The Gemara (Chulin 24) states that a kohen who ages to the point that he trembles while standing becomes disqualified from performing the Avodah.
The Gemara then proceeds with this story:
It was told about R’ Chanina – R’ Chanina bar Chama, the primary disciple of Rabbeinu Hakadosh – who even at eighty years old, retained his ability to stand on one foot, whilst tying his shoe on the other foot.
R’ Chanina said, “The hot water and the oil that my mother smeared me with during my youth, stood by me in my old age.”
This rationale for his strength in old age appears overly simplistic. Reb Levik provides
this novel interpretation, lending great relevance to this Gemara.
Reb Levik interprets this Gemara as relating to the principle of being mechanech a child in his youth so that in his old age, he will not depart from it.
R’ Chanina represents “chinuch”. Hot water, “ חמין ” symbolizes gevurah and yirah (heat emanates from fire, which symbolizes gevurah), whereas oil, “שמן”, which Mishlei says, oil is on the right side, represents chessed and love. Thus, the strength and the love (hot water and oil) that his mother imbued him with in his youth is what remained with him in his elder years.
Yet, R’ Chanina’s choice of language, which my mother “anointed me,” refers only to the smearing of oil (not שרחצני , which would refer to the washing with hot water). Why did R’ Chanina not mention the hot water which resembles strength, when he put it first?
This tells us, says Reb Levik, the primary element is the love!
As we maintain discipline with our talmidim, remember that the fundamental, underlying element should be love.