1. Just as a person is obligated to honor and be in awe of his father, similarly, he is obligated to honor and be in awe of his teacher more than his father. Because his father brings him into this world but his teacher – who taught him wisdom – brings him to *Olam haBa* (the World to Come).
If he saw an *aveda* (lost item) of his father and an *aveda* of his teacher, [returning] his teacher’s takes precedence.
If his father and his teacher were each carrying a burden, first he relieves his teacher’s burden and then his father’s.
If his father and his teacher were both held as captives, first he redeems his teacher and then he redeems his father.
If, however, his father was a *Talmid Hakham* (Torah student/scholar), he redeems his father first.
Similarly, if his father was a *Talmid Hakham*, even if he is not as great as the teacher, he returns his *aveda* first, then he returns the *aveda* of his teacher.
There is no greater honor than that due a teacher, and no greater awe than that due a teacher. The Sages said: (Avot 4:12) The fear of your teacher should be like the fear of Heaven.
Therefore, they said (BT Sanhedrin 110a): “Anyone who challenges the authority of his teacher is considered as if he challenges the authority of God, as it says: (Bamidbar [Numbers] 26:9) ‘Who led a revolt against God’ [note: this is a description of Korach and his henchmen who rebelled against Moshe’s authority].
Anyone who engages in controversy with his teacher is considered as if he engaged in controversy with God, as it says: (Bamidbar [Numbers] 20:13) ‘Where the Jews contested with God and where He was sanctified’ [note: this describes the waters of Meribah, where Moshe struck the rock as a result to the people’s quarreling with him].
Anyone who complains against his teacher is considered as if he complained against God, as it says: (Shemot [Exodus] 16:8) ‘Your complaints are not against us, but against God.’
Anyone who thinks disparagingly of his teacher is considered as if he thought disparagingly against the Divine Presence, as it says: (Bamidbar [Numbers) 21:5) ‘And the people spoke against God and Moshe.'”
Q1-3: At the beginning of the Halakha, R equates the honor and awe due to the teacher to that due the father. His formulation leads to three questions:
Q1: Why does he use the honor/awe due the father as the given model, and the honor/awe for teachers as the “new” law, compared to that of the father?
HH (H.H.): The honor/awe for teachers is not in the Decalogue.
YE (Yitz Etshalom): As R himself stressed in several places (most notably, in the Moreh Nevuchim [Guide for the Perplexed] 3:32), education always begins with the known to the new. The relationship with father is not only an earlier one, it is also an instinctual and/or environmental one with which most people are familiar from an early age. The *hiddush* – novel idea- is that a similar relationship applies to teachers.
Q2: Why does he only mention “father” – when both parents are equally the objects of our honor and awe, as spelled out in the Torah?
HH: In R’s time, all teachers were male. R compares a teacher to a father for the sake of parallelism.
YE: As Rashi (Vayyikra [Leviticus] 19:3) points out, awe for father is more natural. It seems from other places in R (TT 2:2, 4:5), that awe is the predominant focus of the relationship; therefore “father” is a closer model than “mother”.
Q3: He uses the familiar *K’shem* – “Just as” – and then demonstrates that the honor and awe due to the teacher is GREATER than that due the father.
YE: The word *K’shem* is used in three ways by R in MT: a) Building on something we know from our own experience (e.g. De’ot 5:1) b) Building on something which is explicit in the Torah (e.g. Ishut 3:20) OR c) Building on something which has just been clarified (e.g. Melakhim 5:12) In none of these cases is the implication that the new case is exactly the same – just that it is patterned after an already known model. Honor/awe for father is known from the Torah (and, to some extent, from experience) – so the *K’shem* shows that the honor/awe for teacher is build upon that model. In the next line, R points us further – that the honor/awe for teacher goes beyond that for father.
Q4: Why are these three cases (*aveda*, relieving a burden and redeeming from captivity) the examples of how honor for the teacher is greater than that for the father?
YE: Financial loss (concern for property); Physical discomfort (concern for comfort) and Life-saving intervention (concern for life). In each case, I would not know that teacher comes first.
Q5: Why does the father come first if he is a *Talmid Hakham* – even if he isn’t as great as the teacher?
HH: The honor due to a father added to the honor due to a Talmid Hakham is greater than the honor due to a great teacher.
Q6: Why do we want to “equate” our relationship and attitude towards the teacher to that with God? Isn’t that a dangerous approach that can lead to “teacher-worship”?
YE: Look ahead to TT 5: 12-13. If the teacher only knows our Halakha but not those two at the end of our chapter, that danger is indeed great.
Q7: Why does the Gemara in Sanhedrin pick on these four negative behaviors towards ones teacher (challenging, engaging in controversy, complaining against and thinking disparagingly)?
HH: Because these four behaviors are refered to in the Scriptures.
YE: To add to Harald’s response, we find that all four of these are things which some members of Bnei Yisrael did in their relationship with Moshe. This is instructive, as it puts the honor we are due our teacher in a league with the honor due Moshe – and the dire result of offending that honor.
(Additional Questions) DG(David Goldberger)
Q8: What is meant by engaging in controversy with the teacher? Is the student allowed to critically evaluate the teachings, pointing out areas s/he sees as flawed, in order to have the teacher correct the student?
YE: We certainly find cases in the Gemara where students challenge their teacher; the difference is between challenging with the goal of seeking wisdom and challenging just to challenge – to disrupt the authority of the teacher etc. R. Hayyim of Volozhin’s explanation of the Mishna (Avot 1:4) “sit in the dust *avaq* of the [Sages’] feet” plays on the word *avaq* – which also comes from the root “to wrestle” – that, although we realize that we are in the dust of our teacher’s feet and that their knowledge far exceeds ours, we still must wrestle with them if their teachings contradict other teachings or do not seem to make sense. The Gemara (BT Kiddushin 30b) relates to the teacher and student being like enemies, in battle with each other, during the time of study. This does not at all imply a docile relationship. -Q9: What safeguards are there against the teacher abusing his position of honor? Does a “dishonorable” or “failed” student imply a discrediting of the teacher?
YE: To the first question: students may leave at any time and go to another teacher. The most egregious case of this abuse is, of course, that of R. Gamliel (see BT Berakhot 27b-28a) where there was out-and-out rebellion and impeachment of the head of the Sanhedrin.
As to the second question, see Yoma (86a) where one of the motivations for ethical and polite behavior is that God’s Name should become beloved because of you – that people would say: “Happy is his father who taught him Torah, happy is his teacher who taught him Torah…” however, if his behavior is unpleasant, people say: “Woe to his father who taught him Torah, woe to his teacher who taught him Torah…” See also BT Berakhot 17a-b where the prayer [of the students of the house of Rav Hisda (or R. Shmuel bar Nahmani) when they would leave each other to go home] focussed on not having students who bring shame upon their teachers.
Rambam, Copyright (c) 1999 Project Genesis, Inc.