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December 8, 2021 | ד׳ בטבת תשפ״ב | TODAY'S DAF: Taanit 26

Torah L’Shma: Torah for it’s own Sake- Gefet 15

“Anyone who engages in Torah not for its own sake, his Torah will be an elixir of death for him”

How can we deal with this gemara? How will I know that I am studying for its own sake?

Join us for the study of a Tosafot that fleshes out the issue and opens a new path for us in Torah study.

Torah L’shmah

Much has been written about the connection between Torah and water and about the connection between the plant world and people. Therefore, it is not surprising when Masechet Ta’anit, which deals with water and the growth of produce and food moves straight to talking about learning Torah and the growth of talmidei chachamim. On the previous daf, the gemara dealt with the joy of the rainy day that comes after a drought and with the special tefillah of this day. The gemara immediately brings two statements which connect this rainy day to the day that the Torah was given. This monumental moment of the Torah being given is parallel to the rain beginning to fall after a long drought. 

תלמוד בבלי מסכת תענית דף ז עמוד א

אמר רב יהודה: גדול יום הגשמים כיום שניתנה בו תורה, שנאמר יערף כמטר לקחי, ואין לקח אלא תורה, שנאמר כי לקח טוב נתתי לכם תורתי אל תעזבו. רבא אמר: יותר מיום שניתנה בו תורה, שנאמר יערף כמטר לקחי מי נתלה במי – הוי אומר: קטן נתלה בגדול.

After this emotional opening, the gemara moves on and brings the passuk  “יערוף כמטר לקחי”. It explains the difficult side of the passuk, the side that requires us to learn Torah in a specific way. 

רבא רמי: כתיב יערף כמטר לקחי, וכתיב תזל כטל אמרתי! – אם תלמיד חכם הגון הוא – כטל, ואם לאו – עורפהו כמטר. תניא, היה רבי בנאה אומר: כל העוסק בתורה לשמה תורתו נעשית לו סם חיים, שנאמר עץ חיים היא למחזיקים בה, ואומר רפאות תהי לשרך, ואומר כי מצאי מצא חיים. וכל העוסק בתורה שלא לשמה נעשית לו סם המות, שנאמר יערף כמטר לקחי, ואין עריפה אלא הריגה, שנאמר וערפו שם את העגלה בנחל. אמר ליה רבי ירמיה לרבי זירא: ליתי מר ליתני! אמר ליה: חלש לבאי, ולא יכילנא. – לימא מר מילתא דאגדתא. אמר ליה: הכי אמר רבי יוחנן: מאי דכתיב כי האדם עץ השדה, וכי אדם עץ שדה הוא? אלא משום דכתיב כי ממנו תאכל ואתו לא תכרת, וכתיב אתו תשחית וכרת. הא כיצד? אם תלמיד חכם הגון הוא – ממנו תאכל ואתו לא תכרת, ואם לאו – אתו תשחית וכרת.

The gemara sets a high and scary bar for learning Torah – a person should learn Torah l’shmah (for its own sake) and one who doesn’t do this will be attacked from three fronts: 

  1. By the Rabbi – if a Rabbi has a student who is not fitting, he should behead him. What determines whether or not he is fitting? Whether or not he learns Torah l’shmah. 
  2. By the Torah itself – every talmid chacham who doesn’t learn l’shmah is not a fitting talmid chacham. For those who learn Torah l’shmah, the Torah becomes an elixir of life, while for those who do not, it becomes an elixir of death. 
  3. By the students – the rabbi is like a tree from which the students eat of his Torah, and if their learning is done l’shmah, this tree is not destroyed.

However, this term “limmud l’shmah” is shrouded in mystery – what is the meaning of “limmud l’shmah”? We will examine Rashi: 

לשמה – משום כאשר צוני ה’ אלהי ולא כדי להקרות רבי. 

