Shas Stories Archive I

The material here is in need of editing and arranging. Still, if you find something here that can help you for your personal reading or research, I would be privileged to have you use it.


R' Yosi,[1] on a journey, once entered a ruin of Yerushalayim to pray. Eliyahu HaNavi, of blessed memory, came and waited for him at the entrance, until he finished.

As he came out, Eliyahu greeted him, "Shalom to you, my master."

"Shalom to you, my master and teacher," R' Yosi answered.

"My child," Eliyahu said to him, "why did you enter this ruin?"

"To pray," said R' Yosi.

"Why didn't you rather pray on the road?" asked Eliyahu.

"I was scared other travelers would disturb me," said R' Yosi.

"You should have prayed a short prayer, [that there would be small chance of you being distracted,]" said Eliyahu.


At this point, R' Yosi learned three ideas. One, do not enter a ruin [where a wall may collapse]. Two, pray along a roadside. Three, one who prays along the road, should pray a short prayer.


"What did you hear," Eliyahu now asked, "as you stood in that ruin?"

"I heard a heavenly voice crying softly, like a dove -- woe to my children; with their sins I destroyed My home, burned My hall, and exiled them amongst the nations."

"My child," said Eliyahu, "Not only now did it cry like this -- rather, every day, three times a day, it cries like this.

"But when Yisrael enter the shuls and the learning-halls, and declare, "Yehei shemei raba ... may Hashem's great name be blessed," Hashem nods His head, so to speak, and says, "How much joy belongs to the King who is so blessed in His house. What pleasure then has a father who sends his children to live amongst strangers, and what pain must such children suffer from being far from their father's table?"

(Brochos 3a)



One Erev Rosh haShana, during years of famine, a pious man gave a coin to a pauper. His wife made a comment that angered him [they too, were poor.] So he slept that night in a graveyard.[2]

There, he heard the spirits of two young girls who had died, speaking.

"Friend," said one to the other, "let's sail through the heavens and listen at the curtain,[3] what troubles await the world.

"I can't go," said other, "I'm buried in a reed mat [and ashamed to show myself.][4] You go, and tell me what you hear."

The one spirit sailed off, and returned.

"I heard," she told her friend, "that anyone who sows his grain early, will have it destroyed by hail."

This pious man therefore, was careful that year to sow his seed later in the season. Everyone's grain was ruined; his was saved.


The next year, the pious man also spent the night in the graveyard. Again, he heard those two spirits speaking.

"Let's sail through the heavens," said the one to the other, "and listen by the curtain, what troubles await the world."

"Didn't I tell you already," said other, "I'm buried in a reed mat. You go, and tell me what you hear."

The one spirit sailed off, and returned.

"I heard," she told her friend, "that anyone who sows his grain late, will have it wasted by rough winds."

This pious man was therefore, careful that year to sow his seed early. Everyone's grain was wasted; his was spared.


"How is it," his wife asked him, that last year everyone's crop was spoiled, except for yours, and again now, everyone's crop was wasted, except for yours?" So he told her the story.

Not long after this, say our Rabbis, this woman quarreled with the poor girl's mother...

"You're a fine one to speak," said the pious man's wife, "when the best you can do for your daughter is bury her in reeds!"


The next year, the pious man once more, went to sleep in the graveyard. Again, he heard those spirits speaking.

"Let's sail through the heavens," said the one to the other, "and listen by the curtain, what troubles await the world."

"Leave me alone," said her friend, "our conversations are being overheard by the living.[5]

(Brochos 18b)



Zeiri[6] would deposit his money with a certain woman, who owned the inn where he would stay. Once, he visited his teacher and returned to find that she had died. He searched for her grave in the local cemetery.

"Where is my money?" he asked her [spirit].

"Look in the hole of doorway where the hinge sits, in such-and-such place. [There you will find your money]. Also, tell my mother to send me my comb and makeup. [She said this to make her mother feel better. Since she had died young, she wished to show her mother that she was still the same lively personality -- wanting to pretty herself, as young women do.]

