Off the Pulpit: Cheap but precious


In a Talmud seminar Talmud with Prof. David Weiss Halivni we once came across a misquotation from a well known Talmudist. When we questioned Prof. Halivni, he asked us in turn how many had complete sets of Talmud in our homes. We all raised our hands. How many had two, or three? Several kept our hands up. “Well,” he said, “this man did not have an entire set in his town. He quotes from memory.”

There was a time in human history when material for learning was scarce and precious. Now it is ubiquitous. It is difficult for a new generation to imagine the reverence that once greeted the acquisition of a book or the avidity with which we used to sort through used bookstores to find a treasure we had heard of but never seen.

Yet the availability of learning should not actually make acquiring knowledge any less valuable. As famed Bengali writer Rabindranath Tagore writes in his novel, “Farewell my Friend: “I shall recognize a real jeweler in the man who knows the worth of a jewel even when he gets it cheap.” Knowledge may come cheaper these days, but knowing is still priceless. 

(Rabbi David Wolpe is the senior rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles.)

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