Ki tetze: The Formative Years

August 17, 2023

Elisha rebelled against G-d, but Rabbi Meir continued to study from him. How is this possible? A fascinating story with a critical lesson about children's education.

(משיחת שבת פרשת אמור, ה’תשמ”ב)

A. The Story of Elisha ben Avuya

In this week’s Torah reading we learn the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird (Source 1).

Four people entered the “Pardes” and the outcome was that Elisha ben Avuya left the Torah path (Source 2). The Jerusalem Talmud says that Elisha, or “Acher,” saw a man doing the mitzvah of sending away the mother bird and immediately falling dead. This made him skeptical of the Torah’s truth and the concept of reward and punishment (Source 3).

Even after Acher left the Torah path, Rabbi Meir continued to study Torah from him (Source 4). Once, Acher was riding a horse on Shabbat and Rabbi Meir ran after him, begging to study Torah. Acher stopped and noted that he had reached the limit one may travel outside the city on Shabbat (Source 5). 

Although no longer religious, Acher still taught Torah to Rabbi Meir. Where did he get the capacity for something so unusual?

B. What Was His Secret?

Acher’s secret lies in his own words in Ethics of the Fathers: “One who learns Torah in their youth is comparable to ink written on new paper.” Meaning that Torah knowledge gained during one’s youth is not forgotten (Source 5). Since Acher learned much Torah in his youth, it remained with him forever.  The Talmud relates that at Acher’s brit, his father said that his son would dedicate his life to Torah study (Source 6). This illustrates how much effort we must invest in our   children’s education, teaching them Torah from a very young age.

Story: The child was also listening to the Rebbe

Rabbi Meir taught not to look at the vessel but at what it contains. Accordingly, he Torah from  like one eats a pomegranate: he ate the fruit and discarded the peel. This conduct isn’t appropriate for all. The average person must study Torah from a teacher who resembles an angel of G-d.

C. Soul Rectification

When Elisha died, his students worked to provide a rectification for his soul (Source 7). This, the Rebbe explains, was in the merit of the Torah he had studied in his youth.



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