By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
Have you ever heard a wonderful d’var Torah and told the speaker, “That’s a good vort!”? It may be a good vort, but your praise may not be so good.
The Gemara in Shabbos records an interesting dialogue. The laws of eiruv chatzeiros are complex—and not relevant to this article. However, just to provide some context to the following dialogue, a brief introduction is in order. An eriuv chatzeiros is necessary when there are many private dwellings that share a common area such as a walled courtyard. Even though the courtyard is walled, an eiruv chatzeiros must be made to permit carrying on Shabbos from the private homes to the common area. Every family contributes a small amount of bread and places it in one of the private homes. This halachically unites all the residences. The problem arises if one of the homes is owned by a gentile, who obviously doesn’t need the eiruv.
Rav Yehudah said in the name of Shmuel: It suffices if a renter of the gentile contributes towards the eiruv. Rav Nachman commented: This is a superb teaching!
The Gemara then quotes another statement that Rav Yehudah said in the name of Shmuel: One who drinks a revi’is of wine may not give halachic rulings.
Rav Nachman commented: This is not a good teaching. My mind is not clear until I drink a revi’is!
Whereupon Rava rebuked Rav Nachman: It is not proper to say what you have said.
To support his rebuke, he quoted Rebbe Acha bar Chanina: “V’ro’eh zonos ye’abed hon”—if one says that some teachings are nice and others are not, he will lose the glory of Torah. Rashi explains that the word zonos in this instance is shorthand for zoo na’eh v’zoo eino na’eh. This is nice, this is not nice.
The Maharsha understands that Rava rebuked Rav Nachman both for his first statement, “This is a superb teaching,” and his later statement, “This is not a good teaching.” Rava did not need to bring scriptural proof that one may not disparage the Torah. Rather, Rava introduced the concept that one may not even praise a particular Torah thought. The Ben Yehoyada explains that praising particular words of Torah is tantamount to disparaging other words. If a person comments, “This is a beautiful Tosfos!” the implication is that the other ones are not. Rather, one should be silent and not offer any praise at all for words of Torah.
The Rashash is bothered by the Maharsha’s understanding of Rebbe Acha’s exposition. Shas is replete with expressions of praise that Amoraim had for specific words of Torah uttered by other sages. Further, we find many times that Sages disagreed with each other in very strong, almost disparaging terms. Therefore, the Rashash says that one only violates the above dictum if he says, “This is not a good teaching.” Further, even that phrase is permitted in the course of an argument.
The Tiferes Yisrael concurs with the Rashash. He quotes his father that Masechta Ediyos received its name from the fact that its teaching are from idis, a term that refers to the best of a category. Thus it would seem that one can refer to certain words of Torah as being the choicest. One is only precluded from saying, “This Torah thought isn’t nice.”
It is interesting to note that Rashi in his commentary on Chumash to Parashas Korach (Bamidbar 16:1) states, “This parashah is expounded excellently in the Midrash.” Whereupon the Divrei Dovid (the Taz) asks, “Doesn’t this violate the dictum that one should not praise certain words of Torah?” Apparently, the Divrei Dovid understood the Gemara as the Maharsha did, that one may not even praise portions of Torah. The Divrei Dovid concludes that Rashi was not intending to praise the exposition in the Midrash. Rather, in a typical parashah, there is one explanation that is based on pshat, the simpler explanation based on close adherence to the text. Then there is the derush explanation. This explanation usually takes more liberties with the words. Rashi is commenting that in Korach, the derush and pshat explanations are one and the same.
The Gemara states that the result of saying some teachings are nice and some are not so nice is that one will lose the glory of the Torah. Rashi explains that one will forget the Torah that he learned. This is a punishment for disparaging the Torah. The Ben Yehoyada says on a practical level, one will lose out on hearing words of Torah. If Sages know that he is constantly criticizing Torah thoughts, they will be reluctant to share their words of Torah with him. The result of his verbal negativity is that he will be isolated from other scholars and not hear their words of wisdom.
If you happen to like this article, can you say it’s a good article even according to the Maharsha? There are various elements that comprise an article such as the spelling, grammar, and choice of words. Saying a Torah article is good does not refer exclusively to the divrei Torah. In any case, if you like the grammar, spelling, and syntax of this article, you can say that the editorial staff at the Five Towns Jewish Times is excellent. I second that. v
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.