YESHIVAT HAR ETZION
ISRAEL KOSCHITZKY VIRTUAL BEIT MIDRASH (VBM)
Introduction to the Study of Talmud
by Rav Michael Siev
A scan of the classic printed daf can be found at:
Key words and phrases in Hebrew and Aramaic are marked in blue, and their translation/explanation can be seen by placing the cursor over them.
From time to time, the shiur will include instructions to stop reading and do some task on your own. This will be marked by a
Within the quoted texts, my explanations and additions are also noted in red.
Last week, we studied the gemara's discussion of the parameters of a father's obligation to teach his son Torah; what must he teach, and whether or not the obligation extends even to grandsons and possibly non-relatives as well. We resume with the gemara on 30a, 13 lines from the end of the short lines.
R' Yehoshua ben Levi said: Anyone who teaches his son's son Torah,
Scripture considers it as though he accepted it (Torah) from Mt. Sinai,
as it says: "And you shall make them known to your sons and your sons' sons,"
and it places next to it: "the day you stood before Hashem your God at Chorev."
R' Chiya bar Abba found R' Yehoshua ben Levi
that he put a sheet on his head and was bringing a child to the synagogue.
He said to him: What is all this?
He said to him: Is it small that which is states "And you shall make them known to your sons,"
and places next to it "the day you stood before Hashem your God at Chorev?"
From then on, R' Chiya bar Abba would not taste umtza
until he would have a child read (the lesson he learned previously) and add to it.
Rabba bar Rav Huna would not taste umtza
until he brought a child to the house of study.
אמר ריב"ל (רבי יהושע בן לוי): כל המלמד את בן בנו תורה,
מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו קבלה מהר סיני,
שנאמר: והודעתם לבניך ולבני בניך,
וסמיך ליה: יום אשר עמדת לפני ה' אלהיך בחורב.
רבי חייא בר אבא אשכחיה לריב"ל
דשדי דיסנא ארישיה וקא ממטי ליה לינוקא לבי כנישתא.
א"ל (אמר ליה): מאי כולי האי?
א"ל: מי זוטר מאי דכתיב והודעתם לבניך,
וסמיך ליה יום אשר עמדת לפני ה' אלהיך בחורב?
מכאן ואילך, רבי חייא בר אבא לא טעים אומצא,
עד דמקרי לינוקא ומוספיה.
רבה בר רב הונא לא טעים אומצא,
עד דמייתי לינוקא לבית מדרשא.
The gemara has already discussed whether or not a man is technically obligated to teach his grandson Torah, and has noted that even if no such formal obligation exists, it is still an important activity. The gemara here continues that theme. R' Yehoshua ben Levi teaches that one who teaches his grandson Torah can be compared to one who accepted the Torah at Chorev, which is another name for Mt. Sinai. He supports this comparison by citing a scriptural allusion: The pasuk states "and you shall make them known to your sons and your sons' sons" (Devarim 4:9), referring to Torah. The very next verse begins: "The day you stood before Hashem your God at Chorev. . ." R' Yehoshua ben Levi explains that this juxtaposition in meant not only to put into context the content of what one is to make known to his sons - that which was heard when we stood before God at Sinai - but also to teach us about the status of one who fulfills this task. One who makes the Torah known to his sons, or "sons' sons," is comparable to one who merited to actually accept the Torah from God Himself at Sinai. Presumably, this comparison is not simply a matter of the type of reward that one will receive, but explains as well the significance of what one has accomplished. When the Jewish people accepted the Torah, they established a covenant between themselves and God that applies for all time, including future generations. One who teaches not only his son but his grandson as well, similarly assures that this covenant will continue for all future generations.
