Friday, June 7, 2013

Notes on teachers and students from the rabbinical literature

As I get older I appreciate more the bonds between teachers and students. These aren't as recognized in modern literature as are other kinds of bonds, between parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters... One exception is in the rabbinical literature.

Here's a brief collection of quotes, I'd be glad to know of more.

Rabbi Yitzchok Etshalom Talmud Torah 5:13
13. The students add to the teacher's wisdom and expand his understanding. The sages said: I have learned much wisdom from my teacher, more from my colleagues and the most from my students (BT Ta'anit 7a); and just as a small piece of wood ignites a large one, similarly a small student sharpens the teacher['s mind] until he extracts from him, through his questions, wondrous wisdom.

alternate translation, from Maimonides, Laws of Torah Study, chapt 5:
13) Students add to the wisdom of their Rabbi, and open his heart. The Sages said that they learnt more from their Rabbis than from their friends, but learnt even more from their students. Just as a small candle can light a big one so a student sharpens his Rabbi's wits, by extracting from him his wisdom by means of questions.

Pirkei avot: Chapter 1.1
The Men of the Great Assembly had three sayings:
Be deliberate in judging;
Educate many students;
Make a fence around the Torah.

Pirkei avot: (Chapte 1, 6) Joshua ben Perachyah and Nittai the Arbelite received the Torah from them. Joshua ben Perachyah said: Provide [make] for yourself a teacher and get [acquire] yourself a friend; and judge every man towards merit.

Some commentaries have trouble with the first two clauses, and I've seen "get a friend" translated as "find someone to study with." But another way to understand it  (maybe, I'm no Talmud scholar) is that teachers and friends (and students and friends) can intersect and be the same folks...

5.12 12. There are four types of student. One who is quick to understand and quick to forget--his flaw cancels his virtue. One who is slow to understand and slow to forget--his virtue cancels his flaw. One who is quick to understand and slow to forget--his is a good portion. One who is slow to understand and quick to forget--his is a bad portion.

Sanhedren p105, side B: no man envies the accomplishments of his children or his students

"דאמר רב יוסי בר חוני בכל אדם מתקנא חוץ מבנו ותלמידו" "Reb Yossi bar Honi said 'of everyone a man is envious except his son and his student'."
( סנהדרין • קה ב )

update: I should note that another literature/tradition in which bonds between teachers and students are noted is in martial arts .

Update: Charlie Nathanson reminds me of  Perkei Avot chapter 4, verse 12 (

רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן שַׁמּוּעַ אוֹמֵר, יְהִי כְבוֹד תַּלְמִידְךָ חָבִיב עָלֶיךָ כְּשֶׁלְּךָ, וּכְבוֹד חֲבֵרְךָ כְּמוֹרָא רַבְּךָ, וּמוֹרָא רַבְּךָ כְּמוֹרָא שָׁמָיִם:

"Rabbi Elazar ben Shammua said: let the honor of your student be as dear to you as your own, and the honor of your colleague as the reverence for your teacher, and the reverence for your teacher as the reverence of heaven."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm reminded of Al's remarks about a great part of his pleasure in going to Stanford being his reunion with former students.