personality. My hand is far from my personality. My personality is totally intangible. You know what that means? My hand is totally tangible. But my brains, my intelligence, which are intangible, may also be tools of mine. I still don't know what I am. But my intelligence is a much closer tool to the personality than my hands or my nose.
Torah was given to us so that all our tools should be used for Torah. So therefore we have Mitzvos for our hands, Mitzvos for our mouths, and Mitzvos for our brains. Those Mitzvos for our brains are much closer to our personality than the Mitzvos for our hands. Learning Torah is the Mitzva which is for our sechel. So if the Torah tells us we have to make a menora, there is the physical menora and there is the image of the menora in our brains.
We have the Mitzvos of putting on t'zitzis. But we have also the t'zitzis in our brains. When? When I learn the halacha of t'zitzis. When I learn the Gemora of t'zitzis, I have the t'zitzis in my brain. The same is with the sukka and the lulav. The physical Mitzvos of the lulav is taking the lulav in my hand and waving it. The place of the sukka in my brain comes about by learning Mesechta Sukka.
So therefore, the aim of learning Torah is to introduce the Torah into our brains. I don't introduce the Torah of Tefilin into my brains by putting the Tefilin on the hand. But I do it with understanding the dinim of Tefilin. By learning the laws of Tefilin, I bring it into my brains.
The aim of Torah is knowing it, learning it. But the condition of Torah is living up to the Mitzvos by intending to perform them. If you learn a Mitzva and you don't intend to live up to it, that Torah is lifeless. So the condition of learning is to be ready to fulfill what we learn. The aim of learning is learning. We have to distinguish between the aim and the condition... This we see clearly from the Gemora and from the Rishonim.
Therefore, if I learn Torah and I say I can't fulfill the Mitzvos because I have to learn Torah, my Torah is not good. But then there are regulations. The Rambam says the following: If somebody is studying Torah and there is a Mitzva to be done, if that Mitzva can be taken care of by somebody else, do not interrupt. If it's something that nobody else can do for you, interrupt, do your Mitzva, and then go back to your learning...
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