Shas Stories Archive III

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' Shimon bar Yochai

R' Yehuda, R' Yosi and R' Shimon [bar Yochai] once sat together, and Yehuda ben Gairim sat with them. R' Yehuda spoke first.

"How pleasant are the ways of this nation [Rome]; they set up markets, build bridges, construct bathhouses," said R' Yehuda. R' Yosi kept silent.

"All they do," R' Shimon argued, "they do for themselves. They set up markets, for prostitution. They constructed bathhouses, for their own pleasure. They built bridges, to collect taxes."

Yehuda ben Gairim repeated these words, and they reached the ears of the Roman authorities.

"Yehuda who praised us, shall be promoted," they decreed, "Yosi who was quiet, shall be exiled to Tzipori. Shimon was scorned us, shall die."

R' Shimon and his son [R' Elazar] hid themselves in a shul. Every day his wife would bring them bread and a flask of water, which they ate. When the decree against them tightened, R' Shimon commented to his son, "Women are easily swayed. Maybe they will torture her, and she will reveal our whereabouts." They left the shul, and hid in a cave.

A miracle happened, a carob tree sprung up there, and a spring of water appeared. They stripped of their clothes, and buried themselves up to their necks in sand. The entire day, they learned Torah. When it was time to pray, they dressed, prayed, and again removed their clothes that they shouldn't wear out. Thus, they remained for twelve years.

At the end of this time, Eliyahu HaNavi appeared to them. "Who will tell Bar Yochai that Caesar has died, and the decree against him has been lifted," he said. They left the cave.

As they walked, they saw people plowing and sowing. "Is it right that they abandon eternal life, and busy themselves with material riches?" they asked in amazement. Thereafter, wherever they turned the eyes, fires broke out and burned all they saw.

"Do you want to destroy My world?" a heavenly voice called out. "Go back to your cave!" They returned for another twelve months.

"The punishment of the wicked in Gehinom is twelve months, [surely then for us it cannot be longer than this]," they said. At this, a heavenly voice called to them, "Leave your cave."[1]

Wherever R' Elazar's eyes struck [doing damage to people's properties], R' Shimon's eyes then healed.

"[Don't be so angry with them]," R' Shimon told R' Elazar, "it's enough for the world that there are the two such as us." [This however, did not appease R' Elazar.]

On Erev Shabbos, towards evening, they saw a man running with two bunches of myrtle branches in his hands.

"What are those for?" they asked him.

"To honor the Shabbos," he answered.

"But why two?" they asked him.

"One corresponding to "zachor" and one for "shamor", he answered, [the two mitzvos to remember and observe the Shabbos day].

"See how the Jewish people cherish mitzvos," R' Shimon said to his son, and R' Elazar was appeased.


R' Pinchus ben Yair, R' Shimon's son-in-law, came out to greet R' Shimon. He took him to the bathhouse to bathe him. When he saw the cracks in R' Shimon's skin, tears rolled from his face falling on the wounds and burning them.

"Woe, that I see you like this," R' Pinchus said.

"Woe, were you not to see me like this," R' Shimon answered. "On the contrary, be happy that you see me like this. For, were you not to see me so -- you would not find me so." [Through my trials and hardships, I have reached new spiritual heights.] At first when R' Shimon would ask a question, R' Pinchus would answer him in twelve different ways. Now, when R' Pinchus would ask a question, R' Shimon would answer him with twenty-four answers.

"Since a miracle was done for me," said R' Shimon, "I must do something special for the benefit of others..."

(Shabbos 33b)

Changing the World

Once a woman died, and left her husband with a baby to nurse. He was so poor he could not afford to hire a nurse. He cried to Hashem and a miracle happened. He grew two breasts like a woman, and nursed his own child.

"How great is this person," said Rav Yosef, "that such a miracle was done for him."

"On the contrary," said Abaye," how lowly he is. He caused the order of creation to be corrupted, [but cannot earn the merit that they should send him a little money to pay the wages for a nurse.][2]

"We should note from this," Rav Yehuda commented on this story, "how difficult it can be to find food. Creation needs to change just that we can eat."

"The proof for what you say," Rav Nachman added, "is what we see here. It can be easier to perform miracles than to receive food."[3]

(Shabbos 53b)


A man once married a woman who had only one hand. Yet, he did not notice this until the day of her death.

"See how modest this woman was," said Rav Yosef, "that her husband failed to see her disability."

"It is normal for a woman," R' Chiya argued, "especially a woman like this, to be modest. Rather, how modest was this man that he lived with her all those years, and never saw her disability."[4]

(Shabbos 53b)


Rav Chisda and Raba bar Rav Huna once, took a trip on a small boat. A woman known to be a witch, wished to join them on the boat, but they would not allow her. She uttered a spell, and the boat would not move. They in turn, murmured a holy name, and released the boat from her spell.

"What can I do," she shouted after the boat, "since you do not clean yourselves with clay shards,[5] do not kill lice within your garments, and do not eat vegetables that are still tied in a bunch.

(Shabbos 82b)

Honoring Shabbos

Yosef Mokir Shavi [Yosef who honored the Shabbos] had a very wealthy neighbor. Stargazers told this man that all his property would fall into the hands of Yosef Mokir Shavi. To prevent this happening, this man sold his property, and bought a precious jewel. He then had a felt hat made up for him, adorned with pearls, with this jewel in its center. "Now he'll never get it," he thought to himself.

Once, as this man crossed a bridge, a strong wind blew his hat into the water. A large fish then swallowed it. On Erev Shabbos, fishermen caught this fish.

"Who will buy this fish now?" they asked themselves. "Surely, no one wants such a large fish, and such a late hour."

"Go to Yosef Mokir Shavi," people told the fishermen, "he is accustomed to buying special items to honor the Shabbos."

They took to him. Yosef Mokir Shavi cut open the fish, found the jewel, and sold it for 13 rooms of gold coins.

"When one lends to the Shabbos," an old man met him and told him, "Shabbos repays him."

(Shabbos 119a)

Honoring Shabbos II

R' Chiya bar Aba was a guest at a house in Ludkia. They brought before him a golden table so heavy, it took 16 men to carry it. From it, sixteen silver chains hung. Bowls, cups, jugs and bottles, with all sorts of foods, delicacies and spices covered it.

As they put the table down, they declared, "The earth and all it contains is Hashem's." (Tehillim 24)

When they removed the table, they declared, "The heavens belong to Hashem, but the earth He gave to men." (Tehillim 115)

"My son," R' Chiya by Aba asked the owner, "how did you merit such wealth?"

"I was a butcher," the man answered, "and whenever I saw a beautiful animal, I would say, with this I will honor Shabbos."

"With your conduct, you merited all this," R' Chiya said. "Blessed is Hashem who so honors you."

(Shabbos 119a)


"How is it," the Caesar asked R' Yehoshua ben Chananya, "that Shabbos food has such a wonderful fragrance?"

"We have," said R' Yehoshua, "a special spice, "Shabbos", that we add to all our food."

"Give some of it to me," said the Caesar.

"For one who keeps Shabbos," said R' Yehoshua, "it adds flavor. But for one who doesn't keep Shabbos, it does nothing at all.

(Shabbos 119a)


One Shabbos, a fire fell on the property of Yosef ben Simai of Shichin. Since Yosef served as the King's treasurer, the king's servants came to put out the fire. However, Yosef would not allow them to extinguish it. "Today is Shabbos" he told them, "and fires may not be ignited or extinguished."

A miracle then happened, rain fell and the fire died. After Shabbos, he sent each of these workers, two coins, and to their supervisor, three coins.

When the rabbis heard this story, they commented that his piety had been unnecessary. If a non-Jew comes to put out a fire on Shabbos, while we may not ask him to extinguish it, we need not tell him not to extinguish it.

(Shabbos 121a)

What did you think?

A man once came from the upper Galil to work for a householder in the South. At the end of three years, on Erev Yom Kippur, he asked for his wages that he may return to his wife and children, and support them.

"I have no money," his boss told him.

"Give me produce then," he asked.

"I have no produce," his boss answered.

"Give me a field then for my wages," he asked.

"I have no fields."

"Give me livestock."

"I have none."

"Let me take bedding then."

"I have none."

What could he do? He swung his knapsack on his shoulder, and sadly left.[6]


After the holiday, the householder came looking for his worker, bringing his wages, and three donkey loads of food, drink and other gifts. After they had eaten a meal together, the householder gave him his wages.

