Most of us have seen books, articles and videos where well-known authors, athletes, musicians, home-organisers, and models offer insights into their writing, training, practicing, organising and beauty rituals. And why might someone choose to read such books and articles or watch such videos? Because we view these people as experts, and we consider their advice to be ‘pro-tips’, and if we are reading or watching this material, it is probably because we’d like to become more accomplished in that field.
Having said all this, I’d like to reference the Mishna (Nedarim 10:4) in today’s daf (Nedarim 72b) which begins by informing us that דֶּרֶךְ תַּלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים – ‘it is the practice of Torah scholars’, that עַד שֶׁלֹּא הָיְתָה בִּתּוֹ יוֹצְאָה מֵאֶצְלוֹ, אוֹמֵר לָהּ – ‘before one’s daughter would leave home to marry her husband, her father would say to her’, כׇּל נְדָרִים שֶׁנָּדַרְתְּ בְּתוֹךְ בֵּיתִי הֲרֵי הֵן מוּפָרִין – “All vows that you vowed in my house are hereby revoked”.
As Rabbi Yosef Engel explains in his Gilyonei HaShass, the releasing of vows of a daughter before she marries is a practice that is appropriate for all parents. However, the reason why the Mishna mentioned Torah scholars is that it is they who are particular in adhering to this practice. In fact, Rabbi Engel then references numerous other teachings in the Gemara where such ‘pro-tips’, practiced by Torah scholars but not limited to them, are mentioned.
Interestingly, many books either by – or more often, about – certain religious figures, contain sections about their ‘hanhagot’ – meaning their ‘practices’ in terms of their religious ritual observance or in terms of their interpersonal behaviour, and this is done in the same spirit to let readers know that this is what this particular individual did which may serve as inspiration to others.
For example, R’ Aaron Adler recounts (in his ‘Seventy Conversations in Transit’ p. 167) how, on occasion, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik would eat his lunch in the Yeshiva University cafeteria, at which time, ‘he would wait on line with his tray like anyone else. The students on line felt very uncomfortable about this and would leave the line in order to allow the Rav to move up to the checkout counter as quickly as possible. The Rav, however, was very adamant that all the students return to the line, and that he would wait his turn. He did not want to exploit his position at YU for personal gain.’
Similarly, Rav Soloveitchik once offered an insight into his mother – Rebbetzin Pesha Soloveitchik’s – ‘hanhagot’, stating: ‘I used to have long conversations with my mother. In fact, it was a monologue rather than a dialogue. She talked and I “happened” to overhear. What did she talk about? I must use an halakhic term in order to answer this question: she talked me-inyana de-yoma. I used to watch her arranging the house in honor of a holiday. I used to see her recite prayers; I used to watch her recite the sidra every Friday night and I still remember the nostalgic tune. I learned from her very much. Most of all I learned that Judaism expresses itself not only in formal compliance with the law but also in a living experience. She taught me that there is a flavor, a scent and warmth to mitzvot. I learned from her the most important thing in life—to feel the presence of the Almighty and the gentle pressure of His hand resting upon my frail shoulders. Without her teachings, which quite often were transmitted to me in silence, I would have grown up a soulless being, dry and insensitive.’
Personally, I draw much wisdom from this type of literature; it is the literature not of listing ‘halachot’ (laws) but of describing ‘halichot’ (ways), and as I recently explained to a client, for an individual or for a family to be spiritually balanced, both are needed.