Appreciating out Teachers: A Study Guide

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May 21 2023

A student who goes through the Jewish day school system can learn from dozens of teachers, some for hundreds of hours. Add to that, teachers in camp, youth leaders, substitute teachers guest speakers, video presentations and texts and at the end of high school, there are a lot of teachers that can be counted on his/her list.
As we enter adult life, the list keeps growing. We learn so much from so many different people, some on a consistent basis and some on a casual basis. We might even learn from someone who tells us a d’var Torah while waiting in line at the bank or from overhearing a conversation on the way out of shul.
How do we show appreciation to those who taught us and impacted our lives? Let’s explore some relevant sources:

Source 1a: Mishna, Bava Metzia
אבדתו ואבדת אביו אבדתו קודמת אבדתו ואבדת רבו שלו קודם אבדת אביו ואבדת רבו של רבו קודמת שאביו הביאו לעולם הזה ורבו שלמדו חכמה מביאו לחיי העולם הבא ואם אביו חכם של אביו קודמת.
If one has to decide between saving one’s own property from loss or his father’s property, he may choose to save his own property. If one has to choose between his own property and his teacher’s property, he may choose his own property. His father’s property and his teacher’s property, his teacher takes precedence, because his father brought him into this world and his teacher, who taught him Torah, brings him to the World to Come. If his father is a Torah scholar, his father takes precedence.

Source 1b: Rambam, Hilchot Talmud Torah 5:1, 9
כשם שאדם מצווה בכבוד אביו ויראתו כך הוא חייב בכבוד רבו ויראתו יתר מאביו שאביו מביאו לחיי העולם הזה ורבו שלמדו חכמה מביאו לחיי העולם הבא ראה אבידת אביו ואבידת רבו של רבו קודמת לשל אביו ... במה דברים אמורים ברבו מובהק שלמד ממנו רוב חכמתו אבל אם לא למד ממנו רוב חכמתו הרי זה תלמיד חבר ואינו חייב בכבודו בכל אלו הדברים אבל עומד מלפניו וקורע עליו כשם שהוא קורע על כל המתים שהוא מתאבל עליהם אפילו לא למד ממנו אלא דבר אחד בין קטן בין גדול עומד מלפניו וקורע עליו.
Just as a person is commanded to honor his father and hold him in awe, so, too, is he obligated to honor his teacher and hold him in awe. [Indeed, the measure of honor and awe] due one's teacher exceeds that due one's father. His father brings him into the life of this world, while his teacher, who teaches him wisdom, brings him into the life of the world to come. [Accordingly,] if he saw a lost object belonging to his father and one belonging to his teacher, the lost object belonging to his teacher takes precedence. … When does the above apply? To one's established teacher from whom one has gained the majority of his Torah wisdom. However, a person who has not gained the majority of his Torah wisdom under a teacher's instruction is considered to be both a student and colleague. He is not obligated to honor him in all the above matters. Nevertheless, he should stand before him, rend his garments at his [death], as he does for all the deceased for whom he is obligated to mourn. Even if he learned only one thing from him, whether it be a small or great matter, he should stand before him and rend his garments at his [death]. Translation adapted from Mishneh Torah, trans. by Eliyahu Touger. Jerusalem, Moznaim Pub.

Questions for Discussion:

  • The sources above focus on honor and reverence towards teachers. Where do you think showing appreciation fits into this discussion?
  • Rambam provides us with two categories: an established teacher (rabo muvhak, a rare occurrence in today's times) and someone from whom he learned, even one matter. Is there room to distinguish between an eleventh-grade teacher and the guest speaker who once spoke at an assembly? In what ways?
  • Where does a parent fit into this discussion? Does the learned parent take precedence over the established teacher because he/she is considered a teacher? What if the parent helped bring the child into the World to Come in other ways (give examples)?

Source 2a: Avot 6:3
הלומד מחברו פרק אחד או הלכה אחת או פסוק אחד או דבור אחד או אפלו אות אחת, צריך לנהוג בו כבוד... ואין כבוד אלא תורה, שנאמר: כבוד חכמים ינחלו (משלי ג':ל"ה), ותמימים ינחלו טוב (משלי כ"ח:י'), ואין טוב אלא תורה, שנאמר: כי לקח טוב נתתי לכם תורתי אל תעזבו (משלי ד':ב').
One who learns from his fellow a single chapter [of Torah], a single law, a single verse, a single statement, or even a single letter, must treat him with honor … And there is no honor but Torah, as it says: "The wise shall inherit honor" (Proverbs 3:35); "And perfect ones will inherit good" (Proverbs 28:10). And there is no good other than Torah, as it says, "For a good possession have I given you; do not forsake My Torah" (Proverbs 4:2).

