Today’s daf (Moed Katan 26a) informs us that קריעה should be performed not only on the death of one’s mother and father, but also on the death of one’s primary Torah teacher.
Significantly, this law is derived from the dramatic moment when Elisha parts ways with his teacher Eliyahu, at which time Elisha screams אָבִי אָבִי רֶכֶב יִשְׂרָאֵל וּפָרָשָׁיו – ‘Father! Father! The chariot of Israel and its riders!’. We are then told that Elisha, ‘grasped hold of his clothes and tore them in two’ (Melachim II 2:12).
Based on this verse, our Gemara deduces that from the words אָבִי אָבִי that קריעה should be performed on the death of a parent, and from the words רֶכֶב יִשְׂרָאֵל וּפָרָשָׁיו that קריעה should be torn on the death of one’s primary Torah teacher.
It should be clear to us how the former teaches us the law about tearing קריעה for parents, but how do we derive from the words רֶכֶב יִשְׂרָאֵל וּפָרָשָׁיו – ‘The chariot of Israel and its riders’ that this refers to a Torah teacher?
This question is addressed by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager in his She’erit Menachem (Vol. 2 pp. 90-91) who explains that a chariot is a vehicle that is used in warfare to pull all the heavy equipment such as canons which are then placed in a location to be used in battle, while riders are light-footed and can move around from place to place to investigate things, and overcome local tensions, by talking with people who are at war and by bringing them together in peace.
So too, a Torah teacher and leader needs to have both qualities of a chariot and its riders. They need to battle for Torah values, but they also need to work to unify different groups of people and bring peace between them.
This is why, continues Rabbi Hager, Elisha cries out רֶכֶב יִשְׂרָאֵל וּפָרָשָׁיו when Eliyahu leaves him, because there were times when Eliyahu addressed issues and people with forcefulness (such as when he challenges Ahav: “Have you murdered, and also seized possession?” – Melachim I 21:19), while there were other times when Eliyahu did whatever he could to achieve peace (such as “and he hitched up his tunic and ran before Ahav” – Melachim I 18:46).
Having explained this, Rabbi Hager then returns to the exchange between Elisha and Eliyahu, just before the latter ascends heavenward where, in response to Eliyahu’s question: מָה אֶעֱשֶׂה לָּךְ בְּטֶרֶם אֶלָּקַח מֵעִמָּךְ – ‘ask what I may do for you before I am taken from you’ (Melachim II 2:9), Elisha replies, וִיהִי נָא פִּי שְׁנַיִם בְּרוּחֲךָ אֵלָי – ‘if only twice your spirit would rest on me’ – which Rabbi Hager then explains to mean that this can be understood as referring to the dual qualities expressed in the words רֶכֶב יִשְׂרָאֵל וּפָרָשָׁיו – namely the ability to stand firm on matters of principle, and the commitment to do whatever it takes to bring about peace between people.