"Let her send it to me with Ms. So-and-So, who I will see tomorrow -- for she too will be dying.[7]

(Brochos 18b)



Shmuel's father[8] was a guardian of orphans' funds. At the time he passed away from this world, Shmuel was away from home. No one knew where Shmuel's father had hidden the money, and people accused Shmuel of having taken it. Shmuel went looking for [the spirit of] his father in the graveyard.

"I want Abba," he said, [mentioning his father's name] to the dead [who were sitting outside of their graves in a circle.]

"Many people here go by the name, Abba," they told him.

"I want Abba, son of Abba," he said.

"There are many with this name as well," they answered, "we can't help you."

"I want Abba, son of Abba, father of Shmuel," he said. Once he mentioned his own name, they immediately knew him.

"He is in the heavenly yeshiva," they told him.


As he was speaking to them, Shmuel noticed Levi [a friend of his father,] sitting beyond the circle.

"Why are you sitting out here?" Shmuel asked him, "Why aren't you in the heavenly yeshiva?"

"This is my punishment. For each one of the years I hurt R' Affas's feelings, by not attending his yeshiva," Levi answered, "I cannot enter the heavenly yeshiva."


In the meantime, Shmuel's father arrived. Shmuel saw his father both crying and laughing.

"Why are you crying?" Shmuel asked his father.

"You will soon be joining us here," said his father.

"And why are you laughing?" Shmuel asked.

"You are extremely important in our [heavenly] world," He answered.

"If I'm so important," Shmuel said, "then I ask that Levi be allowed to enter the heavenly yeshiva."

They allowed Levi to enter.


"Where is the orphan's money?" Shmuel now asked his father.

"They are hidden in the base of my millstone," his father told him, "the top layer and bottom layer of money is ours; the money in the middle is the orphans'."

"Why in this order?" Shmuel asked.

"I thought to myself," his father answered, "if thieves discover this money they will see and take the top layer which is ours. And if rust spoils the coins, it will start with the bottom layer, which is also ours. I put the orphans' monies in the middle so that no harm may come to them, G-d forbid."

(Brochos 18b)



A student once approached R' Yehoshua.[9]

"Rebbi," he asked, "is praying the evening service optional or obligatory?"

"Optional," R' Yehoshua answered.

The student then approached Rabban Gamliel, [head of the academy, leader of the Jewish people].

"Is praying the evening service optional or obligatory?" he asked.

"Obligatory," Rabban Gamliel answered.

"I heard from R' Yehoshua," said the student, "that it is optional."

"Wait then until the shield-bearers [Torah sages, who wage war for the truth,] come in," Rabban Gamliel responded.


Once the scholars had assembled in the study hall, the student rose and asked his question.

"Is praying the evening service optional or obligatory?"

"Obligatory," Rabban Gamliel answered; "does anyone here disagree with this?"

"No," said R' Yehoshua on behalf of the entire assembly.

"I heard," said Rabban Gamliel, "in your name, that it is optional!"

R' Yehoshua did not answer.

"Stand," Rabban Gamliel, "and let witnesses testify against you."

R' Yehoshua rose.

"Were I alive and he dead," R' Yehoshua said, referring to that student, "I could argue against him. Now, that I am alive, and he is alive, can I argue against him? I must admit, I said it was optional."


Rabban Gamliel then continued his lesson, leaving R' Yehoshua to stand on his feet [as a punishment]. The other scholars however, did not put up with for long. They ordered Chutzpis -- Rabban Gamliel's representative, [he would repeat out loud Rabban Gamliel's words for all might hear] -- to stop speaking. Chutzpis stopped speaking.


"How long will Rabban Gamliel torment R' Yehoshua?" they asked, "Last Rosh HaShana he abused him; and with the incident of R' Tzadok he also abused him.[10] Now, must R' Yehoshua suffer again? Let us dismiss him.

"Who then," they asked, "will take his place? We can't appoint R' Yehoshua -- this will hurt Raban Gamliel too greatly. R' Akiva cannot take the position. He is a child of converts, and lacks the merit of being descended from Avraham, Yitzchak and Yakov. Rabban Gamliel may harm him, [the power of a hurt, such as Rabban Gamliel would suffer, is such that it may even kill the one who causes it].

