Reflections on the Daf

Last week, I shared with you my motivation for writing these weekly reflections. I emphasized that our Torah study must result in making us better people, both in our relationship with the Almighty and in our relationships with other people.

Therefore, I have decided to entitle these essays “Toras Chesed: Reflections on the Daf.” I hope to demonstrate each week that the dapim we study have implications for the chesed that we are commanded to perform.

Last week, I focused upon the statement of Abba Binyamin near the bottom of daf 5b. He has harsh words for a person who leaves his companion alone in shul after the davening and does not escort him back to the town. Remember that the shuls in those days were typically outside the town.

I also mentioned the Tosafos on daf 4b, D”H D’amar Rabbi Yochanan, in which we learn that the reason for the pesukim that we recite every evening after Hashkiveinu is to prolong the davening so that all can leave the shul simultaneously and not have to go home alone. Tosafos on daf 6a, D”H Hamispalel, tell us that the personal custom of the Ri (Rabbenu Yitzchak, one of the greatest of the Baalei HaTosafos) was to remain behind after he finished his prayers and look into a sefer just to make sure that no one would be left behind in the shul and have to go home alone. Tosafos recommend that we too adopt this stringency.

From all the above, we see clearly that our prayers must never be so focused on heavenly matters that we forget the needs of our human companions.

In this week’s essay, I would like to reflect upon the fact that just as our prayers must contain an element of bein adam lechaveiro, so too our Torah study must ideally be done in the context of our relationship with another person.

I draw your attention to the passage in the Gemara on daf 6a which reads:

“Two people, their words of Torah are written in the Book of Remembrance (Sefer Hazichronos)… However, a single individual’s words of Torah are not written in the book of remembrance.”

Tosafos in D”H Chad point out that individuals too are inscribed in the Book of Remembrance, but are recorded alone and not in the company of others. After all, the phrase in the second perek of Pirkei Avos, which reads “…And all your deeds are written in the book…” applies to every individual.

But clearly, the Gemara is stressing that the Torah study done in the company of another stands higher than Torah study done alone. Why? What is it that makes Torah of two superior to Torah of one?

The Maharsha gives an interesting answer. He writes that a person studying alone can delude himself into thinking that his analysis of the text is correct and true. He has no one to put his analysis to the test of truth. On the other hand, when one studies with another, self-delusion is impossible. The other person will object to any analysis which strikes him as being incorrect.

The Maharsha is telling us that Torah learned with another person is more likely to be Toras emes, true Torah.

I would like to add that Torah learned with another person is not only beneficial from a Toras emes perspective, but also from the perspective of Toras chesed. When you study alone, no one benefits from your study besides yourself. When you study with another person, you are giving something to him, as he is giving something to you. That is the power of the traditional chavrusa approach.

It is not only that interactive learning is superior from a pedagogical point of view, but it is also superior from an ethical point of view. The dimensions of gift giving and kindness are added to what otherwise would be a merely intellectual process.

Learning with another, even if that person is equal to or more advanced than you, provides you with the opportunity to do chesed with another person. Our Torah study, as our tefila behavior, must always take into account the needs of other people.

To take this point to a deeper level, I draw upon the teachings of Rav Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin, who taught that the Book of Remembrance is not literally some kind of notebook that the Almighty has in the heavens. Rather, the Book of Remembrance is a metaphor for our own inner psyche, for the depths of our own souls.

Rav Dessler develops this theme independently in a brief essay in Michtav Me’Eliyahu, volume 4, page 92. There Rav Dessler writes that when two people study together, the words leave an impression in their innermost souls, something which is lacking when a person studies by himself.

“This profound psychological impression remains as a source of protection and redemption, even in a time of great crisis,” writes Rav Dessler. As proof of this permanent protective power of the Book of Remembrance, which comes about only as a result of studying with another person, Rav Dessler quotes the following passage in the book of Daniel:

“…It will be a time of trouble, the like of which has never been seen since the nation came into being. At that time, your people will be rescued, all who are found inscribed in the book.” (Daniel 12:1) Which book? The book in which the names of those who share their Torah knowledge with other Jews are inscribed.

Toras chesed can safeguard us even in the extreme eis tzarah which Daniel foretold. May the merit of all those who study Daf Yomi in the companionship of at least one other protect each of us from the troubles we face.