Cedars of Lebanon: An Aristocracy of Learning
It is said in Tractate Aboth: “Simon the Just was one of the last survivors of the Great Assembly. He used to say: Upon three things is the world based: upon the Torah, upon divine service, and upon the practice of charity. Rabban Simeon, the son of Gamaliel, said: By three things is the world preserved: by truth, by judgment, and by peace.” All these six pillars upon which the world is based were in existence in the Kingdom of Poland.
The pillar of the Torah: Matters that are widely known need not be proved, for throughout the dispersions of Israel there was never so much learning as in the Kingdom of Poland. There each and every community maintained yeshivot, and they lavished great compensation on the master of each yeshiva that he might maintain his yeshiva without worry and that the Torah might be his trade. And the master of the yeshiva would not leave his house the entire year except to go to the house of prayer or the house of study, and he was engaged day and night in the study of the Torah. Furthermore each community maintained young men and provided them with a weekly allotment of money that they might study with the master of the yeshiva, and for each young man they also maintained at least two boys who should study under his supervision so that he should orally explain the Gemara, Rashi, and Tosafot [the Talmud and its exegeses and commentaries] which he had learned, and thus they should become adept at argumentation.
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