It’s not often that Rav Chaim Kanievski writes a response to a fifth-grader’s question. But when Rafi Schlager asked his fifth-grade rebbe, Rabbi Yehoshua Zucker, a simple yet powerful question, the rebbe responded, “Wow! That is so gevaldig, I’m going to ask it to Rav Chaim Kanievski!”
“Rav Chaim Kanievski?” asked Rafi. “Isn’t he in Bnei Brak? How are you going to ask him my question?”
Rabbi Zucker said, “I’ll write him a letter.”
The question was a simple one, but one that highlighted a perceptiveness of a talmid who in his earliest years of learning Gemara was trained to spot the different nuances of language and expression even in the complex Gemara of Bava Metzia.
“Rebbe,” asked Rafi “our perek hamafkid begins, ‘If one entrusts to his friend, an animal or utensils . . .’ and then states the various halachos. The subsequent mishnayos in the perek, however, switch the noun and the verb. ‘If one rents a cow from his friend . . .’ ‘If one entrusts fruit to his friend.’ ‘If one entrusts money to his friend.’ ‘If one entrusts a barrel to his friend.’”
“Why does the perek begin, ‘If one entrusts to his friend, an animal or utensils . . .’ mentioning the trustee before the items in the first Mishnah, while the subsequent mishnayos mention the items that were entrusted before mentioning the friend?”
Simple, yet powerful. And definitely not a question to be ignored.
And so, true to his pledge, Rav Yehoshua Zucker wrote a letter to Rav Chaim, stating that he is a fifth-grade rebbe in Yeshiva Toras Chaim of South Shore and a talmid asked the following question.
Rav Chaim receives hundreds of letters a week. He is bombarded by visits from people day in and day out. Yet he somehow found the time to respond with an equally powerful simple answer. “HaMishnah poseches bdin haklali,” the Mishnah (first Mishnah in the perek) begins with the generalization, i.e. the Mishnah will be talking about entrusting items to a friend. Subsequently we will discuss different items. But the main thrust of the perek is about the act of entrusting to a friend, and thus, it mentions friend before the item that was entrusted. Later, when it gets to details, it deals with each item specifically.
The greatness of a gadol is that he cares about the Torah questions of a child as if an adult had asked the question, and the greatness of a great rebbe is to build a fifth-grade talmid in a way that he can appreciate himself as a member of Klal Yisrael who had a repartee with one of the greatest Torah scholars of our generation. v