Most normal human beings want property of their own and
collect things up to a point. Rabbi Dessler spurned worldly
possessions and it is reported that he didn't even possess a
pen of his own! However, on the whole, human beings do not
attempt to aspire to such lofty ideals, and begin collecting
items from a very early age. A baby is born with his fingers
in a fist, waiting to grasp. He does not relinquish this
acquisitiveness till he dies, with his fingers outspread!
The variety of items which people collect is absolutely
astounding and presumably the adults round the world with
unique collections were small children once. They did not
begin by collecting antiques or Old Masters or miniatures.
Nevertheless, the interest, inclination and skill in
collecting are developed in childhood.
The head of a prestigious cheder in Bnei Brak once
declared that he was greatly opposed to all collections, and
confiscated even gedolim collections (for the
uninitiated, these are sets of photos of our sages and
leaders) when children brought them to school. Although the
teachers themselves awarded a picture as a small prize for
good work or behavior, he felt that the children's whole
minds were occupied by their collections, to the detriment of
their schoolwork, incentive notwithstanding. Moreover, claims
this principal, the temptation proves too great for some of
the more avaricious boys, and they amass pictures for their
collection by foul means.
Actually, opinions vary altogether about collecting
gedolim and rabbonim. Although children benefit
from seeing these holy personalities and learn where and when
they lived and frequently, which works are attributed to
them, they also use the cards as `swaps' and playing cards.
Even worse, they have an inane game of laying them on the
ground, slapping it, and making the cards flip over (with
winners and losers). This is hardly respectful!
Be that as it may, many children start a collection from a
very early age. Before the age of about six, children
accumulate various items at random. Little boy's trousers are
filled to overflowing with anything they can lay their hands
on. Mothers are wise to add the reminder, `Please empty your
pockets before putting clothes in the laundry hamper,' as
part of the daily litany, till their children are grown
They satisfy their desire for new items by swapping,
frequently without regard to the value of the two items
exchanged. A new toy might be exchanged for half a biscuit or
a broken flashlight, while mothers are often not even aware
of this bartering till the mother of the recipient asks
whether she realized that her son was giving away expensive
toys. At this age, children might ask for a particular thing,
not so much to play with, as to have it in his toy
By the age of seven, children want quantity. Bottle tops,
taxi cards, stones, used telephone cards, old bus tickets,
stickers, and for girls -- colored serviettes and stationery,
and so on, depending on sex, culture and the environment.
They can occupy themselves for hours, sorting, rearranging
and counting. At this age, for example, apricot pits are very
valuable, even to older children, both in and out of season,
in Israel, whereas in certain parts of England, horse
chestnuts, or conkers, as they are called, hold the same
Children are not infants any more as they turn eight.
Children this age begin to know the value of money and their
collections begin to take shape. No longer do they collect
just for the sake of having large amounts, but they start
grading, sorting and making friends with other children who
have similar collections. It has to be stressed that not all
children are interested in collections. It is either the
parents who discourage it, or they themselves just cannot be
bothered to be consistent about it. It may have gotten out of
hand and lost its appeal.
By the age of ten, children spend much of their free time on
their collections, but do not yet seem to specialize. They do
not mind having several collections going, all at the same
time, and here their characters and natures influence the
organization of their collections. They frequently pool their
collections in spite of warnings from adults. When brothers
or sisters pool a collection, contrary to parents'
foreboding, it often unites them in the common interest. Of
course, there may be friction, yet the children seem to sort
it out amicably enough if there is no adult interference.
However, if their `partner' is from another family, there can
be major fights, either when they go to different schools or
if one partner wants out.
At eleven, children do not only spend their free time on the
collection, they devote time which should really be spent on
study. The collection fills their mind most hours of the day.
Parents who get monosyllabic replies from their offspring
when they ask what sort of day they had at school, should try
asking about the collection. In fact, when a parent shows
genuine interest, the child will become almost garrulous. It
can give a mother quite a new insight into her child's life
when she participates in his hobby.
By the time a boy is bar mitzva and about that same age for a
girl, the interest in the collection seems to wane. They will
not want to part with it, but seem to have more important
things to do with their time.
Collections can be immensely educational; on the other hand,
they have their down side, as will be apparent from this
short article. There are many adult collectors around with
fancy names. If they collect matchboxes, they are
philumenists; stamp colletors are philatelists; book
collectors are bibliophiles and coin collectors are
numismatists. Antiquaries collect antiques, and no doubt, the
reader will add a dozen more high sounding words for mundane
Whatever they call themselves, they are single-minded in the
search for new additions to their collection. A Ben Torah
cannot afford, both literally and figuratively, to immerse
himself in a collector's hobby. His wife presumably can
afford to collect recipes! Thus, although collections are
rife amongst our children, the adults in our community have
usually outgrown them!