THe previous question "How should a rabbi resemble an angel" asked for the qualities a Rabbi should possess in order to be worthy of learning Torah from him. The Gemmarah prescribes that a rabbi must resemble an angel.

What criteria and how it should be checked to judge whether a rabbi resembles an angel?

Please don't limit yourself to general terms like piety and fear of Heaven. I'd like to know details: how one can be tested or verified that he's indeed worthy of learning from.


2 Answers 2


To quote Rav Shimon Shkop's take on that gemara (Chagigah 15b; translation mine, taken from "Widen Your Tent: Thoughts on Life, Integrity & Joy", ch. 1, available here, pp 71-73):

But to my mind it is worth knowing and contemplating what our Sages said on Chagigah 15b. How could Rabbi Meir receive Torah from the mouth of Acheir [the former Elisha ben Avuya, after he became a heretic]? Doesn’t Rabbah bar bar Chana quote Rabbi Yochanan [in Chagigah as saying], “What does it mean when it says, ‘For the Kohen’s lips should keep knowledge; they should see Torah from his lips, for he is the angel of Hashem, L-rd of Hosts” (Malachi 2:7)? If the rav is similar to an angel of Hashem, L-rd of Hosts, seek Torah from his mouth. And if not, do not seek Torah from his mouth.” And the Talmud concludes, “There is no question—this [Rabbi Meir studying under Acheir] is in regard to someone great, this [the verse] is of someone of smaller stature.”

It is worth understanding according to this how Rabbi Yochanan spoke without elaboration, since he speaks only of the smaller statured, not the greats. One may say that we should be exacting in that which Rabbi Yochanan said, “Seek Torah from his mouth” and not “Learn from him.” For in truth, one who learns from his peer does not learn from the mouth of the person who is teaching him, but listens and weighs on the scales of his mind, and then he understands the concept. This is not learning “from the mouth of” his teacher, but from the mind of the teacher. “Torah from the mouth” is only considered accepting the concepts as he heard them, with no criticism. And it was by this idea that Rabbi Yochanan spoke about accepting Torah from the mouth [i.e., uncritically] only if the rabbi is similar to an angel of Hashem, L-rd of Hosts.

And according to this, hinted to in Rabbi Yochanan’s words is a distinction between one who is of smaller stature and one who is great. The person of smaller stature will learn Torah from the mouth, for he is unable to decide what to draw near and what to keep away. Whereas a person of great stature who has the ability to decide [critically] does not learn Torah “from [someone else’s] mouth.”

Similarly, it’s appropriate to alert anyone who contemplates the books of Acharonim that they should not “learn Torah from their mouths,” they shouldn’t treat everything implied by what was said as a fundamental principle before they explore well their words.

Something like a hint of this idea can be learned from what the Gemara says in Bava Metzia, Chapter “HaSocheir es haPo’alim” [85b]: Rabbi Chiya said, “I made it so that the Torah would not be forgotten from Israel.” It explains there that he would plant flax, spread out nets [made of that flax, thereby] hunt deer, made parchment [of their hides], and write [on them] Chumash texts. This hints that whatever is in our power to prepare from the beginning of the Torah, it is incumbent on us to do ourselves, according to the ability that was inherited to us to explore and understand. And not to rely [passively] on the words of the Gedolim who preceded us.

I am not saying I personally would advocate shutting off critical thought when learning Torah. And I don't think that's Rav Shimon's intent either.

Rather, one should look for a rebbe who is so overwhelmingly ahead of you -- "like an angel" -- that trying to second-guess him seems silly. You might ask and challenge, but you have all expectation that your questions will be answered.

  • In what way is an angel "ahead of me"? Meaning, I don't get the analogy
    – robev
    Oct 18, 2019 at 19:18
  • @robev humans are superior to angels in that we can change ourselves, and to a large extent become who we wish to be. (Which is a plausible definition of what it means to be “in the ‘image’ of G-d”.) angels are stationary in the sense that they are what they are. That disclaimer behind us.... An angel’s “place” is with greater understanding and more immediate experience of the Divine than all of nearly all (Moshe may be an exception, and there could be others) humans. Oct 18, 2019 at 19:24
  • Questioning an angel’s statement about theology or why G-d allowed something to happen is silly - the angel is bound to be right and the human wrong. Asking questions, yes. Questioning as in doubting the rightness of the answer, is hubris. Oct 18, 2019 at 19:27
  • I don't understand: Are you saying that the Tzurva me-Rabanan (Torah scholar) that Tzerikhi leih Rabanan (the sages needed him, as he was a great Torah authority) could be excommunicated (Moed Katan 17a), because he wasn't overwhelmingly ahead ("like an angel") of Rav Yehuda, and Rabbi Meir could learn Torah from Acher (the heretic) (Chagigah 15b), because Acher was overwhelmingly ahead ("like an angel") of Rabbi Meir?
    – Tamir Evan
    Oct 24, 2019 at 17:15
  • 1
    @TamirEvan R Shimon is saying you should find a rebbe who knows things so far beyond you you aren't spending the whole shiur second-guessing and deciding what to like and what to discard. R Meir could learn Torah from Acheir (a case discusses in the introduction being quoted) because he was NOT that far ahead, and therefore R Meir can "take the wheat and discard the chaff." R Meir was the "someone great" who could make those assessments. And once Elisha ben Avuya became acheir, R Meir did indeed go find a new rebbe (in this sense; rebbe muvhaq, perhaps) -- R' Aqiva. Oct 25, 2019 at 10:48

From the Talmud (Moed Katan 17a):

There was a certain Torah scholar who gained a bad reputation due to rumors about his conduct. Rav Yehuda said: What should be done? To excommunicate him is not an option. The Sages need him, as he is a great Torah authority. Not to excommunicate him is also not an option, as then the name of Heaven would be desecrated.

Rav Yehuda said to Rabba bar bar Ḥana: Have you heard anything with regard to this issue? He said to him: Rabbi Yoḥanan said as follows: What is the meaning of that which is written: “For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek Torah at his mouth; for he is a messenger [malakh] of the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 2:7)? This verse teaches: If the teacher is similar to an angel [malakh] of the Lord, then seek Torah from his mouth, but if he is not pure and upright, then do not seek Torah from his mouth; even if he is knowledgeable about Torah, do not learn from him.

Based on this statement, Rav Yehuda ostracized that Torah scholar.

It seems that the only criterion is that the teacher should be "pure and upright". Or in other words as long as one does not gain a "bad reputation due to rumors about his conduct" he is similar to an angel.

  • Wait wait, "pure and upright" was the answer to the other question, this one asks how do I check for Rabbi's pureness and uprightness? Practically?
    – Al Berko
    Oct 17, 2019 at 17:42
  • "Pure and upright" was not my answer to the previous question, selflessness was my answer. But we can learn from this Gemorah that as long as one does not have a "bad reputation due to rumors about his conduct", he can qualify.
    – Joe Howard
    Oct 17, 2019 at 17:51
  • THen "Pure and upright" belongs there. This question asks how those qualities are verified.
    – Al Berko
    Oct 17, 2019 at 17:53
  • I asked specifically "Please don't limit yourself to general terms like piety and fear of Heaven.".
    – Al Berko
    Oct 17, 2019 at 17:59
  • My point here being that unlike your assumption that there are positive qualities that qualify one to be a teacher, from this Gemorah it would seem that the comparison to an angel is that a teacher must lack negative qualities ("bad reputation due to rumors about his conduct").
    – Joe Howard
    Oct 17, 2019 at 18:04

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