12:Words of Torah do not endure for those who are lazy concerning [studying] them and not for those who study amidst pleasure and eating and drinking – rather, [it endures] for the one who gives up his life for them (words of Torah) and constantly strains his body, not giving any sleep to his eyes nor slumber to his eyelids. The Rabbis said, in a manner of allusion: *Zot haTorah, adam ki yamut b’ohel* – “This is the law – if a man should die in a tent ” (context is Bamidbar [Numbers] 19 – the law of defilement due to being in the proximity of a corpse) the Torah only endures for the one who dies for it in the tents of the wise. Similarly, Shelomo, in his wisdom, said: “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small” (Mishlei [Proverbs] 24:10); He also said: “Also, my wisdom remained with me” (Kohelet [Ecclesiastes] 2:9) – [which can be interpreted as] the wisdom which I learned while angry, that is what remained with me. The Rabbis said: A covenant is established that anyone who exhausts himself in his Torah study in the *Beit Midrash* (House of Study) will not forget it quickly. And anyone who exhausts himself in Torah study in private will become wise, as it says: “To the modest will come wisdom” (Mishlei [Proverbs] 11:2) And anyone who makes his voice heard while studying, his learning endures for him – but someone who reads silently will forget quickly.
-Q1: R already mentioned the “asceticism” issue in 3:6 -why repeat it here?
YE (Yitz Etshalom): As we discussed in the posting of 3:6 [archives: TT-3.3], that statement in 3:6 is directed towards the poor – that “even if” you only have bread with water and sleep on the ground, you should still involve yourself with Torah (and, perhaps, not focus your amibtion on “getting comfortable”); here, R is outlining a basic archetype of a person who will “hold onto” his Torah. the life he describes is very focussed – on study. Eating, drinking, sleeping, “schmouzing” (idle talk) etc. are activities which defocus.
Q2: “The Torah which I studied in anger” – whose anger? (see BT Berakhot 63b)
JB (Jay Bailey ): Before looking at classic commentary on this, I want to note that possible explanations of whose anger we are talking about are strictly on the level of Drash, i.e., it is clear from the pasuk that the word “af” means “but”, and is simply an obvious grammatical choice. The pasuk actually reads “I grew and surpassed any of my predecessors in Yerushalayim BUT STILL my wisdom stayed with me.” (The word “stayed” is “amdah”, like the V’hi Sheamda which we say at the seder. It means sustained, etc.) I found additional commentary on this, all leading me to conclude that translating “af” as anything else is a nice excercise, but should not be dwelt on too long…let me rephrase: we should not try to decipher _what it means_, because we have a straight explanation. We should remember that we are trying to think of “educational” ways of interpreting it.
That said, Kohelet Rabbah says it means learning by one’s exertion, and the Torah Temimah adds a) It could mean by the physical blows of my teacher, or b) the teacher’s anger, which the gemara says will yield the reward of understanding ritual purity if dealt with in silence.
Q3: On one hand, R lauds the one who learns in private -then he praises learning out loud. Is there a contradiction here?
YE: No contradiction – the “privacy” here is “tz’niut” in Hebrew – which means modesty. I believe that R continues to encourage learning which is as far from mundane motivations as possible. Often, learning in public, even if begun without an ulterior motive, can lead to others praising you, which may subvert your own motives. [On the other hand, there is a great good to be gained here – my own memories of watching my teachers study in the Beit Midrash – Study Hall – are constant reminders and inspirations.] Perhaps R is referring not to place – alone or in a study hall with others, rather he is referring to style – one who approaches his study with a modicum of modesty – as opposed to arrogance. Then, we certainly understand why he becomes wise, as we learned: (Avot 4:1) Who is wise? He who can learn from everyone.
Q4: What is the underlying value behind learning in private – and learning out loud?
JB: (on Q3&4) R may be reffering to the notion of learning in a singsong, out loud, to make it more substantial. When you sit on your couch and read a book silently, it is a passive experience, freqently a fleeting one. But R is infusing this with an active element. Learning out loud (I know from experience) helps you understand tricky grammar, pronounciations, etc. That’s why in a Beit Midrash it’s so noisy, even aside from chavrusah (study partner) learning. The notion of learning on one’s own allows one to concentrate and shut out the world, but at the same time, it lacks the structure of learning with someone else. Hence, R combines the 2 elements.
Rambam, Copyright (c) 1999 Project Genesis, Inc.