Youthful Exuberance and the Wisdom of Experience

  • Rav Yitzchak Blau
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Understanding Aggada
Yeshivat Har Etzion

Shiur 13b: Youthful Exuberance and the Wisdom of Experience

By Rav Yitzchak Blau

"What appeared on the coin of Avraham Avinu? An elderly man and woman on one side and a young boy and girl on the other." (Bava Kama 97b)

It seems obvious that the gemara refers not to an actual coin but rather to some symbolic image of Avraham's accomplishments. After all, Avraham did not have a kingdom with its own currency, but he did create a spiritual revolution of awesome proportions. If so, what is the symbolic meaning of age and youth? Rashi explains that the young couple is Yitzchak and Rivka. According to Rashi, the coin symbolizes Avrahram and Sarah (the older couple) successfully passing on their spiritual message to the next generation. In contrast, Maharsha understands that both sides of the coin refer to Avraham and Sarah because even in their old age, they were granted the youthful ability to have a child.

R. Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, in his Lefrakim, also understands that both sides of the coin depict Avraham and Sarah. The two of them were able to combine the best of youth with the best of experience. The young are full of energy, enthusiasm, and the spirit of revolution. Indeed, the first Jewish couple energetically changed the world's concept of religion. On the other hand, older people tend to be more thoughtful, settled, and steady. Avraham and Sarah excelled in this area as well. They were able to combine the burning idealism of the young with the wisdom and consistency of the aged.

It is noteworthy that Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik writes that several notable Rabbonim - his father, grandfather and R. Hayyim Heller - exhibited this trait. In his eulogy for R. Heller, R. Soloveitchik writes of the religious scholar: "On the one hand, he is knowledgeable-sated, strong of intellect, rich in experience, sober-sighted, crowned with age, great of spirit. On the other hand, he remains the young and playful child; naive curiosity, natural enthusiasm, eagerness and spiritual restlessness, have not abandoned him." (The translation is taken from Shiurei ha-Rav).

May we succeed in not letting our wisdom dull our enthusiasm, and not let our energy overrun our wisdom.