Elisha Ben Avuya Said: "He Who Studies Torah As A Child, To What Can He Be Compared? To Ink Written On Fresh Paper. And He Who Studies Torah As An Old Man, To What Can He Be Compared? To Ink Written On Paper That Has Been Erased."
Rabbi Yosse Bar Yehudah Of Kfar Habavli Said: "He Who Learns Torah From The Young, To What Can He Be Compared? To One Who Eats Unripe Grapes Or Drinks Wine From His Vat; While He Who Learns Torah From The Old, To What Can He Be Compared? To One Who Eats Ripe Grapes Or Drinks Aged Wine."
Rabbi Meir Said: "Do Not Look At The Vessel, But Rather At What It Contains; There May Be A New Vessel Filled With Aged Wine, Or An Old Vessel In Which There Is Not Even New [Wine]."
R. Ovadiah of Bartenura explains that the advantage of writing on fresh paper is that the writing lasts. The concepts a person learns in his childhood will be retained. This teaching was personified by its author, Elisha ben Avuya. In his childhood, his father had him focus his attention on Torah study.
When Elisha matured, he was attracted to heretical teachings,
and ultimately forsook the Torah life-style. Nevertheless, he retained his Torah knowledge, and was able to teach Rabbi Meir many concepts. Since the ink was written on fresh paper, even when the paper was sullied, the writing remained.
The connection between Rabbi Meir and Elisha ben Avuya also enhances our comprehension of the teaching of Rabbi Meir which is included in this mishnah....
In addition to the obvious lesson, this clause also explains why Rabbi Meir could study Torah from Elisha. Rabbi Meir did not look at the "vessel" - Elisha and his conduct - "but rather at what it contains" - the Torah knowledge he possessed. "Rabbi Meir found a pomegranate. He ate its contents and discarded its shell."
(It must, however, be emphasized that this approach is only appropriate for a Sage of the stature of Rabbi Meir. By and large, our Sages have given us the directive: "If a teacher resembles an angel of the L-rd of Hosts, seek Torah from him. If not, do not seek Torah from him.")
(Sichos Shabbos Parshas Emor, 5742)
The first clause of this mishnah
is readily understandable. Emphasizing the advantage of studying when young will encourage a person to make the most of his childhood years, and gain as much Torah knowledge as possible. Why, though, does the mishnah
continue, stressing the shortcomings of studying when older? What positive lesson can be derived from this?
The point of the mishnah is that age has a meaning beyond that expressed on one's passport. There are childlike traits of humility, openness and creative spontaneity that should be nurtured throughout one's lifetime. When a person displays these traits, he will succeed in the study of Torah.
When, by contrast, a person puts an emphasis on wisdom in its own right, his approach becomes rigid and self-contained, for he will learn only what he already appreciates as right, and this prevents him from apprehending the infinite dimensions of G-d's Torah.
(Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XIX, p. 40ff)
- (Back to text) Jerusalem Talmud, Chagigah 2:1.
- (Back to text) See Chagigah 15b.
- (Back to text) Ibid.
- (Back to text) Ibid.