On being a sifter...

As many of our younger congregant's head back to school I am reminded of a favorite teaching of mine about the different types of learners. This teaching comes from Pirkei Avot a collection of Jewish wisdom compiled by the first Rabbis between the first century BCE and 200 CE:

"There are four types of students -- a sponge, a funnel, a strainer, and a sifter. The sponge absorbs everything. The funnel brings in on this [side] and brings out on the other. The strainer lets out the wine and retains the dregs. The sieve lets out the flour dust and retains the fine flour." Pirkei Avot 5:18

Whether you are young or old, a student in school or merely a student of life I feel there is something in this teaching for all of us who aspire to learn. While many of us admire "so and so the sponge of information" Judaism asks us to aspire to something different. Jewish tradition as us to be the sifter. For us it should be enough to just absorb information, we must know what to do with it. There is so much noise in the world and the true challenge for the learner is to know what to listen for. The sifter, unlike the sponge, knows how to shut out the noise for the nuggets of content. This Shabbat I offer you the blessing of being like the sifter, may we all be discerning learners and consumers of information.