"Tell me," he asked the worker, "when you asked for money, and I told you I have no money, what did you think of me?"

"I thought a good business transaction had come your way, and you had given all your money for that."

"And when you asked for livestock, and I told you I had no livestock?"

"I thought it must be rented to others."

"And when you asked for land, and I told you I had no land?"

"I thought it must be contracted out to sharecroppers."

"And when you asked for produce, and I told you I had no produce?"

"I thought it must that you still need to tithe it."

"And when you asked for bedding, and I told you I had no bedding?"

"I thought it must be you dedicated all your worldly goods to the heavens."

"This is the exact truth!" the householder exclaimed, "I had sworn away all my property on account of Horkenos, my son, who would not learn Torah -- but since then, I have been released of my vow.[7]

Moreover -- as you judged me as being worthy, so may Hashem judge you as being worthy."

(Shabbos 127b)

What did you think II

A pious man[8] once redeemed a young woman from captivity. At the inn where they stayed, he lay her to sleep at his feet. The next morning, he immersed himself in the mikveh, and then sat down to learn with his students.

"Tell me," he asked them, "when you saw me laying that young woman at my feet, what did you think of me?"

"We thought that there was amongst us a student that Rebbi didn't know and couldn't trust."

"And when you saw me immerse in the mikveh, what did you then think?"

"We thought," once students, "that through the fatigue of travelling, Rebbi had had an accident."

"It was just so!" he exclaimed. "Moreover, as you judged me as being worthy, so may Hashem judge you as being worthy."

(Shabbos 127b)

What did you think III

Once, the scholars of Eretz Yisrael needed a favor from a brothel-keeper that the important Romans would visit.

"Who will go to her?" they asked.

"I will go," said R' Yehoshua. He students accompanied him to the house. When he got there, he removed his tefillin, entered the house, and closed the door before their faces. When he left the house, he immersed himself in a mikveh, and then returned to his students' lesson.

"When I removed my tefillin," he asked them, "what did you think of me?"

"We thought," they answered, "that Rebbi doesn't want items of holiness in an unclean place."

"And when I closed the door, what did you then think?"

"We thought that Rebbi needed to discuss secret government matters."

"When you saw that I immersed in the mikveh, would you then think?"

"We thought some of her spit had sprayed on Rebbi's clothes."

"It was just so!" he exclaimed. "Moreover, as you judged me worthy, so may Hashem judge you as being worthy."

(Shabbos 127b)


Once, the Roman government decreed that any Jew wearing tefillin, would have his brain chopped out. A pious Jew by name of Elisha continued to wear tefillin. Moreover, he wore them even in the streets. Once a Roman soldier spotted him, and wished to arrest him. He tried to escape, but the soldier pursued him. In the meantime, Elisha removed them from his head, and held them in his hands.

"What do you have in your hands?" the soldier asked him.

"Doves' wings," Elisha answered. He opened his hands, and there were doves' wings. From then people would call him Elisha Baal Kenafaim (Master of wings).


Why did he mention doves, and not some other bird? For, the Jewish people are like doves ... just as a dove fights with its wings and not with its beak, so the Jewish people fight their enemies with prayers.[9]

(Shabbos 130a)

Wait -- all will be well I

R' Nosson once came to the islands of the sea. A woman there came to him with an infant in her arms, and told him that she had circumcised her first son, and he had died, and her second son, and he had died.

"What do I do now?" she cried to him. He saw that the child was red -- his system had not yet absorbed his blood.

"Wait until his flesh absorbs his blood," he told her. She did so, circumcised him, and he lived. She called him Nosson HaBavli for R' Nosson.

Wait -- all will be well II

R' Nosson once came to [the state of] Kaputkia. The woman came to him with an infant in her arms, and told him that she had circumcised her first son, and he had died, and her second son, and he had died.

"What do I do now?" she cried to him. He saw that the child had jaundice and was anemic.

"Wait for his blood to rise," he told her. She did so, then circumcised him, and he lived. She called him Nosson HaBavli for R' Nosson.

(Shabbos 134a)

In Honor of Shabbos

One Shabbos, a pious man noticed a hole in the fence that surrounded his field. In his mind, he planned how he would repair this hole. Then he caught himself. "Today is Shabbos," he rebuked himself, "how can I think such thoughts on this holiest of days. Now, as a penalty for my behavior, I will never repair this hole."[10]

However, a miracle happened. A caper bush grew in that very place, sealing the hole in the fence. Moreover, this bush provided ample support for the pious man and his family.

(Shabbos 150b)

Return to the Earth

Rav Nachman had workers dig his field. Without realizing it, their spades uncovered a grave. "Don't dig here," a voice shouted out to them,

The workers, in terror, realized that the voice came from the grave itself. They ran to report their find to Rav Nachman. Rav Nachman himself, came to the spot, and asked of the corpse, "Who are you, sir?"

"Achai bar Yoshia," the corpse answered.

"I learned from Rav Mari that the righteous will turn to dust," said Rav Nachman, "yet I see, sir, you have much substance to you. You even speak."

"I don't know your Mari," said Rav Achai, "and his teachings don't bother me."

"Surely the verse says, "The dust shall return to the earth where it was" (Koheles 12)?" Rav Nachman asked.

"You may have learned Koheles, but you have not learned Mishle," said Rav Achai, "there it teaches, "Jealousy causes bones to rot," (Mishle 14) -- if a person is jealous, his bones rot; if he is not jealous, his bones do not rot."

Rav Nachman examined him, realizing he was perfectly intact. "Why not get up and go home, sir?" he said to him.

"I see even the Prophets you have not learned," Rav Achai told him. "Only Hashem can release me from here, as the verse says, "And you shall know that I am Hashem when I open your graves (Yechezkel 37)."

"But what of the verse, "The dust shall return to the earth where it was"?" Rav Nachman asked.

"This refers to an hour before the resurrection of the dead," said Rav Achai.

(Shabbos 152b)

Charity I

Shmuel once sat with Avlat, a non-Jewish stargazer. Men on their way to the fields passed before them.

"That man," said Avlat, pointing to a particular person, "leaves for to the fields, but will not return. A snake will kill him."

"If he is a Jew," said Shmuel, "he will both go and come back. Yisrael are not affected by the stars, and their prayers help them."

Later, the workers returned home, this person alive and well with them. Avlat and Shmuel seeing him, approached him. Avlat pulled his sack from his back, and shook it. From it fell a snake, cut in two.

"Tell us, what good deed you did today?" Shmuel asked him.

"Each day," the man answered, "we all add our food to a common pot, and eat together. Someone today, had no food and was embarrassed. Noticing this, I volunteered to collect the food, and when I came to this man, I acted as though he had put food into the pot as well, thereby saving him any embarrassment."

"You performed a great mitzva and this saved you," Shmuel told him. Shmuel, then at his next class told over this story, together with its message -- charity saves from death.

(Shabbos 156b)

Charity II

Stargazers told R' Akiva, "On the day your daughter marries, a snake will bite her, and she will die." Still, the heavens saved her.

On the day of her wedding, she removed an ornamental pin from her dress and, looking for a convenient place to leave it, stuck it in the wall. The next morning when she removed the pin from the wall, she saw it had pierced the eye of a snake and killed it.

"Tell us what good deed you did at your wedding, yesterday," R' Akiva asked her.

"Towards evening," she related, "a pauper called from the gate for food. Everyone was involved in the feasting and merrymaking, and only I heard him. So, I took my plate of food and gave it to him."

"You performed a great mitzva and this saved you," R' Akiva told her. R' Akiva, then at his next class told over this story, together with its message -- charity saves from death.

(Shabbos 156b)


Stargazers told the mother of Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak, "Your son will be a thief." Thereafter, she would not allow him to go with his head uncovered.

"Cover your head," she would say to him, "so that the fear of Heaven should be on you, and pray for mercy."

He did not know why she always said this to him. One day though, he was sitting, learning under a date palm. His tallis fell from his head; he raised his eyes, and saw a bunch of dates at the top of the tree. At this moment, his evil inclination took hold of him -- he clambered to the top of the tree and bit off the bunch with his teeth.

