Today’s daf (Ketubot 21b) relates how Rabbi Abba taught that a witness can become a judge. In response, Rav Safra challenged this ruling based on Mishna Rosh Hashanah 3:1. Rabbi Abba then replied to Rav Safra’s challenge saying אַף לְדִידִי קַשְׁיָא לִי, meaning “I also had this difficulty”. However, Rabbi Abba then informed Rav Safra that when this same question occurred to him, he approached Rav Yitzchak bar Shmuel bar Marta to discuss the matter. However, Rav Yitzchak was unsure of the answer to this question, so he then sought the opinion of Rav Huna. Incredibly, Rav Huna was also unsure about the answer to this question, so he sought the opinion of Hiyya bar Rav. And even by this point, Hiyya bar Rav wasn’t sure how to respond, and so he sought the opinion of Rav who then answered the question.
Reflecting on this episode, Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Friedman of Sadigura observes (in his sefer ‘Chayei Shlomo’): ‘[How impressive is this] that these great scholars were not embarrassed to say “I don’t know” such that each scholar asked another until the question reached Rav! There is so much we can learn from this!’
Yet even beyond the chain of questions that began with Rabbi Abba and that ended with Rav, we can also learn much from Rabbi Abba’s initial response to Rav Safra when he said: אַף לְדִידִי קַשְׁיָא לִי – “I also had this difficulty”. Instead of getting defensive when his halachic position was challenged, Rabbi Abba acknowledged the legitimacy of Rav Safra’s question and then shared with him how he had been diligent in finding an answer. Rather than arguing at each other, this constructive, collaborative and humble approach to halachic discourse meant that Rabbi Abba and Rav Safra became full partners in their discussion and pursuit of knowledge.
Only a fool thinks they know all the answers, and a greater fool is one who gets defensive when someone has, in good faith, raised a valid and substantive question that challenges their opinion. What we see from this series of exchanges is an example of the humility required for the pursuit of knowledge – an example that, in our generation where instead of taking our time to consider the virtues of the point raised by another we, instead, are so quick to attack – is crucially necessary for our time.