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The gemara in kiddushin (29b) says

תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: הוּא לִלְמוֹד וּבְנוֹ לִלְמוֹד – הוּא קוֹדֵם לִבְנוֹ. רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר: אִם בְּנוֹ זָרִיז וּמְמוּלָּח וְתַלְמוּדוֹ מִתְקַיֵּים בְּיָדוֹ – בְּנוֹ קוֹדְמוֹ. כִּי הָא דְּרַב יַעֲקֹב בְּרֵיהּ דְּרַב אַחָא בַּר יַעֲקֹב שַׁדְּרֵיהּ אֲבוּהּ לְקַמֵּיהּ דְּאַבָּיֵי. כִּי אֲתָא חַזְיֵיהּ דְּלָא הֲוָה מִיחַדְּדָן שְׁמַעְתֵּיהּ. אֲמַר לֵיהּ: אֲנָא עֲדִיפָא מִינָּךְ, תּוּב אַתְּ, דְּאֵיזִיל אֲנָא.

The Sages taught: If one wishes to study Torah himself and his son also wants to study, he takes precedence over his son. Rabbi Yehuda says: If his son is diligent and sharp, and his study will endure, his son takes precedence over him. This is like that anecdote which is told about Rav Ya’akov, son of Rav Aḥa bar Ya’akov, whose father sent him to Abaye to study Torah. When the son came home, his father saw that his studies were not sharp, as he was insufficiently bright. Rav Aḥa bar Ya’akov said to his son: I am preferable to you, and it is better that I go and study. Therefore, you sit and handle the affairs of the house so that I can go and study.

And as the Rambam paskens l'halacha:

דהָיָה הוּא רוֹצֶה לִלְמֹד תּוֹרָה וְיֵשׁ לוֹ בֵּן לִלְמֹד תּוֹרָה הוּא קוֹדֵם לִבְנוֹ. וְאִם הָיָה בְּנוֹ נָבוֹן וּמַשְׂכִּיל לְהָבִין מַה שֶּׁיִּלְמֹד יוֹתֵר מִמֶּנּוּ בְּנוֹ קוֹדֵם. וְאַף עַל פִּי שֶׁבְּנוֹ קוֹדֵם לֹא יִבָּטֵל הוּא. שֶׁכְּשֵׁם שֶׁמִּצְוָה עָלָיו לְלַמֵּד אֶת בְּנוֹ כָּךְ הוּא מְצֻוֶּה לְלַמֵּד עַצְמוֹ

If a person wants to study Torah and he has a son whom he should teach Torah, his [study] takes priority over [that of] his son. If his son is wiser and a more creative thinker and thus capable of understanding what he studies more than he [himself] is, his son is given priority. Even though his son is granted priority, he should not neglect [his own studies]. For just as he is commanded to teach his son, he is commanded to teach himself.

Why is this so? Why does the fact that his son is smarter override the father's own obligation of talmud torah?

2 Answers 2

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In this case the father has two conflicting obligations: his own study and his son's. He can't do both, so he has to choose between them. So the tiebreaker is what will lead to the higher level of study overall. (Some explain that a major part of the mitzvah to learn Torah is to ensure the Torah will be transmitted. So if his son will do a better job, that is better Limmud Torah.)

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  • "Some explain that a major part of the mitzvah to learn Torah is to ensure the Torah will be transmitted." Do you have a source for this?
    – DavidM
    Jan 17 at 17:08
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    @DavidM It comes from a chaburah I saw based on the Rambam's Hilchos Talmud Torah.
    – N.T.
    Jan 17 at 17:56
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As study is primarily valuable to inform action it is sensible that the study that can better guide action is more valuable

Bavli Kiddushin 40b

וּכְבָר הָיָה רִבִּי טַרְפוֹן וּזְקֵנִים מְסוּבִּין בַּעֲלִיַּת בֵּית נִתְזָה בְּלוֹד. נִשְׁאֲלָה שְׁאֵילָה זוֹ בִּפְנֵיהֶם: תַּלְמוּד גָּדוֹל אוֹ מַעֲשֶׂה גָּדוֹל? נַעֲנָה רִבִּי טַרְפוֹן וְאָמַר: מַעֲשֶׂה גָּדוֹל. נַעֲנָה רִבִּי עֲקִיבָא וְאָמַר: תַּלְמוּד גָּדוֹל. נַעֲנוּ כוּלָּם וְאָמְרוּ: תַּלְמוּד גָּדוֹל, שֶׁהַתַּלְמוּד מֵבִיא לִידֵי מַעֲשֶׂה.

In connection to the mishna’s statement about the importance of Torah study, the Gemara relates the following incident: And there already was an incident in which Rabbi Tarfon and the Elders were reclining in the loft of the house of Nit’za in Lod, when this question was asked of them: Is study greater or is action greater? Rabbi Tarfon answered and said: Action is greater. Rabbi Akiva answered and said: Study is greater. Everyone answered and said: Study is greater, but not as an independent value; rather, it is greater as study leads to action.

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