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Monday, 22 September 2014

Want to work forever?

Daf Yomi Chagigah 14

An academic friend of mine, Fred, was telling me recently how much he envies me.
“You know,” he says, “you’re very lucky that, as a rabbi, you don’t have an expiry date.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, “There is no forced retirement in the academy!”
“That’s true,” he replied, “but you get to my age and you start to become irrelevant.  Despite all the wisdom one acquires over the years, the attention all seems to go to the young folks with the new theories.  It’s different being a rabbi – the older and wiser you will get, you the more you will be useful!”

The Book of Daniel declares, “His garment is like white snow and the head of His hair is like clean wool,” whilst the Song of Songs states, “His locks are curly, black as a raven.”

Rabbenu (our teacher) Chananel clarifies that the reason we have many opposing descriptions of the Almighty is to remind us that He has no form whatsoever.   So what is the meaning of these two anthropomorphisms, one that compares Him to an old person and the other that compares Him to a young person?

The Gemara explains: The first refers to when G-d is sitting (yeshiva) in judgment, and the second refers to when He is at war.  This is as the master has taught: There is no one better in the yeshiva than the elder and there is no one better in the battlefield than the young man.

If you’re a doctor, most people can only practice medicine for so long.  Many a lawyer too eventually gets rusty.  After years of practice, one begins to slow down as an accountant.  Hey, even your golf-swing gets a little tired after a while! 

But Torah is forever!  Torah is the only eternal, lifelong tool.  As long as your mind is intact, your Torah holds its value.  Actually, even beyond that point: our Sages instruct us that one must continue to honour a Torah scholar who has begun to rust due to age, just like the broken Tablets that were housed alongside the second Tablets in the Holy Ark!

Where Fred fell short in his assessment, of course, is that he failed to acknowledge that Torah is for everyone!  Nobody has the monopoly.  True, some of us have the great merit to be able to devote more of our time each day to the pursuit of the Almighty’s wisdom.  But no matter what profession you’re in, you have the ability and responsibility of Torah mastery.  And that’s a skill that will never become obsolete!

Dedicate yourself to Torah!  Whether it’s a few minutes on the commute to work, a podcast while you’re on the treadmill, or for twenty minutes after Shacharis (morning prayers), it is time well spent – not only in terms of Other-Worldly reward, but the greatest, most enduring skill you can acquire here in this world!

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