8. We do not show deference to a student while in the presence of his teacher, unless it is his teacher’s manner to show him deference.
All of the services which a slave does for a master, a student does for his teacher. However, if he was in a place where he was not recognized, and he was not wearing *Tefillin* – and was concerned that some people will say that he is [the teacher’s] slave – he does not put on his teacher’s shoe or remove it. Any [teacher] who prevents his student from serving him, withholds kindness from him and keeps him from fear of Heaven. Any student who treats any matter of his teacher’s honor lightly causes the *Sh’khina* (Divine Presence) to depart from Israel.
Q1: In the first clause – what if people show deference to the student _because_ he is this teacher’s student? Isn’t that a greater sign of respect for the teacher?
YE (Yitz Etshalom): The source of this Halakha is found in several places, most notably BT Bava Bathra 119b, where we find the dispute: “…one maintains that we show deference to the student in the presence of his teacher, the other maintains that we do not show deference to the student in the presence of his teacher…”; however, Rashbam (ad loc., s.v. “Abba Hanan”) explains that the opinion that we _do_ show deference is based upon the logic that: “this is all part of the importance (honor) of the teacher…” – so, even the opinion that maintains that we are allowed to show deference to the student is based upon it being part of the teacher’s honor. Since we reject this opinion (the Halakha is that we do _not_ show deference to the student), it seems clear that we do not show deference because of his being this teacher’s student.
By the way, there is an interesting application of this principle in BT Yoma 69a (and parallel piece in BT Sotah 40b); the Mishna there states that on Yom Kippur in the Beit HaMiqdash, the Sefer Torah would be handed to various officials until it was handed to the *Kohen Gadol* (High Priest) – from which the Talmud infers that we _do_ show deference to a student (the assistant to the High Priest) in front of his teacher (the High Priest) – (which, by the way, is an unusual extension of this relationship – who says that the High Priest is the outstanding teacher of his assistant? – it must be that we apply this same rule to any public honor positions, regardless of the actual relationship between the two officials in question). Abaye responds that this entire procedure is part of the honor shown the High Priest -and Rashi (Yoma and Sotah) explains that since we are showing how many officials there are in the chain leading up to the Kohen Gadol, that is a demonstration of his importance and, thus, a form of his honor.
Directly relating to our case, if the teacher is present (which is the case being discussed), then giving the student deference over the teacher _because_ he is his student seems backwards – if you’re interested in honoring the teacher, honor him directly.
Q2: What is the value of “serving” your teacher – to the point of being “slave-like” in the type of services your perform?
YE: Three possible answers:
(a) It is a function of honor. By doing all of these things for your teacher, you are directly showing him honor. Honor, in this case, is indicated by your demonstrating your subservience to him.
(b) It is utilitarian. A measure of “paying back” your debt, of having given you a majority of your knowledge (see Halakha 9) and having brought you to the World to Come (see Halakha 1) is to serve him. We may assume that in most cases such a teacher is elderly and may be in need of such service.
(c) As an educational tool – helping the student “actualize” a slave-master relationship which is at the heart of the person-God relationship – but can never be concretized. In other words, we are commanded to worship God and to accept His decrees (both laws and events) – how do we understand, in terms we can access, this type of relationship? Human slavery is not a positive situation for anyone, but “serving” your teacher is the closest approximation of the worship relationship possible. In order that it not be confused with actual slavery, we limit the slave-actions, unless everyone around knows the nature of the relationship, or the student is wearing the badge of his true loyalty – Tefillin. This answers the next two questions.
Q3:Why is allowing the student to serve the teacher a kindness on the part of the teacher – and a vehicle for the student gaining *Yir’at Shamayim* (fear of Heaven)?
HH(H.H.): When the teacher lets the student serve him, he lets the student gain fear of Heaven, an experience of self-improvement. Besides, refusing a favor would be rude. As to why serving a teacher leads to fear of Heaven, it seems to me that Rambam is again tracing a parallel between attitudes towards a teacher and attitudes towards G-d. Eventually, R hopes, the student will sublimate his respect for his teacher into respect for Heaven. Of course, there is the apparent danger of teacher-worship, but R. Etshalom has promised us that we will see that topic later 😉
YE: See answer (c) to Q2 above.
Q4: How does wearing *Tefillin* help in the situation where the student was not recognized?
HH: A student cannot take his *Tefillin* off in the presence of his teacher.
YE: See answer (c) to Q2 above.
Q5: Why does the student’s disregard for his teacher’s honor cause the *Sh’khina* to leave Israel?
YE: The source of this statement is evidently in BT Berakhot 27b: “R. Eliezer taught: Anyone who prays in back of his teacher, or greets his teacher [as a peer] or who returns his teacher’s greeting [as a peer], or who challenges his teacher’s authority or who makes a statement that he did not hear from his teacher causes the *Sh’khina* to leave Israel.” R clearly learns that R. Eliezer isn’t just listing certain behaviors which expel the *Sh’khina*; rather, he is giving various examples of teacher’s honor which, if not properly attended to, cause the *Sh’khina* to leave. Thus, it is the general rule, inferred from these examples, that if the teacher is not properly honored, the *Sh’khina* leaves.
(HH): – Q6: What if acts of serfdom from the part of a student to a teacher were highly unusual in the land? Wouldn’t such acts make people think that the teacher is eccentric or that he oppresses his students?
YE: An interesting question. However, it doesn’t seem that “other people’s” impressions are a consideration except insofar as mistaking the student for a slave are concerned. In that case, we aim to distinguish him from a slave by limiting some of the “slavery” aspect. What you have raised is a different concern, which I have not seen addressed – that of the student’s service reflecting badly on the teacher. Any takers?
Rambam, Copyright (c) 1999 Project Genesis, Inc.