March 14, 2021

Pesachim 112

Today’s daf (Pesachim 112a) contains a stunning expression that exquisitely captures the passion and emotions of a teacher.

To give some context, we are told that Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, who was a student of Rabbi Akiva, came to visit his beloved teacher who was being held in prison by the Romans for teaching Torah in public.

At that moment Rabbi Shimon begged his teacher: רבי למדני תורה – “Rebbi! Teach me Torah!”, to which Rabbi Akiva responded that: בני – “my son”, יותר ממה שהעגל רוצה לינק – “more than the calf wishes to suck”, פרה רוצה להניק – “the cow wishes to suckle” (i.e. more than the pupil wishes to learn, does the teacher desire to teach), but unfortunately, given his situation, he was unable to do so.

But what does this statement actually mean? Surely it is the task of a great teacher to enthuse and inspire students so that they are just as hungry to learn as the teacher is hungry to teach?

Rav Moshe Tzuriel provides a wonderful answer to this question (in his magnificent ‘Leket Perushi Aggada’) where he explains that Rabbi Akiva’s statement refers to a situation when a teacher knows a Torah topic or insight that the student is yet to learn. As he writes, at that moment, ‘the teacher – who appreciates the power and greatness of the Torah insight that they know – places great value on the importance and imperative of passing on this insight to the next generation. However, while the student may appreciate the value of Torah in general, they do not experience this same measure of ecstasy because they don’t yet know what it is. Therefore, at this point the desire to transmit this knowledge is stronger in the teacher than it is in the student.’

On a personal level, I can attest to the many times when I encounter or develop a Torah insight which my heart aches to share, and where appropriate, I share these insights with my students. However, while I am blessed to teach many wonderful students in many different settings, sometimes the insights I have encountered or I have developed do not relate to the subject that I am meant to be teaching, and when this occurs, I attempt to share the insight with friends or on social media. Still, there is a truism in this statement concerning both the love of a Torah teacher for Torah, and the ache of a teacher to share their Torah with students which – as a teacher – I genuinely feel on a regular basis.


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