Category: Rabbi’s Desk



What do you do when someone cannot understand  what you are saying?

Rav Preida had a student to whom he would have to repeat each lesson four hundred times until he understood it. One day, the Rav had to leave to tend to an important mitzvah. Before leaving, he taught the student the usual four hundred times, but the student failed to grasp the lesson. Rav Preida inquired, “Why is today different?” The student answered, “From the instant my master said that he would have to leave to tend to a mitzvah, I couldn’t fully concentrate, because I was wondering every moment … now my Master may be leaving.”

Rav Preida responded, “Pay attention, and I will teach you.” He then taught him another four hundred times. A Bat Kol, “heavenly voice,” asked Rav Preida, “Do you prefer four hundred years be added to your life or that you and some of your generation merit a place in the World to Come?” Rav Preida chose the latter. Hashem responded, “Give him both.”[1]

A question was posed to Rav Chaim Kanievsky regarding this episode. The Talmud expresses clearly the greatness of and the reward to Rav Preida. However, there is no mention of the greatness of the student who was so persistent and determined to learn, listening to a lesson 800 times! It certainly took a lot of perseverance. Another person might have given up. Why is there no recognition of the student?

Rav Chaim said that if someone is sick and is told of a cure at the far end of the earth, he will go there. His life is at stake. Torah is a person’s life. The fact that the student would do anything to preserve his life is not something remarkable. Anyone who has that understanding would do the same.[2]

I would venture to offer a different explanation. “The Talmud states, “Rava said, ‘If you see a student whose learning is difficult for him like iron, it is because of his teacher; how he looks upon his student.”[3] The Talmud reveals that the understanding of the student is connected with the approach of the teacher. That being the case, we can see an answer to the question that was posed to Rav Kanievesky. It was the attitude of Rav Preida that allowed for the student to feel secure and comfortable enough to study the lesson 800 times. Even if someone would feel that the subject matter was vital, without encouragement, he could give up.

In Kerias Shema we cite the words, “V’shinantam levanecha, and teach them to your children.”[4] Who are the children? They are the students.[5] Why are students referred to as children? A Rebbe should regard his students with love and simcha, as he would have towards his biological children.[6]

Who is responsible to make a lesson feel valued – the teacher or the student, parent or child?

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Hershel D. Becker

[1] Eruvin 54b

[2] Likras Shabbos Malchesa Devarim pp. 48-49

[3] Taanis 8

[4] Vaeschanan 6:7

[5] Sifri, Rashi ibid.

[6] Vilna Gaon, Ohel Moshe pp. 466-467