Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: Teaching/Learning Torah, A Uniquely Jewish Activity

In case you haven't noticed, I often start a TftD with a personal anecdote.  Today, though, I am saving the personal anecdote till the end, since it helped me understand an interesting halacha.  Instead, I'll start of with halachic anecdotes I heard from R' Fuerst, shlita.

Anecdote #1: A frum Israeli soldier was scheduled for a watch on the first night of Pesach.  He would have time to do the seder and say the Hagadah; that wasn't the problem.  His problem was that it isn't much fun to saying the Hagadah to himself.  While we don't usually worry if a mitzvah is fun to perform or not, the recitation of the Hagadah is a bit different.  The whole mitzvah is to engage even/especially the children and bring them -- and ourselves -- to a sense of wonder and excitement about the tremendous fortune with which we have been blessed by being Jewish.  The soldier was not going to be alone, but would be on duty with another soldier who was non-Jewish.  He wanted to know if it he could explain the seder to his non-Jewish friend.  He was told, no.  Even though non-Jews are also obligated to believe in G-d and the miraculous events surrounding Klal Yisrael's redemption from the slavery of Mitzrayim and receiving the Torah.  But, no; he may not learn the Hagadah with a non-Jew.

Anecdote #2:  A certain talmid chacham was getting older and his eye sight we failing badly.  He needed someone to read the gemara to him.  Try as he might, he was not able to find a Jew with the necessary skills and time in his schedule to help.  He was, however, able to find a non-Jew.  Even though it is forbidden to teach the Oral Law to a non-Jew, he asked if this would be permitted, so that he would be able to learn.  The answer in this case was: 100% permitted.

Why the seemingly contradictory p'sak halacha in the two cases?  In the first case, the essence of the mitzvah is the exchange of ideas.  Since it is forbidden to teach the Oral Law to a non-Jew, he can't participate in that activity.  In the second case, the essence of the mitzvah is to learn from the words.  The talmid chacham is doing that himself when he hears the words and contemplates their meaning, consequences, and connections.  The fact that that non-Jew may be doing that himself is not a problem.

Underlying all this, though, is the fact that it is forbidden for a Jew to teach the Oral Law to a non-Jew.  I wondered why.  It is intellectually stimulating and is beautifully logical; what's the harm?  That's the harm.

In college, I started as a chemistry major.  After a year or so, I (and my professors) realized that I was a physicist at heart; I made known that I was switching majors.  There was one last chemistry class that I wanted to take, however: glass blowing.  I really enjoyed experimental science and thought it would be so cool to even be able to make my own glassware.  I was denied admission to the class.  Why?  I was told, "We are not teaching glass blowing as an arts and crafts project; we are teaching it as an aid to chemists to get their job done.  You have decided to be a physicist, so you don't need this training."  End of story.

Learning and teaching Torah is not an intellectual exercise.  It is rather the life blood of being Jewish.  We are not teaching and learning Torah for its intellectual stimulation nor to appreciate its beautiful, delicate, and intricate logic.  A non-Jew has decided to be not Jewish; so he has no connection to Torah.  Not a condemnation, just the facts.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Using a Mitzvah Object for Non-Mitzvah Purposes

As I am -- Baruch HaShem -- getting older, I am more cognizant of the fact that I'd like to stay as healthy as possible right up the moment I leave this world.  Stuff hurting is not the problem (I am told there is an old Russian saying that once you are 40, if you wake up and nothing hurts -- you're dead), stuff not working, however, is a problem.  To that end, for several years now I commute to work by bicycle (weather permitting, 30 minutes on an elliptical machine when weather does not permit).  I recently took up some upper body weight training.  Not because I want to be governor of California, just simply to slow down loss of bone mass and extend my body's healthy span.  Simple hishtadlus.  I have an 18 month old grandson who is just the right weight for arm curls (yes... I am that weak), so I do about 10 reps when I greet him at night.  He laughs, I get my exercise; all good.  (Main problem is explaining to the older ones why zeidy can't give them the same "…

Thought for the Day: Thanking HaShem Each and Every Day for Solid Land Near Water

Each and every morning, a Jew is supposed to view himself as a new/renewed creation, ready for a new day of building his eternal self through Torah and mitzvos.  We begin the day with 16 brachos to praise/thank/acknowledge HaShem for giving us all the tools we need to succeed.  We have a body, soul, and intellect.  We have vision, mobility, and protection from the elements.  Among those brachos, we have one that perhaps seems a bit out of place: רוקע הארץ על המים/Who spreads out the land on/over the water.  After all, it's nice to have a dry place to walk, but does that compare to the gratitude I have for a working body and vision?  As it turns out, I should; as explained by the R' Rajchenbach, rosh kollel of Kollel Zichron Eliyahu (aka, Peterson Park Kollel).  Your best bet is to listen to the shiur; very distant second is to continue, which I hope will whet your appetite for the real thing.

First... since we have dry land, I don't have to slog to work through even a foot…

Thought for the Day: Hydroponically Grown Humans... I Feel Sick

I am quite openly not at all objective about abortion in particular and the treatment of human embryos and fetuses in general.  I am, after all, the survivor of a failed abortion attempt.  Not "thought about it, but couldn't go through with it"; not "made appointment, but then chickened out at the lost moment"; but, "tried a procedure, but was unsuccessful in attempt to abort".  Nonetheless, I try very hard to listen to the liberal arguments (which I also used to chant as part of the general liberal catechism), and am genuinely empathetic to the plight of women who find themselves in that difficult position.

What I heard on NPR this morning, however, has left me feeling physically ill.  You can read about it, if you like, but here's the bottom line:  Scientists in Cambridge have achieved a new record, they fertilized a human ova and then kept it alive in vitro (that is, in a test tube/petri dish in a laboratory) for 14 days.  The scientist involve…