Rabbi Dostai bar Yannai says in the name of Rabbi Meir:
Whoever forgets anything of his Torah learning, Scripture considers it as if he bears guilt for his soul.
Does this apply even if he forgot because his studies were too difficult for him? This is not so, one bears no guilt for his soul unless he sits idly by and through lack of concentration and review removes them from his consciousness.
Another long one! Rabbi Meir was likely the teacher of Rabbi Dostai.
Pirke Avot has, in previoius texts, emphasized how important Torah study / Scripture study / the learning of wisdom truly is. It is our life task when properly understood. It is the way of life we have been destined for:
- to study,
- to live out what we learn,
- to (as a result of our study) love God with our whole heart, our whole being, our whole mind – and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Without learning this way of life we are lost. We will learn this way of life at home in our families from our parents and extended families. We will learn this way of life in religious school from teachers – as appropriate for our ages. We will learn this way of life when we gather as a community to worship and study together. We will learn this way of life on our own as we live it out and learn from those we encounter.
If those are all the ways we can and should (and DO) learn this wisdom, this way of life – what if we forget something along the way? Isn’t it too much to be expected to learn????? This wisdom addresses that not unreasonable fear.
Unless our forgetting is due to a lack of concentration or effort we are without guilt. We may forget a rule or an interpretation, but rightly learned and lived out – we will not forget a way of life.
- Once we learn to be honest in our dealings with others we will be honest always. (Tempted not to be? Of course.)
- Once we learn to be truthful, or respectful of others, or loving … How could we forget??
One reason for the emphasis by the rabbis on not forgetting anything is the reality that “everything is connected to everything else”. One missing piece may lead to losing whole sections. We experience this in life as well – we know folks with “blind spots” in their lives (moral, emotional, social) who often end up in tragedy. In some respects this is “all or nothing” but with a recognition that we learn it at different levels as appropriate for our age and abilities.