Rashi allows us to sigh in relief. This requirement in Torah learning is to prevent one’s learning from being for the purposes of his own honor. However, if one learns not in order to gain this honor, but rather because it is a mitzvah, he is already considered to be a fitting student. However, even after Rashi’s explanation, this gemara leaves us with a question – one version of this question appears in Tosfot here, and in typical Tosfot fashion, it is worded as a difficulty from another sugiya:

וכל העוסק בתורה שלא לשמה תורתו נעשית לו סם המות – וקשה והלא אמרינן (פסחים דף נ:) לעולם יעסוק אדם בתורה אף על גב שאינה לשמה שמתוך שלא לשמה בא לשמה


Tosfot challenge from a familiar sugiya in Pesachim which is often quoted in different contexts: מתוך שלא לשמה בא לשמה.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת פסחים דף נ עמוד ב

רבא רמי: כתיב כי גדל עד שמים חסדך וכתיב כי גדל מעל שמים חסדך, הא כיצד? כאן – בעושין לשמה, וכאן – בעושין שלא לשמה. וכדרב יהודה, דאמר רב יהודה אמר רב: לעולם יעסוק אדם בתורה ובמצות אף על פי שלא לשמה, שמתוך שלא לשמה – בא לשמה. 


Rav says that there are two levels of learning, one higher than the other – learning l’shmah is higher than learning that is not l’shmah. However, even if a person is on the level of learning that is not l’shmah, he should still continue learning. Why? Because Torah transforms people, and through his learning that is not l’shmah, he will come to learn l’shmah. Rav’s words have an entirely different sound and meaning from our gemara in Ta’anit, which states that Torah that is not l’shmah will become an elixir of death! We will examine Tosfot’s answer to this difficulty:


ויש לומר דתרי שלא לשמה הוי דמה שאמרינן לעולם יעסוק בתורה אפילו שלא לשמה היינו כלומר כדי שיקרא רבי או כדי שיכבדוהו ומה שאמרינן הכא כל העוסק בתורה שלא לשמה נעשה לו סם המות היינו מי שלומד לקנטר.

Tosfot’s answer does not agree with Rashi. We will examine Tosfot’s content, interpretive goal, and method used:

  1. Method – when there is a contradiction between two sugiyot which talk about learning that is not l’shmah, they understand that there must be two types of learning that is not l’shmah. One is dangerous and deadly, while the other is not, and can even lead to a higher level of learning. This type of solution appears in many places in the gemara itself and in the rishonim. 
  2. Content – the type of learning that Rashi presented as dangerous and destructive is learning that is done for one’s own honor or for the certificate. Tosfot claim that this type of learning is not harmful, rather it is just not as good. This is the type of learning mentioned in Masechet Pesachim, learning that can turn into learning l’shmah. In actuality, it encourages learning for the honor and title because perhaps the not l’shma will lead to the l’shmah. What then is the dangerous and destructive learning? That is learning that is done in order to chide. This is the type of learning that Masechet Ta’anit is talking about. 
  3. Goal – Tosfot’s goal is to limit the gemara. The gemara raised a scary and threatening factor, which has the potential to prevent people from learning Torah. Tosfot come to rescue the learner from this crisis and to limit the gemara’s criticism to people who learn in order to chide. 

The Tosfot in Masechet Pesachim add a more detailed description of the difference between learning l’shma and learning that is not l’shma, which bring Tosfot closer to Rashi’s opinion:

וכאן בעושים שלא לשמה וכדרב יהודה – תימה (דרב) גופיה אמר בפ”ב דברכות (ד’ יז.) כל העוסק בתורה שלא לשמה נוח לו שלא נברא ואור”י דהתם מיירי כגון שלומד כדי להתיהר ולקנטר ולקפח את חביריו בהלכה ואינו לומד ע”מ לעשות אבל הכא מיירי דומיא דההיא דלעיל יש שפל ונשכר דלא עביד כוליה שבתא ולא במעלי שבתא שאין מתכוון לשום רעה אלא מתוך עצלות אפ”ה גדול עד שמים חסדו.

