Wednesday, June 3, 2009

2:1:765-771 - The merits of the sages

Around midnight on the Hadar Shavuot Retreat, EAR led a session in which we studied and discussed that day's section of Sefer Ha-Aggadah. It was attended by some people who have been participating in Sefer Ha-Bloggadah, including General Anna and feygele, as well as others who were new to the whole thing.

This is an assortment of various thoughts expressed in the discussion:

  • Are the middle three (especially "he made his mother happy") damning with faint praise?
  • On the other hand, "he made his mother happy" is the only one that has anything to do with relationships with other people.
  • The first and last are clearly the highlighted ones, and they're both about water. Retaining everything is great, but not as great as flowing forth with creativity.
  • Or maybe retaining everything isn't so great, if it means you always hold a grudge and never move on.
  • R. Eliezer ben Hyrcanus was also the protagonist of the oven of Akhnai story, and the description of him here fits the events of that story. In the story, R. Eliezer had the correct answer (confirmed by a bat kol) - he had the most faithful version of the truth, like a cemented cistern that never loses a drop. But he had a truth that resides underground, not a truth above ground on the surface that comes from exposure to real life. And the story involved all the sages on one side and R. Eliezer on the other.
  • Which of these is the best model for a teacher to emulate? It depends on the student.
  • What's the difference between walnuts and stones? Walnuts are edible, though also bitter.
  • R. Yochanan ben Nuri gets the short end of the stick (he's also the least famous of the five).
  • 765 was R. Yochanan ben Zakkai praising his students; this one is R. Yehudah haNasi praising his teachers and predecessors. Praise for students seems to be less common (both in rabbinic literature and in our culture).
  • Perhaps a better teacher isn't someone who (like R. Elazar ben Azaryah) just gives students (only) whatever they ask for, but someone who (like R. Tarfon) gives them other things to put it in context.
  • Clearly R. Akiva and Ben Azzai are old friends, and I thought this was a cool model for interpersonal relationships, that Ben Azzai had a deep respect for R. Akiva such that he considered him to be greater than all the sages of Israel, yet a close enough familiarity that he could refer to him jokingly as "this bald guy".
If you were there and remember more (or if you have your own thoughts to add), please post it here!

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