“And you shall teach them thoroughly to your children and speak of them while you sit in your home, while you walk on your way, when you retire and when you rise.”
This passuk is the source of the mitzvo of Talmud Torah, the mitzvo that is described as being equal in value to all the others combined. It is surprising that the source for Talmud Torah does not say ‘you shall learn’, rather ‘you shall teach.’ - why is this the case? The Ksav Sofer notes that the passuk does actually instruct us to learn (vedibarta bam) but only after telling us to teach first (veshinantam). The order should be reversed - a person learns before he teaches?! He answers that that the Torah is alluding to us that one’s own learning must be done with the ultimate goal of teaching others. This also explains why the ikar source for the mitzvo of Talmud Torah is teaching - because the ultimate tachlis of learning is to be able to give it over through teaching.
Of course learning Torah is not merely a means to be able to teach, a person needs Torah to be able to develop a relationship with Hashem, and without learning this is impossible. Nonetheless, it is clear from the commentaries that learning without teaching is a great lacking in the fulfillment of the mitzvo of Talmud Torah. This is why Chazal teach us that ‘lilmod al menas lelamed’ is an essential requirement of our focus in our learning. Moreover, the Meiri and Maharal both write that a person who learns but does not teach cannot reach shleimus.
We now understand why the Torah stresses teaching ahead of learning. However, the choice of word it used needs understanding; usually ‘you will teach’ is translated as ‘limadtem’, but here the Torah says, ‘veshinantam’. Rashi explains that this usage has an added meaning; it implies a high level of clarity so that one if someone asks a question, you can answer it without stumbling. From here we learn that a person can gain more clarity in his learning if it is in preparation to teach. A person who learns a Gemara knowing that people will challenge him on his understanding and explanations of it has a great incentive to learn with greater diligence. According to some commentators, this is the explanation of the Gemara: “Rebbi says, ‘I learnt a great deal of Torah from my teachers, more from by friends, and the most from my talmidim.” Students force a teacher to attain a higher level of understanding.
This idea was stressed by Gedolim: An avreich was not succeeding in his learning so he asked the Steipler Gaon zt”l if he should continue in kollel or begin teaching. The Steipler answered that in the past everybody wanted to teach, and a person who did not find a position in teaching continued to learn in kollel. He then said, “That every Gadol Hador of the past grew greatly from giving shiurim.” Teaching is also a great tool in helping one remember his learning. The Steipler once advised another avreich to teach a shiur in Yeshiva katana, and explained that when one teaches others a piece of learning it is equivalent to learning it twenty times. He said further, “I know from my own experience that that which I learnt myself I have forgotten, but that which I taught to others I remember it to this very day.”
Thus far we have seen how teaching on a high level can greatly help one’s own learning. However, it would seem that teaching people on a lower level would not have the same effect. However, a number of commentaries understand the Gemara that ‘I learnt the most from my talmidim’ in a different way. The Chasam Sofer makes an extraordinary point in his hakdama to his Teshuvas on Yoreh Deah in an essay entitled ‘Pisuchey Chosam’. He speaks at length about the importance of giving over of one’s self for the sake of helping the spirituality of his fellow. He focuses on how Avraham Avinu devoted his time and effort to teaching the uneducated masses about Emuna rather than focus on his own growth. He then exhorts us to emulate Avraham and teach people even if they are on a low level of understanding. He addresses an argument against this approach. “If the Eved Hashem would say, ‘my soul craves closeness to Hashem and I want to get close to him. How can I do this and reduce my own learning and self-perfection in order to perfect my fellow’s soul?!’ The answer to this is found in Chazal; ‘… I learnt the most from my students’. Is it beyond Hashem to make up to you the growth that you forsook for the sake of His Kavod?! You should do what Hashem commanded you - to teach the people - and He will fulfil His role…. He will make it possible for you to attain the shleimus in a small time and you will be able to attain lofty heights beyond your own sechel.” One who teaches people that are on a low level of learning will receive a great deal of siata dishmaya which will enable him to attain greater heights than humanly possible.
