Kol Hamevaser – Creating a Torah Community

Kol Hamevaser – Creating a Torah Community

BY: Jonathan Ziring

    Recently, Kol Hamevaser held its first school-wide Shabbaton. Over Shabbat, I was thinking about the importance of such an event, one where people who have a common interest in Jewish thought took the opportunity to spend time together, learn and just hang out. A few dictums of Hazal came to mind. The first is a fascinating statement in Bava
Metsi’a: “Ula said, ‘Talmidei hakhamim in Bavel stand up for each other.'” Rashi explains that they stood “the way a student does for his teacher, as they sat together constantly in the beit midrash, asking and answering each other’s questions, with everyone learning from each other.” Ramban expands on this idea, saying that not only did they stand up when their friends came within four cubits of them, as would be required for any talmid
hakham, but they even stood up as soon as they could see them at a distance, the way one is required to stand up before his primary teacher, his rav muvhak.
He explains that although the talmidei hakhamim in Bavel did not actually learn the majority of their Torah from their colleagues, they still learned from each other constantly, and in certain respects they achieved the status of rav muvhak for each other. Now, while it is true that one Shabbat does not constitute “constantly,” over the course of those 25 hours I saw what promised to be the beginnings of a Torah community of people on both campuses (and beyond), who, by seriously discussing issues of Jewish thought and teaching each other, could grow together in their commitment as active members of broader Jewish society.

One might ask, as many people do, why we need Kol Hamevaser; why have students present their ideas in a public format like this? After all, we learn in YU with Rashei Yeshivah who are tremendous talmidei hakhamim, and while it is true that people can learn a lot from their peers, perhaps that is not an ideal? To me, this notion is absurd for several reasons. To begin with, when Rambam discusses the ideal friend that one should seek, he describes him as a “haver
ma’alah,” an exalted friend. According to Rambam, he is the type of person who shares your goals and who wants to help you actualize your potential, just as you want to help him actualize his. He gives as an example of such a relationship the type of friendship found between teachers and their students. I have always understood from here that Rambam does not simply intend to describe the relationship that students have with their teachers, but rather means to encourage us to actively create friendships that parallel this model, where we teach each other.

Perhaps, though, my assumption about Rambam’s meaning is incorrect. For this, I turn to an interesting Mishnah in the fourth chapter of Avot: “R. Nehorai says, ‘Exile yourself to a place of Torah, and do not say it will come after you, for your friends will establish it in your hands, and do not rely on your own understanding.'” Most Rishonim understand that the word “friends” in this context is generic, referring to one’s community, and that the Mishnah is warning people to remain in or seek out Torah communities. However, Sforno reads the Mishnah as an exhortation not to go to places where you would have no peers, even if you would be able to spread Torah among students there; rather, you should go to a community where you have equals, because it is only those who are on the same level of religious commitment and learning as you who will ensure that you keep your Torah, and no one else (by aldridge). He insightfully notes that the relationship you have with your friends is different than other relationships, and that to truly establish yourself in the world of Torah, you need colleagues who can engage in that world with you – davka colleagues, not students, and, I would add, not teachers. Sforno continues by referencing the story in Shabbat 147b that gives the background to this statement of R. Nehorai. The Gemara identifies “R. Nehorai” as the nickname of R. Elazar ben Arakh, the sage who Abba Shaul claimed would outweigh all the scholars in the world combined as a result of his acuity. The Gemara recounts that R. Nehorai once forgot all of his Torah, despite his brilliance, to the point that he was unable to read a simple pasuk. To remedy this, his friends joined together and prayed for him, and together helped him regain his scholarship. Even the most brilliant Torah scholar needs colleagues. Friends sharpen each other, they help each other; that is the ideal.

However, there is a more fundamental reason why we must include everyone in the community of Torah. The Arukh ha-Shulhan, in his preface to Hoshen Mishpat, explains that the Torah is compared to a shirah, a song, because songs can be made more beautiful through the harmonization of different voices. So, too, he claims, the Torah is broadened, deepened, and made all the more stunning when different opinions are voiced in discussing it. Even if a Rosh Yeshivah may have great things to say, that does not negate the possibility that another voice might be able complement his. Shouldn’t we allow room for everyone to express his ideas (within reason), such that the Torah can become that much more complete? “I efshar le-beit ha-midrash be-lo hiddush:” everyone has a place in the beit midrash and every person has something to add to the discussion – and that includes all of our colleagues.

On that note, I want to express my gratitude to all those who read, contribute to, and edit Kol
Hamevaser for helping cultivate a community of peers, one where we can all express our opinions freely and enrich the Torah by doing so. In the coming year, I look forward to the privilege of editing for the magazine myself and further taking part in this important endeavor. But, in truth, Kol
Hamevaser is just one way of creating this community. It should be our goal to create a Torah community that extends beyond the four amot of the battei midrash on both campuses, and that extends beyond that walls of our Yeshiva and our University, because, at the end of the day, we and our colleagues will be the ones to define Torah in 20 years, and we might as well start building the most complete community we can now. “Ve-Attah, kitvu lakhem et ha-shirah ha-zot” (And now, write for yourselves this song).

Jonathan Ziring is a senior at YC majoring in Philosophy and Jewish Studies and is a Staff Writer for Kol Hamevaser.