"Rather, let us nominate R' Elazar ben Azarya. He is wise, wealthy, and tenth in line from the Torah giant, Ezra. He is wise -- and can answer any question put to him. He is wealthy -- and can negotiate with the Romans, as Rabban Gamliel did. He is tenth in line to Ezra, giving him the merit of holy ancestors, and Rabban Gamliel will not harm him."


"Will you accept this leadership?" they came and asked R' Elazar ben Azarya.

"Let me first discuss this with my wife," he answered.


"Maybe they will replace you also?" she asked him.

"People say better to use an expensive cup even one day," he answered, "then see it smashed, instead of not drinking from it at all. Similarly, let me enjoy this privilege, even for only one day, rather than not tasting it at all."

"You don't have white hair [which would give you authority,]" she said. That day a miracle happened. While R' Elazar was only eighteen years old, eighteen rows of white hair grew in his beard. Thus, R' Elazar would say of himself, I am as though, seventy years old.[11]


We learn: On that day, they removed the guard from the entrance of the study hall, and allowed all students to enter. Until then, Rabban Gamliel would announce, any scholar whose inside is not as his outside -- his internal values do not match his external appearance -- may not enter the study hall.[12] On that day, they added many benches to the study hall; some say, 400 benches, others say, 700 benches. Rabban Gamliel felt bad. "Is it possible," he said to himself, "that I withheld the Torah from the people? So many students came today. Was I holding them all back?"

The heavens showed him in a dream, white jugs filled with ashes, hinting to him that the new students were not worthy. In truth though, this was not so. They only showed him this dream to appease him.

The day R' Elazar ben Azarya become head, they founded Meseches Ediyos, many scholars testified on teachings they had received, and these were debated and recorded. Many matters of doubt were settled. Moreover, Rabban Gamliel himself attended the day's session.


Rabban Gamliel then, went to ask forgiveness and appease R' Yehoshua. He saw that the law being decided like R' Yehoshua's view, [and not like his own), and reflected on the many times he had hurt him. When he came to R' Yehoshua's house, he saw that the walls were sooty-black.

"I see," said Rabban Gamliel, "that you work as a blacksmith or a needle-maker."[13]

"Woe to the generation," R' Yehoshua answered, that has you as their leader! Woe to the ship that has you as her captain. You are the leader of the generation, yet you don't know the troubles the Torah scholars must suffer to put food on their tables."

"I have exceeded myself," said Rabban Gamliel, "I ask now, forgive me."

R' Yehoshua ignored him.

"Do it for the honor of my father's house, said Rabban Gamliel.

R' Yehoshua forgave him.


"Who will tell the sages that this matter has been resolved?" they asked.

"I will go," said a laundryman who was present at the time.

"He who usually wears the cloak [of authority]," R' Yehoshua wrote in his message to the sages, "let him again wear it. Should he who is not used to wearing that cloak, tell the one who is used to wearing it, take off your cloak that I may wear it?"

"Lock the doors," R' Akiva ordered on receiving the message, "I suspect that the servants of Rabban Gamliel's house are on their way to upset the yeshiva."

When R' Yehoshua heard how they responded to his message, he said, "Better I should go to them. R' Yehoshua came and knocked at the door.

"Let the kohen who is son of a kohen perform the purification service," he said, Should he who is neither kohen, nor son of a kohen, say to the kohen son of the kohen, your waters are cave water, and your [purification] ashes come from a fireplace!"

"Have you been appeased?" R' Akiva asked R' Yehoshua, "surely, we acted only for your honor."

Still when R' Akiva saw that R' Yehoshua was decided, he said, "Tomorrow, you and I will make our way to his door, [thereby declaring that we again accept Rabban Gamliel as head of the academy.]


Even so, they did not replace R' Elazar be Azarya completely. Two weeks Rabban Gamliel would lead the proceedings, and one week, R' Elazar ben Azarya.

And the young student who asked whether the evening service was obligatory or not, was R' Shimon ben Yochai, [whose greatness showed up later]. (See later #410)

(Brochos 27b)



A pious man once prayed along the road. An important [Roman] official passed by, and greeted him. He did not reply. The official waited for him to finish praying. When he did so, the official let loose...