(Shabbos 156b)

Self Sacrifice

R' Yehoshua HaGarsi served R' Akiva when he was in jail. Every day he would bring him a set measure of water. One day, the prison guard at the gate, looked into bucket and told him, "Today, you have more water than usual. Are you planning to dig a tunnel?" He then poured out half of it, leaving him only half of his daily ration.

When R' Yehoshua finally came before R' Akiva, R' Akiva exclaimed, "Yehoshua, you know I am old, and my life depends on your life -- tell me what they did to you!"

He told him of the incident with the guard.

"Give me what you have then," said R' Akiva, "and I will wash my hands."

"There isn't even enough drinking water here," R' Yehoshua said, "and you want to wash your hands with it?"

"What can I do?" said R' Akiva, "the rabbis decreed [we must wash our hands before eating,] and to ignore the words of the rabbis is to die a heavenly death. Better that I die of thirst, than disobey their words."

R' Yehoshua tried to argue with R' Akiva, but he refused to taste anything, until he first washed his hands.

When the rabbis heard this story, they commented, "If in the weakness of old age, he demands such of himself, how much the more so in his youth -- and if in jail, he requires such self-sacrifice, how much the more so if he were free!

(Eiruvin 21a)


"No one ever got the better of me," said R' Yehoshua ben Chananya, "except a woman, a small boy, and a small girl.

"A woman -- Once I was a guest in and inn, and the woman there cooked me beans. On the first day, I ate it, leaving nothing over. On the second day, likewise I left nothing over. On the third day, it was very salty, and I couldn't eat it. I placed it aside.

"Rebbi," she asked me, "why aren't you eating?"

"I already ate today," I answered.

"If so," she said, "you shouldn't have eaten the bread. Moreover, on the first two days, you didn't leave a corner [of food] in the dish. Don't our rabbis teach, do not leave a corner in the pot [i.e. the waiter should not reserve food for himself,] but leave a corner in the dish [a person eating should leave food for the waiter]?"[11]


A small girl -- Once, I took a shortcut through a field.

"Rebbi," a small girl said to me, "doesn't seed grow in this field? Why do you trample through it?"

"I am walking on an existing path," I answered her.

"That's right, still, it's thieves like you that made this path," she exclaimed.


A small boy -- Once, as I was traveling I came to a crossroads. A small boy was sitting there and I asked him which path I should take to get to the town.

"This path is short and long," he told me, "this one is long and short." I took the short path, but soon discovered that gardens and orchards blocked my way, and I couldn't go on. I went back to the crossroads.

"Didn't you tell me that this is the short path?" I asked him.

"I said that it is the short and long path," answered the boy, "while the other is the long and short path."

I kissed him on the head. "Good for you, people of Yisrael," I said, "that all of you are wise, from your greatest to your smallest."

(Eiruvin 53b)


Once, R' Yosi HaGalili was traveling and crossed paths with [a woman named] Bruria.

"Which is the road I may take to [the city,] Lod?" I asked her.

"Foolish Galilean," she said to me, "did the rabbis not teach, do not speak too much with a woman,[12] you should have said, "Which way, Lod?"

(Eiruvin 53b)


R' Preida had a student that he needed to teach 400 times before he would absorb his lesson. Once, R' Preida needed to go out to fulfill a special mitzva. He first though, sat with his student. After learning with him 400 times as usual, he saw that the student had still not absorbed the lesson.

"What's wrong?" he asked him.

"From when I heard that Rebbi needs to go and fulfill the mitzva, I couldn't concentrate. I kept thinking, now Rebbi is leaving -- now Rebbi is leaving."

"Pay attention now," said R' Preida, "and I will teach you." He taught him another 400 times, and the student absorbed the lesson.


"What would you prefer," a heavenly voice called to R' Preida, "to live an extra 400 years, all that your entire generation should merit the world to come?"

"Let my generation all merit the world to come," said R' Preida.

"Give him both," said Hashem.

(Eiruvin 54b)


Rabban Gamliel once travelled from Acco to Cziv, riding a donkey. R' Ilai walked behind him. He saw a loaf of bread on the road.

"Ilai, pick up that loaf," Rabban Gamliel said. A little later, they passed a non-Jew along the road.

"Mivgui [his name]," Rabban Gamliel said to him, "take the loaf from Ilai."

R' Ilai approached the man, and asked him, "Where are you from?"

"From a district of hovels and huts," the man answered.

"What is your name?" R' Ilai asked him.

"Mivgui is my name," he answered.

"Does Rabban Gamliel know you that he spoke to you so?" R' Ilai asked.

"No," said Mivgui.


From this story, we see that Rabban Gamliel was divinely inspired. Also we learn three ideas:

1 -- Do not pass by foods that are lying in the road.

2 -- When deciding whether food is kosher or not, we follow the majority, and if the majority are non-Jewish, we rule that the food is not kosher.

3 -- We may derive benefit from chametz belonging to a non-Jew that was from before Pesach, for Rabban Gamliel gave the bread to the non-Jewish knowing that the man would show him gratitude in return.


A certain non-Jew who would deceive the people in Yerushalayim into thinking he was Jewish, that he might eat from the Pesach sacrifice.

"It says in your Torah," this man boasted to R' Yehuda ben Beseira of Netzivin, "that a stranger [i.e. a non-Jew] may not eat from the Pesach sacrifice, but I ate from the best of it!"

"Did they allow you to eat from the lamb's fat tail?" R' Yehuda asked him.

"No," said the non-Jew in surprise.

"The next time you're there," R' Yehuda told him, "ask for the fat tail." R' Yehuda however, had said this to trick him -- the fat tail is never eaten but rather, burnt on the altar.


The following Pesach, this man put in a special request for fat tail.

"The fat tail is burnt on the altar," they told him, "who told you to ask for it?"

"R' Yehuda ben Beseira," he answered.

"What's going on here?" they asked. They checked out the matter, found that he was a non-Jew, and executed him.

"Shalom alecha -- peace to you, R' Yehuda ben Beseira," they wrote to him, "you may live in Netzivin, but your net spreads as far as Yerushalayim."

(Pesachim 3b)

No Fool

Rav Kahana was sick. The rabbis sent Rebbi Yehoshua son of Rav Idi to visit him. He went, and found that he had passed away. He tore his garments, as required for a great scholar. Then he reversed his garments that the tear should not be immediately obvious, and upset others too greatly.

He returned to the rabbis, crying.

"Has he died?" they asked.

"You said it, not me," he answered, "for the verse says, "One who spreads [bad] news, is a fool."[13] (Mishle 10)

(Pesachim 3b)

Upside-down World

Rav Yosef son of Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi, died -- but then, came back to life.

"What did you see in the upper world?" his father asked him.

"And upside-down world," he answered, "the wealthy, important people were low down, while insignificant paupers were high up."

"It was not and upside-down world you saw," his father told them, "it was the real world."

"And what of the Torah scholars?" his father then asked.

"As we are important in this world," his son answered, "so we are important in next. In addition, I heard a voice calling, "Fortunate is he who comes here with his Torah learning in his hand." In addition, I heard, "Fortunate are those who were killed by the [Roman] government -- no person may rank with him."

"Who are these martyrs?" the scholars asked. "It can't be R' Akiva and his colleagues, for surely they are great scholars, this is not what makes them so special. Rather it must means those who the Romans executed in Lod; two brothers who "confessed" to killing the Caesar's daughter, that they might prevent a mass slaughter of the Jewish people.

(Pesachim 50a)

A Protest

The Beis HaMikdash itself cried out in protest against Yissacher of Kfar Barkai, the Cohen Gadol of his time. Why? For, he would put his own dignity first by performing the Temple service wearing gloves on his hands. This not only rendered the offerings unfit, but made a mockery of them as well.

How did the heavens punish him?

Once, the king and queen argued at the dining table.

"Goat meat is better," said the king. "No, not at all," said the queen, "lamb is softer and tastier."

"Come," they decided, once they tired of quarreling. "Let's call in the Kohen Gadol to judge. Surely, he knows best. After all, he offers animal sacrifices every day." They summoned Yissacher of Kfar Barkai.

"If goat meat was better," laughed Yissacher, waving his right hand, "it should be used for the daily offering and not a lamb. The fact that we sacrifice lambs proves that they rank higher."

His arrogance angered the king. "Not only does he disagree with me," he fumed, "but he makes fun of me with his right hand as well. Let it be cut off then."

