Wednesday, May 02, 2007
RABBI MEIR BAAL HANESS & RABBI YEHUDA BAR ILAI
Many of us know that a "stam" Mishna, a Mishna without the name of its author, is that of Rabbi Meir. And while we know that he is called Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess (“the Master of the Miracle”), do we know why?
Rabbi Meir was married to Bruria, the daughter of Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon, one of the ten martyrs. The government ordered Rabbi Chanina and his wife executed for teaching Torah publicly. They decreed that his daughter - Bruria's sister - should live a life of shame. She was placed in a brothel.
Bruria asked her husband to save her sister. Rabbi Meir took a bag of gold coins and said to himself, "If she has remained chaste, a miracle will occur for her, and if not, there won’t be a miracle."
He then went to the brothel disguised as a Roman horseman, and asked her to sleep with him. She refused, claiming she was in the midst of her menses. When he offered to wait until it was over, she said, "There are many other women here that are more beautiful than I." He then realized that she used this tactic whenever she was approached, and deemed that Bruria's sister had kept her chastity.
Then he offered the gold coins as a bribe to the guard. The guard replied, "When my supervisor comes, he will notice one missing and kill me."
The guard continued, "And when there is no more money, and the supervisors come - then what will I do?"
Rabbi Meir answered, "Say, 'The G-d of Meir - answer me!' and you will be saved."
The guard asked, "And how can I be guaranteed that this will save me?"
Rabbi Meir replied, "Look - there are man-eating dogs over there. I will go to them and you will see for yourself." Rabbi Meir walked over to the dogs, threw a clump of dirt at them, and they ran at him to tear him apart. He cried, "G-d of Meir - answer me!" and the dogs retreated. The guard was convinced, and he gave him the girl.
When the group of supervisors came, the guard bribed them with the money. Eventually, the money was used up, and it was publicized what had happened. They arrested the guard and sentenced him to death by hanging. They tied the rope around his neck and he said, "G-d of Meir - answer me!" The rope tore, much to everyone’s amazement. He told them the incident, and they went after Rabbi Meir. The guard was saved.
The Romans then engraved Rabbi Meir's likeness on the gates of Rome and proclaimed that anyone seeing a person resembling it should bring him in. One day [some Romans] saw him and ran after him, so he ran away from them and entered a harlot's house. [So as not to be identified as Rabbi Meir, who naturally would not enter such a place.]
Others say he happened just then to see food cooked by goyim [heathens], and he dipped in one finger and then sucked the other. [He appeared to be eating it, even though he didn’t].
Others again say that Eliyahu HaNavi [Elijah the Prophet] appeared to them as a harlot who embraced him. "G-d forbid," they said, "if this was Rabbi Meir, he would not have acted like this!" [and they left him]. He then arose and ran away and came to Bavel [Babylon].
[Source: Avoda Zara, 18a-b]
Happy with his Lot
The following story [obviously based on the Talmud] is excerpted from the Kabbalah Online website:
Rabbi Yehuda never dressed in the noble manner befitting a person of his stature. In fact, he didn't even own any warm clothing at all. One day his wife managed to purchase some inexpensive wool yarn. She spun it and wove it into cloth. From this material she fashioned a loose robe worn as a cloak. She even decorated it with beautiful embroidery to give it a finer appearance, as was fitting for her distinguished husband. Now, this type of garment was worn at that time by men and women alike, so Rabbi Yehuda and his wife shared it. When she needed to do errands in the marketplace she wore it; when Rabbi Yehuda went to the study hall he would wear the new cloak. He was, in fact, so pleased to own this warm coat that he composed a special blessing to be recited before putting it on: "Blessed is G-d who has enwrapped me in a cloak." Never mind that his coat was made of coarse homespun wool or that others had cloaks of far superior quality--Rabbi Yehuda was completely satisfied with his and never even noticed the others.
Once Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel declared a day of public fast and prayer because of a problem which beset the Jewish community. On such a day it was customary for all the Sages to gather together at the residence of the Nasi to pray as a group. This time, as well, they all came, with the exception of Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai.
It so happened that when the fast day was proclaimed, Rabbi Yehuda's wife was wearing the shared cape. Rabbi Yehuda, lacking a coat, was unable to join his colleagues. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel noted his absence with surprise, and questioned the other Sages to discover the reason he had failed to come. They explained to the Nasi that Rabbi Yehuda was unable to come because he had no coat to wear.
When the Nasi heard this he was quick to dispatch a messenger to Rabbi Yehuda bearing a beautiful new cloak. When the messenger arrived, Rabbi Yehuda was seated on a mat on the floor engaged in the study of Torah. "The Nasi has sent this coat to the Rabbi as a gift," said the messenger. "He asks that Rabbi Yehuda wear it and come to pray with the other Sages."
Rabbi Yehuda answered: "I have no need for a gift, as I already have a coat, thank G-d. My wife will return soon and bring it, and then I will come to the Nasi's house. I lack nothing; as you can see I am very wealthy."
And with those words he lifted a corner of the mat on which he sat. There, sparkling like fire, were hundreds of gold dinars. The messenger was left speechless by the sight of such an enormous fortune.
Rabbi Yehuda explained: "You see, I have enormous wealth if I want it, but I do not desire to benefit from this world any more than necessary." As he spoke, the golden coins disappeared, fulfilling his spoken desire.
Rabbi Yehuda lived as always, in poverty. But he was satisfied with what he had, and he exemplified the words of the Sages [Pirkei Avos, 4:1]: "Who is a rich man. He who is happy with his lot."
Thanks for this. 14 Iyar is my bday; I knew that it is the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess but not of Rabbi Yehuda bar Ilai. I also did not know where Rabbi Yehuda's kever was located though I have been in EY and particularly in the Galil many times.