"You, worthless loafer," he lashed out at him, "Doesn't it say in your Torah, "As much as you can, guard your lives" and "Protect yourselves most carefully."[14] Why didn't you greet me back? If I sliced your head off with a sword, could anyone blame me?"

"Please," begged the pious man "give me a chance to appease you.

"Imagine, you were standing before a king of flesh and blood, and a friend of yours came and greeted you, would you greet him back?

"No," said the official.

"And if you were to greet your friend," asked the pious man, "what would they do to you?"

"They would slice off my head with a sword."

"How much the more then is this true for me," said the pious man. "If an important official like you, offends a king of flesh and blood -- one who is here today and in the grave tomorrow -- must die, then a little person like me, who offends the King of all kings, one who lives forever -- must certainly suffer great penalties!"

The official nodded his head to this appeal -- and the pious man went home, in peace.[15]

(Brochos 32b)


A Killer

In a certain place lived an arod, [a large, dangerous snake] that terrorized the local residents. They came and told this to R' Chanina ben Dosa.[16]

"Show me his hole," said R' Chanina.

They showed him the hole. He placed his heel over it. The arod came, bit him, and died. R' Chanina then draped the arod on his shoulder, and carried it to the study hall.

"My children," he told the students, "See -- not the arod kills us, but only our own ugly behavior kills us."

From then, people would say, "Woe to the person who meets an arod -- and woe to the arod that meets R' Chanina ben Dosa."[17]



A student once led the prayer service in the presence of R' Eliezer.[18] He recited a much longer prayer than was usual.

"How long he prays," the other students complained.

"Is his prayer longer then than Moshe's," asked R' Eliezer. "Of Moshe the verse says, 'I fell before Hashem, forty days and forty nights ...'"


On another occasion, a student led the service, saying the prayers in a short way.

"How short he prays," the other students complained.

"Is his prayer then, shorter than Moshe's," asked R' Eliezer. "Of Moshe the verse says, And Moshe cried before Hashem, "Hashem please, heal her please"; [saying only five words]."[19]

(Brochos 34a)


Flowing Smoothly

Rabban Gamliel's son once, became very sick. He sent two scholars to R' Chanina ben Dosa to request that he pray for him. When R' Chanina saw the scholars coming, he went up to the loft, and began to pray.

On coming down, he greeted them, saying, "Go now, his temperature has dropped."

"Are you a prophet?" they asked him.

"I am not a prophet, nor a trainee prophet," he answered, "but I have, as a tradition in our family, this guideline: if my prayer flows smoothly, I know that the heavens have accepted it; if not, they have rejected it."

They noted the time of this conversation, and then returned to Rabban Gamliel.

"I assure you," Rabban Gamliel told them on hearing this story, "it was this moment, no earlier, no later, that his fever left him, and he asked for water to drink."

(Brochos 34b)


At All Times

R' Chanina ben Dosa once, went to learn Torah [in the yeshiva] of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai's son fell sick.

"Chanina, my child," Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai asked of him, "pray for my son that he might live."

R' Chanina rested his head against his knees, and prayed, and the boy lived.

"Was ben Zakkai to hit his head against his knees all day," Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai commented to his wife, "they would pay no attention to him."

"What," asked his wife, "is he greater than you are?"

"No," he answered, "just that he is like the servant of the king, who enters and leaves the king's presence without permission, whereas I am like an officer, and not in the habit of walking in at all times."



King Yanai[20] and his wife once sat at a meal. Since Yanai had killed the Rabbis, there was no one to recite the Grace after Meals for them.

"If only we could find a [great] person to recite these blessings," Yanai said. [21]

"Swear to me," said his wife, "that if I bring you someone you won't hurt him." He swore to her.

She then called for R' Shimon ben Shetach, her brother [whom she had hidden at the time of Yanai's decree]. Yanai sat R' Shimon between himself and the queen.

"See how I honor you," said Yanai to R' Shimon.