Stupidly, Yissacher tried to outwit the king. He bribed the soldier to cut off his left hand instead. When the king heard of this, he ruled that the right hand also be cut off.[14]

"Blessed is Hashem," said Rav Yosef commenting on this story, "that He punished Yissacher of Kfar Barkai while he was yet in this world."

(Pesachim 57a)

An Ocean of Torah

R' Simlai came once before R' Yochanan.

"Teach me, Rebbi," he asked, "Sefer Yochsin."[15]

"Where are you from?" R' Yochanan asked him.

"From Lod," he answered.

"And where do you live now?" he asked.

"In Neharda'a," he answered.

"We don't teach these teachings to anyone from Lod, nor from Neharda'a," said R' Yochanan, "and all the more so, that you are from both of them.[16]

R' Simlai pleaded with him, until finally R' Yochanan agreed.

"Teach me this in three months," R' Simlai then added. R' Yochanan picked up a clod of dirt and threw it at him. "Berurya," said R' Yochanan, "R' Meir's wife, daughter of R' Chanina ben Tradyon, who would learn 300 laws from 300 rabbis on a short winter's day, needed three years to complete this learning -- and you want to learn it in three months!"

(Pesachim 62b)

The Massive Pesach

King Agrippas wanted once, to count the Jewish people.

"Keep a count of the Pesach offerings brought this year," he told the Kohen Gadol.

They removed one kidney from each of the sacrifices. Altogether, they came to 600,000 pairs, twice the number of those who left Egypt. And since those who were ritually impure, as well as those who could not reach the Beis HaMikdash, did not bring sacrifices -- and since every animal offered had at least ten people sharing it -- the number of Jewish people was very great. That year they called the Massive Pesach.

(Pesachim 64b)


One year Erev Pesach, the day the Jewish people slaughter the Pesach lamb,[17] came out on Shabbos. B'nei Beseira, the leaders of the Jewish people, could not remember whether bringing the Pesach overrode Shabbos or not.

"A great man has come from Bavel," students told B'nei Beseira. "His name is Hillel, and he studied under the two great teachers of the generation, Shemaya and Avtalyon. He will know the answer." They summoned him.

"You don't know whether Pesach overrides Shabbos or not?!" he asked them. "Surely, there is not just one Pesach offering per year to push off Shabbos, but more than two hundred such offerings!" (The Jewish people offer at least four lambs each Shabbos, two for the Tamid, the daily offering, and two for the Mussaf, the additional Shabbos offering.)

"But what is your source for Pesach pushing off Shabbos?" they asked him.

"The verse says "in its time" by the Pesach offering, and it says "in its time" by the daily offerings. Just as "in its time" by the daily offering means that it overrides Shabbos, so too "in its time" by the Pesach offering means it overrides Shabbos. Moreover, if the daily offering, which does not carry the kareis punishment[18], overrides Shabbos, all the more so, the Pesach offering, which does carry the kareis punishment, should override Shabbos."

Immediately, they stepped down from their position, appointing him instead, as head of the Sanhedrin, and leader of the Jewish people. He then sat the entire day teaching the laws of Pesach. Later, he began to criticize them.

"What was it," he asked them, "that brought this on you? How is it I could come up from Bavel, and take over your leadership? Surely, only your laziness in not learning from Shemaya and Avtalyon, brought this on you?"

"Rebbi," they then asked, "what if someone forgets to bring a knife to the Beis HaMikdash before Shabbos -- what could he do?

"This law," Hillel answered, "I learned and forgot.[19] Still, we can leave the Jewish people to solve this problem themselves. While they are not prophets, they are children of prophets."[20]

The next day, anyone who forgot his knife, stuck it in the wool of his lamb, or between the horns of his goat. When Hillel saw this, he remembered the law. "This is just what Shemaya and Avtalyon told me to do in such a situation," he said.

(Pesachim 66a)


One evening R' Tarfon did not appear at the beis hamedresh.

"Where were you last night?" Rabban Gamliel asked him in the morning.

"I was involved in Beis HaMikdash service," said R' Tarfon, who was a kohen.

"What are you saying?" said Rabban Gamliel, "is there Beis HaMikdash service in our day?"

"The verse says "the service of [eating My] gift is the Kehuna, the priesthood" (BaMidbar 18)," said R' Tarfon," the Torah equates the eating of teruma to the service of the Beis HaMikdash.

(Pesachim 72b)

Juicy Dates

Ulla visited Pumpedisa in Bavel. They brought him a basket of dates, which were cheap and plentiful there.

"How many of these can you buy for a coin?" he asked.

"Three baskets," they told him.

"Three baskets of such honey for one small coin," he exclaimed, "why then don't they learn more Torah in Bavel? If good food is so cheap, surely they can spend less time working and more time learning Torah! "

That night however, he suffered stomachache from all the dates he had eaten.

"Oy," he moaned, "baskets of poison cost no more than a zuz, and yet they continue to learn so much Torah in Bavel? I must say I admire them!"

(Pesachim 88a)

Raban Gamliel

The royal kitchens prepared an elaborate feast for the king and his guests. Everything accorded with the strict rules of ritual purity. Then, a servant found a dead lizard in the food, something that would make all the food ritually impure. The staff came to ask the king, but he had no answer for them.

"Go ask the queen," he told them. They came to ask the queen; she also didn't know what they should do.

"Go ask Raban Gamliel," she told them. They came to Raban Gamliel.

"Did you find the lizard in hot food or cold food?" he asked them.

"In hot food," they answered.

"If so, pour cold water over it," he told them.

They did so. The lizard revived and wriggled away. Since a living lizard does not cause impurity, Raban Gamliel ruled that the feast was fit to serve. Thus, it comes out that the king depends on the queen, the queen depends on Raban Gamliel, and all depends on Raban Gamliel.

(Pesachim 88b)


A man, by name of Tuvia, committed a certain sin. Another man, Zigud, saw him. He reported this before Rav Papa, that the court might punish Tuvia. Rav Papa ruled that Zigud should receive lashes!

"How can this be?" Zigud asked in amazement. "Tuvia sins, and Zigud gets flogged!"

"The Torah teaches," Rav Papa answered, "that a single person cannot testify against another. This is what you did. You slandered another Jew. For this, you get lashes.

(Pesachim 113b)

A Student's Conduct

R' Yochanan leaned on R' Chiya bar Abba as he walked. R' Elazar, his student, seeing him passing, hid himself. But R' Yochanan spotted him

"R' Elazar did two bad things in joining us in Eretz Yisrael,"[21] said R' Yochanan, "One, he didn't greet me, as though this is beneath him. Two, which is worse, it seems he doesn't want to speak with me."

"In Bavel" said R' Yakov bar Idi to defend R' Elazar, "a lesser scholar does not greet a senior scholar as a sign of respect. The verse teaches this when it says, "Young people saw me and hid, while elders rose before me"[22]

"Are we allowed to walk past the idol, Adora?" R' Yakov bar Idi then asked, seemingly changing the subject.

"On the contrary," said R' Yochanan, "we must walk past it. To hide yourself from it is to show that you fear it."

"If so," said R' Yakov bar Idi, "R' Elazar, by hiding himself from you, shows that he fears you."


"Another thing R' Elazar does to upset me," said R' Yochanan, "is he says laws he heard from me, without quoting my name."

Rav Ami and Rav Assi came to appease R' Yochanan.

"In the shul of Tarsiim," they told him, "the rabbis argued about a crossbar. One view ruled we can use it as a utensil on Shabbos. The other rejected this view. In the heat of the dispute, they unintentionally tore a Torah scroll.

"Such ugly anger," the elderly R' Yosi ben Kisma told them, "can only result in this house becoming a centre for idol worship." And so it was.

"That story proves nothing," R' Yochanan replied, "those were fellow students, and shouldn't have acted so. Elazar, however, is my pupil, and deserves my full anger."

Then R' Yakov bar Idi came to appease R' Yochanan.

"The Torah writes," he said to R' Yochanan, "As Hashem commanded Moshe his servant, so Moshe commanded Yehoshua."[23] Now, did Yehoshua keep saying, "I heard this from Moshe," every time he taught? No, he taught in a normal way, yet everyone knew that whatever he said he had heard from Moshe.

"Similarly with you," R' Yakov bar Idi continued, "R' Elazar teaches, yet all know he is repeating your lessons."

"Aah," said R' Yochanan to the others, "why can't you appease me like our friend, bar Idi."

