Talmud Tips

For the week ending 24 February 2018 / 9 Adar II 5778

Avoda Zara 30 - 36

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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The Metaphor of Fragrant Oil

Rav Nachman the son of Rav Chisda taught: Why is a Torah scholar compared to a flask of fragrant oil? To teach that when he is open, his good fragrance is sensed, but when he is closed, his good fragrance is not sensed.

This idea is learned from a verse in Song of Songs (1:3, see there), in addition to a number of other inspirational messages. Rashi on our daf explains this statement to mean that only when a Torah scholar actually teaches what he has learned to others does he acquire a special name. Just as the oil’s good fragrance is amplified when it is poured from its flask into another vessel, so too does the greatness of the Torah scholar increase when he teaches Torah to students.

Another teaching made by this Sage from this verse: “Things that are hidden from him become revealed.” Rashi states that this means that when he teaches others he has special help from Heaven to understand things that he did not understand before, without effort. The Maharsha explains this teaching somewhat differently, that he will increase his own Torah wisdom when he interacts with his students. As Rabbi Yossi the son of Rabbi Chanina said (Maccot 10a), “Much have I learned from my rabbis, even more have I learned from my colleagues, but from my students I have learned more than from anyone else.” When teaching Torah, the teacher achieves his maximum understanding, due to the process of intense questioning and reasoning with the various logical viewpoints of his students.

Tosefot explains that the idea of “hidden things will be revealed to him” does not refer to increased Torah knowledge as Rashi and the Maharsha claim. Tosefot interprets this statement to mean that “people will tell him their secrets.” People do so because they feel he will correctly advise them how to succeed, due to his great wisdom gained via Torah study. This attribute of becoming “master of advice” is found in Pirkei Avot (6:1): From him (one who studies Torah without ulterior motive) people enjoy counsel and wisdom, understanding and power.

  • Avoda Zara 35b

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