"It is not you who honors me," said R' Shimon, "but the Torah [that I study] which honors me; as the verse teaches, 'Seek her, [the Torah,] and it will elevate you, and seat you amongst princes."[22]

"See," said Yanai to his queen, "how he rejects my authority."


They poured him a cup of wine over which to recite the blessings.

"What blessing," asked R' Shimon, "should I say [since you give me nothing to eat]? Blessed are You, Hashem, who feeds Yanai and his friends!" He drank that cup.[23]

They then poured him another cup, over which he recited the blessings.

(Brochos 48a)


What Do You See?

Rav Shaishes[24] was blind. Once, the whole town went out to see the king who was visiting. Rav Shaishes rose [from his studies] and followed the crowd. On the way, a heretic came up to him.

"Whole jugs go to the river to draw water," he laughed at Rav Shaishes, "but where do the broken jugs go?"

"Let me show you," Rav Shaishes answered him, "that I see things better than you do."


A huge procession passed before them with great fanfare.

"That's the king," said the heretic to Rav Shaishes.

"No, that's not the king," said Rav Shaishes.


A second huge procession passed before them with great fanfare.

"That's the king," said the heretic to Rav Shaishes.

"No, that's not the king," said Rav Shaishes.


A third procession passed before them, and there was silence.

"Now, that's the king," said Rav Shaishes.

"How do you know this?" asked the heretic.

"Kingship in this world is the same as kingship of the heavens," answered Rav Shaishes. "Of Hashem's kingship the verse says, "there passed a great, strong wind that pulls down mountains and smashes rocks ... Hashem was not within the wind ... after the wind came an earthquake, Hashem was not within the earthquake ... after the earthquake came a fire, Hashem was not within the fire ... and after the fire came a fine, soft voice...""[25]

(Brochos 58a)


He will kill you

R' Shila issued lashes against a man who had visited a prostitute.[26] This man complained to the [non-Jewish] authorities against R' Shila. He accused R' Shila of conducting himself as a judge, without a permit from the king.

The king summoned R' Shila.

"Why did you lash this man?" the king asked.

"He had relations with a donkey," R' Shila answered.

"Do you have witnesses?" the king asked.

"Yes," he answered. At that point, Eliyahu HaNavi came, disguised as a man, and testified to this.

"If so," said the king, "he should receive the death penalty."

"From the time we were exiled from our land," said R' Shila, "the Torah no longer allows us to issue the death penalty. However, you can do with him whatever you wish."

As the king was discussing the matter with his advisors, R' Shila uttered, "Yours Hashem, is greatness, power, beauty, victory and glory -- all that is in heaven and on earth." (Divrei HaYamim I.29)

"What are you saying?" they asked him.

"I am blessing Hashem," he answered, "who appoints governing bodies in this world, in the same way that He appoints governing bodies in the heavens, giving you authority and a love of justice."

"If you so value and respect the king's honor," they responded, "we appoint you a judge in all matters." They gave him an iron rod, authorizing him to carry out capital punishment.


When R' Shila left the palace, the man approached him.

"Does Hashem do miracles for liars?" he asked, "I never had relations with a donkey!"

"Wicked one," R' Shila said to him, "Are such people [who act in a lowly, perverse way] not called donkeys -- as the verse says, "Their flesh is the flesh of donkeys"? (Yechezkel 23)

R' Shila saw that the man was going to misuse this information, and again slander him to the authorities. He will kill me, he thought to himself, and the Torah says, if one comes to kill you, kill him first. He hit him with the iron rod, and killed him.

Since, with this verse, a miracle was done for me, said R' Shila, I will devote a lesson to it. He went to the study hall, and expounded on it to the students.

(Brochos 58a)


Houses of the Righteous

Ulla and Rav Chisda walked once past the [ruins of the] house of Rav Chana ben Chanilai. Rav Chisda gave a heavy groan.

"Why do you groan?" Ulla asked him, "Didn't Rav teach that a groan breaks half the body -- and some say, the entire body."[27]

"How can I not groan," Rav Chisda answered, "when I see the house that produced sixty oven-loads of bread each day and another sixty oven-loads each night, to give bread to the needy?

