Thursday, November 28, 2013

ben-azzai Connection with the Canon.

Table of Contents
  • Connection with the Canon.
  • Relations with Akiba.
  • Relations with Akiba. Chief among Ben 'Azzai's teachers was Joshua b. Hananiah, whose opinions he expounded (Parah i. 1), proved to be correct (Yeb. iv. 13), or defended against Akiba (Yoma ii. 3; Ta'anit iv. 4; Tosef., Sheb. ii. 13). Akiba himself was not really Ben 'Azzai's teacher, although the latter occasionally calls him so, and once even regrets that he did not stand in closer relation as pupil to Akiba (Ned. 74b); and he expressed the same regret in regard to Ishmael b. Elisha (Ḥul. 71a). In his halakic opinions and Biblical exegesis, as well as in other sayings, Ben 'Azzai follows Akiba; and, from the tone in which he speaks of Akiba in the discourses that have been handed down, the Amoraim concluded that his relations with Akiba were both those of pupil and of colleague (Yer. B. B. ix. 17b; Bab. ib. 158b; Yer. Sheḳ. iii. 47b; Yer. R. H. i. 56d).
  • His Piety and Devotion to Study.
His Piety and Devotion to Study.
Ben 'Azzai's most prominent characteristic was the extraordinary assiduity with which he pursued his studies. It was said of him afterward, "At the death of Ben 'Azzai the last industrious man passed away" (Soṭah ix. 15). A later tradition (Midr. Hallel) says of the zealous studies of Ben 'Azzai and Akiba—by way of reference to Ps. cxiv. 8—that in their perceptive faculty both had been as hard as rock; but, because they exerted themselves so greatly in their studies, God opened for the man entrance into the Torah, so that Ben 'Azzai could explain even those things in the Halakah that the schools of Shammai and Hillel had not understood. His love of study induced Ben 'Azzai to remain unmarried, although he himself preached against celibacy, and even was betrothed to Akiba's daughter, who waited for years for him to marry her, as her mother had waited for Akiba (Ket. 63a). When Eleazar b. Azariah reproved him for this contradiction between his life and his teachings, he replied: "What shall I do? My soul clings lovingly to the Torah; let others contribute to the preservation of the race" (Tos. Yeb. viii. 4; Bab. ib. 63b; Gen. R. xxxiv.; compare Soṭah 4b).
Another characteristic of Ben 'Azzai was his great piety. It was said, "He who has seen Ben 'Azzai in his dreams is himself on the way to piety" (Ber. 57b). Thanks to this piety he could, without injury to his soul, devote himself to theosophic speculations, when he, like Ben Zoma, Elisha b. Abuyah, and Akiba, entered, as tradition has it, into the garden ("pardes") of the esoteric doctrine. Tradition (Ḥag. 14b) says of him: "He beheld the mysteries of the garden and died; God granted him the death of His saints" (Ps. cxvi. 15). With reference to this verse, Ben 'Azzai himself had taught that God shows to the pious, near the hour of their death, the rewards awaiting them (Gen. R. lxii.). Other sayings of his concerning the hour of death have been handed down (Ab. R. N. xxv.). According to a tradition not entirely trustworthy, Ben 'Azzai was among the first victims of the persecutions under Hadrian; his name, therefore, is found on a list of the "ten martyrs" (Lam. R. ii. 2).

His Reputation.
Ben 'Azzai's posthumous fame was extraordinary. The greatest amora of Palestine, Johanan, and the greatest amora of Babylonia, Rab, each said, in order to mark their authority as teachers of the Law: "Here I am a Ben 'Azzai" (Yer. Bik. ii. 65a; Yer. Peah vi. 19c). The name of Ben 'Azzai is applied in the same sense by the great Babylonian amora Abaye (Soṭah 45a; Ḳid. 20a; 'Ar. 30b) and Raba ('Er. 29a). A haggadic legend of Palestine relates of him the following: "Once, as Ben 'Azzai was expounding the Scriptures, flames blazed up around him, and being asked whether he was a student of the mysteries of the 'Chariot of God,' he replied: 'I string together, like pearls, the words of the Torah with those of the Prophets, and those of the Prophets with those of the Hagiographers; and therefore the words of the Torah rejoice as on the day when they were revealed in the flames of Sinai'" (Lev. R. xvi.; Cant. R. i. 10).

