February 28, 2023

Nedarim 81

Today’s daf (Nedarim 81a) delineates five contributory factors which are apparently part of the divine ‘calculations’ and ‘considerations’ as to why Torah scholars oftentimes find that their children don’t assume the same level of passion and competence for Torah study as themselves.
But before I address these calculations and considerations, it is essential to emphasise that these insights are, at best, just ‘contributory factors’ because, ultimately, we are each given free will. Still, I believe that what we learn from here is that this was a sufficiently familiar phenomenon that it deserved a discussion about it. Moreover, I also think that these five contributory factors inform us about various social issues which continue to arise especially when considering how less learned/less religious people relate to more learned/more religious people and vice versa.
We begin with Rav Yosef who claims that this is, שֶׁלֹּא יֹאמְרוּ תּוֹרָה יְרוּשָּׁה הִיא לָהֶם – ‘so that they won’t say that Torah is an inheritance to them’ and which is understood in two ways. Firstly, so that the children of Torah scholars don’t simply think that Torah knowledge will come to them without sufficient study and effort. And secondly, so that the less knowledgeable/less religious people don’t think that Torah is just for some groups of Jews and not the inheritance of all Jews.
According to Rav Shisha the son of Rav Idi, it is כְּדֵי שֶׁלֹּא יִתְגַּדְּרוּ עַל הַצִּבּוּר – ‘so that they should not be presumptuous toward the community’, meaning that this is to avoid an outcome where the children of Torah scholars becoming conceited.
According to Mar Zutra, this is מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהֵן מִתְגַּבְּרִין עַל הַצִּבּוּר – ‘so that they do not domineer over the public’, meaning that this is to avoid certain families becoming regarded as the sole voice of ‘Daat Torah’ (the knowledge of Torah) in Jewish discourse.
Rav Ashi answers this question by saying that this, מִשּׁוּם דְּקָרוּ לְאִינָשֵׁי ״חֲמָרֵי״ – because such children, whose parents are Torah scholars and who are regarded by others as Torah scholars, can sometimes become so full of themselves that they treat less knowledgeable/religious Jews with disdain – as expressed by the fact that they often refer to the less knowledgeable/less religious with derogatory terms such as ‘donkeys’.
Finally, Ravina explains that this is because שֶׁאֵין מְבָרְכִין בַּתּוֹרָה תְּחִלָּה – meaning that ‘such people do not recite the blessings on the Torah before studying Torah’. Significantly, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t actually recite those brachot. Instead, as various commentaries explain, it means that these children treat Torah as a commodity rather than as a sacred source of wisdom.
Personally, I believe that these five concerns should be on the mind of every single learned/religious parent who is doing their best to raise learned/religious children. At the same time, I believe that every parent should do whatever they can to raise their children with sufficient sensitivity to others and with such good middot (character traits) that these concerns are not realised.
Given this, if you fall within this category, then please take some time to ask yourself what you are doing and what you can be doing to sidestep these real and harmful spiritual landmines, and then do whatever you can to bring those ideas into your daily discourse and your daily activities with your child/children.
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