Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 18 February 2012 / 24 Shevat 5772

Hard Act to Follow

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Anonymous

Dear Rabbi,

A friend of mine and myself lead learning sessions and talks to students who are newly interested in Judaism. I feel a certain sensitivity about who goes first or who seems to get a better reaction from the audience. I know that competitiveness can play a role in increasing Torah knowledge, but I can’t help from feeling guilty for having these thoughts while teaching Torah to others. Do you have any insights on the issue?

Dear Anonymous,

You’re both doing a great thing for the Jewish People and for the sake of Heaven by introducing Jews to the beauty of Torah. And a little healthy competition is generally an accepted part of learning and teaching Torah. But your intention in the “competition” should be limited to making yourself better than you are, not better than him. Every person has unique talents and strengths, so you each reach different people in different ways, and ideally you should complement each other.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 102a) discusses an interaction between G-d and the great scholar-king-gone-sour, Yerovam ben Navat, who misled Israel away from the Torah. G-d beseeches Yerovam, “Retract from your evil ways and I, you and David will dwell together in Heaven.” Yerovam replied, “Who will be at the head?” G-d answered, “David”. “In that case”, said Yerovam, “I won’t retract”. From here we see that even if a person has the opportunity to attain tremendous spiritual reward, he may likely forfeit it all if he feels others will receive more. This seems utterly ridiculous, but we’re all prone to such bad traits and we must be aware of the danger lurking within such an attitude.

Two great Torah scholars of recent times, Rabbi Akiva Eiger and Rabbi Yakov of Lisa, were traveling together to Warsawfor the purpose of strengthening the Jewish community in Torah study and observance. As they approached town, some individuals in the enthusiastic crowd unhitched the horses that were pulling the carriage and started to draw the carriage in their stead. When Rabbi Akiva Eiger realized this, he determined that such honor must be for his colleague, and so he alighted and joined the elated crowd in pulling Rabbi Yakov. However, at the same time, Rabbi Yakov came to the same conclusion regarding Rabbi Akiva Eiger, and so alighted from the other door. When the carriage finally arrived at the town square, to the astonishment of the gathered crowd, it was vacant of both honored rabbis, each of whom had previously stepped down in order to honor the other.

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