"Rav Chana, himself, never removed his hand from his purse -- if a respectable pauper came by, he would give him money immediately, and not cause him even a moment's embarrassment.

"Also, the house had doors on all four sides -- no matter from which side a pauper would come, he would not have to look for the door.

"All who entered hungry, left satisfied. In years of famine, he left wheat and barley outside -- those who were ashamed could take food at night. Now, this house is rubble. For this, I groan."

Ulla reassured him. "R' Yochanan taught," he said, "that from the day the holy Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, the heavens decreed that the houses of the righteous would be destroyed. In the future though, Hashem will rebuild them."

Ulla saw that his words had not calmed Rav Chisda.

"It's enough," he told him, "that the servant should be like his master. Doesn't the Beis HaMikdash stand in ruins -- this is Hashem's own house?"

(Brochos 58b)


For the Best

R' Akiva once, took a trip. With him, he had a donkey, a chicken and a lamp. He came to a place and looked for someone to lodge him for the night. No one opened a door to him.

"Whatever heaven decrees," R' Akiva said to himself, "is for the best."

He went and rested in the fields. There, a lion attacked and killed his donkey -- a wildcat ate his chicken -- and the wind blew out his lamp.

"Whatever heaven decrees," R' Akiva said to himself, "is for the best."

That night, army units invaded the town, seizing the people there, and taking them away.

"This is what I said," R' Akiva later told his students, "Whatever heaven decrees, is for the best. For had the lamp been alight, the soldiers would have seen me; if the donkey had brayed, or the rooster had crowed, they would have found me, and taken me as well. Thus, we see all that happened was for the best."

(Brochos 60b)


To die at home

The Romans, who ruled Eretz Yisrael at that time, decreed that no one might teach or learn Torah. What did R' Akiva do? He gathered public assemblies and gave them Torah lessons. One scholar there, Papus ben Yehuda, approached R' Akiva.

"Aren't you scared of these people?" he asked him.

"Aren't you Papus who people call wise," R' Akiva asked in return, "In my eyes, you aren't wise, but foolish. Listen to this parable: A fox once walked by the side of the river. He saw fish there darting back and forward.

"Why are you rushing so," he asked them.

"To avoid the nets and traps," they answered.

"Why not come onto dry land then," he said to them, "and we will live in peace as our fathers lived before us?"

"Are you the one they call clever?" they asked. "You're no more than a fool. If in a place where we can live we need to be scared, in a place where we will die isn't this the more true?"

"Similarly, for us," said R' Akiva, "if when we study Torah we fear our enemies -- if we stop learning, how much the more so?"


Shortly after this, R' Akiva was captured and imprisoned. Likewise, Papus ben Yehuda was imprisoned, and placed in the same cell as R' Akiva.

"Papus," R' Akiva asked in amazement, "what brings you here?"[28]

"Good for you, R' Akiva," Papus answered with regret; "you were caught for the sake of the Torah. Woe to me -- I am in prison for stupid reasons."


When the Romans took R' Akiva for execution, it was the time for reciting the Sh'ma. The burned at him at the stake taking care to rip open his skin with long iron forks, thus increasing his pain. He on the other hand, took great pains to recite the Sh'ma -- accepting the yoke of Hashem's kingship -- with a great outpouring of love.

"Rebbi," he students cried out, "at a time like this, you serve Hashem?"

"All my life," he answered them, "it disturbed me that I had not fulfilled the mitzva, "Love Hashem ... with all your life ..." (Devarim 6) meaning, even if He takes your life. When will I get to do this mitzva, I would ask myself. Now that I have the opportunity, I shouldn't do it!?"

He drew out the word "Echad" -- Hashem is One -- with great fervor, as his soul left his body.

"Fortunate are you, R' Akiva," a heavenly voice announced, "that you left this life with "Echad"

(Brochos 61b)



King Moenbaz[29] distributed his wealth in years of famine freely. His relatives protested.

"Your fathers added to what their fathers left them," they said to him, "while you squander your wealth and theirs!"

