Value Your Time in Yeshivah!

Zos asher laLeviim miben chamesh v’esrim shanah v’maalah yavo litzvo tzava b’avodas ohel mo’ed (Bamidbar 8:24)

In Parashas Behaalos’cha, the Torah stipulates that when a Levite turns 25, he begins serving in the Mishkan. Rashi writes that this seems to contradict a verse in Parashas Bamidbar (4:3) that says that Levites may not work in the Mishkan until the age of 30. Rashi resolves the apparent inconsistency by explaining that when a Levite turned 25, he began a five-year training period during which he learned the laws of the Divine Service, and at the age of 30, he actually began to work.

In his sefer Shemen Hatov, Harav Dov Weinberger points out that the work performed by a Kohen is far more complex and intricate than that carried out by a te, yet we find no mention of a parallel apprenticeship program for Kohanim to study the applicable laws and procedures governing their duties. Why are Levites required to undergo such a lengthy training period to master relatively straightforward tasks when there is no similar concept for Kohanim?

Rav Weinberger answers by noting that a Kohen is eligible to being working in the Mishkan immediately after his bar mitzvah, and he may continue serving there until his death, a period that can span more than 70 years. In contrast, a Levite’s eligibility is limited to only 20 years, as he may not begin working until he turns 30, and once he reaches the age of 50 he becomes disqualified (ibid.).

Accordingly, when a person’s period of employment is so finite, he does not have the luxury of on-the-job training. He must be up to speed on his first day, for he has no time to waste. This explains why Levites must spend five years learning all the details of their jobs, so that they will be ready to serve as soon as they turn 30 and the clock begins ticking, while Kohanim, who have an entire lifetime of work ahead of them, have no parallel requirement.

Applying this insight to our own lives, Harav Yissocher Frand notes that when boys enter high school at the age of 14, they view their time in yeshivah as if it will last forever. In reality, most people spend four years in high school, followed by a maximum of four or five years of intense beis medrash studies, after which they often get married or go to school to learn a trade.

If they are fortunate, they may be able to continue their full-time Talmudic learning in kollel for another four or five years, at which point they will likely need to begin responsibly providing for their burgeoning young families. Thus, what initially appears to be an almost infinite amount of time remaining to engage in Torah study without distractions is in reality limited to at most 12-15 years.

As we learn from the Levites, when a person has such a narrow window of opportunity, it is essential that he maximize every moment and make the best use of that time. For this reason, Rav Frand adds that on the day his son began ninth grade, the advice he gave him was to strive to learn 60 minutes every hour. He explained that the benchmark of a masmid is not necessarily how many hours he studies each day, but his commitment not to waste time and to learn 60 minutes each hour.

Q: The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 242:15) forbids a student to refer to his teacher by his first name. How was Yehoshua permitted to call his teacher Moshe by name (Bamidbar 11:28)?

A: The Gemara cites an opinion that a person who calls his Rebbi by name has no share in the World to Come, as Gechazi lost his portion (Sanhedrin 10:2) as a punishment for referring to his teacher Elisha by name (Melachim 2 8:5). Rashi explains that it is only forbidden to use the Rebbi’s name if one does not preface it with a title of honor, such as Mori v’Rabi (my master and teacher).

As support for this position, the Kesef Mishneh cites Yehoshua referring to his Rebbi as Adoni Moshe — my master Moshe. Accordingly, the Rema permits a person to say his Rebbi’s name if he appends a respectful title.

The Shach maintains that this may only be done if the teacher is not nearby, but in the Rebbi’s presence, his name may not be used even when adding an appellation. However, Harav Akiva Eiger notes that the Pri Chodosh disagrees with this distinction, as Yehoshua said Adoni Moshe directly to Moshe.

The Maharshal qualifies this heter further and adds two conditions. First, one must choose a different title of honor than what he normally uses. Additionally, the heter only applies in cases of need, in which the student will be misunderstood without mentioning the teacher’s name.

In Yehoshua’s case, rather than use the customary “Moshe Rabbeinu” (our teacher Moshe), he instead called him Adoni Moshe.It was also necessary for Yehoshua to use Moshe’s name, for if he only said Adoni, it would not have been clear if he was speaking to Moshe or to one of the other respected people present, such as Aharon or Elazar — and Moshe Rabbeinu, in his extreme humility (12:3), would never assume that a person who said “my master” was addressing him. Hence, there was no way for Yehoshua to get his attention but to directly address Moshe Rabbeinu as Adoni Moshe.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his divrei Torah weekly, please email