ט״ז בתשרי ה׳תשע״ג (October 2, 2012)

Berakhot 62a-b: Learning From a Mentor

Today’s daf opens with a number of stories where the Talmudic Sages would follow their teachers into the bathroom in order to observe their behavior and learn the proper way to act in those situations. They then shared this information with their peers. When questioned about the appropriateness of following them into a private place and observing them there, the response that is given is “It is Torah, and I must learn.”

The lessons gleaned in the bathroom all related to issues of modesty, and the Gemara continues with stories about the importance of modesty even in the privacy of the bathroom and even at night when it is dark.

An even more surprising story is told about Rav Kahana:
The Gemara relates that Rav Kahana entered and lay beneath Rav’s bed. He heard Rav chatting and laughing with his wife, and seeing to his needs, i.e., having relations with her. Rav Kahana said to Rav: The mouth of Abba, Rav, is like one whom has never eaten a cooked dish, i.e., his behavior was lustful.
Rav said to him: Kahana, you are here? Leave, as this is an undesirable mode of behavior.
Rav Kahana said to him: It is Torah, and I must learn.

The Maharsha asks why, in all of these cases, did the disciple not simply ask his teacher as to the proper way to conduct himself in these situations? He explains that the students wanted a practical rather than a theoretical answer, and they thought that the ideal manner to learn the practical halakhah is to watch their mentor in action. The essence of the matter is that Torah encompasses all facets of life. Even in areas considered personal and private, a great person must conduct himself in accordance with the Torah, recognizing that, as a role model, others may learn from him.

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