Champions are Brilliant at the Basics: John Wooden

Rav Yosef makes an interesting exclamation, which essentially translates as, “Have the Tannaim been removed from the world?” Meaning, why is it not possible to attribute the contradiction to two different Tannaitic opinions?

This unique phrase occurs five times in Shas, and always coming from Rav Yosef. We should wonder what might be unique about Rav Yosef that he had a habit of using this phrase?

In passing, the Penei Yehoshua (Kiddushin 15a) draws a connection between this speech pattern of Rav Yosef and his fame as a “Sinai”, that is a sage with encyclopedic knowledge of Tannaitic teachings, Mishna’s, beraisos, etc.  It also significant to note that Rav Yosef was blind (Kiddushin 31a), and we might surmise that his blindness, like most challenges in life, can and were turned into an asset, in that he had to sharpen his memory without having the luxury of visual input and data retrieval. 

The Talmud (Berachos 64a) describes the two qualities of sagacity, one being a “Sinai”, that is a person with great knowledge and data, and the other an "Uprooter of Mountains".  The "Uprooter of Mountains" is a double entendre, signifying analytic and pilpulistic abilities that can overturn and uproot previously held opinions, while also acting as an opposition to the mountain, that being the Mount Sinai.  Paradoxically, despite implying that the "Uprooter of Mountains" is more powerful than the Sinai by its choice of words, the Talmud concludes that the Sinai is the more essential quality.  That is basic knowledge is more important than analytic ability, as one cannot keep the Torah without being facile in the core halakhos. 

This value of being a “Sinai” over an “"Uprooter of Mountains"” is made in the strongest fashion by Maharal (Nesivos Olam, Nesiv HaTorah 5)

והנה הבחורים רכי השנים, אם היה בהם גרסא דינקותא, אין ספק כלל שהיו רגילים ויודעים כמה וכמה מסכתות קודם שיכנסו לחופה לישא נשים, ועתה אין להם מאומה בידם. והכל בשביל שלמודם תוספות, דבר שהוא הוספה. וכי לא היה טוב יותר שיקנה גוף התלמוד קודם. והכל בשביל שנדפסו התוספות אצל הגמרא, ואילו נדפסו פסקי הרא"ש ושאר חדושים שחברו האחרונים מנוחתם כבוד אצל הגמרא, היו הכל לומדים על שטת ההלכה, אף הנערים הקטנים. כי מה לנערים אל דברים אלו, שדבר זה גורם לו שאינו עומד על שטת ההלכה על בוריה, כי איך הגדולים והקטנים ישוו יחד בלמודם. ואם אומרים לאבי הנער שיניח ללמוד את בנו שטת ההלכה, ולא ילמד עדיין התוספות, כאילו אומרים לו שלא ילמד כלל, כי אין האב חפץ רק בשם.

And what of the boys young of years, if only they had a memorized study from their youth, there is no doubt at all that they would be accustomed and know several tractates before marriage! Nowadays, they have nothing in their hands.  

And all of this comes because they choose to learn Tosafos, which literally means “addition”.  If it is an addition, why make it essential in primary studies? Is it not better to acquire expertise in basic Talmud first?  

Why are we in this state? Because the Tosafos were printed in the Gemara. If the rulings of the Rosh and other halakhic commentaries were printed on the Gemara page, then everyone would learn halakhah, even the little boys.  We must ask, why is it assumed proper that the advanced and the tyro study the same matters?

Even if we were to instruct the boy's father that his son learn halakha, it will feel to him as if we are telling him to not teach his son at all! WHY, because the father only wants prestige and not substance.

For Video versions of this click here, and look for title and daf.  

Translations Courtesy of Sefaria