"My fathers accumulated much," he answered, "and I accumulate more. My fathers accumulated wealth on earth, while I accumulated wealth in the heavens -- as the verse says, "truth sprouts from the earth, charity looks down from the heavens". (Tehillim 85)

"My fathers accumulated wealth that produces no profits, while I accumulate wealth that produces profits -- as the verse says, "to be charitable is good -- they eat the profits of their deeds." (Yeshayahu 3)

"My fathers accumulated wealth that thieves can steal, while I accumulate wealth that thieves cannot steal -- as the verse says, "Charity and justice lie by Your throne." (Tehillim 89)

"My fathers accumulated money, while I accumulate lives [by saving them] -- as the verse says, "The fruit of the charitable is the tree of life, and he who buys lives is wise." (Mishle 11)

"My fathers accumulated for others, while I accumulate for myself -- as the verse says, "... to you [it counts as] charity." (Devarim 24)

"My fathers accumulated wealth in this world, while I accumulate wealth in the next -- as the verse says, "Your charity goes before you, Hashem's glory will embrace you." (Yeshayahu 58)

"Therefore, don't complain; for mostly, my way is the better one."

(Yerushalmi, Peah ch.1)


Your Father and Mother

Dama ben Nesina was a captain of the troops. Once, in front of his soldiers, his mother struck him in the face with her shoe. The shoe fell from her hand. He picked it up and handed it to her, that she shouldn't suffer any upset.


R' Chizkia taught, Dama ben Nesina was a non-Jew from Ashkelon. Never would he sit on a certain rock that his father liked to sit on, and when his father died, he made it an idol, which he would worship.


Once, the yeshpeh -- a precious stone on the Kohen Gadol's breastplate -- got lost. Engraved on it was the name of Binyamin.

"Who has a stone as good as the original?" the community leaders asked.

"Dama ben Nesina has such a stone," they were told.


They went to him, and promised him 100 dinars for the stone. He went to fetch it, but discovered his father was asleep -- some say -- with the key to the strongbox where he kept the stone, lodged between his fingers -- others say -- with his legs resting on that strongbox.

"I can't sell you that stone," he told them.

The community leaders thought that this was because he regretted the deal he had made, and wanted more money for it.

"We will give you two hundred dinars," they told him. He didn't want it.

"Three hundred dinars," they told him. He refused. They continued to urge him, pushing up the price until it reached 1000 dinars. Still, he refused. So, they left.

When his father awoke, Dama took the stone and ran after the leaders. They wanted to give him the 1000 dinars they had offered him.

"I will take no more than 100," he said to them. "What do you think -- that I would sell my father's honor for profit? This is will never do -- I will not take money for showing respect to my father.

How did Hashem reward him? R' Yosi bar R' Bon taught, that night his cow gave birth to a perfectly red calf, and Yisrael bought it from him for its weight in gold.

(Yerushalmi, Peah ch.1)


Bowing Down

R' Tarfon's mother once, took a walk on Shabbos. R' Tarfon accompanied her, resting his hands on the ground that she shouldn't muddy her feet -- until she reached her bed.

At another time, R' Tarfon was deathly ill. The Rabbis came to visit him.

"Pray for him," his mother begged them, "so he should be strong and well -- for he honors me beyond all measure."

"What does he do for you?" they asked. She told them how he treated her.

"Even if he does a million times more than this," they said, "he still would not have reached half of what the Torah wants from him."[30]

(Yerushalmi, Peah ch.1)


Another version:

Whenever R' Tarfon's mother needed to climb into bed or out of her bed, he would bow before her, and she would use his back as a step.

Once, he boasted of this to the students in the study hall.

"You haven't reached half of what honor is?" they told him, "Did she ever throw your purse into the ocean in your presence, without your reacting and shaming her in any way?"

(Kiddushin 31b)


What she wants

R' Yishmael's mother came once before the Rabbis, complaining bitterly about her son.

"Scold him -- he doesn't honor me," she cried.

On hearing this, the Rabbis felt great embarrassment, for he was one of their group. "Could it be," they asked themselves, "that [a person as great as] R' Yishmael does not honor his parents?

"What does he do to you?" they questioned her.

