Studying in Order to Teach - Middah Lomed al Manat Lelamed

Marlene Myerson

About Mussar and Middot
The Hebrew word "mussar" means moral conduct, instruction, or discipline. The Mussar Movement arose in the 1800’s in Lithuania and encompasses a range of spiritual practices, focusing on the individual’s personal characteristics, traits, or virtues, which are called middot (in Hebrew, singular: a "middahMiddahמִדָּהcharacteristics, values, or virtues of Jewish life that focus on becoming a better and more fulfilled person; plural: middot ").

Lomed al Manat Lelamed translates as "Studying in order to teach." Lomed and Lamed come from the same Hebrew root lamed-mem-dalet, which means both "to study" and "to teach."

"Rabbi Ishmael said: He who studies in order to teach is afforded adequate means both to study and to teach." (Avot 4:5)

The Talmudic sages encouraged their students to study in order to teach by reassuring them that their basic needs would be provided for. The rabbis used Moses as an exemplar of this middah. Even though Moses knew that he would not enter the Promised Land, he told the Children of Israel, "See I have taught you decrees and ordinances, as God has commanded me, to do so in the midst of the Land to which you come, to possess it." (Deuteronomy 4:5) Since Moses would not enter the Land, he had no practical use for the knowledge of laws pertaining only to the Land, but he learned them in order to teach them to the Jewish people. The rabbis conclude that one who places the needs of others first will be rewarded. (Pirkei Avos Commentary, p. 231)

We can often gain insight into the importance of a concept by looking at the original language in which it was written. In Hebrew, the relationship between studying and teaching is underscored by the fact that both words come from the same Hebrew root, lamed-mem-dalet.

The Talmud suggests that there are important advantages to studying in order to teach. Learning with the intent of sharing one's knowledge helps one to achieve success at learning. The constant review one experiences when teaching, combined with the necessity of understanding the material clearly, in order to convey it to others, helps one master the subject matter.

The sages devised a metaphor that helps us understand the middah (virtue) of lomed al manat lelamed (studying in order to teach). They compared a Torah scholar to a flask of scented oil. Covered, its aroma does not spread; uncovered, it lends a fine fragrance to its surroundings. "Such is the difference," they said, "between a scholar who studies, and one who also teaches." (Avodah Zarah 35b)

To Talk About

  1. "Rabbi Yohanan said: He who studies Torah but does not teach it is like a myrtle in the wilderness [from which no one benefits]." (Sefer HaAggadah p. 414:118) Explain Rabbi Yochanan's message in your own words. Can you think of a plant that would symbolize one who studies Torah and teaches others?
  2. Fifteen characteristics are mentioned in the Talmud of a disciple of the wise. Among them is that he/she "studies in order to teach". (Sefer HaAggadah p. 434:307) In what ways would that quality make someone "a disciple of the wise"?
  3. "Though wealth and riches [Torah] are in his house, his generosity lasts forever". (p. 112:3) Rabbi Huna and Rabbi Hisda differed in their interpretation of this biblical verse. One said: It applies to a person who studies Torah and teaches it to others. The other said: It applies to a person who writes out the Five Books, the Prophets, and the Writings, and lends these scrolls to others." (Sefer HaAggadah p. 415:123) Which argument would you support? Why? Debate this question with others.
  4. We have been taught that Rabbi Meir used to say: The person who studies Torah but does not teach it is one who "despises the word of God." (Numbers 15:31) What does this teaching tell us about the attitude of the ancient rabbis regarding this middah?
  5. Think about something you have learned recently that the others around your Shabbat table might not know. Take turns teaching each other something new—it might be one new fact, one new word in Hebrew, or one new blessing.

To Do
Make a point of seeking out opportunities to share your knowledge with others. Perhaps you can volunteer to teach in your synagogue Religious School or work with children with special needs. Before you teach, make sure that you prepare yourself properly by first studying the materials thoroughly.