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Talmud-Bava Metziah

(5747)"Anyone who forgets even a single word of this learning, the Torah considers it as if he had forfeited his life" (Avot 3:8)

Debate how was R' Zeira allowed to fast "to forget Talmud Bavli" (Bava Metziah 85a)

The different views in the prohibition of forgetting words of Torah and the reason that we need a special law that one who has forgotten his learning due to an extenuating circumstance has not transgressed a negative commandment (Talmud Menachot 99b)


1. It is learnt in tractate Avot (3:8):

“Anyone who forgets even a single word of his learning, the Torah considers it as if he had forfeited his life. As is stated, "Just be careful, and verily guard your soul, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen"

The Talmud learns from this verse that:

“Anyone who forgets even a single thing from his Torah learning transgresses a negative precept (Lav)”

One must seemingly examine, according to this, the story in the Talmud regarding R' Zeira. It states:

“When R’ Zeira emigrated to Eretz Yisroel, he fasted a hundred fasts to forget the Babylonian Talmud, that it should not trouble him”

How, seemingly was R’ Zeira allowed to forget Talmud Bavli? We learnt that “Anyone who forgets even a single thing from his Torah learning transgresses a negative commandment” and this certainly applies, even more so, to one who forgets the entire Talmud Bavli!

The Talmud explains that R’ Zeira’s reason was so “it should not trouble him” For his entire intent was to enable him to properly learn the Talmud Yerushalmi (note: which has a clearer dialectic method). However, there is, seemingly, no place to say that one can transgress an explicit prohibition (forgetting Torah) in order that (after the forgetting) one would learn Torah and possibly be successful. This is related to the concept of a “Mitzvah that comes through a transgression (mitzvah haba’ah b’aveirah e.g performing a mitzvah with a stolen object) even if it is certain (and at the time)(that he can perform the Mitzvah).

And even though the Mishnah continues:

“he has not forfeited his life unless he purposely removes them (the teachings) from his heart”,

(Similar to the Talmud there concerning the negative precept (of forgetting one’s learning) where it asks:.”One might further suppose that this is so even when his study has been too hard for him; the text therefore states, “lest. Torah be forgotten from your heart— “pen yasuru milvavkhah" (Deut. 4:9), meaning the case where one purposely removes them from his heart”) -

R’ Zeira did actually pray and fast etc. in order to remove it (Talmud Bavli) from his heart!


Plainly, during all these one hundred days that he fasted in order to forget Talmud Bavli, he did not learn “Talmud Bavli” for this would be a contradiction. Therefore he actually “purposely removed them from his heart”.

2. In the commentaries of the Rishonim we find many opinions regarding this prohibition:

Rambam (and other Rishonim) did not count the precept/Lav of “You shall not forget etc.” in the count of the 613 Mitzvot.

Ramban, who does count this in the count of the Mitzvot, holds that this Lav does not refer to forgetting words of Torah (Divrei Torah), but rather it refers to forgetting the account of receiving the Torah (Ma'amad Har Sinai). (He also writes this on his commentary on Torah on that verse). Seemingly, he holds that the aforementioned teaching in the Mishnah and Talmud is just a contextual reference (asmachta b’alma) and it is just an aspect of piety (milei d’chasidusta).

Even according to many of the enumerators of the Mitzvot and other Poskim that do count the Lav of “Lest you forget” in the list of Mitzvot and hold that it applies to forgetting Divrei Torah, nevertheless hold that the prohibition is when one “separates from Torah (“poreish min HaTorah” - like the words of the Semag) or that “one has not transgressed unless he removes them from his heart meaning that he turns his heart to nullify it/mefaneh libo l’vatla” (like the wording of the Yeraim).

According to this, one could (seemingly) say that R’ Zeira did not transgress any prohibition. For plainly, even when during all these one hundred days that he fasted in order to forget Talmud Bavli, he did not , G-d forbid, separate himself from Divrei Torah and turn his heart to nullify it, but rather he continued to study the Written Torah, Mishnah etc., and he only ceased from studying “Talmud Bavli”.

However, there is another opinion in the nature of this prohibition, cited by the Alter Rebbe in his Hilchot Talmud Torah that:

“Anyone who forgets even a single word of his learning, due to not reviewing his learning properly is considered as if he had forfeited his life, and he also transgresses a negative precept/Lav of Torah as it states:. “verily guard your soul” (his source , is from the commentary Rabbeinu Yonah and the Ra’av (R’ Ovadia of Bartenura ) on the Mishnah of Avot, ibid.).

In other words there is a prohibition and explicit negative precept/Lav from Torah of forgetting something from Divrei Torah, in and of itself, not because he separated himself from Divrei Torah or he nullified it. Therefore one must review his study properly, in order to not forget.

