February 14, 2023

Nedarim 37

As a continuation of its explanation of Mishna Nedarim 4:3, yesterday’s daf (Nedarim 36b) quoted a statement of Shmuel that while a teacher may receive payment for teaching scripture (i.e. תורה שבכתב), they may not receive payment for teaching Midrash, [Halachot and Aggadot] (i.e. תורה שבעל פה). The question asked in today’s daf (Nedarim 37a) is what is the basis for this distinction?
The Gemara answers by citing two verses from Sefer Devarim. Firstly we read in Devarim 4:14 how Moshe, while reflecting back on when he stood atop Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, told the Jewish people: וְאֹתִי צִוָּה ה’ בָּעֵת הַהִוא לְלַמֵּד אֶתְכֶם חֻקִּים וּמִשְׁפָּטִים – ‘And the Lord commanded me at that time to teach you decrees and laws…’, and then it references Devarim 4:5 where Moshe tells the people, רְאֵה לִמַּדְתִּי אֶתְכֶם חֻקִּים וּמִשְׁפָּטִים כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוַּנִי ה’ אֱ-לֹהָי – ‘See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord My God commanded me’.
What we learn from this is that not only was Moshe cognizant of his responsibility to teach the people *what* God wanted him to teach, but that he was also committed to teach the people *how* God wanted him to teach them. Accordingly, the Gemara then states: מָה אֲנִי בְּחִנָּם – ‘just as I for free’, אַף אַתֶּם נָמֵי בְּחִנָּם – ‘so too you (plural) should be for free’.
Before we explain this cryptic response, it is important to consider how these two verses answer the question raised in our Gemara about the difference between teaching תורה שבכתב (the Written Torah) and תורה שבעל פה (the Oral Torah), and to do this, we need to understand who is Moshe in Sefer Devarim and what, ultimately, is Sefer Devarim? On this point Rav Soloveitchik (Chumash Mesoras HaRav on Devarim 1:1) offers a remarkable explanation:
‘The Gemara (Megillah 31a) refers to Sefer Devarim as Mishneh Torah…Originally, Sefer Devarim was given as Mishnah, as Torah Sheb’al Peh, the Oral Law. Only later, on the last day of Moshe’s life, do we read that Moshe finished writing the words of this Torah in a scroll, until their very completion (31:24). Sefer Devarim, which to that point had the status of Torah Sheb’al Peh, became incorporated into Torah Shebichsav, the Written Law. The phrase Mishneh Torah therefore means Mishnah (Oral Law) which is also Torah (Written Law). Although Sefer Devarim became part of Torah Shebichsav, it did not lose its Torah Sheb’al Peh character. Sefer Devarim thus has a double sanctity of both Torah Shebichsav and Torah Sheb’al Peh. In the first four books of the Torah, God addresses the community, while in Sefer Devarim it is Moshe who is addressing them. In the first four books, Moshe is the medium through which God addresses the people: Moshe served in the role of prophet, repeating verbatim what God told him. In Devarim, however, Moshe is not a prophet but a teacher: Moshe Rabbeinu. He imparted bei’ur hatorah, the explanation of the Torah, and thus it is Moshe himself who addresses the people.’
What this means is that the lesson about being a teacher of תורה שבעל פה could only truly come from Sefer Devarim because it is here where we encounter Moshe as Rabbeinu, and it is in Sefer Devarim where we are able to truly grasp what is תורה שבעל פה.
Having said this, we must now return to the words of מָה אֲנִי בְּחִנָּם – ‘just as I for free’, אַף אַתֶּם נָמֵי בְּחִנָּם – ‘so too you (plural) should be for free’. What does this mean?
Rav Soloveitchik (see Derashot HaRav p. 218; see also Chumash Mesoras HaRav on Devarim 4:5) addresses this statement on the basis of the Rambam (Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:7) who understands it to mean that Moshe was telling the people: ‘Just as I learned Torah for free [without having to remunerate God], so must you learn Torah for free [without remunerating the teacher]’.
There is, however, a problem with this explanation. As Rav Soloveitchik notes: ‘How can the concept of payment for teaching services rendered be remotely applied to the Master of the Universe? How can the Gemara compare a flesh-and-blood teacher who benefits from remuneration with God as Teacher Who most certainly does not?’
Rav Soloveitchik resolves this question with a profound explanation of what it means to learn Torah and to teach Torah: ‘we think that there are many teachers of Torah. Yet, there really is only One Rebbe, One Rosh Yeshivah, One Teacher: the מלמד תורה לעמו ישראל. The Voice of the Holy One resonates within the voice of every teacher of Torah. The Master of the Universe was our Teacher at Sinai, and remains our Teacher through the generations.’
What this means is that, as Rav Soloveitchik concludes, ‘the Rambam suggests that just as Moshe did not pay his Teacher, so are we similarly enjoined. Why? Because we all have the same Teacher.’
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