Kiddushin 40b: Courtesy and Manners

Kiddushin 40b: Learning is great, for it leads to keeping mitzvos.

Ri Hazakein: Even good midos must come from the Torah, and if someone has not learned Torah but has naturally good midos, even his midos are incorrect. Rabbi Ovadia of Bartenura on Avos 1:1: The midos in Masechta Avos were not made up by Chazal, as the non-Jewish sages did in their books about how a person should behave with others, but rather all of it is Torah from Sinai, and that is why Avos begins with the words, “Moshe received the Torah from Sinai.”

קידושין מ ע”ב: תלמוד גדול, שהתלמוד מביא לידי מעשה.

ובתוס’ ר”י הזקן: בא לרמוז שהחכם מצד חכמתו יגיע אל המעשה השלם והטוב והוא קנין המדות הטובות והממוצעות, ומי שהוא בעל תכונות טובות לבד לא יגיע אל החכמה מצד התכונות הטובות, וגם מעשיו שהוא עושה אינם על דרך נכונה ולא על דרך אמת כמו שאז”ל אין בור ירא חטא ולא ע”ה חסיד, שאין לו מדע שידע המעשים שיהיו טובים מצד עצמם.

רע”ב אבות א,א: משה קבל תורה מסיני – אומר אני לפי שמסכת זו אינה מיוסדת על פירוש מצוה ממצות התורה כשאר מסכתות שבמשנה, אלא כולה מוסרים ומדות, וחכמי אומות העולם ג”כ חברו ספרים כמו שבדו מלבם בדרכי המוסר כיצד יתנהג האדם עם חבירו, לפיכך התחיל התנא במסכת זו משה קבל תורה מסיני, לומר לך שהמדות והמוסרים שבזו המסכתא לא בדו אותם חכמי המשנה מלבם אלא אף אלו נאמרו בסיני.

Two bochurim from Yeshivas Eitz Chaim came to speak in learning with the Alter of Slobodka in Hebron. One of them was an amazing iluy. The Alter spoke with him for half an hour, and for the whole time he spoke about the statement of Chazal (Midrash Rabbah Vayikra 1:15) that if a talmid chochom has no deiah (courtesy, common sense), a dead cat is better than him. The Alter described the disgusting appearance of a dead cat in great detail, and commented that as bad as it was, a talmid chochom with no manners was worse. The bochur went out puzzled. Only later did he realize that as he had been speaking with the Alter, he had had a glass of tea, and after the glass was empty, he had stuck his finger into the sugar left at the bottom of the glass and then licked his finger.

Rabbi Meir Chodosh related that Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer disputed the Alter’s assessment of this bochur, saying that he was very bright, not a “talmid chochom who has no deiah” and was destined for greatness. But the Alter remained firm in his opinion. Reb Meir followed the bochur’s progress over the years and in the end, nothing became of him.

[The above Ri Hazakein and Bartenura, who hold that good midos come from the Torah, seem to disagree with Rav Nissim Gaon in his introduction to Shas:

כל המצות שהן תלויין בסברא ובאובנתא דליבא, כבר הכל מתחייבים בהן מן היום אשר ברא אלקים אדם על הארץ, עליו ועל זרעו לדור דורים.

All those mitzvos that can be derived from logic and understanding, all of mankind was obligated to keep from the day of man’s creation, for all generations.

Accordingly, there are two ways to understand this story: 1) According to the Ri Hazakein, the Alter held that this bochur could not have been such a talmid chochom because he was not deriving manners and midos from the Torah. 2) According to Rav Nissim Gaon, the Alter held that although the bochur indeed had Torah, he was missing something more basic that is supposed to precede Torah, which is deiah – awareness and midos that can be derived from one’s own mind.]

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