Mishlei (Proverbs) 23:5 states:

הֲתָעִיף עֵינֶיךָ בּוֹ וְאֵינֶנּוּ כִּי עָשֹה יַעֲשֶׂה לּוֹ כְנָפַיִם כְּנֶשֶׁר וָעיּף יָעוּף הַשָּׁמָיִם

Should you blink your eyes at it, it is not here; for it will make wings for itself, like the eagle, and it will fly toward the heavens.

HaZa"L (Talmud Bavli, Masekhet Berakhot 5A, Original/English) cite this pasuq (verse) as a prooftext that "עוף" means nothing other than Torah:

אמר רבי שמעון בן לקיש [...] אין עוף אלא תורה שנאמר התעיף עיניך בו ואיננו

R. Simeon b. Lakish says: [...] The word ‘uf refers only to the Torah, as it is written: ‘Wilt thou cause thine eyes to close upon it? It is gone’

Chabad.org translate "עוף" as "blink", Halakhah.com as "close" and Mechon Mamre as "set".

I can understand how the word "בו" refers to the Torah. But, how does Rabbi Shime'on ben Laqish draw a parallel between "עוף" and Torah?

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    "refers only to" statements of this form are generally taken as hyperbole. They don't mean that this is the only meaning of the given phrase. – Isaac Moses Jul 30 '15 at 14:55
  • @IsaacMoses Good to know! But, it doesn't quite address how עוף could be understood as Torah in the pasuq. Unless, of course, you didn't mean for it to. – Lee Jul 30 '15 at 14:59
  • No, I think it's still very worthwhile to unpack the metaphor. – Isaac Moses Jul 30 '15 at 15:01
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    I'm trying to puzzle out what Maharsha (Brachos 5a) is saying, but I'm at a bit of a handicap because I don't know Mishlei :P ...he's saying that "תורה = עוף" depends on the context of the verses in Mishlei...and also that the proof for R"L is really from the end of the cited verse. – MTL Jul 30 '15 at 16:29
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    see judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/60167/… which cites the Mizrachi and Maharsha who write that the format "x" is only "y" means only that that is the local meaning; not the universal meaning. A link to parshablog is also included where he compellingly demonstrates that "x" is only "y" is a sort of poetic license rather than actual p'shat. – mevaqesh Jul 30 '15 at 19:26

You're misinterpreting the Gemara.

וָעיּף יָעוּף

is an emphatic use of the verb עוף.

The direct object in the verse is not mentioned. The verse just says "it". The inference is that "it" is Torah.

When R"L says "there is no עוף other than Torah", he means metaphorically: "If you see 'עוף' in a Pasuk with a non-specific direct object, it's making a reference to Torah."

Tl;dr - Torah isn't the "עוף" in the verse. Torah is the "it".

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  • Incidentally, it is referring to "the Torah that you learned", not "The Torah" generally. (EDIT: I think.) – Seth J Jul 30 '15 at 14:11
  • I don't see how this answers the question as your "TLDR" states "Torah isn't the 'עוף' in the verse [..., it's] the 'it'", whereas the Gemara clearly states that "אין עוף אלא תורה". Also, sources could greatly improve your answer. – Lee Jul 30 '15 at 14:27
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    @Lee I think what Seth means to say is that "אין עוף אלא תורה" means that "If you see 'עוף' in a Pasuk with a non-specific direct object, it's making a reference to Torah." I don't think that "אין עוף אלא תורה" means, literally, that "every time you see the word עוף it means Torah," because (taking a different example) if it did, then you'd have to review the entire Tanach and reread every instance of the word "מים" as Torah...I think Seth's understanding of "אלא תורה X אין" is reasonable. – MTL Jul 30 '15 at 14:56
  • These conjectures point in the direction of a thorough answer. If someone can include a source corroborating Seth's claims, I think we could all go home happier. – Lee Jul 30 '15 at 15:01
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    @Lee Fair. I'm going to poke around in the commentators that would say something along those lines (e.g. Maharsha), see what I can turn up. – MTL Jul 30 '15 at 16:14

Maharsha comments on the gemara that you cited:

ואין עוף אלא תורה כו'. דכל הענין נדרש לגבי תורה כי תשב ללחום וגו׳ ושמת סכין בלועך וגו׳ כמפורש פ״ק דחולין ואמר אל תיגע להעשיר וגו׳ כפרש׳׳י שם ואמר מבינתך חדל כמ״ש ואל בינתך אל תשען מלחזור על גירסתך כי התעיף עיניך בו וגו׳ כפרש״י דהיינו שימהר הדבר להשתכח ממך מיהו קשה בדרש הזה לומר משום דכתיב התעיף לגבי תורה קאמר דאין עוף אלא תורה דהא התעיף לא קאי על התורה אלא אעיניך דקרא ונראה דאסיפא דהאי קרא סמיך דכתיב כנשר יעוף בשמים דקאי על התורה וקאמר קרא דבני רשף שהם מזיקין העוף שהיא התורה שנמשלה לעוף שמעופף בשמים מגביהם ומסלקם מן האדם וק״ל:‏

Basically, the reason that the verse is interpreted to be discussing Torah is because the context in Mishlei (as explained in חולין) is discussing Torah.

He does note (in the section in bold type) that it's likely that the real source for R"L's statement was from the end of the cited verse, and not from the part of the verse that the gemara cites.

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  • This answer needs improvement. I'm not sure that I fully understand the Maharsha, and I'm not sure which gemara in Chullin he's referring to. If you can help, you're welcome to edit this answer :) – MTL Jul 30 '15 at 16:44

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