And why did R' Yochanan so insist that his teachings be repeated in his name? For, no less than King David had asked, "Let me dwell in your tents forever..."[24] This means, he prayed, that Torah scholars repeat his words of Torah. In this way, it would be as though he was still alive."

(Yerushalmi, Shekalim ch.2)

No Wine

R' Yona was unable to drink wine. After fulfilling the mitzva of four cups of wine on Pesach, he would suffer headaches until Shavuos, and needed to bind his head tightly with a cloth.

On a different occasion, a Roman noblewoman saw that his face shone.

"Old man, old man," she said to him, "Your face shines so, for one of three reasons; either you drink a lot of wine, or you lend money with interest, or you breed pigs." Drinking or earning good profits causes people's faces to glow with joy.

"May her soul rot," said R' Yona, "none of these will you find by me. Rather, the Torah I learn causes my face to glow, as the verse says, "A person's wisdom makes his face shine."[25]

(Yerushalmi, Shekalim ch.3)

Shining Face

R' Avahu once came to Tiveria. R' Yochanan's students saw him, and noticed that his face was shining.

"R' Avahu must have found a treasure," they told R' Yochanan. "Look how his face glows."

"What new thought did you hear," R' Yochanan asked R' Avahu, "that you are so happy?"

"I discovered an old Tosephta I had never seen before," R' Avahu answered. "It contained many new, fascinating ideas. "

Of him R' Yochanan said, "A person's wisdom makes his face shine."[26]

(Yerushalmi, Shekalim ch.3)


Completely Pure

Once, on checking the menorah in the Beis HaMikdash, they found that it weighed one small measure more than Moshe's menorah. As this is was more than what the Torah prescribes, they would not accept it. Therefore, they melted down the menorah with the hope that by refining it they would arrive at the correct weight. However, it came out the same weight as it went in. Eighty times, they repeated this process. Still, the gold remained the same.

"Could this be?" the Torah scholars there asked. "Surely, we know that when a goldsmith melts gold it loses some weight."

"This is true," their rabbi answered, "as long as the gold is not completely pure. But once it reaches full purity, even melting it a thousand times makes no difference."[27]

(Yerushalmi, Shekalim ch.6)


Who will atone?

Two young Kohanim once raced up the altar-ramp in the Beis HaMikdash. The prize was that the winner would perform the special service of Trumos Hadeshen.[28] One ran too close to the other, and the other in anger, pulled out a knife and stabbed him.

R' Tzadok spoke out strongly against this crime, condemning it for happening. "Brothers" he cried out to the people from the steps of the Beis HaMikdash, "the Torah teaches, "If a corpse is found in the fields, murdered ... the elders and judges must come forward ... and they shall bring a calf to atone ... and break its neck."[29]

"Which of our communities then must bring the calf of atonement -- the people of the town or the Kohanim?"[30] Hearing this, all burst into tears.

The young man's father came to take the corpse. "May his death atone for the community," he said.

As he neared the body, he noticed that young man was fluttering between life and death. "Look," he said, "if we take the knife out now, we may yet save it (the knife)."[31]

(Yoma 23a)

Supreme Sacrifice

Hillel, in his younger years, would labor each day for a small coin. Half of this, he gave to the beis hamedresh guard that he might enter, and the other half he used to feed his family. Once, he found no work, and the guard would not let him into the beis hamedresh. He climbed to the roof, and sat himself by a skylight, that he may hear the Torah of his teachers, Shmaya and Avtalyon.

"That day," the students related, "was Erev Shabbos during the coldest time of the year, and a great snow fell on him. Thus, he remained frozen on the roof the whole night."

"Avtalyon, my brother," said Shmaya to Avtalyon, when the dawn rose, "every day at this time, the room lights up, yet today it's dark; maybe it's a cloudy day." They looked up, and saw what looked like a man in the skylight. The climbed to the roof, removed a great pile of snow from him, washed him, massaged him with oil, and sat him next to the fire.

"For one like him," they said, "it is well worth violating the Shabbos."

(Yoma 35a)

Not too Rich

R' Elazar ben Charsom inherited one thousand towns, and correspondingly, one thousand ships trading the seas. Still, each day he would take a pouch of flour on his shoulder, and travel from town to town, and city to city, to learn Torah. Once, his own servants, not recognizing him as their employer, grabbed him, requisitioning him to help in the fields.[32]

"Please," he begged them, "let me go, that I may go learn Torah."

"We swear by the life of R' Elazar ben Charsom," they answered, "that we will not release you." He then paid them a large sum of money to let him go.[33]

He never inspected his towns. Rather he spent day and night learning Torah.

(Yoma 35a)

Yosef HaTzadik

Daily, Potiphar's wife would persuade the righteous Yosef to fulfill her lustful wishes. The clothes she wore in the morning, she would not wear at night. The clothes she wore at night, she would not wear the next morning.

"Listen to me," she said to him.

"No," he answered her.

"I will throw you into jail," she said to him.

"Hashem releases the imprisoned," he answered her.

"I will break your back with torturous labor," she said to him.

"Hashem straightens the bent," he answered her.

"I will blind your eyes," she said to him.

"Hashem gives sight to the blind," he answered her.

She gave him a gift of a 1000 bars of silver, and still he would not listen to her.[34]


Thus Hillel reproaches the poor, R' Elazar ben Charsom the rich, and the righteous Yosef, the desirable [who are tempted to sin].

(Yoma 35a)

Her Own Fruit

The mother of Doeg ben Yosef, a widow, would measure him each day, to calculate how much weight he had gained, and give his weight in gold to the Beis HaMikdash.

When the enemy conquered the Jewish people, she slaughtered this same son and ate him. Of her, Yirmiyahu cried out, "If a woman can eat her own fruit, the babies in her hands."[35]

To the complaint implied in his words, a heavenly voice responded, "If they (the Jewish people) can slaughter with the Sanctuary a kohen and a prophet."[36]

(Yoma 38b)

Death of a Tzaddik

"This year I will die," Shimon haTzaddik, the Kohen Gadol, announced after one Yom Kippur.

"How do you know this?" they asked him.

"Every year, on Yom Kippur, and old man dressed in white and wrapped in white would accompany me into the Kodesh HaKodoshim. This year an old man dressed in black and wrapped in black accompanied me."

For seven days, he was sick. Then he died. Thereafter, his fellow Kohanim no longer recited their blessings using Hashem's explicit name. They felt they were no longer worthy of saying it.

(Yoma 39b)


When Shimon haTzaddik was dying he commanded that his son, Chonyo, the wiser of his two sons, should serve in his place. Shimi, Chonyo's brother, who was 2½ years older, was jealous.

"Come, let me teach you how to serve as Kohen Gadol," Shimi said to Chonyo. He dressed him in a leather garment, added a belt, and stood him next to the altar. He then called out, "Look what this one swore he would do for his beloved [wife]. He told her he would wear her tunic and belt on the first day he serves in the Beis HaMikdash, and he has done so."

When the other Kohanim heard this, they wished to kill Chonyo. He then fled to Alexandria in Egypt, built an altar, and offered on it sacrifices to idolatry. About this, the rabbis commented, "If one who had not tasted honor showed such a dangerous jealousy for it, how much the more so then, we must be careful not to demote one who already enjoys honor, [that he should not fall to ruin.]

This was the story of Shimi and Chonyo as told by R' Meir. R' Yehuda however, tells the story as follows:

When Chonyo heard that he was to be Kohen Gadol over his brother, who was 2½ years older, he refused, and passed the honor on to Shimi. Even so, he later felt jealous of Shimi.

"Come, let me teach you how to serve as Kohen Gadol," Chonyo then said to Shimi. He dressed him in a leather garment, added a belt, and stood him next to the altar. He then called out, "Look what this one swore he would do for his beloved. He told her he would wear her tunic and belt on the first day he serves in the Beis HaMikdash, and he has done so."

When the other Kohanim heard this, they wished to kill Shimi. Shimi then told them how this had happened. They then wished to kill Chonyo. He ran from them, and they ran after him. He ran to the king's palace, and they chased him there. All who saw him running, shouted, "That's him!" He then went to Alexandria in Egypt, built an altar, and offered on it sacrifices to Hashem. This then fulfilled Yeshayahu's unhappy prophecy, "...on that day there will be an altar to Hashem in the land of Egypt." (Yeshayahu 19)

About this, the rabbis commented, "If one who fled from honor showed such a dangerous jealousy for it, how much the more so then, we must be careful of one who pursues honor.

