Acquiring Torah 17: A New Pot
Rabbi Akiva gave five instructions to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai when Rabbi Akiva was incarcerated in prison (See Berachot 61b): Rabbi Shimon said to him, “Master! Teach me Torah!” Rabbi Akiva said, “I will not teach you (to protect his student from being imprisoned).” Rabbi Shimon said, “If you do not teach me, I will tell Yochai, my father, and he will report you to the government (for more serious crimes than those for which you were imprisoned [Maharsha])!” Rabbi Akiva said to him, “My son! More than the calf wishes to suck, the cow wishes to suckle.” Rabbi Shimon said to him, “But who is in danger? Is it not the calf (the student) that is in danger?” Rabbi Akiva said to him, “1. If you want to get yourself choked, hang yourself from a tall tree. 2. And when you teach your son, teach him with a book that has been corrected from mistakes. 3. Do not cook in a pot in which your friend has cooked. 4. If one wishes to perform a Mitzvah and profit handsomely, he should eat the produce and will have capital. 5. If one wishes to perform a Mitzvah and have a pure body as well, he should marry a woman, and to him, children!” (Pesachim 112a-b)
“Do not cook in a pot in which your friend has cooked.” The Talmud explains: What is this to which Rabbi Akiva refers? He is referring to a divorced woman while her husband is alive (Rabbi Akiva instructed Rabbi Shimon to not marry a divorcee whose husband is still living). For the master said; “When a divorced man marries a divorced woman there are four minds in the bed (each remembers the first spouse even when they are being intimate).” Or, if you prefer, say, “Rabbi Akiva’s instruction applies even to a widow because not all fingers are the same.” (Relations with her second husband may not satisfy her as did relations with the first. Rashi)
I have difficulty imagining Rabbi Akiva using his last few minutes of teaching Torah to teach this idea! Why would he teach Torah, at further risk to his life, to urge Rabbi Shimon to not marry a divorcee or widow?
Each generation has a different relationship and experience with Torah, Mitzvot, and Midot (personal development). (The Ari haKadosh [Mitzvot], Chiddushei haRim [Torah], Sefer Cheshbon haNefesh [Midot], and many more.) It is inevitable that people compare their experiences to those of former generations. People yearn for the intense faith of earlier generations. People reminisce about the festivals of their youth. People speak of the great leaders of earlier generations, before whom our leaders pale in comparison. We are as the widow and divorcee.
Rabbi Akiva, speaking to Rabbi Shimon about future generations that will feel, as Isaiah and Jeremiah described the generation exiled from Jerusalem by the Babylonians, as widowed by God, divorced by Him. They will, as did those present at the consecration of the Second Temple, compare what they have with earlier generations, “the first spouse,” and they will not experience the same pleasure. Their minds will be less focused on the here and now than on the past.
Rabbi Akiva is teaching Rabbi Shimon, and the leaders of all future generations, that they must teach Torah so that it can be received as exciting and fulfilling as a fresh relationship, unencumbered by memories of the past.
How do we teach our children? Are we telling them to recreate what once was? Are we constantly comparing them and us to what once was? Or, have we learned to only use a “Fresh Pot”?