When fulfilling the commandment of returning lost objects, must a person put others’ interests before his own? The Mishna on our daf clearly rules that a person must look out for his own financial interests. Thus, a person must take care of his own property before returning a lost object to others – even to his father or to his teacher. Nevertheless, the Mishna teaches that his teacher will take precedence over his father with regard to these laws, since his father brought him into this world but his teacher has prepared him for the World to Come.
We find several opinions in the Gemara with regard to the definition of rabo – “his teacher.” Rabbi Meir says that it refers to his teacher who taught conceptual thinking, not merely the written or even the oral Torah. Rabbi Yehuda says that it is the individual from whom he learned most of what he knows. Rabbi Yosei says that anyone from whom he learned – even it was only a single Mishna – would be considered his teacher.
Ulla concludes the discussion in the Gemara by sharing the observation that Babylonian scholars stand up to honor one another, but with regard to giving precedence to a teacher over a parent in returning lost objects, they would only do so for their primary teacher, the one from whom they gained most of their knowledge.
In the early generations of the amora’im, there was a clear difference between the organization of Torah study in Bavel as opposed to what existed in Israel. In Israel, the study halls were influenced by the beit din ha-gadol – the great court of the Sanhedrin – and there was a clear hierarchy, with most of the learning taking place in the study halls under the direction of the Rosh Yeshiva. In Bavel, there was a large amount of independence for the different yeshivot, and most of the students came for short sessions, called yarḥei kalla. Thus, most of the learning took place in small groups, and the scholars viewed each other as teachers and peers, having learned more from each other than from the heads of the academies.