"When he comes from the study-hall to my house," she told them, "I want to wash his feet and drink the water, but he won't let me."

"If this is what she wants," they told R' Yishmael later, "this too is her honor. Let her do it."

(Yerushalmi, Peah ch.1)


[1] A Torah scholar living in E. Yisrael, around 160 c.e.

[2] Ideally, external events should not upset our equilibrium. This man felt bad about feeling bad -- and to straighten his thoughts, and remind himself how quickly our lives pass by, he spent that night in a graveyard. While normally such drastic actions are not advisable, since it was already Rosh HaShana, he wanted a "quick fix". (Rav Yisrael Salanter, Ohr Yisrael, ch.26)

[3] The partition behind which the Divine Presence resides. (Rashi)

[4] If other spirits saw her, they would remember how she lay buried in a reed mat, and not a cloth shroud. We see here, how a sense of shame may just follow us into the next world.

[5] With his piety, this man merited information that brought him personal profit. However, once others were being embarrassed and hurt by what he heard, he forfeited this heavenly gift.

[6] A Torah scholar living in Babylon, around 250 c.e.

[7] Obviously, this woman would not be able to bring her anything. Still, the idea of it would reassure her mother and bring her some relief from her grief.

[8] His true name was Abba, but he was most famous for his great son, a leader of his day, known by all simply as Shmuel (Bavel, around 250 c.e.).

[9] The Torah scholars mentioned here all lived in E. Yisrael around 100 c.e.

[10] See Bechoros 36a

[11] As in the Hagada of Pesach; Brochos 12b

[12] As our sages say, to teach a student who is unworthy is like throwing a stone at Markolis, a type of idolatory. R' Elazar ben Azarya held however, that this only applies when we know the student is no good. Moreover, he declared that a person should learn Torah and fulfill mitzvos always, even with the wrong intentions -- for by engaging in such holy activities -- he will come eventually, to do them with the right intentions.

[13] It is amazing that this is the first time Rabban Gamliel noticed this. After all, he and R' Yehoshua were brothers-in-law.

[14] Devarim 4.9; 4.15

[15] The name of this pious man is not mentioned. One reason is that since we are not permitted to rely on miracles his behavior is considered reckless, and we should not follow his example. Still, since his sincerity was great, Hashem did save him.

[16] A Torah scholar and great tzaddik, living in E. Yisrael, around 50 c.e.

[17] There is no problem here of "relying on miracles." R' Chanina ben Dosa so trusted in Hashem, that he did not consider this event a miracle. He therefore, could place his heel on the hole without any hesitation.

[18] A Torah scholar living in E. Yisrael, around 100 c.e.

[19] The quality of the prayer -- which comes from the person who recites it -- is more important that its length.

[20] A descendent of the heroic Hasmonean family. Their ancestors were the great Kohanim who saved and freed the people of Yisrael from the oppressive dictatorship of Ancient Greece. Thereafter unfortunately, the family used their popularity to hold onto the Jewish throne, which by right, belongs only to descendents of King David. This lead to their spiritual decline. Yanai himself was declared unfit as a Kohen by the sages of his day. In his rage, he executed them all, with the exception of the few who escaped him. (see story 337)

[21] Yanai obviously, knew these blessings. Still, he wanted a Torah scholar who would say the blessings, incorporating in them a blessing for the host. (Benayahu)

[22] Mishle 4.8

[23] R' Shimon understood that it was more important to honor the Torah which Yanai had so abused, than secure his own safety and the king's favor.

[24] A Torah scholar (Bavel, Babylon, around 300 c.e.).

[25] Melachim I, 19.11,12

[26] As community leader, he had a duty to protest strongly this man's improper conduct.

[27] Depressing thoughts rob us of our life force.

[28] Since Papus was so cautious not to offend the Romans, he should not have been jailed.

[29] Some say he was a convert to Judaism; others say he was a descendent of the Hasmoneans. He ruled around 50 c.e.

[30] Why did they put him down by saying that he could do much more? They wanted to show that he still has room for extra spiritual growth, and therefore Hashem should continue to give him life.

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