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Shmayah and Avtalyon

Haughtiness and Knowledge

From the descendants of Sancherev, a heathen king of Ashur, who attempted to destroy Jerusalem, arose great teachers in Israel - Shmayah and Avtalyon. At an early age, they became proselytes and devoted their lives to the study of Torah. Eventually, they became great scholars and their names became famous throughout Israel. Wherever they went, people followed them to hear them expound the living words of G-d.

One day the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) came out of the Holy Temple and began walking home. When the people saw him, they began to follow along. Soon a large multitude of people gathered behind him and one of the leaders called out, "Make way and give honor to the crown of priesthood!"

At that moment the sages, Shmayah and Avtalyon, happened to pass by. Immediately the entire crowd left the Kohen Gadol and began to follow the sages. Again the leader's cry rang out, "Make way and give honor to the crown of Torah!" The people thought more of the sages than they did of the Kohen Gadol and they pressed close behind them to catch some pearls of wisdom.

High Priest Jealous

When the Kohen Gadol saw the people paying homage to the sages he became envious and angry. He kept his temper and ignored the sages. The sages, however, greeted him.

"Greetings to you," they called out, "will you be kind enough to give us a blessing?"

Angrily, he retorted, "Let the descendants of our people go in peace and be blessed."

The people heard this remark and kept quiet. They realized that the Kohen Gadol was insulting the sages by reminding them of their heathen birth.

Shmayah and Avtalyon didn't feel offended and, in a humble tone, replied, "True, let the descendants of our people go and come in peace and be blessed, provided they follow in the footsteps of Aaron Hakohen (who loved peace and pursued peace). But let not the son of Aaron go in peace, if he does not follow in his footsteps and emulate his good traits."

The Kohen Gadol realized that he had committed a sin by insulting the sages and he remained silent. The crowd, however, began heaping insults upon him and followed the sages and accorded them the greatest honor.

Therefore, our sages state, "A scholar, although he may be of illegitimate birth, takes precedence over a Kohen Gadol who is an ignoramus.

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