5772 — Rosh haShanah, Minchah — The Fiery Bear (Talmudic Interlude)

11/10/2011 at 20:02 Leave a comment




It was taught in a Baraita that a person should always be soft like a reed and not hard like a cedar.


There was a situation where R’ Elazar ben R’ Shimon[1] was coming from Migdal Gedor, from his teacher’s house.  He was riding on a donkey and traveling along a riverbank – he was very happy and was feeling very proud of himself for during that visit, he had learned a lot of Torah from his teacher.  Along his way, he saw a person who was exceedingly ugly.[2]  The ugly man greeted R’ Elazar ben R’ Shimon – Shalom Alecha, Rabi!  R’ Elazar did not return a greeting to him – rather, he said “Empty one – how ugly are you – are all the people of your city perhaps as ugly as you are?”  The other man answered him – “I don’t know.  Why don’t you go and tell the craftsman who made me – how ugly is that vessel that you made!”[3]


When R’ Elazar realized that he had sinned, he got down from his donkey and bowed low before the other man saying – “I have spoken out of turn to you – forgive me.”  The other man answered – “I will not forgive you until you go to the craftsman who made me and tell him – how ugly is this vessel that you have made.”  R’ Elazar traveled behind the man, seeking his forgiveness until he reached his city.  When they arrived the people of his city came out to greet R’ Elazar, saying to him, “Shalom Alecha Rabi, Rabi Mori, Mori.”  The other man said to them, “who are you calling a Rabi, Rabi?”  The people said – “um, we are addressing the man who is behind you?”  The man then said, “if this person you are greeting is a Rabi, may there not be many like him in Israel!”  They said to him, “what do you mean?”  He responded, “this “Rabi” did these things to me!”  And they said – “ok, so forgive him already – he is a man dedicated to learning Torah and great knowledge.”


The man said, “It is for all y’all sakes that I will forgive him, provided that he learn from this incident.”  After gaining forgiveness, R’ Elazar ben Shimon immediately entered the Beit Midrash and said – “a person should always be soft like a reed and not hard like a cedar.”  And it was for this reason that the reed merited to have pens drawn from its ranks to be used to write sifrei Torah, tefillin, and mezuzot.




Elijah often visited the Academy of the Rebbi.  One day, it was Rosh Hodesh and Elijah was late.  When he finally did show up, Rebbi said to him, “why were you late?”  Elijah answered, “By the time I woke up Abraham and washed his hands and by the time he prayed, and I returned him then back to his grave – and the same with Isaac, and with Jacob, it got to be very late.”


Rebbi then asked him, “Why didn’t you just wake them up, all together (at once)?  Elijah answered, “there is a rule in heaven that if the Avot pray all together, they will overwhelm the heavenly realms with prayer and will bring the Messiah before the proper time.”   Rebbi asked, “Are there any like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who can be found in today’s world?”  Elijah answered, “Yes.  R’ Chisda[4] and his sons.”


Rebbi then declared a fast.  He placed R’ Chisda and his sons around the amud.  During the public recitation of the Amidah, R’ Chisda prayed, “mashiv haruach,” and the wind blew.  He said, “morid hageshem,” and the rains fell.


When R’ Chisda was about to pray, “m’chayei hameitim,” the world began to shake.


Heaven exclaimed, “Who has revealed secrets in the lower world?”  And they responded, “Elijah!”


So they brought Elijah to them and slapped him with sixty lashes of fire.  Immediately then Elijah swept into the prayer service of R’ Chisda and his sons, appearing as a fiery bear and distracted them from their prayers.[5]





[1] R’ Elazar ben Shimon (2nd century CE) was the son of the famous R’ Shimon bar Yochai.  Among other stories, father and son hid in a cave for 13 years to escape Roman persecution.  R’ Elazar later worked for the Romans, becoming an official responsible for reporting on thieves.  He was later roundly condemned, including by his teacher, Yeshoshua ben Korchah, who called him “vinegar, son of wine.”

[2] Relying on another manuscript of the Talmud, Rashi cites that this ugly man was the prophet Elijah, in disguise.

[3] Our commentary states in R’ Elazar’s defense that this man didn’t look as much ugly as he did a thug, perhaps thinking that this greeting was the beginning of a provocation to start something uncomfortable or even dangerous.

[4] R’ Chisda was an Amora, mentioned frequently in the Talmud, presiding over the Academy at Sura.  He learned from Rav and Rav Huna.

[5] So, why a fiery bear?  According to our commentaries, a bear typically attacks its victim until the heart is exposed.  Thus, this is an allusion to the hearts and minds of that generation.  Wanting to bring the Messiah through prayer, while hearts are not in spiritual order – a bear will then disturb the prayers exposing the work that the heart still needs to do.


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5772 — Rosh haShanah, Day 1 — Mt. Moriah: The Steep Mountain 5772 — Yom Kippur, Kol Nidre — Mt. Ladoshem: Laughing, Not Lying

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