There is another benefit for teaching those on a lower level, particularly in areas of emuna and hashkafa. Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l greatly encouraged yungerleit who were considering careers in Jewish education. He once spoke to them for a three hour question-and-answer session on this subject. One expressed his concern about the bitul Torah involved in teaching. Rav Yaakov pointed out that teaching often forces one to obtain greater clarity in one’s own learning. He then added, “And if you have to learn a little Chumash and Nach, it won’t be such a terrible thing.” When a person teaches those who lack a basic understanding in such vital areas of Torah as Chumash and Nach he is forced to delve into them on a far deeper level than ever before. The great educator, Rav Yitzchak Kirzner zt”l elaborated on this point in discussing the benefits of teaching people lacking the basic tenets of Yiddishkeit. He said that in order to be able to present the Torah outlook on life a teacher needs familiarity with such works as Derech Hashem and Mesillas Yeshvarim. Unfortunately such works are often neglected amidst the pressure to devote all one’s time to Gemara, but by teaching over basic Torah hashkafa an observant Jew can develop his own understanding of Judaism and relationship to Hashem.
We have thus far seen how teaching Torah is a fundamental aspect of the mitzvo of Talmud Torah and that it reaps untold benefits. However, there may still be a temptation to treat it differently from other chiyuvim and look at it more as a ‘mitzvo kiyumis’ than as an obligation. This would seem to be an incorrect attitude: On one occasion the Chazon Ish zt”l saw that in Ponevezh there were a number of younger bochrim who were struggling in their learning. He ordered the older bochrim to spend some time each day learning with the younger bochrim. He was told that they could not find the time in which to teach their struggling contemporaries because of their busy learning schdules. To this he instructed that the following message should be relayed to the older boys: “Do you put on tefillin?! How can you do so, there is no time, you need to learn! Rather, you find the time to put on tefillin because it is a positive mitzvo - there is another mitzvo that is of no lesser value than tefillin - to set apart time to help the younger bochrim.” The Chazon Ish taught that teaching Torah should be viewed as a chiyuv just like any other mitzvo and that the argument that ‘there is no time to teach’ is baseless.
So how can a person know how much time he must spend teaching? Obviously this is not a simple issue and it varies according to the many factors in the life of each person. However, the Gedolim seem to universally agree that bnei Torah must give some of their time to teaching others, especially those who are lacking in their Torah observance. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l sums up the approach very well. In a talk to yeshiva students he argued that just like we are required to give over at least 10% of our time to tzedaka, so too, a ben Torah “must spend one tenth of his time working on behalf of others, bringing them close to Torah.” He further stated that, “if one is endowed with greater resources he must correspondingly spend more of his time with others.”
We have discussed much about the maalos of teaching Torah. Why exactly is it considered so great to the extent that the Eglei Tal writes that it is on an even higher level than learning Torah? There are a number of reasons for this but one can be found in the passuk we have discussed. The Torah says, “you will teach it to your children.” Chazal learn out this does not only refer to one’s genetic children, but also to one’s students. Why doesn’t the Torah just tell us to teach students? The answer is that the Torah is showing us that teaching Torah is similar in a certain aspect to having children. When a person brings a child to the world he is giving him the tremendous gift of life. When a person teaches someone Torah he is giving him the opportunity to gain eternal life. Thus by teaching Torah you are acquiring the quality of parenting - giving life. This is why students are referred to as children. Indeed teaching Torah to a child is considered an even greater chesed than giving birth to him as the Mishna in Bava Metsia states; “If a person sees the lost objects of his father and his teacher, the teacher takes precedence.” Why? “Because his father brought him to Olam Hazeh but his teacher who taught him wisdom, brings him to Olam Haba.” Teaching Torah is the ultimate chesed that one can do - may we all be zocheh to fulfil it.