One could say that this is also explained in Rambam’s Hilchot Talmud Torah.

He writes:

“Until when is a person obligated to study Torah? Until the day he dies, as it states: "Lest you remove it from your heart, all the days of your life." Whenever a person is not involved with study, he forgets.” (ibid 1:10).

“However, when a person increases his knowledge and does not have the need to read the Written Law, or occupy himself with the Oral Law constantly, he should study the Written Law and the oral tradition at designated times, in order to not forget any aspect of the laws of the Torah” (ibid 1:11).

(And the reason that Rambam does not count this as separate Mitzvah in the list of Mitzvot is because, according to his opinion, it is included in the general Mitzvah of “Talmud Torah” (Talmud Torah k’halachat) as is cited in the Alter Rebbe’s Kuntras Acharon).

According to this the question returns.

3. One could seemingly say that “forgetting Talmud Bavli” is not considered forgetting “something from the words of the laws of Torah” but it is just (as Rashi states) (that it is forgetting) the “questions and answers” in Talmud Bavli. On this there is no prohibition, since it is similar to what is cited in the Alter Rebbe’s Hilchot Talmud Torah regarding “Pilpul” (sharp textual analysis of the reasons for the Mitzvot etc.), that:

“They did not review it so much . . and therefore all the textual analysis (“Pilpul”) of the early Tannaim and Amoraim was forgotten and only cited sporadically in the Talmud . .and the rest was forgotten because there was no obligation to review them since “Pilpul” was given only to Moshe”.

Thus, there is no prohibition to forget the “Pilpul of Torah” (and it is sufficient to remember just the “Halachot and their reasons”). Therefore it is permissible from the onset to forget the Pilpul, the questions and answers.

In other words:

Even though it is explained in Hilchot Talmud Torah there, that in the obligation to know and remember the entire Oral Torah, it also includes the “Talmud/teachings that explain the reasons for the Halachot in the Mishnah”,

(For if one does not know the reasons for the Halachot, he will not understand the actual/gufei Halachot to comprehend them completely”).-

Nevertheless, it is explained in Hilchot Talmud Torah there that, according to Rashi “the Talmud is divided into two parts:

·         The reasons for the Halachot, omitting Pilpul (that each person received from his master), and

·         The Pilpul of Torah to enable one to ‘understand something by inference/l’havin davar m’Toch davar’” etc.

According to this, one could say that even in Talmud Bavli, of these two divisions:

·         The portion of concise reasons for the Halachot

·         The questions and answers which are in the category of “Pilpul”

R’ Zeira just wanted to forget the portion that is the Pilpul of the Talmud Bavli (that one is permitted to forget) and not the (actual) reasons.

However, one must examine if it is possible to resolve it so.

For in addition to that which in Hilchot Talmud Torah there, it appears that the prohibition to not forget words of Divrei Torah applies to the entire Talmud Bavli.

(and that the questions and answers in Talmud Bavli are not considered just “Pilpul” (that one is permitted to forget) since they are critical to the concise understanding of the reasons of the Halachot),

But even more so - from the plain wording of the Talmud that (R’ Zeira fasted) to “forget “Talmud Bavli” implies that R’ Zeira “forgot the entire “Talmud Bavli” (in his day) and not just the portion that contains the questions and answers.

4. One could add:

At first glance, this question on R’ Zeira has no merit according to the opinion of Rambam who holds that there is no obligation to know the reasons for the Halachot (even concisely), in order to understand the Halachot themselves.

According to his view, the obligation to know the entire Oral Torah (and the prohibition not to forget “any aspect of the laws of the Torah” includes just the “Mishnah”. In other words just the enacted laws and not the “Talmud” (“Gemara”).

Therefore R’ Zeira did not transgress any prohibition in forgetting the entire “Talmud Bavli”.

Notwithstanding this, according to all views, there is a clear obligation to “divide one’s study time into three parts” and one third should be devoted to the study of “Gemara”.

And even though the obligation to divide one’s study time in three applies just in the “early stages of a person's study” and not “when a person increases his knowledge” – for when one does “increase his knowledge”, on the contrary,

(for then “he does not have the need to read the Written Law, or occupy himself with the Oral Law constantly”)

he must focus “solely on Gemara for his entire life” (except for designated times where he must study the Written Torah and the oral tradition “so that he will not forget any aspect of the laws of the Torah”).

It is therefore difficult:

During the days that R’ Zeira fasted to forget the Babylonian Talmud, he certainly did not study Talmud Bavli (and he did not yet attain the level to study the Gemara of Eretz Yisroel) - therefore how did R’ Zeira fulfill his obligation in those days to study “Gemara”?

5. One can understand this by prefacing a specific teaching in the Talmud regarding this law:

The Talmud states that if a person forgets his learning due to a hardship/Onais, he has not transgressed negative precept.

