The Man Who Mocked The Torah
In the latter days of the Second Temple, there lived a great scholar by the name of Yehuda ben Beseira. He lived in the town of Netzivin, which was just outside the land of Israel (see Tosephot, Pesachim 3b), and so he did not go on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year, as required of all Jewish residents of the Holy Land.
There lived next door to the great scholar a cynical and mocking Jew hater, who was always looking for ways to ridicule the Torah and hold it in contempt. Yehuda, of course, was always able to best him in every argument, and this served only to increase the hatred of the man for Jews.
Mocking Yehuda Ben Beseira
One day, as Yehuda was sitting deep in study, the anti-Semite passed by, with a mocking laugh:
“Ho there, Jew!” he called out.
Yehuda looked up and saw the man grinning evilly. He sighed to himself, knowing that there was undoubtedly a new attempt by the man to cause trouble for the Jews.
“I have passed by Jew, to inform you that I was able to mock and ridicule your Torah, and nothing happened to me.”
Yehuda frowned, “What are you talking about, Wicked One?”
“Very simple,” answered the wicked man. “Does it not say in your Torah that a non-Jew may eat from the Paschal Sacrifice? Well, I have recently returned from Jerusalem, where I was present for the Passover holidays. There I resolved to make a mockery of your Torah.
“I mingled with the people and partook of the Paschal Lamb. Despite this, nothing has happened to me. So much for your Torah!”
When Yehuda heard these words he was deeply distressed and searched his mind for some way to punish this evil person.
Turning to the Jew hater, he smiled and said:
“You really are a fool, after all.”
“What do you mean?” asked the man angrily.
“I will explain. Do you really think that the Jews did not recognize that you were a non-Jew? They most assuredly did, for is it true that they didn’t allow you to eat from the most delicious part of the animal, the fatty part of the tail?”
The man’s face fell a he answered, “Yes, that is true; they did not give me that section.”
“It’s just as I thought,” replied Yehuda. “They recognized you for what you were and refused to give you that delicacy.”
Really Forbidden To Be Eaten
Now, in reality, this section of the animal was forbidden to be eaten by Jews, and was, instead, sacrificed to the Almighty. The wicked man, however, had no idea that Yehuda ben Beseira was planning to trap him and said to himself:
“Very well, I shall go next year to Jerusalem and show this rabbi that I will outwit all the Jews there. I will go and demand that I be allowed to eat from the fatty tail and then return to tell this old man how I totally outwitted his G-d and his Torah.”
Back To Jerusalem
The evil man could hardly wait for the next Passover to come around so as to cause anguish to Yehuda ben Beseira.
The next year he set off again for Jerusalem and arrived in the Holy City as the first day of Passover was beginning. Having paid to partake in the Paschal Sacrifice, the man sat at the table with a Jewish family, and, as the portions were being handed out, he protested:
“I have paid good money to partake in this sacrifice. I do not want this inferior portion. I demand to be allowed to partake in the fatty-tail part.”
The People Are Amazed
The people stared at the man in amazement.
“What are you saying?” they cried out. How does a Jew ask to eat a part of the sacrifice, which is reserved of the Almighty?”
The wicked man, seeing that he had blundered somehow, could only stammer, “but this is what Rabbi Yehuda ben Beseira told me, that upon my arrival in Jerusalem, I should ask for the fatty-tail part!”
When the people heard this, they understood that Yehuda had some reason for doing what he did.
“Undoubtedly, this man is not Jewish,” they cried out, “Otherwise how would he not know the basic law? That is why Yehuda told him this.”
Praise For Yehuda
Sure enough, after making careful investigation, they found out that the man was not Jewish. And to Rabbi Yehuda ben Beseira, the rabbis of Jerusalem sent the following message:
“Peace unto you, Rabbi Yehuda ben Beseira! You are in the town of Netzivin, but your name has spread even unto Jerusalem.”
The Man Of Principle
Man is so weak in spirit that it is seldom in our times, that we find one who is willing to make a sacrifice for his principles. Instead, we compromise our ideals and sell our birthright for a few pennies.
How different it was in ancient times, when there existed Jewish leaders who were full of faith and unafraid to uphold what they believed in at the cost of money, prestige, and even at time – life itself.
Take, for example, the story of the great Tanna (Mishnaic scholar) Akavia ben Mahalel.
Akavia Teaches Four Laws
In the times of the Temple there lived a great Tanna by the name of Akavia ben Mahalel. He was a wise and noble man, whose words are brought in Pirkei Avot:
“Take heed of three things, which will enable you to keep from sin. Know from whence you come, and to where you go, and before Whom you are destined to render an account of your deeds.”
It was Akavia who was one of the great scholars of his time and often lectured in the house of study before the rabbis and students. One day, he gave his usual brilliant shiur (lecture) and enunciated four laws which the rabbis, because of their own tradition which had been handed to them by their teachers, disagreed violently.
Akavia Asked To Retract
Akavia and the rabbis began to discuss the laws, each citing proof for his point of view, and Akavia remained adamant in his view these four laws were correct in the way that he had presented them.
“We beg of you to retract your words, Akavia,” said the rabbis.
“Furthermore, should you do so, we shall make you the head of the Beis Din (the court).”
When Akavia heard these words, he ascended the rostrum and spoke before the assemblage.
“My brothers, I prefer that people say throughout my life ‘That is Akavia who gave up the opportunity to become the head of court,’ than for one moment even to feel that I have sinned before G-d by compromising what I believe to be right.
“Furthermore, had you convinced me that I was wrong and had I retracted my words because of this, I would never accept the position that you offered me.
“Let it never be suspected that because of prestige, Akavia retreated from principle!”
The Son Of Akavia
Nevertheless, when Akavia lay on his deathbed, he called his son to his side, and after admonishing him to be a faithful and observant Jew, said to him:
“I want you to retreat from the four laws that I expounded and to follow them in the way that the rabbis teach.”
Akavia’s son stared at his father in amazement:
“What are you saying, Father? How is it that you yourself did not retreat, and yet you ask me to?”
The Power Of The Majority
“My son,” answered the dying scholar, “know you that there is a great difference there, which you should always remember. No man has the right to defy the majority without reason.
“I heard these four laws from many rabbis, just as the rabbis of my time who differed from me, heard it in their way from many rabbis. Each of us could point to many authorities to back up our views.
“You, however, have only heard these laws from me – in individual. You are obligated, therefore, to follow the majority, who differ from me.”
This was the great lesson taught by Akavia ben Mahalel to his son. Should not we, who are often tempted to do things contrary to the majority of our G-d-fearing teachings, also take this lesson to heart?
Designed by R.A. Stone Design Associate
HI-TECH Computers, Inc.
Page last updated - 05/19/2006