Midot Hayom: Day 49: Malchut in Malchut
Following the example of Rabbi Yochanan who described the individual teaching methods of his disciples, Rabbi Yehudah the Prince identified the distinctive approach to learning of the following sages: Rabbi Tarfon, Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Elazer ben Azariah, Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri, and Rabbi Yosi Hagelili: He called Rabbi Tarfon “a pile of stones”, or some say, “a pile of nuts” for when you remove one from the pile, they all tumble down on top of each other. When a Torah scholar asked Rabbi Tarfon, “Please explain a certain halachic point to me,” Rabbi Tarfon’s answers came in a torrent, like a collapsing heap of nuts. He quoted all relevant sources in Scripture, Mishna, Midrash, Halacha, and Aggadah. When the scholar left, he went away filled with blessing and goodness.
He called Rabbi Akiva “ a neatly arranged warehouse,” his learning was broken down into clearly defined areas of study. To what can Rabbi Akiva be compared? To a laborer who looked for work carrying his basket. When he found a job harvesting wheat he was paid with wheat, which he put in the basket; when he was paid with barley he put that in the basket; when he was paid with spelt he placed it in the basket; when he was paid with beans and lentils, he put those in his basket. At home, he sorted the wheat, the barley, the spelt, the beans, and the lentils. Thus Rabbi Akiva categorized the subject matter when teaching his students, separating the five areas of study, arranging the whole Torah in rings of individual themes.
He called Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah a spice-peddler’s basket, as he had his answers readily available. When the townsfolk asked him: “Do you carry good oil? Do you carry fragrant ointment? Do you carry balsam?” they found that he carried everything with him. Similarly, when a scholar asked Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah a question about Scripture, he had an answer; so too, he answered questions on Mishna, Halacha and Aggadah. When the scholar left he went away filled with blessing and goodness. Avot of Rabbi Nathan 18:1
This Mishna is a powerful reminder of the qualities we desire in a leader. Whether the leader is a Rabbi Tarfon, a Rabbi Akiva, or a Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah, he has all of Torah to guide him. He is broadminded and familiar with everything. He is not a specialist in only one thing. His Malchut – greatness – derives from his Malchut – all-encompassing – approach to Torah and wisdom.