The gemara continues with a story that shows how R' Yehoshua ben Levi himself took his own teaching to heart in a practical sense. R' Chiya bar Abba once found him bringing a child - from context, it seems that it was his grandson - to the child's studies with a sheet on his head. R' Chiya asked R' Yehoshua why he had rushed out without taking the time to even put on a more appropriate head-covering. R' Yehoshua ben Levi answered that he took very seriously the juxtaposition between making the Torah known to one's sons and grandsons and standing before God at Sinai. If teaching children Torah is such a significant enterprise, he should not take even an extra moment to dress himself before bringing a child to his studies.
R' Chiya bar Abba, having witnessed the example of R' Yehoshua ben Levi, changed his own behavior based on this teaching. From the time he had this conversation with R' Yehoshua ben Levi, R' Chiya bar Abba would not even eat breakfast before reviewing with a child (presumably, his grandson) the lesson the child had learned the previous day and adding at least a little bit new material. The gemara relates that Rabba bar Rav Huna would similarly not eat breakfast before bringing a child to the house of study. (Umtza, Rashi explains, was a type of roasted meat that was commonly eaten for breakfast.)
Back to the Gemara
The gemara continues with its discussion of the rules of talmud Torah (Torah study). We are on the last short line of 30a.
Rav Safra said in the name of R' Yehoshua ben Chanania,
what is (the meaning of) that which is written: "And you shall teach them thoroughly to your children?"
Do not read "you shall teach" but rather "you shall divide into thirds;"
one should always divide his years into thirds,
a third in Scripture, a third in Mishna, a third in Talmud.
Who knows how many years (he will live)?
No, it is necessary - for days.
אמר רב ספרא משום ר' יהושע בן חנניא,
מאי דכתיב: ושננתם לבניך?
אל תקרי ושננתם אלא ושלשתם;
לעולם ישלש אדם שנותיו,
שליש במקרא, שליש במשנה, שליש בתלמוד.
מי יודע כמה חיי?
לא צריכא - ליומי.
Rav Safra quotes R' Yehoshua ben Chanania's teaching on the verse "And you shall teach them thoroughly to your children" (Devarim 6:7), which refers to Torah. The word used in this verse, ve-shinantem (and you shall teach them thoroughly), though familiar because we say it in the shema, is a rather unusual formulation. The Torah could have used the word ve-shinitem, which means "to teach thoroughly" and also have implies "doubling." The addition of an additional nun in ve-shinantem adds another level. Therefore, R' Yehoshua explains that the word can be understood to imply ve-shilashtem, "you shall divide into thirds." This teaches that one should divide one's years into three sections with regard to the study of Torah; for one third of his life he should focus on Scripture, for the second third he should focus on the Mishna, and for the final third he should focus on Talmud. The gemara questions the relevance of such a teaching; since no one knows how long they will live, how can one endeavor to divide his years into three sections? The gemara answers that R' Yehoshua's teaching should not be applied to dividing the years of one's life, but rather one's "days."
What exactly is the meaning of dividing one's days? Rashi here (s.v. le-yomei) explains that this refers to the days of the week. Tosafot (s.v. lo) further explain Rashi's opinion: one should spend two days a week on Scripture, two days on Mishna and two days on Talmud. Tosafot question this explanation: we can again ask the gemara's question on the original formulation of R' Yehoshua's teaching! Since no one knows exactly how long he will live, how can one divide his learning time equally? Just as this question can be asked with regard to years, Tosafot argue, it can be asked with regard to days. Since one does not know what day of the week will be his last, he cannot possibly divide all of his days equally.
Presumably, Rashi would respond to Tosafot's question that whereas when it comes to years the potential miscalculation is quite significant, that is not the case regarding days. If one optimistically assumes he will live 120 years and divides them equally among the three areas of learning, it is conceivable that he will spend many fewer years on Talmud than he spent on Scripture; in fact, he may never get to Talmud at all. On the other hand, if one divides every week into thirds and eventually ends his time in this world on a Tuesday, he has still been quite successful in allotting equal amounts of time to the three courses of study.
