Bava Ben Buta
The Piety of a Saint
Our sages permitted a man to offer a suspended guilt-offering (a sacrifice for a doubtful sin) on any day and at any time he pleased, if it was to appease a troubled conscience. Such a sacrifice was known as the guilt-offering of the pious.
It was said of Baba Ben Buta that he would freely offer a suspended guilt-offering every day, for he would say, "Who knows, I may have sinned against G-d; therefore I hope that this sacrifice will atone for my sins."
People, amazed at his action, would ask him, "Why do you spend so much money on sacrifices when you are a saint and everyone knows that you never sin?"
He would reply, "I swear by this Holy Temple, I would have also brought this sacrifice the day following Yom Kippur (when every person's sins are forgiven) but the sages have advised me to wait until I have come to a state of doubt (until I have reason to assume that I may have committed a doubtful sin)."
The Travails Of A Saint
Although Baba Ben Buta rarely enjoyed luxury in this world, his life was to be made even more difficult by King Herod. Herod had been a slave and revolted against the royal family of the Hasmoneans. After killing them all, he proclaimed himself king. The people of Israel, however, were very opposed to the rule of Herod, both because of his foreign descent and because of his unsurpassed cruelty. He realized that the people followed the advice of the sages - the leaders of the people - and it was they who were responsible for his unpopularity.
The sages had expounded the sentence in the Bible: "Among your brethren shall ye choose a king." They pointed out that Herod was not of Jewish blood and was also a slave.
The king planned revenge and he ordered that all the sages be put to death. He only spared the life of Baba Ben Buta because of his great piety and wisdom. He spared his life for selfish reasons, for he needed his wise counsel.
Blinds The Sage
Herod was a cruel man. Although he spared Baba Ben Buta' s life, he ordered that he be blinded and a wreath of cactus be placed on his head, so that the sage would not enjoy this world.
One day Herod entered the room of the blind sage and, disguising his voice, said, "Have you seen what this slave did? He murdered his masters and all the sages of Israel."
"What can I do?" asked Baba Ben Buta.
"I know that you are a holy man and G-d hearkens to your pleas. Why don' t you curse him, so G-d may punish him?" said the king.
"G-d forbid," replied the blind sage. "The wisest of all men, King Solomon, had admonished us, 'Curse not the king, not even in your thoughts. "
"But this slave is no king," said Herod.
"True, he may not be a king, but he is a leader and we are warned not to curse a leader," said Baba Ben Buta.
"One is not only forbidden to curse a prince when he is G-d-fearing but even when he is a murderer." Baba Ben Buta continued, "I fear that all Israel may be punished by my remarks, if I were to curse him. Someone may overhear it and inform him of it. Why should innocent people suffer because of me?"
"You need not fear on this account," replied the shrewd Herod. "No one is here except you and me."
Baba replied, "Even if no one is present we may not talk bad, for it is written, ‘A bird of the air shall carry the voice.’ I will never curse a person."
Regrets His Actions
Herod was amazed at the piety of the sage and he said, "Know Baba Ben Buta that I am King Herod. Had I known that the sages were so careful and scrupulous and teach only good and kindness, I would never have killed them. Tell me, man of G-d, how can I repent for my bad deeds, what can I do to atone for my sins?"
Baba answered, "You have made dark the shining light of the world by slaying all the sages; therefore, it is your duty to rekindle that light by building a new temple, from which will again emanate the light of Torah." "How can I do this without first gaining permission from the Roman Government?” asked Herod.
The Plan To Build
"I have a plan," replied Baba Ben Buta. "Send envoys to Rome to ask for permission, but let them be in no hurry to arrive. Let them take a year in getting to Rome, then let them tarry a year in Rome and then spend another year in returning to Jerusalem. In the meantime, you will have sufficient time to rebuild the holy temple."
Herod liked the plan, and he put it into effect. He sent envoys to Rome and, in the meantime, employed a great force of men to rebuild the temple. He installed clear crystal marble and wanted to plate the walls with gold, but the remaining sages dissuaded him.
"It will hide the blue designs in the stone which resemble waves and the blue azure of the heavens," they said. Herod listened to them and, during the construction of the temple no rain fell during daytime. It would only rain at night and the sun would always shine in the morning. The people were elated over this good omen and they were convinced that their work was pleasing in the eyes of G-d.
When it was completed, the people were thrilled at such beauty and they exclaimed, "He who has not seen the building of Herod has never seen a beautiful building in his life!"
The Message From Rome
At the end of three years, when the Temple was completed, the envoys returned from Rome. They brought back the following message, "If you have not demolished the old temple, let it remain as it is. If you have demolished the old one, do not replace it by building a new structure. If you have already destroyed the old structure and replaced it by building a new one - you are just a disobedient slave who requests permission after he has committed the act. If you boast that you are a king, who has fought in wars, we know your pedigree and you are not a king, nor the son of a king. Herod, you are a slave who has rebelled against his masters. This record you can never obliterate.”
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