 (In Hilchot Talmud Torah the word “only” is cited to negate if it is an Onais)

This is not understood. It is a major principle in the entire Torah that “the Torah exempts one who cannot perform his obligation due to hardship/Onais (Onais Rachamana patrei)”. Therefore why do we need a special teaching and exclusion that one who forgets his Torah due to an Onais has not transgressed negative precept?

One could say the explanation is:

In the reason for the obligation to review one’s study properly, so that he not forget, the Bartenura (and similarly Rabbeinu Yonah) write that it is because:

 “From his forgetting he will come to permit the forbidden and therefore he will cause calamity/takala and his inadvertent sin will cause one to commit a sin with full intent (shegagto oleh zadon)”.

However the Alter Rebbe in his Shulchan Aruch does not cite this reason.

(even though the Alter Rebbe’s ruling in the subject of the prohibition of forgetting Torah – has its source in the words of the Ra’av - the Bartenura and Rabbeinu Yonah (as aforementioned in Par 2)

Therefore, it appears from this that according to the opinion of the Alter Rebbe, the prohibition to forget Torah is not (just) because of the calamity/takala that could occur as an outcome of this, but rather because of the essential forgetting itself.

This is further proven from that which the Alter Rebbe writes that:

“Even now, where the Oral Torah has been written, and one can research the books to remember that which he has forgotten, it does not help at all. For as soon as he forgets, he has transgressed a negative precept (even) before he researches it”.

Thus the essential forgetting of Torah,

(Immediately, and even if it does not subsequently cause a calamity, for he “can research the books”),

transgresses a negative precept.

One could say that the foundation of the Alter Rebbe is from the actual exhortation of the Torah: "be careful, etc. lest you forget the things etc.” For forgetting is seemingly not a deed/peulah but rather a condition that comes automatically and by itself.

However, a person can guard against forgetting by reviewing his studies properly.

Therefore, if the intent of the Torah in the verse “lest you forget etc.” is an obligation, that a person must know and remember Torah laws in order to avert a calamity through him, then it (the verse) should have written the exhortation in a manner of deed/asiya. In other words, the command (should have been on the person’s actions) that he review Divrei Torah (in order that the person constantly remember all Torah laws) and not (just) to exhort against forgetting (“lest you forget etc.”).

From this we learn that forgetting Torah itself (even without the calamity/takala that could arise from this) is an aspect that the Torah exhorts against.

6. From this it is understood why there is a need for a specific clause stating that if a forgets one’s learning due to a hardship/Onais, he has not transgressed negative precept (and that he does not forfeit his life) – even though throughout the entire Torah the principle is that “the Torah exempts one who cannot perform his obligation due to hardship/Onais (Onais rachamana patrei)”.

There are two manners (parts) to an exemption/p’tur for an Onais:

·         Even though the act of the sin is considered an act of man, nevertheless it is impossible to find him guilty/l’chayevo (to punish him etc.) on something that was done against his will.

·         Since this was done against his will we do not consider it a sin (whose aspect is defined as a person transgressing the will and command of G-d).

That which a deed that was done due to an Onais is not considered a sin - is only when the sin is a forbidden act/peulah that was done against one’s will. However forgetting Divrei Torah and its prohibition - is not a prohibition regarding the deed, but rather regarding the condition of forgetting that comes from itself and automatically (and man’s deed is to negate this condition through reviewing). Therefore one might posit that even the forgetfulness is due to an Onais, even though he is exempt (like the aforementioned first manner) nevertheless it still is in the realm of “transgressing a negative precept/Lav”. Although there is no obligation and punishment, however, the condition of forgetfulness exists.

And this is the innovation for the specific clause and limitation to exclude forgetting due to an Onais. For this is not considered forgetting Torah. In other words, the exhortation to a person against forgetting Divrei Torah, does not apply at all, except when one does this of his own free will. However, when this is due to an Onais, the command and negative precept does not apply, at all, even the negative precept against forgetting Divrei Torah.

And this is further proven/yumtak according to what is written (further on in Hilchot Talmud Torah there concerning: “One who is very expert in all of his studies that bring one to deed” that:

“One may set aside every day a small amount of time for another study . . it is a proper thing . . to set aside his study”) - To learn once the order of the entire Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi etc. (and he continues) and even if he forgets it all, in the Future, he will remember all the learning that he forgot due to Onais. For it is impossible to review so much so that he should not forget this study . .and even now . . there is no forgetfulness before the throne of Your glory which is above wisdom etc.” –

Thus it clearly states that if one forgets due to an Onais, that not only is there no punishment, but even more so, that that there is also no prohibition/Isur of forgetting Torah. Because it is similar to (the principle regarding) something that will certainly revert to its former condition where it cannot be bestowed or acquired by a person. (The same applies to) Torah that was learnt and forgotten – for “in the Future, he will remember it” (“and even now” the Torah that he learnt is remembered Above “before the throne of Your glory”).

