By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
The Gemara records an incident where Rav Huna admonished his son Rabbah for not studying under the guidance of Rav Chisdah, whom Rav Huna considered an exceptional scholar.
The Gemara in Bava Metzia records an earlier incident where Rav Huna and Rav Chisdah had a falling out and didn’t speak to each other for 40 years. Both scholars later fasted 40 fasts to atone for their actions. The Parashas Mordechai explains that Rav Huna assumed that his son Rabbah was continuing his feud and therefore not learning by Rav Chisdah. Rav Huna rebuked his son, teaching him that it was not proper to continue the feud. Rather, he should take advantage of the wonderful opportunity to learn from an exceptional scholar such as Rav Chisdah.
Rabbah replied that in fact he did once try learning by Rav Chisdah, and it was that one time that made him decide to avoid Rav Chisdah’s lessons in the future. Rabbah explained to his father that instead of teaching him Torah, Rav Chisdah instructed him with life lessons, which Rabbah was not interested in. Rav Huna exclaimed, “He is teaching you how to live healthily and you say that he is teaching you items of little value? You should most certainly attend his lectures!”
This incident reminded me of the daily blatt shiur given by my rosh yeshiva, Rav Henoch Leibowitz, zt’l. There were times when the rosh yeshiva would veer from the Gemara and instead discuss topics such as credit-card debt, the New York Yankees, and politics. There were those members of the shiur who would try to end the discussion by raising questions on the Gemara we were studying. In fact, one highly regarded rebbi confided to me that when he first joined the blatt shiur many years before, he was one of those seemingly diligent students. However, as he aged and became wiser, he always thirsted to hear the rosh yeshiva’s view on different topics.
Though he became a tremendous masmid (he would sometimes fall asleep in yeshiva while learning late at night and his wife would send a bachur to try to locate him), he so valued hearing the rosh yeshiva’s da’as Torah that he preferred it to hearing his opinion on a passage of the Talmud.
I recall one day in blatt shiur the rosh yeshiva walked in with a copy of the current issue of the Jewish Observer instead of a Gemara. We knew that there would be no “learning” that day. The topic of the article that the rosh yeshiva wished to discuss was in fact da’as Torah. The rosh yeshiva read the appropriate parts of the article and lamented the fact that the true understanding of what da’as Torah is has been lost nowadays. After all, why should a Torah scholar be consulted regarding matters that are not Torah in nature? If you have a question in halachah, a gadol can decide that; for other matters, shouldn’t one look elsewhere?
The article mentioned a few reasons why a gadol’s opinion should be valued on non-Torah matters. The first is that deep analytical Torah learning makes a person wise. A sage who has been learning for many years perhaps can be the best individual to analyze a complex problem. The second is that every person has personal negiyos, or subconscious motivational factors that cause him to skew his view of the problem in a way that best helps him personally. A righteous sage is best able to overcome these negiyos and offer an honest opinion. The third is that Hashem offers Divine assistance to those who fear Him to render the appropriate ruling.
The rosh yeshiva was upset that the article left out the most compelling reason to follow da’as Torah. Da’as Torah is literally the da’as of the Torah. Not every halachic situation is spelled out in the Gemara or poskim. How was Rav Moshe Feinstein able to render decisions about toiveling a toaster, using a hearing aid on Shabbos, or the appropriateness of IVF? The Gemara doesn’t discuss these phenomena! As is readily apparent from his teshuvos, Rav Moshe took the principles that he extracted from various sources and applied them to the question at hand.
So too, Tanach, the Talmud, Midrashim, and their commentaries discuss many life dilemmas. How should we relate to non-Jews? Where is the best place to live? What produces a happy marriage? How should we raise our children? The exact question that a gadol is asked may not be found in the Gemara, but he is familiar with the relevant sources and is able to offer da’as Torah–what the Torah’s opinion is. It is the very same formula used to render a halachic decision.
So when the rosh yeshiva, zt’l, was discussing hashkafah, he was offering us lessons about life from the Torah. For those who would argue that it was bitul Torah, we can respond similarly to Rav Huna’s rejoinder: “If you don’t appreciate these lessons about life, then all the more so do you need to hear them!”
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.