Source 2b: R. Yitzchak Abarbanel, Nachalat Avot Commentary to Avot 6:3
ואמנם הכבוד הזה שאמרו שראוי לנהוג בו, כבר פירשו אותו הפסקנים שהוא לעמוד מפניו תוך ארבע אמות וקרוע במותו, אף על פי שלא יהיה רבו מובהק ... ויש ספרים שכתוב בהם ואין כבוד אלא תורה, שנאמר: ״כבוד חכמים ינחלו״, ופירשו בו אין כבוד לאדם אלא על עסקי התורה, שנאמר ״כבוד חכמים ינחלו״. כלומר הם נוחלים כבוד בשביל שהם לומדים את התורה ויורשים אותה בנחלה. ובהיות הגירסא כן, נראה לי שפירושו ״ואין כבוד אלא תורה״ – שהכבוד הצריך לנהוג ברב אינו כי אם שילמדו ממנו תורה, כי בזה יחפצו החכמים השלמים יותר מכבוד אחר המדומה.
Indeed, the honor that they said should be given has already been explained by the decisors that it is to stand before him when he is within a distance of four cubits and to rend one's garment, even if he is not an established teacher … And there are versions in which it is written, "And there is no honor but Torah," as it is said: "The wise shall inherit honor." And they explained it to mean that there is no honor for a person except in matters of Torah, as it says, "The wise shall inherit honor." That is to say, they inherit honor because they learn Torah and pass it down as an inheritance. And since we follow this version, it seems to me that the explanation of "And there is no honor but Torah" means that the honor that one must give to a teacher is to continue to learn Torah from them, for this is what a refined scholar wants more than any other supposed honor.

Questions for Discussion:

  • What is the difference between the standard explanation of “And there is no honor but Torah” and Abarbanel’s interpretation?
  • How does Abarbanel’s interpretation provide a concrete way to express appreciation to our teachers? What are some other ways to express appreciation?

Source #3: The Ten Commandments

ו. Don't murder א. Belief in God
ז. No Adultery ב. Don't Worship Idols
ח. Don't Steal ג. Don't Use God's Name in Vain
ט. Don't Testify Falsely ד. Shabbat
י. Don't Covet ה. Honor your Father & Mother

If you look at the column on the right, all of the commandments are about our relationship with God. All of the commandments in the column on the left relate to how we treat other people. Furthermore, all of the commandments on the left side are logical and necessary for society.

Question for Discussion:
Why is the commandment to honor one's parents on the right side? Doesn't the commandment relate to how to treat other people? Is honoring one's parents something logical that is necessary for society?

Source #4: R. Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, Meshech Chochmah, Vayikra
רק משום שבכבוד אביו ואמו יש מה שנוגע לאדם למקום, וזה הרגש דק, שכל מוסדות הקבלה מהר סיני הוא הקבלה הנאמנה ונתנה למשה מסיני, ומסרוה דור אחר דור לזרעם אחריהם והודיעו בנים לבני בניהם יום אשר עמדו בחורב, וכן עד עולם, ואם דור יבזה אביו וילעג למוסרי הקבלה, אז פסק תורה מישראל, ולכן בזה הגדר יש בכבוד אביו גם דברים הנוגעים אל מצות ה׳ וכלל התורה.
The reason [why the Talmud implies that honoring parents is a commandment that is between man and God] is because honoring one’s father and mother has within it an aspect of our relationship with God. This is a very subtle point. The foundation of our transmission from Sinai is that we received an authentic transmission of the Torah that was given to Moshe at Sinai and it was passed down from one generation to the next generation. Their children taught their children’s children about the day we stood at Chorev (Sinai), and so on until today . And if a generation disdains the previous generation and mocks the traditions of acceptance, then the Torah ceases from Israel. Therefore, from this perspective, honoring one’s father also contains an aspect relating to commandments [between man and] God and the foundations of the Torah.

Questions for Discussion:

  • According to Meshech Chochma, is the mitzvah to honor one’s parents exclusively a mitzvah between man and God or is there also a an interpersonal (bein adam lachaveiro) element as well? Can either option explain why honoring one’s parents is on the right side and not the left? Why or why not?
  • In what ways does a teacher connect us back to Sinai? In what ways does a parent connect us back to Sinai more than a teacher?
  • In what ways were you impacted by your parents’ or grandparents’ teachers?


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