Torah is Joy

Rabbi ReuvenMann

Weread in the Hagadda: Rabbi Eliezer Ben Azaria said, I am as aseventy year old and did not understand why we mention the Exodusevery night until Ben Zoma explained etc. The main subject ofthis paragraph is the Talmudic debate regarding the proper interpretationof "All the days of your life" which pertain to therecitation of the Shema. We may ask; what is the purpose of introducinga halachik discussion with Rabbi Eliezer's revelation about hisage? Of what significance is it that he did not learn the reasonfor a certain observance until he was seventy?

Theworld of Torah constitutes a universe unto itself, distinct fromany other field of intellectual endeavor. The objective of thesecular scholar is to achieve a certain level of expertise whichenables him to reap the practical benefits of being regarded asan "authority". He is therefore at his most creativein his younger years. His energies are directed toward innovativeand progressive approaches. However at a certain point he ceasesto investigate and begins to disseminate. His ideas assume a fixedform. The desire to learn new things is replaced by the complacentfeeling that "there is no reason to study what you alreadyknow."

Complacencyis antithetical to Torah. The Talmid Chacham never loses his youthfulinquisitiveness and delights in discovering new insights. Thisgoes together with a certain intellectual humbleness. Torah isso vast and profound that even a genius at an advanced age canbe stumped on a basic point. This is what Rabbi Eliezer wantedto convey. He was a great Talmid Chacham and was already seventy.Yet he had not lost his youthful desire for knowledge and opennessto the ideas of others. Thus he wanted to express his excitementupon learning the drasha of Ben Zoma. This lesson is very relevantto the holiday of Shavuot. It reminds us that the greatest giftG-d has bestowed on us is the Torah. Judaism is more than a bodyof rules and regulations that govern every aspect of personaland communal life. It is a system of concepts, a body of knowledgeand a method of analysis which enables us to access the most significanttruths that enlighten our existence.

We must, therefore, cultivate the properattitude toward Torah. Laziness must be overcome. Effort, consistencyand steadfastness are required. Age should never be an issue.Rabbi Akiva was an ignorant shepherd until the age of forty. Hewent on to become one of the greatest Sages of our history. Heexemplifies the principle that at any point in one's life enormousand unimaginable gain can be derived from Talmud Torah. RabbiEliezer Ben Azaria was a great scholar whose love of learningonly increased with age. These role models demonstrate that Judaism,unlike any other religion, is not only about duty, responsibilityand sacrifice. It is about the profound joy of perceiving thewonders of G-d's Torah and becoming a partner with the Almightyin fulfilling His plan for the Jewish people and all mankind.The true student of Torah who appreciates its sublime beauty neverreally ages. He remains forever young.