Question: Must one honor all rebbeim the same way?

Short Answer: A person must honor his rebbe muvhak (i.e., primary rebbe) more than his regular rebbe.



I. Olam HaBa

The Mishnah (Bava M’tzia 33a) states that returning the lost object of your rebbe takes precedence to returning the lost object of your father. The Mishnah explains that a person’s father brings him into this world, while a person’s rebbe “brings him” into the World to Come via the Torah that is learned under his tutelage.

The Rambam (Hilchos Talmud Torah 5:1) codifies this Gemara and adds that there is no greater honor and respect that a person can bestow than the honor and respect that is bestowed upon a person’s rebbe. Indeed, “fear” (i.e., “mora”) of a rebbe is compared to fear of Hashem.

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 242:1) likewise codifies this Gemara, ruling that a person must honor and fear his rebbe more than he honors and fears his father.

II. The Source

What is the source for this obligation that a person must honor and fear his rebbe?

The sefer Toras Chacham (Vol. 1, p. 1) notes that the source of honoring a rebbe is a machlokes between the Rambam and the Yereim. The Rambam (mitzvah 209) writes that the source is from the pasuk of “v’hadarta p’nei zakein.” The Yereim, on the other hand, writes that the source is from the pasuk “Es Hashem Elokecha tira,” which the Gemara (P’sachim 22b) extrapolates (based on the extra word “es”) to refer to honoring talmidei chachamim.

The Toras Chacham notes that the Rambam does not ignore the pasuk of the Yereim (nor the Gemara), but simply distinguishes between two different types of rebbeim: a person’s primary rebbe (“rebbe muvhak”) and his general rebbe (“rebbe she’eino muvhak”). The obligation to fear a person’s rebbe, learned from the pasuk of “Es Hashem Elokecha...,” applies solely to a person’s rebbe muvhak. The general obligation to honor a person’s rebbe, learned from “v’hadarta p’nei zakein,” applies to all rebbeim of a person. See also Toras Chacham (ibid) for his explanation of the opinion of the Yereim.

III. Limited to Rebbe muvhak

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 242:30) likewise limits certain obligations with respect to honoring a person’s rebbe to a rebbe muvhak. For example, certain laws of mourning the death of a rebbe are limited to a rebbe muvhak. Indeed, the Rambam (Hilchos Talmud Torah 5:9-11) also limits certain halachos to a rebbe muvhak. For example, only a rebbe muvhak may be “mochel his kavod,” i.e., waive his right to be honored.

G’vuras Yitzchak (Sanhedrin 5b) cites the Brisker Rav to explain the Rambam’s position. The Rambam understands that there is a fundamental distinction between the obligation to honor a rebbe muvhak and between the obligation to honor a regular rebbe. The obligation to honor a rebbe muvhak is an obligation from the student to this rebbe, and it thus may be waived by the rebbe muvhak if he wants. The obligation to honor a regular rebbe is an obligation on the student to honor rebbeim generally and is unconnected to a specific rebbe. Accordingly, no single rebbe may waive this obligation. Thus, even when a rebbe muvhak waives the obligation specific to him, there remains an underlying obligation for the student to honor the rebbe muvhak that is no different from his obligation to honor a regular rebbe. See also Rav Baruch Povarsky (Bad Kodesh, Bava Kama/Bava M’tzia 37).

IV. Regular Rebbe

There is also a dispute whether there is a d’Oraisa obligation to fear a regular rebbe (or must you just honor him mi’d’Oraisa). See Toras Chacham (p. 6). While the Yereim lists this obligation in his listing of mitzvos d’Oraisa, the Rambam (Shoresh 2) attacks this classification.

 Next Week’s Topic: How does a person determine who is his rebbe muvhak?

Rabbi Ephraim Glatt, Esq. is Assistant to the Rabbi at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills and a practicing litigation attorney. Questions? Comments? Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..