The Greatest Principle.
Under Ben 'Azzai's name, traditional literature has preserved many sentences, with and without Biblical foundation. Two of these have been taken over into the sayings of the Fathers (Ab. iv. 2, 3).After a saying of Ben 'Azzai, at the beginning of the third chapter of "Derek Ereẓ Rabbah," this little book—which began originally with that chapter—is called "Pereḳ Ben 'Azzai" (Rashi to Ber. 22a; Tos. to 'Er. 53b). In a sentence that recalls a fundamental thought of Akiba, Ben 'Azzai gives the characteristic features of a kind of deterministic view of the world: "By thy name they shall call thee, at the place where thou belongest shall they see thee, what is thine they shall give to thee; no man touches that which is destined for his neighbor; and no government infringes even by a hair's breadth upon the time marked for another government" (Yoma 38a et seq.). Following Hillel, Akiba had declared the commandment "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Lev. xix. 18) to be the greatest fundamental commandment of the Jewish doctrine; Ben 'Azzai, in reference to this, said that a still greater principle was found in the Scriptural verse, "This is the book of the generations of Adam [origin of man]. In the day that God created man [Adam], in the likeness of God made he him" (Gen. v. 1; Sifra, Ḳedoshim, iv.; Yer. Ned. ix. 41c; Gen. R. xxiv.). The commandment to love God with all the soul (Deut. vi. 5), Ben 'Azzai explained in the same manner as Akiba: "Love him even to the last breath of the soul!" (Sifre, Deut. 32). Several of Ben 'Azzai's haggadic sentences, having been called forth by those of Akiba, are introduced by the words, "I do not wish to oppose the interpretation of my master, but will only add to his words" (Sifra, Wayiḳra, ii.; Mek., Bo, Introd.).
Ben 'Azzai's observations on sacrifices (Sifre, Num. 143) are obviously directed against Gnosticism. As against the doctrine of the Gnostics, that the part of the Law containing the rules of sacrifice could have originated only with a secondary god, the demiurge, who is merely just, not beneficent, Ben 'Azzai maintains, that in connection with the sacrificial laws, not any one of the various names of God is there used, but precisely the distinctive name, the Tetragrammaton, in which especially the goodness of God is emphasized, in order that the "minim" (disbelievers) might not have an opportunity to prove their views by the Bible. Ben 'Azzai's symbolic interpretation of the first word of Lamentations () is also polemical and probably directed against Pauline Christianity. He holds that in the numerical value of the four letters of this word is indicated that the Israelites did not go into exile until after they had denied the one God (א), the ten commandments (), the law of circumcision, given to the twentieth generation after Adam (), and the five () books of the Torah (Lam. R. i. 1).

A distinguished tanna of the first third of the second century. His full name was Simon b. 'Azzai, to which sometimes the title "Rabbi" is prefixed. But, in spite of his great learning, this title did not rightfully belong to him; for he remained all his life in the ranks of the "talmidim" or "talmide hakamim" (pupils or disciples of the wise). Ben 'Azzai and Ben Zoma were considered in the tannaitic school-tradition as the highest representatives of this degree in the hierarchy of learning (Tosef., Ḳid. iii. 9; Bab. Ḳid. 49b; Ber. Ḳid. 57b; Yer. Ma'as. Sh. ii. 53d; Bab. Sanh. 17b). Ben 'Azzai is especially named as an eminent example of a "pupil who is worthy of the hora'ah," of the right of independent judgment in questions of religious law (Hor. 2b). Ben 'Azzai stood in close relation to the leaders of the school of Jabneh. He handed down, "from the mouth of two-and-seventy elders," who were present on the occasion, a halakic decision, which was accepted in Jabneh on the day when Eleazar b. Azariah was elected president in the place of Gamaliel II. (Yad. iv. 2; Zeb. i. 3); also another resolution of the same day, declaring the books Kohelet and Shir ha-Shirim to be as sacred as the other Scriptures, whereby the collection of the Biblical writings, or the canon, was officially closed (Yad. iii. 5).

