Many synagogues today bring in scholars in residence, experts who come from out of town to impart their wisdom by giving a d’var Torah or a public lecture over Shabbat. The mishnah on today’s daf is not unfamiliar with this phenomenon, but it wants to know what happens if such a scholar arrives on Shabbat itself. May one establish an eruv outside the town to permit one to go greet them? And what happens if there are two scholars arriving from opposite directions?
In the latter case, the mishnah tells us, you can hedge your bets.
If a sage comes from the east and he is spending Shabbat beyond the boundaries of my town, my eruv is in the east, so that I may go out to greet him there; and if he comes from the west, my eruv is in the west. If one sage comes from here, and another sage comes from there, I will go wherever I wish; and if no sage comes, neither from here nor from there, I will be like the rest of the inhabitants of my town.
The mishnah here tells us that it’s permissible to establish a conditional eruv — that is, you can place an eruv on each side of town and, depending on which direction the sage arrives from, that’s the eruv that becomes operable. In a case where two sages arrive on Shabbat from different directions, one can choose which eruv to use.
It’s obvious from this teaching that the rabbis would go to great lengths to greet a sage coming to town, even going so far as to create two eruvim to ensure they didn’t miss the opportunity. Rabbi Yehuda takes the discussion a step further with this teaching:
If one of the sages coming from opposite directions was his teacher, he may go only to his teacher, as it is assumed that was his original intention. And if they were both his teachers, so that there is no reason to suppose that he preferred one over the other, he may go wherever he wishes.
What a great problem to have. On such a fortunate Shabbat that multiple scholars are coming to town, Rabbi Yehuda rules that you should prioritize going out to greet your own teacher. But if both the scholars on this particular weekend are your teachers, you can pick whomever you like.
The Gemara disagrees, but with some beautiful reasoning:
The rabbis maintain that sometimes one prefers to meet the sage who is his colleague rather than the sage who is his teacher, as sometimes one learns more from his peers than from his teachers.
Anyone who has ever studied with a havruta, or study partner, will recognize the truth of this statement. While one’s teacher is to be honored, it’s in the unvarnished, sometimes argumentative, and potentially messy back and forth with peers that true learning often emerges. As we learn in Pirkei Avot: “Who is wise? One who learns from every person.”
So next time you are blessed with multiple learning opportunities, keep in mind that the young rabbi from the next town over might have just as much to offer (or even more) than the world-renowned scholar from across the world.