(Menochos 109b)

Seven Sons

R' Yishmael ben Kimchis once spoke to a Roman officer in the street on Yom Kippur. While speaking, the officer inadvertently sprayed R' Yishmael's clothing with saliva from his mouth.[37] That day, Yosef, R' Yishmael's brother took his place, and their mother, Kimchis, saw two of her sons serving as Kohen Gadol in one day.

Seven sons Kimchis had. All of them served as Kohen Gadol.

"What good deeds did you do," the rabbis asked her, "that you merited all this?"

"Not once," she answered them, "did the roof beams of my house see my hair exposed."

"Many other women also have acted so," they answered, "without receiving this reward."

(Yoma 47a) see 610

Not too long

A Kohen Gadol once, on Yom Kippur spent much time in the Kodesh HaKodoshim. His fellow Kohanim, sensing that something was wrong, decided to follow him in. As they were about to enter, he came out.

"Why were you there so long?" they asked him.

"Does it upset you," he asked him, "that I was praying for your welfare and that the Beis HaMikdash should not be destroyed?"

"Don't do this again," they told him. "Rather conduct yourself as the Mishna teaches: He would not draw out his prayer, so as not to frighten people."[38]

(Yoma 53b)


A Kohen, with a light-minded nature, noticed once that one of the floor tiles in the Beis HaMikdash, was higher than the rest. He realized that it had once been removed. He came to report this to his fellow Kohanim, but did not finish speaking before he suddenly died. They then understood clearly, that this was where the aron was buried.

(Yoma 54a)

Shimon haTzaddik and Alexander

The Kutim[39] asked of Alexander of Macedon that he allow them to destroy the holy Temple. He granted them permission. This news reached the ears of Shimon haTzaddik, the Kohen Gadol.

What did he do? He dressed in his Kohen Gadol's garments, gathered the leaders of Yerushalayim, and holding flaming torches in their hands, they marched through the night towards Alexander's army.

At first dawn, Alexander saw them from a distance. "Who are those people?" he asked.

"They are Jews," his officers told him.

As they reached Antipatrus, the sun rose and the two groups met. When Alexander saw Shimon haTzaddik, he descended from his chariot and threw himself down before him.

"Mighty King," his generals asked him, "How can someone as great as you bow down before a Jew?"

"Every night, before I go to battle," said Alexander, "it is this man that I see in my dreams."


"Why have you come here?" Alexander asked the Jews.

"The same holy Temple where we pray for your success," they answered, "disgusting people have tricked you into coming and destroying. Will you allow this?"

"Who are these people?" Alexander asked.

"These Kutim who stand with you here," they answered.

"They are yours. Do with them whatever you want," Alexander told them.

Immediately, the Jews bored holes through their ankles, tied them to horses' tails, and dragged through thorns and weeds, until they brought them to Mount Grizim, where the Kutim served their idols. They then ploughed and planted that area with wild vegetables, and declared that day a holiday.

(Yoma 69a)

Peaceful Conduct

A Kohen Gadol once left the Holy Temple, having completed the service of Yom Kippur. A huge procession followed him. However, along his path he met with Shemaya and Avtalyon.[40] The crowd abandoned him for these two teachers.

Shemaya and Avtalyon as they moved on blessed the Kohen Gadol.

"Shalom to you, sons of peoples," he responded, slyly insulting them for being converts.

"Shalom rests on those sons of peoples," they told him, "who pursue peace like Aaron HaKohen, and not on the sons of Aaron HaKohen, who do not conduct themselves like Aaron would.

(Yoma 71b) see 726

From the Womb

A pregnant woman one Yom Kippur, smelt a fragrant food, and very much wanted to eat it. People there came to ask Rebbi what they should do.

"Whisper in her ear," said Rebbi, "that today is Yom Kippur." They did so, and the fetus in her womb immediately stopped pressing for his desire.

About this fetus, Rebbi recited the verse, "Before I formed you, I already knew you."[41] This child grew to be the great R' Yochanan.


Another pregnant woman one Yom Kippur, smelt a fragrant food, and very much wanted to eat it. People there came to ask Rebbi what they should do.

"Whisper in her ear," said Rebbi, "that today is Yom Kippur." They did so, but her craving would not leave her.

About this fetus, Rebbi recited the verse, "From the womb the wicked are set apart."[42] This child grew to be known as Shabsai, who hoards fruits, (controlling the markets for his own profit, at the expense of the poor.)

(Yoma 82b)



R' Yehuda and R' Yosi walked once, through the countryside. Suddenly, R' Yehuda was struck with bulmus, a dangerous sickness whose only cure is to eat immediately.[43] He approached a shepherd there, and forced him to surrender the food he had.

"You took away that shepherd's lunch," R' Yosi rebuked R' Yehuda and they continued along their way.

When they came to the town, R' Yosi was suddenly struck with the same bulmus. The people of the town surrounded him was pots of honey and jam, and plates of cooked food until he regained his strength.

"I took away a shepherd's lunch," R' Yehuda said to R' Yosi as they continued, "but you took a whole town's lunch.

(Yoma 83b)


R' Meir, R' Yehuda and R' Yosi once traveled together. On Erev Shabbos, they arrived at an inn, and decided to stay there for Shabbos. "What is your name?" they asked the innkeeper.

"Kidor," he answered. R' Meir would analyze the names of people he met to understand their character; R' Yehuda and R' Yosi did not.

"His name indicates that he is wicked," R' Meir said to himself, "as the verse says, "Ki dor ta'hapuchos heima" -- they are a fickle nation."[44]

R' Yehuda and R' Yosi deposited their purses with the innkeeper. R' Meir did not. Instead, he buried by the head of the grave of the innkeeper's father.

That night the innkeeper had a dream. He saw his father who told him, there is a purse buried at the head of my grave -- take it. In the morning, the innkeeper related his dream to the rabbis.

"Dreams you see on Friday night mean nothing," they told him. That Shabbos, R' Meir kept a close watch of the gravesite.

The next day, R' Yehuda and R' Yosi asked the innkeeper for their purses.

"You never deposited any purses with me," the innkeeper declared.


"Why didn't you pay attention to his name?" R' Meir later asked the other rabbis.

"Why didn't you tell us that he is a thief?" they asked R' Meir.

"I can tell you what I know to be true," said R' Meir, "but can I express suspicions such as these?"[45]


They drew the innkeeper into a tavern. While sitting with him, they noticed lentils in his moustache hairs. They then returned to the innkeeper's wife.

"Your husband said you should give us the purses," they told her, "and the sign that what we say is true, is that he ate lentils for breakfast."

They took their money and left. Later, when the innkeeper returned home and found out what his wife had done, he became so angry, he killed her.

(Yoma 83b)


The above story illustrates how disregarding the Torah rule of washing mayim achronim, cleaning one's fingers and mouth at the end of a meal, killed a woman. The following shows how not washing mayim rishonim, ritually pouring water on the hands before eating bread, fed a man pork.

A restaurant owner would feed kosher food to his Jewish customers, and pork to his non-Jewish customers. Once, a Jew entered the restaurant, and sat down to eat, without washing first. The owner therefore, assumed that he was a non-Jew, and served him pork.[46]

(Rashi, Yoma 83b)


R' Yochanan had toothache. He went to a non-Jewish woman who treated him on Thursday and Erev Shabbos.

"What should I do on Shabbos?" he asked her.

"You don't need to do anything," she answered him.

"And what if I do need something?" he asked her.

"Swear you will not reveal my secret," she said to him, "and I will tell you what to do."

"I swear to the G-d of Yisrael I will not reveal this," he said.

That Shabbos, he told the formula to the entire congregation.


"But surely he was breaking his oath?" the students asked.

"He swore only "to the G-d of Yisrael" he would not reveal this," their teacher answered, "but he never swore that he would not reveal this to the people of Yisrael."

"Doesn't such conduct profane Hashem's name?" they asked.

"Since he told her in advance that he had tricked her, and that his oath was no oath," their teacher answered, "he did not profane Hashem's name."

(Yoma 84a)

Over Yom-tov

R' Ilai went during the festivals to Lod, to spend time with his rebbi, R' Eliezer.

