Gathering Torah Knowledge Chagigah 3a There was once an incident involving Rabbi Yochanan ben Berokah and Rabbi Elazar Chisma who went to visit Rabbi Yehoshua in Peki’in. Rabbi Yehoshua said to them: “What novel teaching was expounded in the study hall today?” They said: “We are your disciples and we drink your waters1!” He replied: “Even so, it is impossible for the scholars of the study hall to conduct a session without expounding a novel teaching. Now, whose week was it to lecture?” They responded: “It was Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah’s week.” Rabbi Yehoshua again inquired: “And on what subject was his discourse today? They answered: “On the Torah portion of Hakheil (‘gathering’)2.” Rabbi Yehoshua interrogated further: “And what did he expound on this subject?” They explained: “Devarim 31:12 states: ‘Gather together the people – the men, the women and the small children.’ The men come to learn and the women come to hear, but why do the small children come? It is in order to give reward to those who bring them.” Rabbi Yehoshua said to them: “A precious pearl was in your hand, and you sought to withhold it from me!” (Gemara Chagigah 3a) Why were the two Rabbis so reluctant to relate the novel teaching to Rabbi Yehoshua immediately? Why did he call it a precious pearl? How are we to understand the reward for bringing the young children? The Rabbis were hesitant to repeat what they had learnt on account of an unfortunate incident recorded in Gemara Chagigah 3b in which Rabbi Yose was blinded when he attempted to share with Rabbi Eliezer a novel teaching from the study hall. Maharsha elucidates that Rabbi Yose had in effect decided the law in the presence of his teacher, which is wrong. Rabbi Yehoshua’s disciples were therefore cautious in our episode. The Talmud Yerushalmi3 recounts that Rabbi Yehoshua’s mother used to bring his crib to the study hall so that the young infant’s ears would absorb the words of Torah spoken there. Rabbi Yehoshua had always been puzzled by his mother’s conduct. When he heard that the Torah commanded parents to bring their children to the Hakheil ceremony even though they were too young to understand, he realised that exposure to Torah has a tremendous impact on the holiness and spiritual development of a child. He felt that his mother’s efforts in this regard had helped him to become a Torah sage.4 Sefat Emet explains that in the future the parents will reap the rewards of children whom they can be proud of, by virtue of the fact that they exposed their children to such an environment even at a young age. 1. Water is a metaphor for Torah (see Isaiah 55:1) 2. Every seven years, after the conclusion of the Shemittah year and during the ensuing festival of Succot, the king of Israel would sit on a specially built platform in the Women’s Courtyard of the Temple, and recite from the book of Devarim to a “gathering” of the entire Jewish people. (Devarim 31:10-13) 3. Yevamot 1:6 4. Interestingly, Science Magazine’s 26th September 1997 edition published a study about the effect of reading to an eight-month-old infant.
The data showed that there was subsequent recognition of those words, as opposed to other words.