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Pirke Avot Chapter Five, verse fifteen

Another division of four, in the translation of R. Travers Herford:

Four characters of disciples. Quick to learn and quick to lose, his gain is cancelled by his loss. Slow to learn and slow to lose, his loss is cancelled by his gain. Quick to learn and slow to lose, this is a good portion. Slow to learn and quick to lose, this is an evil portion.

Other than the distinction from the previous verse that explicitly states that these characters are not choices but portions dealt out to people, and that knowledge is better than anger, there doesn’t seem to be much to say about this.

Well, except that there is an implication, I think, that the disciple has only one character, and that is a permanent matter. People are mostly quicker to learn when they are young, and quicker to lose when they are old. I was terribly distressed when I discovered that memorizing was much harder now than it was in my youth. I also think that I am quicker to lose than I was, but it’s hard to be sure.

In the Avot of Rabbi Nathan, there’s a different version, which focuses on studying, rather than learning.

There are four types of disciples:
One wishes that he might study and that others might study too—the liberal.
[One wishes] that he might study but not others—the grudging.
[One wishes] that others should study and not he—the commonplace type.
Some say: that’s the Sodom type.
[One wishes] that neither he nor others should study—that’s the thoroughly wicked.

This is easy stuff, isn’t it? There are four types of cooks: those that cook for themselves but and others… There are four types of singers: those that have pitch but do not have rhythm… there are four types of library patrons: those that take out a lot of books but return them on time… there are four types of candidates: those that do not win primaries but not win general elections, those are the appointees…

As I see it, there are four types of these typologies: those that have meaning but are not witty, their gain is consumed by their loss. Those that are witty but have no meaning, their loss is consumed by their gain. Those that have meaning and are witty, they shall be included in the sayings of the wise. Those that have no meaning and are not witty, they shall be converted to images and posted to Facebook.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,