"Ilai," R' Eliezer gently rebuked him, "don't you rest during the holidays?" For, R' Eliezer would praise the lazy, who stay at home over the holiday season, and thereby fulfill the mitzva, "You shall rejoice, you and your family."[47]

(Sukka 27b)

R' Eliezer

R' Eliezer spent Shabbos in the Upper Galil. The students there asked him thirty questions concerning the laws of Sukkos. Of twelve of them, he said he had heard the answer. Of the other eighteen, he told them, he had not heard an answer. R' Yosi b'Rebbi Yehuda reported it the other way round -- eighteen of them, he had heard the answer, twelve of them, he had not.

"Rebbi," the students asked him in amazement, "all that you teach is only from what you heard?"

"I have revealed to you one of the attributes I am most careful about," R' Eliezer said, "namely, never to say over anything I did not hear from my teachers. Now, I will tell you what else I took care over ...

"I never had anyone come to the study hall before me. I never slept in the study hall -- neither a proper sleep, nor a light nap. I never left anyone still learning when I left the study hall. I never chatted idly in the study hall. And I never said over anything I did not hear from my teachers."

(Sukka 28a)

Greater than Others

Abaye overheard a man telling a woman, "Let's rise early tomorrow morning, and walk together to such-and-such place."

"I will follow quietly behind them," Abaye thought, "that I may stop them from sinning." He followed at a distance, walking through the fields for a long distance. Nothing happened.

"The distance between our two destinations is far," he then overheard them saying to each other; "as pleasant as it was walking together, we must now go in separate ways." Each one then took a different route.

"If that had been my enemy," Abaye later lamented, speaking of himself, "he would not have resisted the temptation to sin." He leaned against on the crossbar of a door, upset and crying to himself.

"One, who is greater than others," an old man[48] told him to appease him, "also has a greater inclination to do evil."

(Sukka 52a)

From her Father or Mother

Miriam, daughter of Bilga, the head of an important family of Kohanim, rebelled against her people and married a Greek officer. When the Greeks entered the Holy Temple to destroy it, she came along with them.

"Lucus, lucus, [wolf, wolf,]" she cried out, kicking her sandal against the holy altar, "how long will you squander the money of Yisrael, without helping them in their troubles."[49]

The rabbis, when the holy Temple returned to Jewish hands, penalized the Bilga family because of Miriam. "She would never have spoken in such a way," they said, "had she not heard such talk from her father or mother."

(Sukka 56b)


One Yom-Tov, R' Eliezer gave a lengthy class on the laws of Yom-Tov. As the lesson went on, one group of students rose and left to enjoy their Yom-Tov meal.

"Those students have drums of wine to drink," R' Eliezer commented of those who had left his lesson. After a while, a second group left.

"Those students have barrels[50] of wine to drink," R' Eliezer commented. Later a third group left.

"Those students have casks of wine to drink," R' Eliezer commented. After a while, a fourth group left.

"Those students have jugs of wine to drink," R' Eliezer commented. After a while, a fifth group left.

"Those students have cups of wine to drink," R' Eliezer commented. After a while, a sixth group left.

"Those students bring curses on themselves," R' Eliezer said, for the study session had now emptied in an excessive way. He raised his eyes that the remaining students. Their faces turned white -- they thought possibly, R' Eliezer was angry with the sixth group for not leaving earlier -- and the more so with them for staying on -- and not fulfilling the mitzva of eating and drinking on Yom Tov.

"My children," he said to them, "my criticism is not against you, but at those who abandon eternal life for the pleasures of this world.

"Go now," he told them as he finished the class, "enjoy tasty foods, delicious drinks, send food to those who don't have, for today is Hashem's day. Don't be sad [that we have paused our learning,] for to take pleasure in Hashem is your great strength.

(Beitza 16b)


The Roman government decreed that the Jewish people should not learn Torah, circumcize their sons, or keep Shabbos. What did Yehuda ben Shamua and his friends do? They visited a Roman lady, whom all the great man of Rome would visit, to ask her advice.

"Assemble a large group in the markets and streets," she told them, "and cry out your suffering -- that they hear you, and have mercy on you."

That night, a large group filled the streets. "For Hashem's sake," they cried, "Are we not brothers? Do we not have the same father? Do we not have the same mother?[51] Why are we different to other people that you make such harsh decrees against us?"

The officers nullified their decrees, and the Jewish people declared a Yom-Tov. This happened on the 28th Adar.

(Rosh HaShana 19b)

Earthenware Vessels

"Woe, that such beautiful wisdom must sit in such an ugly container," Caesar's daughter said to R' Yehoshua ben Chananya, intimating that he might be wise, but definitely not handsome.

"Tell me," he answered her, "doesn't your father keep wine in the earthenware vessels?"

"What other vessels should he use?" she asked him. "Surely, everyone keeps wine in earthenware vessels?"

"Important people like you," he declared, "should use nothing less than gold and silver."

She told this to her father, and he transferred his wine to gold and silver vessels. The wine soured.

"Who advised you to do this?" the king asked her.

"Rebbi Yehoshua ben Chananya," she answered. He summoned R' Yehoshua.

"Why did you tell my daughter this?" he asked.

"I only spoke to her," said R' Yehoshua, "as she spoke to me. She should have realized that just as wine keeps best in plain earthenware vessels, so wisdom only keeps in plain people."

"But surely, there are also good-looking people that are wise?" the king asked.

"If people did not admire them for their good looks," R' Yehoshua answered, "they would be much more learned. To remember wisdom, a person needs great humility, and for people that others admire, this is very difficult.

(Taanis 7a)

The Living

In the days of R' Shmuel bar Nachmani, a plague as well as a famine raged through the land.

"How should we act?" the rabbis asked, "to pray that Hashem nullify them both is impossible. We cannot pray [effectively] for two things at once. Let us then pray that the plague should come to an end, and we will suffer through the famine."

"Not so," R' Shmuel bar Nachmani may told them, "rather, we should pray for the end of the famine, and Hashem will remove the plague as well. For, Hashem does not send His abundance to those who will die, only to those who will live. This the Torah teaches when it says, "You open your hand, and satisfy the living with their desires."[52]

(Taanis 8b)


Anyway Liable

The Roman general, Turyanus, wished to kill two brothers, Lulyanus and Papus of Ludkia. These brothers were known to be tzaddikim.

"You are the people of Chananya, Mishael and Azarya, who Hashem miraculously saved when Nebuchadnezer threw them into a fire," he told them. "So if you are innocent, let Hashem save you from me as he saved Chananya, Mishael and Azarya from the hands of Nebuchadnezer."

"Chananya, Mishael and Azarya were perfectly righteous," they answered, "and they deserved a miracle. Moreover, Nebuchadnezer was a fitting king, and merited that a miracle be done through him. You however, are a common sinner, and unfit for any miracle, and we anyway are liable a heavenly death penalty. If you don't kill us, Hashem has other agents. Bears and lions can do the job as well as you can. Why Hashem chose you, is that He wishes to punish you for spilling our blood."

Despite these powerful words, Turyanus still killed them. People later reported, that he had not yet moved from that spot when he was punished. Two rival Roman officers smashed his head open with heavy sticks.

[These brothers, some say, are the famous martyrs of Lod. Others explain that they "confessed" to killing Caesar's daughter, to protect the Jewish people from a mass slaughter …see 143]

(Taanis 18b)

Nakdimon ben Gurion

The entire Jewish people were in Yerushalayim for the festival, but there was no water to drink. A Jewish leader, Nakdimon ben Gurion, approached a Roman nobleman who lived there.

"Lend me twelve wells of water for the people," he told him, "and I will replace it with another twelve wells of water [i.e. Hashem will replenish them for you;] and if not, I will pay you twelve bars of silver."

The nobleman agreed, and they set a date by which time the water must be returned. That day came, and still no rain had fallen. That morning the nobleman sent a messenger to Nakdimon ben Gurion.

"Send me my water or my silver," he commanded.

"I still have time. The whole day is still mine," Nakdimon ben Gurion sent back.

At noontime, he again sent a messenger. "Give me my water or my money," he ordered.

"I still have time," Nakdimon ben Gurion sent back.

In the late afternoon, he again sent a messenger. "Give me my water or my money," he ordered.

"I still have time," Nakdimon ben Gurion sent back.

The nobleman had a good laugh on hearing this. "Could it be," he chuckled, "that the whole year no rain falls, and now enough rain to fill my wells will fall?" He went to the local bathhouse joyously rubbing his hands at the thought of twelve bars of silver.

