In the past, it was common for people to learn a trade by serving as an apprentice. If one wished to learn a trade different from that of one’s family, a professional was paid by the young person or the youth’s family to teach him.

Although the Torah does not formally discuss life details such as apprenticeships, it was noted in Midrash Numbers Rabbah that such a training program is alluded to in the instructions given to the Levites.

In Numbers 4, it is instructed that the census of each Levite family was to be “from thirty years old and upward even until fifty years old, all that enter upon the service, to do work in the tent of meeting” (Numbers 4:3). However, in Numbers 8 it is written that “This is that which pertains to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall go in to perform the service in the work of the tent of meeting” (Number 8:24).

If the Levites were to serve in the tent of meeting from the ages of twenty-five to fifty, why were the individual families counted only after reaching the age of thirty? Our sages explain that this is done “only to tell you that all those five years, from the age of twenty-five to the age of thirty, he [the Levite] served his apprenticeship and from that time onward he was allowed to draw near to do the service” (Numbers Rabbah 6:3).

The fact that the Levites served an internship is interesting. But, more fascinating is the “life-coaching” lesson that the sages learned from the apprenticeships of the Levites. The Midrash continues to state: “From here it has been inferred that a person who sees no sign of success in his studies within a period of five years, will never see it any more. Rabbi Jose says three years…”

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