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By Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky | Series: | Level:

    Rebbe Dostai bar Yannai says: Anyone who forgets [even] one thing from his Torah learning is regarded by Scripture as one who is liable for his life, as it is written “Only take care and guard your life with great care, lest you forget the things your eyes saw (at Sinai)…” (Devarim 4:9). It could be assumed to includes even one who forgot due to the difficulty of his studies. Therefore scripture teaches “Lest they be removed from your heart all the days of your life.” One does not incur liability unless he sits and deliberately removes them (the teachings) from his heart.

It has already been explained that by separating from something, one indicates an opposition to that thing, similar to the opposition that exists between fire which flees from water, since they are opposites. Torah is a spiritual/intellectual reality (“sichlith”), and as such it has a uniquely enduring existence. This contrasts with physical matter, which embodies fundamental deficiency and degeneration, as has been explained many times. (See Ch. 2 Mishnah 6)

One who separates from something manifests opposition to it. Therefore one who separates from the Torah manifests the opposite of real existence, for there is nothing that embodies existence and being more than Torah. This leads to the conclusion that one who forgets something from his Torah learning (which separates him from that Torah) is liable for his life (for he is in opposition to an enduring existence).

There is a difficulty that needs to be clarified. The Mishna’s default assumption that we should “include even one who forgot due to the difficulty of his studies,” (an assumption which is being negated from a proof-text) implies that we are about to exclude only one who forgot due to the difficulty of his studies. But one who was careless in reviewing his studies is obviously still included in the group of “forgetting something from his Torah learning” (with the consequences that entails). Yet, the conclusion of the Mishna states that he is not liable for his life unless he “deliberately removes from his heart” what he learned (implying that only intentional forgetting makes him liable, while natural forgetting, even due to his own failure to review, is excluded from the consequences). The correct default assumption, based on the conclusion of the Mishna, should have been worded “We would assume this includes even one who didn’t intentionally remove them from his heart (but forgot due to a lack of proper review).” (The Mishna seems inconsistent about the situation of one whose forgetting was due to his negligence in proper review.)

The difficulty is resolved with the following understanding. The words in the opening of the verse “…lest you forget…” appear to refer to all situations that result in forgetting (with no implication that it is limited to active removal/forgetting). This generates the opening default that “this includes even one who forgot due to the difficulty of his studies.” The Mishna then teaches that since the conclusion of the verse used the phrase “lest you remove” (implying intent) rather than the expected “lest you forget” (implying consequences for any source of forgetting, which would have been consistent with the implication of the opening phrase) we are being taught that one is not liable unless he (actively) removes what he learned from his heart. Despite the use of the word “yasuru” implying that it is being removed (passively), instead of writing “pen tasireim”, translated as “lest you remove them” implying an active removal, the text still implies that there is one who is removing what was learned – the person himself – which implies some dimension of proactivity which makes him liable).

Why didn’t the verse in fact write “lest you remove them,” which would have correctly implied the need for proactive removal? Because if he sits and turns his heart to “time wasters” (which leads to forgetting through lack of review) he is in fact liable for his life, even if he didn’t intend to actively remove/forget his Torah knowledge. This is why the Mishna used the words “until he sits and removes them from his heart” rather than simply “until he removes them from his heart.” It is sufficient that he turns his heart to time wasters (implied by the word “sits,” implying a dimension of preparation) even if he doesn’t intend that the result be the removal/forgetting of the Torah.

(Our society is blessed with a proliferation of diversionary and recreational activities. Thought must be given by each individual to ensure that when one chooses to engage in those activities, this isn’t “poneh libo l’vatala,” turning his heart to time wasting in the words of the Maharal, with the serious consequences implied by our Mishna.)

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The class is taught by Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky, Dean of Darche Noam Institutions, YeshivatDarche Noam/Shapell’s and Midreshet Rachel for Women.