The sad fate of Rabbi Elazar Ben Arakh is recounted in three distinct sources in Hazal. Even though he was a towering figure of talmudic creativity, he ultimately and tragically forgot his learning. This story can be understood more deeply by utilizing a “sugya approach” to broaden one’s understanding of the story in two ways. Both by culling the three narratives into one richer story and by considering the story against the background of how Rabbi Elazar Ben Arakh is described elsewhere. Among the areas for discussion that arise from this methodology are the dangerous allure of materialism, the need for collegial interaction in developing one’s own wisdom and understanding, potential negatives of excessive creativity, and the importance of forgiveness. This approach opens up new vistas for appreciating this story in particular and for analyzing aggada in general.
Rabbi Yaakov Blau teaches at Yeshivat Frisch and is the author of Medieval Commentary in the Modern Era: The Enduring Value of Classical Parshanut.