Monday, November 26, 2007

Rebbi's Yahrzeit

Yesterday, Sunday 25th November 2007 - 15th Kislev 5768 was the Yarzheit of Rebbi Yehuda HaNassi, the Tanna and compiler of the Mishna. The Talmud at the end of Sotah tells us that:

WHEN RABBI DIED, HUMILITY AND FEAR OF SIN CEASED. R. Yosef said to the Tanna, [when reciting this Mishnah] do not include the word 'humility', because there is I. R. Nahman said to the teacher, Do not include 'fear of sin', because there is I.

(Whatever that last line means).

The Talmud near the end of Ketubot (p. 103b-104a) describes the end of Rebbi's life, and his instructions to his children and students:

Our Rabbis taught: When Rabbi was about to depart [from this life] he said, 'I require [the presence] of my sons'. When his sons entered into his presence he instructed them: 'Take care that you show due respect to your mother. The light shall continue to burn in its usual place, the table shall be laid in its usual place [and my] bed shall be spread in its usual place. Yosef of Haifa and Shimon of Efrat who attended on me in my lifetime shall attend on me when I am dead'.
'Take care that you show due respect to your mother'. Is [not this instruction] from the Torah, since it is written, “Honour your father and your mother?” — She was their stepmother. [Is not the commandment to honour] a stepmother also from the Torah, for it was taught: “Honour your father and your mother,” “your father” includes your stepmother,”and your mother” includes your Stepfather, and the superfluous vav includes your elder brother? — This exposition [was meant to apply] during [one's own parents'] lifetime but not after [their] death.
'The light shall continue to burn in its usual place, the table shall be laid in its usual place [and my] bed shall be spread in its usual place'. What is the reason? — He used to come home again at twilight every Sabbath Eve. On a certain Erev Shabbos a neighbour came to the door speaking aloud, when his handmaid whispered, 'Be quiet for Rebbi is sitting there'. As soon as he heard this he came no more, in order that no bad reflection might be cast on the earlier tzadikim.
'Yosef of Haifa and Shimon of Efrat who attended on me in my lifetime shall attend on me when I am dead'. He was understood to mean, 'In this world'. When it was seen however, that their biers preceded his (i.e. they died before Rebbi) [all] said that the conclusion must be that he was referring to the other world, and that the reason why he mentioned it was that it might not be suspected that they were guilty of some offence and that it was only the merit of Rebbi that protected them until that moment.
'I require', he said to them, '[the presence] of the Sages of Israel', and the Sages of Israel entered into his presence. 'Do not eulogise me', he said to them, 'in the smaller towns, and reassemble the yeshiva after thirty days. My son Shimon is wise, my son Gamliel shall be Nasi and Chanina ben Chama shall preside [at the yeshiva].
'Do not eulogise me in the smaller towns'. He was understood to give this instruction in order [to cause less] trouble. As it was observed, however, that when eulogies were held in the large towns everybody came, they came to the conclusion that his instruction was due to [a desire to enhance] the honour [of the people].
'Reassemble the yeshiva after thirty days', because [he thought] 'I am not more important than our teacher Moses concerning whom it is Written in Scripture, And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moav thirty days'.
For thirty days they mourned both day and night; subsequently they mourned in the day-time and studied at night or mourned at night and studied during the day, until a period of twelve months of mourning [had passed].
On the day that Rebbi died a bas kol went forth and announced: Whoever was present at the death of Rebbi is destined to enjoy the life of the world to come. A certain tailor, who used to come to him every day, failed to call on that day; and, as soon as he heard this, went up upon a roof, fell down to the ground and died. A bas kol came forth and announced: That fuller also is destined to enjoy the life of the world to come.
'My son Shimon is wise’. What did he mean? — It is this that he meant: Although my son Shimon is wise, my son Gamliel shall be the Nasi. Said Levi, 'Was It necessary to state this?' — It was necessary', replied R. Shimon ben Rebbi, 'for yourself and for your lameness'. What was his difficulty? Does not Scripture state, But the kingdom gave he to Yehoram, because he was the firstborn? — The other was properly representing his ancestors but R. Gamliel was not properly representing his ancestors. Then why did Rebbi act in the manner he did? — Granted that he was not representing his ancestors In wisdom he was worthily representing them in his fear of sin.
'Chanina ben Chama shall preside at the college'. R. Chanina, however, did not accept [the office] because R. Afes was by two and a half years older than he; and so R. Afes presided. R. Chanina sat [at his studies] outside [the lecture room], and Levi came and joined him. When R. Afes went to his eternal rest and R. Chanina took up the presidency Levi had no one to join him and came in consequence to Babylon.

It was taught: Rebbi was lying [on his sickbed] at Tzippori but a [burial] place was reserved for him at Beis She'arim.
Was it not, however, taught: Justice, justice shalt thou follow. follow Rebbi to Beis She'arim? — Rebbi was [indeed] living at Beis She'arim but when he fell ill he was brought to Tzippori because it was situated on higher ground and its air was salubrious.
On the day when Rebbi died the Rabbis decreed a public fast and offered prayers for heavenly mercy. They announced that whoever said that Rebbi was dead would be stabbed with a sword.
Rebbi's handmaid ascended the roof and prayed: 'the immortals desire Rebbi [to join them] and the mortals desire Rebbi [to remain with them]; may it be the will [of God] that the mortals may overpower the immortals'. When, however, she saw how often he needed the bathroom, painfully taking off his tefillin and putting them on again, she prayed: 'May it be the will [of the Almighty] that the immortals may overpower the mortals'. As the Rabbis incessantly continued their prayers for [heavenly] mercy she took up a jar and threw it down from the roof to the ground. [For a moment] they ceased praying and the soul of Rebbi departed to its eternal rest.
'Go', said the Rabbis to Bar Kappara, 'and investigate'. He went and, finding that [Rebbi] was dead, he tore his cloak and turned the tear backwards. [On returning to the Rabbis] he began: 'The angels and the mortals have taken hold of the Holy Ark. The angels overpowered the mortals and the Holy Ark has been captured'. 'Has he', they asked him, 'gone to his eternal rest?' — 'You said it; I did not say it'.
Rebbi, at the time of his passing, raised his ten fingers towards heaven and said: 'Sovereign of the Universe, it is revealed and known to you that I have laboured in the study of the Torah with my ten fingers and that I did not enjoy [any worldly] benefits even with my little finger. May it be Your will that there be peace in my resting place'. A bas kol echoed, announcing, He shall enter into peace; they shall rest on their beds.

May His Soul Be Bound in the Bonds of Eternal Life

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