Tosfot here clarify that when speaking about chiding, the intention is not specifically to one who speaks out against the Torah, rather also to haughtiness in front of the other students and a desire to rise above them and humiliate them with one’s knowledge of halacha. We are not talking about haughtiness of being called “rabbi”, but of a haughtiness that can develop within the realm of Torah itself. In any case, Tosfot’s goal of limiting continues to be emphasised on the backdrop of the Tosfot in Pesachim. This goal of Tosfot is also expressed in the following דיבור המתחיל on the page, where Tosfot deal with the gemara’s requirement for students to try not to learn from a rabbi who is not fitting. This statement comes to say that it is impossible to learn from someone who comes to chide, even if he is full of Torah. Here too Tosfot come to limit the prohibition of the gemara and to show that there are situations where it is possible to learn even from chachamim who come to chide: 

אם תלמיד חכם הגון ממנו תאכל – פירוש למוד לפניו ואותו לא תכרות כלומר לא תפרד ממנו לילך לפני רב אחר ואם לאו לא תלמוד לפניו והא דאמרינן דלומדים מת”ח אף על פי שאינו הגון כר”מ שהיה לומד לפני אחר במסכת חגיגה (דף טו.) היינו דוקא תלמיד חכם (אחר) יכול ללמוד לפניו לפי שלא ילמוד ממעשיו אבל אם אינו תלמיד חכם אינו רשאי ללמוד לפניו.


Here too, Tosfot create a contradiction between sugiyot – Rabbi Meir learned from Elisha ben Avuya (“Acher”), even after he “went off the derech”. We will look for a moment at the gemara there: 


תנו רבנן: מעשה באחר שהיה רוכב על הסוס בשבת, והיה רבי מאיר מהלך אחריו ללמוד תורה מפיו. אמר לו: מאיר, חזור לאחריך, שכבר שיערתי בעקבי סוסי עד כאן תחום שבת. אמר ליה: אף אתה חזור בך. – אמר ליה: ולא כבר אמרתי לך: כבר שמעתי מאחורי הפרגוד שובו בנים שובבים – חוץ מאחר. 


Tosfot ask – how can Masechet Chagiga and Ta’anit be harmonized? Is it really true that it is not possible to learn from a chacham who chides? How could Rabbi Meir have learned from “Acher”? Tosfot answer that there are those who have the ability to learn from everyone. A real talmid chacham can learn from a talmid chacham who is not fitting, who “went off the derech”, because he has the ability to learn from his knowledge without adopting his actions.


Summary: Tosfot on our sugiya present a limited interpretation of the harsh guidelines in the sugiya. The sugiya warns Torah learners of the dangers of learning that is not l’shmah, which can cause fatal damage to them and their Torah by rabbis, students, and the Torah itself. Tosfot limit this damage on two levels: 

  1. Tosfot sharpen the point that Torah learning that does not have an element of chiding or haughtiness, even if it does chase honor, will not cause the damage that the gemara speaks about.
  2. Tosfot sharpen the point that the Torah that exists within the talmid chacham who “went off the derech” can be redeemed by other talmidei chachamim who are able to eat from the fruit while discarding the peel.

The tools which Tosfot use are seeming contradictions between sugiyot, ukimta, and a goal of limiting the reading of our gemara. 


(Translated by Daphna Ansel-Nizan)

Gefet: an in depth short shiur delving into a Sugiya with Rashi and Tosafot. In collaboration with Yeshivat Drisha.

Taanit 7. Advanced learning.

תוכן זה תורגם גם ל: עברית

Rabbanit Yael Shimoni

Rabbanit Shimoni has learned at Migdal Oz, Matan, and the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute for Halakhic Leadership at Midreshet Lindenbaum. She holds a BFA from Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design and a BEd in Torah Shebe’al Peh and Jewish Thought from Herzog College. She is currently studying towards an MA in Jewish Thought Education at Herzog College. Rabbanit Shimoni taught gemara and halakha at Pelech High School and served as a ramit for shana bet at Migdal Oz. She directs Meshivat Nefesh, the online responsa program of the rabbaniyot of Beit Hillel. She is also a plastic artist and member of “A Studio of Her Own.
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