At the same time, Nakdimon ben Gurion entered the Beis HaMikdash anxiously. He wrapped himself in his tallis and stood in prayer.

"Ribono shel Olam, You know that neither for my honor, nor the honor of my father's house did I do this. I did it all for Your honor alone, that the Jewish people may have water for the festival."

Immediately, the skies filled with clouds and a great rain fell, until the twelve wells overflowed with water. The nobleman hurriedly left the bathhouse, bumping into Nakdimon ben Gurion as he left the Beis HaMikdash.

"Give me my change for the additional water you received," Nakdimon ben Gurion said to the nobleman.

"I know that Hashem turned the world over only for you," the nobleman answered, "but it won't help you. You still owe me those twelve bars of silver, for that rain fell after sunset, and it's all mine."

Hearing this, Nakdimon ben Gurion quickly returned to the Beis HaMikdash, rewrapped himself in his tallis and stood in prayer.

"Ribono shel Olam, let them know that we are Your friends in this world," he begged. The clouds then scattered, and the sun shone.

"Were it not for that sun shining through," the nobleman groaned, "that money would have been mine."


"Buni was his real name and not Nakdimon," the rabbis taught. "He was called Nakdimon since the sun pierced ["nikdera"] through the clouds for him.

(Taanis 18b) See later 731


R' Elazar b'Rebbi Shimon rode his donkey along the riverbanks, traveling from his yeshiva to Migdal G'dor, his hometown. He was extremely happy, and self-assured having learned so much Torah. Suddenly, he met an exceptionally ugly man.[53]

"Shalom alecha, Rebbi," the man greeted R' Elazar b'Rebbi Shimon. R' Elazar b'Rebbi Shimon however, instead of greeting him in return, scolded him.

"You -- good for nothing -- how ugly you are! Are all the people in your town as ugly as you?"

"I don't know," answered the man, "but maybe you'd like to tell the Craftsmen who made me, how ugly is Your work!

R' Elazar b'Rebbi Shimon immediately realized that he had made a bad mistake. He got down from his donkey, and bowed down before the man.

"Please, forgive me," he begged.

"First," answered the man, "tell the Craftsmen who made me, how ugly is Your work. Then I will forgive you!"

The man walked off, with R' Elazar b'Rebbi Shimon tailing humbly after him. They came to Migdal G'dor, R' Elazar b'Rebbi Shimon's hometown. There, many people came out to greet the great scholar. "Shalom alecha, Rebbi, Rebbi, Mori, Mori,"[54] they called.

"Whom are you calling Rebbi, Rebbi," the ugly man asked them.

"The person who walks behind you," they answered.

"If this is a rabbi," he exclaimed, "may there not be too many of them in Yisrael."

"Why do you say this?" they asked.

"Do you know how he treats people?" he answered, and told them the story.

"Even so, forgive him, for he is a Torah giant," the people requested.

"For the sake of this town I will forgive him," the man responded, "as long as he promises never to act like this again."

R' Elazar b'Rebbi Shimon then entered the shul and the people assembled there. "A person needs always to be as flexible as a reed," he taught them, "and not hard like a cedar." This, says the Gemara, is the reason, the common reed is used as a quill to write the Torah, tefillin, and mezuzos.

(Taanis 20a)


[1] Often the way the heavens treat us, follows the ways we understand it should treat us.

[2] Rashi, there

[3] It is hard for those who have plentiful food to appreciate what a great gift food is -- and, unless Hashem so wishes it, how impossible it may be to find it.

[4] Moderation in terms of how we live, being satisfied with our minimum requirements, is also a form of modesty. The greatness of such an attribute is, is that it allows the person who has it, to concentrate more of his efforts towards making spiritual gains.


[6] We need to be impressed with what humility, he accepted the words of his boss.

[7] Father of Eliezer??

[8] When a pious man is mentioned this refers to R' Yehuda ben Baba or R' Yehuda ben Ilai, Gemara there

[9] Tefillin too, as there name indicates, are a mitzva uniquely linked to prayer. In wearing them, we align our thoughts and deeds to the heavens, much as we do so with our prayers.

[10] As long as we don't speak mundane, workaday thoughts on Shabbos, we may think them. This man however, in his piety, went beyond the letter of the law -- and Hashem accordingly, rewarded him.

[11] The pious way, however, is to give him also some food at the beginning of the meal. Mishna Breura, Orach Chaim 170.14

[13] The death of a great scholar is bad news for the entire community.

[14] In this way, "measure for measure", he lost those same hands with which he had scorned the Temple service.

[15] Tanaic material that explains the books of Divrei HaYamim, dealing specifically with family ancestry.

[16] He said this to discourage him from these difficult teachings, or for the reason that people from those areas lacked distinguished ancestry. Rashi

[17] Or goat --either of them is suitable for this offering.

[18] A type of heavenly death.

[19] Since he hurt their feelings of the B'nei Beseira, "measure for measure" he suffered embarrassment for not knowing another law.

[20] While it was a long time since such a situation had come up, of Erev Pesach falling on a Shabbos, still people who encounter this problem will ask the elders amongst them, and they will remember the solution. Maharsha

[21] R' Elazar had originally been studying in Bavel.

[22] Iyov 25

[23] Yehoshua 11

[24] Tehillim 61

[25] Koheles 8

[26] Koheles 8

[28] The daily service of taking a spadeful of ashes from the altar and placing it on the eastern side of the ramp.

[29] Devarim 21

[30] He blamed the communities for this crime, and not just the individual who had stabbed his friend. He saw in this act a reflection of a faulty society.

[31] Contact with a corpse ritually defiles a utensil such as this knife, but since the young man was not dead yet, the knife was still clean. The sad message here is that people showed a higher regard for the technicalities of ritual law, than for the value of human life.

[32] This was a form of tax which they could demand on anyone living or passing through this territory

[33] He preferred ransoming himself than revealing himself, which would have delayed him still further.

[34] Eventually, she did have him thrown into jail. Still, this was the stepping stone to his ultimate glory.

[35] Eicha 2

[36] Ibid.

[37] For reasons of ritual purity.

[38] For if he was not fitting to enter in the first place, he would die, as happened many times during the Second Temple period. This is certainly not a good omen for the Jewish people.

[39] A people living in Eretz Yisrael who had at first converted to Judaism, but later returned to their pagan ways. They set up an idol in the form of a dove, on Mount Grizim.

[40] They were descendants of Sancheriv, a great enemy of the Jewish people. Strangely enough, they converted and rose to such heights that they became national leaders, and (as recorded in Pirkei Avos) links in the chain transmitting the Torah to us from Sinai.

[41] Yirmiyahu 1

[42] Tehillim 58

[43] This may be different to what we today call bulimia.

[44] Devarim 32

[45] R' Meir could not tell the other rabbis of a suspicion that arises from this level of sensitivity, (the reason being, certain "forces" only damage those who are able to perceive them, and for him to have said anything would be slandering the innkeeper.) Still, he did expect them to sense it for themselves.

[46] While the restaurant owner was certainly wrong to act so, still had the customer kept the mitzva of mayim rishonim, this would have saved him.

[47] Devarim 14. Your family refers specifically to your wife. Even though laziness is a negative attribute, over the festivals it serves as a positive trait. Rashi

[48] Some hold that the reference to "a certain old man" is Eliyahu HaNavi; however, this is not always so. Tosephos, Chulin 6a.

[49] She compared the altar to a wolf with a voracious appetite, who offers no help to the one who feeds him. The Chafetz Chaim would repeat this story, but substituting the word "lucus" with the Hebrew word "luksus" [luxury.] People run after luxurious living, he said, but it is of little help to them in times of trouble.

[50] Barrels being smaller than drums, take less time to consume. Similarly, casks are less than barrels, jugs are less than casks, and cups are less than jugs.

[51] Referring here to Eisav, father of the Roman people, and Yakov, who were brothers.

[52] Tehillim 145

[53] The ugliness referred to here is not simply a physical attribute, but rather an inner ugliness, a spiritual ugliness, which R' Elazar b'Rebbi Shimon could see surfacing through.

Some versions of this story read that this was really Eliyahu HaNavi in disguise, coming to rebuke him for his arrogant attitude. Rashi

[54] Mori, translates to my master/teacher.

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