He (RYB”Z) used to say: If all the wise men of Israel would be placed on one side of a scale and Eliezer ben Horkonus on the other side, he would outweigh all of them. Abba Shaul said in his (RYB”Z’s) name: if all the wise men of Israel would be on one side of a scale, even if Eliezer ben Horkonus would be with them, and Elazar ben Arach would be on the other side, he (Elazar ben Arach) would outweigh all of them.
We have already said that the distinction of Rebbi Eliezer was in the uniqueness of his nefesh. It transcended the natural instability inherent in man’s physical dimension, giving him the ability to retain all that he learned. In stating that Rebbi Eliezer would outweigh all the wise men of Israel, RYB”Z was not implying a quantitative difference in the amount of information Rebbi Eliezer could retain compared to his contemporaries. Rather he saw that the source of his ability to retain information (“koach hanafshi”) was functioning on a level that transcended nature. As such, it had the ability to outweigh that characteristic in others, where it operates on a natural level. Forces that operate on a plane that transcends nature are more powerful than those operating within nature. (The concept of “outweighing” means that it is rooted in a more powerful force. The Maharal posits here, and in many other places, that metaphysical forces are more powerful than the similar force operating within nature, with more defined restrictions and a limited scope of operation.)
Abba Shaul says in the name of RYB”Z that all the wise men, including Rebbi Eliezer ben Horkonus, would be outweighed by Rebbi Elazar ben Arach. While Rebbi Eliezer ben Horkonus’s virtue emanated from his “koach hanafshi,” giving him the ability to retain all that he learned and absorbed, Rebbi Elazar ben Arach (whose virtue emanated from the same koach) was like a flowing spring that surges forth, enabling him to generate wisdom from within himself. Both of them incorporated many wisdoms within themselves. Rebbi Eliezer had these wisdoms due to the great quantity of wisdom he received from outside sources, all of which he preserved due to his powers of retention. Rebbi Elazar’s wisdom increased from within himself, making him like a flowing spring that surges forth.
We are taught in Masecheth Sukka (27b and 28a) that Rebbi Eliezer ben Horkonus never taught something on his own, but only “said over” what he had heard from his Rebbe (teacher). This is indicative of Rebbi Eliezer’s virtue of receiving Torah and not allowing any of it to be lost. Rebbi Elazar’s virtue, on the other hand, was that he was able to add from within himself to what he had heard from others.
It appears that Abba Shaul argues with the opinion of the First Tanna. The First Tanna is of the opinion that it is superior to have the wisdom residing within the individual, without the need to have to inject his personal opinion on something that he was asked. According to Abba Shaul, it is superior to be able to generate everything from his own wisdom and understanding, for in this way he would avoid any deficiency in knowledge and wisdom, just as a flowing spring is never at a loss for water. Rebbe Elazar had this power of self-generation in a supernatural way. Therefore, Abba Shaul said that Rebbe Elazar would outweigh all the wise men of Israel, even if they included Rebbe Eliezer ben Horkonus, since they functioned within the limitations of the natural system. Rebbe Elazar transcended that system.
(The Gemara in Sukka that was quoted, giving the attribute of Rebbi Eliezer as being one who never taught something on his own that he hadn’t heard from his Rebbe, requires explanation. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zt”l, was always astounded by this Gemara. It sounds like Rebbe Eliezer is being praised for simply being a good “tape recorder,” able to accurately repeat what he heard. This is very difficult to understand, since it is clear that Rebbi Eliezer must have been called upon to render opinions and decisions on matters that had never been presented to his Rebbe. It seems like a serious limitation if all he could do was repeat what he heard explicitly from his Rebbe! It is even more difficult, since in Avoth d’Rebbe Nathan, Ch. 6, we are taught that Rebbe Eliezer himself used to sit and extract from the text things that no had ever heard before.
(Rav Chaim, zt”l, would answer this with a very deep understanding of the praise of Rebbe Eliezer in Sukka, giving insight into the proper relationship of a student to his Rebbe. It is in the book of his Mussar discourses 5731/#23 and 5753/#2.)
(Of course Rebbe Eliezer taught new things that had not been thought of before he presented them. But he was such a diligent student of his own Rebbe, and he thought through his new ideas so carefully, that he knew that if his Rebbe had been presented with the issue at hand, he would have taught exactly what Rebbe Eliezer was now presenting. Everything he taught was an authentic representation of what his Rebbe would have said. If he wasn’t sure what his Rebbe’s opinion would have been, he refrained from expressing an opinion. He never added his personal opinions, but only applied and transmitted what he had learned from his Rebbe. This the secret and power of the accurate transmission process of Torah from Rebbe to student, ensuring us that the Torah we have today is an accurate reflection of the Torah that G-d revealed to us on Sinai.)
(The following section actually appears in the Maharal at an earlier point. For our purposes, it fits in better here, given the way we have be presenting these Mishnayoth. It has also explains why, in light of what I have written above in the name of Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zt”l, why Abba Shaul viewed Rebbe Elazar ben Arach’s virtue as being superior to Rebbe Eliezer’s. And why, in the coming Mishna, Rebbe Elazar’s perspective on perfection appears to be the prevailing one.)
Rebbe Elazar, as a flowing spring, had the source and root of his functioning residing in the sechel. It is the nature of the source to constantly flow and produce new resources. And it is the nature of the root to provide nourishment for new growth to extend beyond the limitations of the roots themselves. This describes Rebbe Elazar ben Arach, who was constantly producing new wisdom and insights. Something without roots withers away and dies, while something with dynamic roots is able to produce new growth in a prolific way.
Rebbe Elazar had this “koach” (special energy) of proliferation, and it served as the root for all the other “kochoth.” A person’s “kochoth” (energy forces) all emanate from some central force, and the location of this force is the heart, the central and nourishing element of the human life forces. Rebbe Elazar had the perfection in this central element, giving him the power to produce new resources in every dimension on a continuing basis.