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    At forty for understanding – Ki Tavo

    Summing up his long period of leadership, Moses says to the people, “The Lord did not give you a heart to know… until this day” (Deut. 29:3).

    The Talmud remarks that a person does not understand the mind of a master until forty years later (AZ 8b).

    Coming across this statement led me to contemplate how wise were our sages. For it is indubitably true that it takes many years to understand and appreciate full the quality of a good teacher, or, for that matter, a good parent or other person of influence.

    What really matters is not the textbook information they impart, but rather the character, the ethos, the attitude, the way of thinking of the person. And not until you have been through many of life’s experiences, with all their knocks and challenges, do you realise that you have been exceptionally fortunate to have had a guide and mentor whose thinking has moulded your own instinct and approach.

    Whether it literally takes forty years to recognise may be debatable, but what is certainly true is that not until years afterwards do you appreciate your parents and teachers to the full.

    This is not quite what Yehudah ben Tema had in mind in Pirkei Avot (5:24) when he said that forty years was the age of understanding, but his observation gains added point when read in conjunction with the Talmudic comment we have quoted.

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