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KAVOD TALMID CHACHAM

Devarim 4:4 states that those who cleave unto God are all alive today.1The Hebrew verb that is used to express this bonding has the root davak which, as Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch points out, expresses “the closest attachment to someone else.” To demonstrate this point, Rabbi Hirsch quotes the famous verse of Bereishit 2:24, v’davak b’eishto, which directs a husband to cleave unto his wife. As evidenced, though, by its use in this verse, the implication of the word davak is that this attachment must also have a physical dimension. This is the nature of the human being; the closest bonds must have both spiritual and physical elements. It is thus not surprising that T.B. Ketubot 111b questions the use of the root davak in this verse. The gemara asks: How is it possible to cleave unto the Shechina, the Presence of God, who (as Devarim 4:24 states) is “a consuming fire?”2

             The gemara answers: “Any man who marries his daughter to a [Torah] scholar, or carries on a trade on behalf of scholars, or benefits scholars from his estate is regarded by Scripture as if he had cleaved to the divine presence.”3 Essentially what the gemara is stating is that one bonds to God through one’s bonding with talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars. This bonding can assume many different manifestations4 with, perhaps, the most powerful being the welcoming of a scholar as a member of the family through marriage with one’s daughter.5 This example of marriage is actually most indicative of the nature of the kavod talmid chacham, respect for the Torah scholar, that must be at the root of this concept of dveikut, bonding. In declaring that one’s connection to God is reflected in one’s relationship to the Torah scholar, even to the extent that one should wish to have a Torah scholar as one’s son-in-law, the Torah is declaring that it is in how one looks upon Torah wisdom and in how one respects the one who has acquired Torah wisdom, that one connects to God. We all wish to find pride in the life-partner that our children select. The gemara is informing us that our greatest pride6 should be found in the selection of a Torah scholar. It is through that emotion, the desire for Torah scholarship, that one connects to God.

             The path to God is, thus, through kavod talmid chacham, but what exactly is the nature of this concept as understood within the context of this verse. A review of Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Talmud Torah, chapters 5,6,7, where the laws of respecting Torah scholars are discussed, would seem to indicate that there are really three categories of respect found within the realm of kavod talmid chacham. One focuses on the unique kavod that one must have for his teacher. This respect is personal; it emerges from the world of Torah study that was shared between rebbi, teacher, and talmid, student. Another focuses on the unique kavod due the Torah leader or universal scholar – the gadol. This respect is communal; it reflects the important role of Torah in guiding the nation. There is, however, another area of kavod talmid chacham, one that simply reflects the respect for Torah itself. This is the nature of the respect that is being described in Devarim 4:4. It is not centred in the personal or in one’s relationships in learning.7 The verse is not describing how one should attempt to marry his daughter to his rebbi. It is also not based in the communal. The verse is also not describing how one should marry his daughter to a gadol.  The verse is stating that one should respect Torah study and Torah knowledge so that one wishes to have as a member of the family one who embodies limud haTorah. There is a base principle in Torah, one that is actually at the core of our desire to connect to God, and that is to respect Torah knowledge, respect the Torah housed within the human being.

             This principle may actually assist us in understanding the famous story, in T.B. Chagiga 15b, which discusses how Chazal intervened to bring Elisha ben Abouya, the heretic Acher who was considered to be one of the greatest scholars before he left the path of Torah, into Olam Habah. Indeed there was a personal element in this story; Rabbi Meir, Acher’s noted student, was instrumental in this process. There was also a communal element for Acher was one of the greatest Torah scholars. The focus of the story, though, is, simply, on his Torah study and Torah knowledge. One who possesses this Torah must proceed to Olam Habah. As an individual, Acher was not deserving of our respect; as the gemara points out, his array of sins should bar him from Olam Habah. Yet, he studied Torah and his being contained Torah knowledge; such an individual cannot remain outside of Olam Habah. It is Torah knowledge that is the key to our relationship with God.

             There is a most important lesson in this verse. We indeed are to respect gedolim, the great Torah scholars of our generation. We are, also, indeed to respect our rebbeim, those Torah teachers that have taught us and with whom we may have important personal relationships fostering our advancement in Torah. Both of these forms of kavod talmid chacham, though, include the communal and the personal. They affect us in manners beyond the simple realm of Torah knowledge itself. At the core of all three forms of kavod talmid chacham must still be the generic kavad haTorah, our respect for Torah itself. It is specifically in how we relate to our neighbour, the talmid chacham -- who is not a leader of the generation, with whom we may never learn and who actualizes his Torah in a manner that is different than our own -- that we find the path to how  to cleave unto God.

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht e-mail

Footnotes

1 In regard to the truth of this statement and the fact that even the righteous pass away, see T.B. Sanhedrin 90b which applies the verse to the Olam Habah, the Future World. The simple reading of this verse would seem to apply it specifically to the Baal Pe’or incident.

2 In actuality, Torah Temima, Devarim 4:4, note 2 does wonder about the nature of the gemara’s question and why davak cannot simply refer to deep soulful love. See, further, for his answer.

3 Translation from the Soncino edition.

4 See, further, Maharsha, Ketubot 111b.

5 Reference to Bereishit 2:24 clearly is to be noted.

6 Of course, this is beyond the obvious recognition that our greatest pride should be found in the personal, that our children find the special, singular individual who is truly bound to them.

7 Of course, the verse is encouraging a fostering of a personal relationship, specifically through advocating for a marriage between a daughter and a scholar, but that is after the fact. The first step, the desire to have a Torah scholar as a son-in-law, begins with the basic, generic respect for Torah knowledge. .

 

Nishma, 2007


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2006 NISHMA