Acquiring Torah 4: Make The Time
When Rabbi Eliezer fell sick, Rabbi Akiva and his companions went to visit him. The Sages, seeing that his mind was clear, entered his chamber and sat down at a distance of four cubits (because Rabbi Eliezer had been placed under the ban; Bava Metziah 59b). ‘Why have you come?’ said he to them.
‘To study the Torah,’ they replied;
‘And why did you not come before now,’ he asked?
They answered, ‘We had no time.’
He then said, ‘I will be surprised if these die a natural death.’
Rabbi Akiva asked him, ‘And what will my death be?’ and he answered, ‘Yours will be more cruel than theirs.’
He then put his two arms over his heart, and bewailed them, saying, ‘Woe to you, two arms of mine, that have been like two Scrolls of the Law that are wrapped up (so they cannot be revealed). Much Torah have I studied, and much have I taught. Much Torah have I learnt, yet have I but skimmed from the knowledge of my teachers as much as a dog lapping from the sea. Much Torah have I taught, yet my disciples have only drawn from me as much as a painting stick from its tube (Sanhedrin 68a).”
The greatest Sage of the generation was distanced from the people when he was placed under a ban. His students, the leaders of the next generation, could not face Rabbi Eliezer in his pain and suffering, so they kept their distance until the scene described above. He knew why they had not come, and wanted to hear how they would explain their behavior; ‘And why did you not come before now,’ he asked?
When they responded, ‘We had no time,’ Rabbi Eliezer reacted sharply; He then said, ‘I will be surprised if these die a natural death.’
One who misses an opportunity to study Torah from a great Sage because he didn’t have the time, is not simply missing an opportunity, but fighting against Acquiring Torah.
In order to acquire Torah, one must go out a find the true Sages, the treasure houses of Torah and take full advantage of all they have to offer.