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Acquiring Torah 5: Proper Reverence

Rabbi Yochanan, as he was walking, was leaning on Rabbi Chiya bar Abba; Rabbi Eliezer saw him and hid from him. Rabbi Yochanan said, “Look at these two things this Babylonian (Rabbi Eliezer was from Babylon before he became Rabbi Yochanan’s student) did to me: One, that he did not inquire after my peace, and another, that he hides from me!”


Rav Yaakov bar Iddi said to him, “So do they conduct themselves that a lesser person does not say hello to a greater one, for they practice and fulfill the verse, ‘Young ones saw me and hid; elders stood and remained standing (Job 29:8),” [spoken by Job, reminiscing of his former days of greatness. We see that for a person to hide from one greater than himself is a sign of respect. Rav Yaakov is attempting to appease Rabbi Yochanan so that he should not be angry with Rabbi Eliezer, and will now ask a question, the answer to which will appease him by demonstrating the correctness of Rabbi Eliezer’s actions]. Rav Yaakov asked Rabbi Yochanan, “Is it permissible to pass in front of the idol called Adura?” He answered him: “Why are you showing it respect? Pass in front of it and blind its eyes!” Rav Yaakov said, “[If not passing before it is a sign of respect,] Rabbi Eliezer did rightly that he didn’t pass in front of you.”

Rabbi Yochanan now said, “And another thing this Babylonian did, that he repeated my discourse, but not in my name!” Rav Ammi and Rav Assi entered before Rabbi Yochanan and said to him: “Our Master! Such was the story in the synagogue of copper-smelters, regarding a door-bolt that has a fastening on top (making it appear like a tool and not just a door-bolt), that Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yossi disagreed on this matter until they tore a Torah scroll in their anger!” “They tore it,” can you even think such a thing? Rather, a Torah scroll was torn (unintentionally [Taklin Chaditin]. Each one was pulling on one end of the scroll, until it ripped [Aruch]). And there was an old man there, by the name of Rabbi Yossi ben Kismah: he said, ‘I would be amazed if this synagogue did not become a temple of idol worship (because losing one’s temper is tantamount to idol worship.’ (Rav Ammi and Rav Assi are trying to appease Rabbi Yochanan, and ask that he not display anger toward Rabbi Eliezer).” Rabbi Yochanan thereupon said, “This we expect from colleagues (on an equal level, not to become angry with each other. To a student, though, one may display anger to rebuke him for his inappropriate behavior [Korban ha-Eidah, Taklin Chaditin].” (Yerushalmi Shekalim 2:5, 7a-b)

Step One: We see that Rabbi Eliezer felt that it was inappropriate to greet Rabbi Yochanan, his Rebbi, so much so, that he hid! There are Halachot that guide us in how and when to greet a Rebbi. To Acquire Torah, one must have a Rebbi whom he treats with respect and awe. This is the only way that the student will be able to develop proper awe for the Torah of his Rebbi.

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