Tosafot, however, suggest a different approach: when the gemara says "for days," it does not mean that one should dedicate two days of the week to each of the areas of study, but rather that one should divide his time on each and every day. They further assert that Rav Amram Gaon, based on our gemara, established particlar sections of Scripture, Mishna and Talmud that one should say every day before pesukei de-zimra (the "verses of praise" in the morning prayer service); sections which can, in fact, be found in our siddurim at the end of "korbanot". They also quote Rabbeinu Tam, who defends the custom to spend all of one's learning time on Talmud; since the Talmud includes pesukim and mishnayot, one can fulfill one's entire obligation through the study of Talmud.
How does Tosafot's answer work? If we are to demand absolute equality of time between the different areas, couldn't one ask the gemara's question of "who knows how long he will live" regarding their explanation as well?
And how are we to understand the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam? Can anyone argue that one studies equal amounts of Scripture, Mishna and Talmud while studying the Talmud?!
It is clear from Tosafot's answer that they view the R' Yehoshua ben Chanania's rule in an entirely different manner than Rashi understood it. That was the point of their question on Rashi; we should not interpret R' Yehoshua's teaching as requiring one to spend exactly equal amounts of time on each of the three areas of study, for it is impossible to ever ensure that this will really happen. Rather, R' Yehoshua was teaching that one should make sure to spend at least some amount of time every day studying Scripture, Mishna and Talmud. One's day would not be complete without an encounter with each area of Torah study.
Interestingly, the Rambam (Hilkhot Talmud Torah 1:11-12) seems to take a compromise view. He agrees with Tosafot that the unit involved here is the day, that one should spend time each day studying each area of Torah. However, he agrees with Rashi that one is to divide one's time equally. Thus, one should spend equal amounts of time each day studying each area. However, the Rambam limits the application of this set of guidelines; it only applies until one is well versed in each area of Torah. Once one has mastered Scripture and Mishna, he should devote only a minimal amount of time per day to these areas, and spend the rest of his learning time on Talmud.
We can infer that the Rambam understands the point of R' Yehoshua's teaching differently than Tosafot understand it. According to the Rambam, R' Yehoshua's ruling is meant to ensure that one masters each area of Torah. Tosafot, on the other hand, believe that the point was to ensure that one did not go through a day without studying at least a little bit of each area of Torah. This is clear from the practical rulings that we mentioned above in the name of Rav Amram Gaon and Rabbeinu Tam. Clearly, one will not master all of Torah by studying the same chapter each day, as instituted by Rav Amram. Similarly, one will never become fluent in Scripture and Mishna through the study of Talmud.
One further point should be noted with regard to R' Yehoshua ben Chanania's ruling. When the gemara refers to mikra, Scripture, it is clearly referring to the Tanakh, the Bible. However, the terms "Mishna" and "Talmud" are somewhat more confusing, as they do not refer in a narrow sense to the works that we call by those names. Rambam (Hilkhot Talmud Torah 1:11), when he quotes this statement, does not refer to "Mishna" but rather to "Torah she-ba'al peh," the Oral Torah. The term Mishna is used because, in Talmudic times, it was memorized as the basic text of halakhic teachings of the Oral Torah. In fact, the Shulchan Arukh Ha-rav (Hilkhot Talmud Torah 2:1) rules that nowadays, this part of R' Yehoshua ben Chanania's teaching should be understood as referring to the Shulchan Arukh and its commentaries; he interprets "Mishna" to mean halakhic rulings, and since the primary sources for practical halakha nowadays are the Shulchan Arukh and its commentaries, the modern application of "Mishna" is to study those works.
Similarly, the gemara does not refer to the specific work of the Babylonian Talmud when it says "Talmud," as that work was not yet completed when R' Yehoshua ben Chanania made his statement! Rather, if Mishna refers to the "bottom-line" halakha, Talmud refers to the sources and analyses of these rulings. Certainly, the discussions of the Babylonian Talmud fulfill this requirement, but it is not the only way to do so. Many of the commentaries on the Talmud also fall under this category.