7. One could say that the explanation of this is:

According to the aforementioned that the prohibition is the essential condition of forgetting Divrei Torah, one could say that even according to the view of the Alter Rebbe, the reason and nature of the prohibition against forgetting Divrei Torah is similar to that which is written in the Semag (sefer Mitzvot Gadol – a compendium of the 613 Halachot) that he “separates from Torah (“poreish min HaTorah”) but it is not a separation due to a positive act but rather since he himself forgets Divrei Torah (even if he occupies himself with other parts of Torah) it is considered a separation from Torah, for these aspects of Torah are removed from him.

This is also the reason that if one forgets “due to an Onais”, the Divrei Torah are not (totally) forgotten from him (like the aforementioned from the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch) for forgetting Torah due to an Onais is not his separation (i.e. of his own volition) from Torah, but rather forgetting due to an Onais.

Thus from the person’s perspective there is no separation from Torah at all. Therefore, even from the Torah’s perspective it is so, for the Divrei Torah that he learned does not contain a change that between the acquirer and bestower, as aforementioned.

8. According to all of the above, one can explain the aforementioned story of R’ Zeira who “fasted a hundred fasts to forget the Babylonian Talmud, that it should not trouble him”:

Since the whole intent of R’ Zeira was to be able to learn the Talmud Yerushalmi properly (without the troubles of Talmud Bavli), it is simple that this is not considered “separating from Torah”. On the contrary this is a preparation and qualification to a much higher manner of learning Torah.

And moreover, the benefit of learning and understanding Talmud Yerushalmi properly is not just in the manner of study, in general, but rather it affects the aspect of remembering Divrei Torah itself.

One of the differences between the manner of learning Talmud Bavli) and the manner of learning Talmud Yerushalmi is that:

·         Talmud Bavli is called “He has made me to dwell in dark places” for compared to Talmud Yerushalmi it is considered “darkness”.

·         Whereas Talmud Yerushalmi is “light” and “There is no Torah like the Torah of Eretz Yisroel”.

The difference between them, simply, is that Talmud Bavli has many debates until the one reaches the resolution, whereas Talmud Yerushalmi has little or no debate. It is like a person who is in an illuminated place where everything is revealed before him and he can immediately find what he requests.

It is simple to understand, that the myriad of debates is hard for the memory, whereas when everything is revealed and clear, it is easier to remember all the particulars of the subject.

Therefore, this itself, that R’ Zeira fasted a hundred fasts to forget the Babylonian Talmud, that it should not trouble him (and that he should be able to learn Talmud Yerushalmi) caused that the Torah was protected/tishamer in his memory with greater vigor and strength.

(This is similar to the Talmudic statement (which is cited before the law of “Anyone who forgets even a single thing from his Torah learning transgresses a negative precept/Lav)”, that:

“There are times when the suppression/bitula of the Torah may be the foundation of the Torah”,

And as it states elsewhere that specifically at times - through the “suppression of the Torah” it is the way to reach the “foundation” namely in order that the Torah becomes rooted/tisysed and based/tisbases in the person).

Therefore it is simple that there is no prohibition whatsoever of forgetting Torah.

9. One can explain this on a deeper level:

The reason that the essence of forgetting Torah is an aspect of a prohibition/Isur (and immediately when he forgets Divrei Torah he transgresses a negative precept) is because the words of Torah are our life and length of our days (Ki heim chayeinu v'orech yameinu). Therefore the essential thing that he forgets and if he removes something from his learning is considered removing his “life” from himself. Therefore he transgresses a negative precept/Lav.

And this is also the reason that if one who forgets even a single word of his learning, the Torah considers it as if he had forfeited his life - for seemingly it is puzzling. Is forgetting a single word of his learning, so severe, that he should forfeit his life?!

However, this is not in the realm of punishment, but rather it is an outcome of forgetting. For Divrei Torah are the vitality of one’s soul, our life. Therefore if one forgets and removes from himself even one thing from Divrei Torah, these elements of the vitality of his soul are removed from him.. This is similar to the saying of the Sages:

'What is the difference whether you killed it altogether or only half-killed it” (mah li katla kula mah li katla palga) - he “forfeits his life”.

 From this it is understood regarding R’ Zeira. Since the entire intent of these fasts was that to enable him to properly learn the Talmud Yerushalmi , there is no separation G-d forbid, whatsoever from (the ways of) Torah, but on the contrary , this is the way to enable one to learn and unite with Torah, on a higher level , in a manner of “light”.

m'Sichas Shabbat Parshat Terumah and Shabbat Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei 5740


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