The Harmony of Creation Chapter 4: Mishna 3

The Harmony of Creation Chapter 4: Mishna 3 "He [the son of Azzai] used to say: Do not be disrespectful of any person and do not be dismissing of any thing, for there is no person who does not have his hour, and there is no thing which does not have its place." At its simplest level, our mishna is expressing the wise old adage: Every dog has its day. It is not in our best interests to get on anyone's bad side or to discard any items which may one day be of value. Any person may one day be in position to help or harm us. We should never underestimate the importance of one more friendship -- as well as man's capacity to harbor a grudge. What is not worthy of our attention today may tomorrow come back to haunt us. (The commentators differ regarding the precise definition of our mishna's second point -- "do not be dismissing of any 'thing'" (Hebrew: "davar"). Rabbeinu Yonah understands "davar" to mean "words" -- as the Hebrew word often connotes. He explains that one should not think it so unlikely that his words, uttered in private (against the person he disregarded), will cause him harm. Words spread quickly and are eventually heard by the wrong people, placing the onus of their utterance on their utterer (I think that made sense...). Rashi offers two explanations. (1) No information we are told should be entirely disregarded, for even remote dangers may one day strike. (2) Any opportunity we have to learn words of Torah should not be passed up or delayed. Study now when the opportunity arises, for who knows what the future will bring?) As we so often find in Pirkei Avos, the simple yet poignant words of our Sages can be understood on a far deeper level as well. I don't believe the intention of our Sages is simply that we must value others for self-serving reasons -- because they may one day benefit us. As we'll see, "every person has his hour" is far more profound. We should appreciate others creations -- both animate and inanimate -- because every object in creation is special, and has some unique role to fulfill in G-d's Master Plan. Every person has his hour; every object has its place. There is nothing G-d created for no purpose. Every person has his or her own unique contribution to make -- and at one time will be indispensable to the perfection of the world. Every object will in some way and at some time be used to glorify G-d's Name. And if we look down on any human being (including ourselves) or are neglectful of any part of G-d's world, we miss this crucial message. There will be a time when each of us will have to do his or her part -- or the world will be that less sanctified. Nothing G-d placed in this world is without purpose: G-d makes no mistakes. And when we realize this, no one and nothing is insignificant. The Mishna (Sanhedrin 4:5) states that one reason G-d created all mankind from a single set of parents is to indicate G-d's greatness, "for a person mints many coins from the same mold and they all resemble one another. But the King of kings, the Holy One blessed be He, forms each person in the image of Adam and not one of them resembles his fellow. Therefore, each and every person must say, 'For me was the world created.'" The implication of this mishna is clear. G-d, in His infinite wisdom and concealed in His wonders of DNA and heterosexual reproduction, willed it that no two people are exactly alike (possibly excepting identical twins). G-d made each of us different because we all have different, unique missions to fulfill in this world. G-d wants each of us to serve Him in his or her own special way, using the unique set of talents and capabilities only he or she possesses. There is something Dovid Rosenfeld can contribute to the world that no one else can do quite the same. If he recognizes and fulfills his role, the world is one step closer to its perfection. If he fails -- if he refuses to see his own uniqueness and ask himself what exactly G-d wants of him -- the world will lack something no one else can replace. And so, in our own special way, for each and every one of us was the world created. There is a well known (though hard-to-find) midrash (Midrash Alpha Beta Acheres d'Ben Sira 9) which states that King David felt he understood the purpose of everything in creation except for a very few things, one of them being the spider. Then on one occasion, while fleeing from King Saul, David ran into a cave. A spider quickly came along and wove a web over the entrance. Saul, seeing an undisturbed web, concluded that no one had entered the cave and went off. David, after realizing what had happened, humbly corrected his misconception. I don't believe the message of this midrash is that King David had so thorough an understanding of the ecosystems of the Near East. (David's complaint was that spiders spend all their time weaving webs too flimsy to be of any use to man.) Yet King David had the keen instinct that everything must play a role in G-d's Master Plan. In his world -- a world in which G-d's existence was ever-present throughout his travails -- everything must be purposeful. He expected to experience firsthand the usefulness of all G-d's creatures: the strength of his convictions would have them play a role in his very own life. And G-d saw David's wishes fulfilled. We further find King David to be a man for whom every aspect of creation was purposeful and combined into a magnificent whole. Nothing was mundane in David's universe. The same David who stood inspired before G-d and His Torah ("The L-rd is my shepherd; I shall not lack" (Psalms 23:1); "The L-rd is my light and salvation" (27:1); "G-d's Torah is complete, restoring the soul... G-d's commandments are clear, enlightening the eyes" (19:8-9); "If not for Your Torah, my delight, I would have perished in my affliction" (119:92)), saw the same beauty in every aspect of the cosmos, both great and small. In Psalms 104 he reflects on the natural world: "G-d waters the mountains from His upper chambers, from the fruit of Your works the land is sated.... The trees of the L-rd are sated, the cedars of Lebanon which He planted; there where the birds nest, the stork with its home in the cypresses. The high mountains for the wild goats, rocks as refuge for the rabbits.... The young lions roar after their prey, and to ask the L-rd for their food.... Man goes forth to his work, and to his labor until evening. How great are Your works, L-rd, You have made all of them with wisdom.... All of them look to You to give their food in its time. You give to them; they gather it in. You open Your hands; they are satisfied with good. You hide Your face; they are frightened. You gather their spirits; they expire and to their dust they return. You send out Your spirit; they are created, and You renew the face of the earth. May the glory of G-d be forever. May G-d rejoice in His works." (104:13-31). Nature, in its harmony, complexity and precision, speaks of sanctity and godliness no less than the Torah itself. The starry heavens fulfill a purpose in G-d's master plan, not least so that man may gaze upwards and see vastness and grandeur in perfect motion -- bespeaking an even greater Creator. Each person and every object in this world contains a spark of holiness and has an individual mission to fulfill. In unison -- the galaxies, the planets, the earth and its ecosystems, as well as the societies, communities and families of man in which each member lovingly accepts and fulfills his role -- are nothing less than a reflection of G-d Himself.