top of page

Post #21 (Trumah): Lighting up: The career task of lifelong learning

“Never stop learning because life never stops teaching” – Kirill Korshikov

“Make a candelabrum of pure gold…Six branches shall extend from its sides, three on one side, three on the other. Make its seven lamps and mount them so that they light the space in front of it”

Exodus 25:31–32.

"Command the Israelites to bring you pure oil from crushed olives for light, to kindle the lamp continually. Every night from evening till morning, before the Lord, Aaron and his sons shall set it up to burn in the Tent of Meeting……this shall be a rule for all time for the Israelites throughout their generations." Exodus 27:20–21.

The menorah (or candelabrum) is one of the oldest known religious artifacts. It has been a symbol of the Jewish people for over 3000 years. It assumed a central role in the Tabernacle when it was first constructed in the Sinai Desert after the Exodus from Egypt. The menorah continued to function in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after the Israelites settled the Promised Land. Moses was given precise instructions for its construction: It was to have a central stem and three branches on either side, totaling seven goblets, with each providing candlelight and fueled by pure olive oil. The oil was replenished daily and kindled nightly by the priests, ensuring its continual illumination. The menorah was to be fashioned in an intricate design, hammered from a single chunk of pure gold–it couldn not be disassembled. It was a highly decorative utensil relative to the other, more modest Tabernacle furnishings.

Over the ages, the menorah has been endowed with much symbolism. Among other associations, it has been linked to the Jewish people's mission to be a "light to the nations"[1]; its six branches have alluded to the six workdays, looking up to the seventh, central branch, the Sabbath, as a day of rest from creative work. The rabbinic commentator, the Netziv (Lithuania, 1816–1893), among many others, viewed the menorah as symbolizing all forms of wisdom, learning, knowledge, and brilliance. Thus, the menorah is defined by its uninterrupted illumination, its being continually replenished, and its allusion to the never-ending function of illuminating its surroundings with wisdom and knowledge.


The career task of lifelong learning

When will we ever learn? Lifelong learning is the pursuit of learning, growth, and development across the lifespan. Traditionally, a young man (sic) was to obtain all of the necessary professional skills as an apprentice to a master, then hone these skills with experience, thus defining his career for the remainder of his working life. Today's careers are much less predictable, and more options are available. Thus, the current conceptualization[2] considers lifelong learning as the central tool in an individual's career: It is a pattern of formal and informal activities that people sustain throughout their career to benefit their career development.

Lifelong learning has historically been associated with religiously inspired scholarly societies, such as Christian monasteries and Jewish rabbinical seminaries. The word scholar derives from the Old English word scolere, meaning one who receives instruction in a school or from a teacher. In the Jewish tradition, the popular description of prominent Torah scholars is talmid chacham (a wise student)--however this is actually a truncated version of the more accurate title of talmid chachamim-- a student of wise scholars. Thus, scholars, certainly in divinity and academia, searching and learning has not end.

In our time, continuous learning and updating has become a prerequisite for an individual's employability over the course of their career. Completing one’s formal education can no longer satisfy the requirements of the professional challenges that await. Unceasing technological advances require all fields to continuously improve their methods. Business models have changed radically; medical services are unrecognizable from the previous generation. Virtual learning, artificial intelligence, and remote workplaces have attracted the recent spotlight, all requiring new learning and adaptation to new paradigms that only partially overlap with the elements of our initial training.

Many large organizations have long subscribed to the principles of lifelong learning, with some offering coursework on company time. These are nice perks, but ultimately it is the individual’s responsibility to continually upgrade skills and knowledge, whether formally or informally. Now tasked with managing their careers, people need to view their job as a resource to be exploited, seeking opportunities to attain new learning, including volunteering for discretionary assignments. Remaining in the comfort zone of previously acquired knowledge will quickly become a career liability, whether in one's current or future work setting.

Fortunately, as all learning is interconnected, no new knowledge is ever wasted. This is due to the transfer of learning where seemingly unrelated skills will always find expression and enhance one’s performance. Check out the OECD's forecast for attaining workplace skills for 2030, calling for enhancing fusion skills:

To remain competitive, workers will need to acquire new skills continually, which requires flexibility, a positive attitude toward lifelong learning, and curiosity…[A] combination of skillsets that makes workers adaptable to technological change will be [critical]. Therefore education should focus on imparting fusion skills––the combination of creative, entrepreneurial, and technical skills that enable workers to shift into new occupations as they emerge.[3]

The menorah comprised seven lamps, each fueled separately but emanating from a single nugget of gold; thus, it illuminated its space from a unified source. Similarly, it's up to the individual to broaden their knowledge and wisdom from multiple sources, with all coalescing to illuminate their career and enhance their value as a person and worker.

Knowledge is a commodity that has inspired many. A familiar quotation from Mahatma Gandhi can exhort us even further: "Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever." And from Benjamin Franklin: "An investment in knowledge pays the best interest."

Aside from the noted benefits, empirical evidence in a longitudinal study[4] points to an additional benefit: Individuals that have maintained a variety of lifelong lifestyle factors, such as participating in clubs, religious organizations, sports, or the arts, a "cognitive reserve" is built up that acts as a defense against dementia and cognitive decline. What more is needed to justify the pursuit of lifelong learning?

Career tips:

  • The holistic nature of the menorah (made of a single unit rather than a modular entity) alludes to the principle that all learning (formal and informal) blends into your new, evolving gestalt as a professionally functioning adult. An insurance salesperson who happens to have learned plumbing skills becomes more attuned to their clients' homeowner challenges and how to deal with crises. A history teacher learning web design can now be inspired to present their classwork more creatively, accommodating more learning styles. A history teacher learning carpentry? You get the idea. In short, learning and new knowledge will never be viewed as "superfluous."

  • Some individuals find a formal education framework problematic for various reasons. This does not mean abandoning lifelong learning as a value. Learning can occur anywhere. Some options: 1. There are endless opportunities for moderately priced or cost-free online learning. 2. Taking a horizontal position in your organization may prove to be a source of skill-learning, even without the prospect of immediate promotion. 3. Long-term or short-term volunteer opportunities can broaden your horizons no less effectively than formal settings: Volunteering will engage you with people from different backgrounds who will likely share your interests and enrich your life.

  • Try this: A résumé tip for your job search: It is always a good idea to supplement new events (studies or experience) to your résumé, at least annually. Whether you've been happy at your job for many years or have a gap in your employment history, an employer reviewing your résumé is bound to notice if you've steadily accumulated formal or informal experiences, especially recent additions. These indicate that you are not deterred by change, are curious, and are interested in learning new material and updating your skills; in short, new learning will facilitate your transition to a new work setting and the unpredictable demands of the changing workplace

[1] Isaiah 42:6. [2] London, M., & Smither, J. W. (1999a). Career-related continuous learning: Defining the construct and mapping the process. In G. R. Ferris (Ed.), Research in personnel and human resources management (Vol. 17, pp. 81–121). Stamford, CT: JAI Press. [3] OECD (2019). OECD future of education and skills 2030: OECD learning compass 2030. [4] Almeida-Meza, Richards, M., & Cadar, D. (2022). Moderating role of cognitive reserve markers between childhood cognition and cognitive aging: Evidence from the 1946 British Birth Cohort, Neurology, 99 (12) e1239-e1250;

1 Comment

ted plavin
ted plavin
Feb 21, 2023

I was really impressed by how this provides down to earth, practical ideas

that all of us can benefit from.

bottom of page