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Rabbi Joshua Ben Levi

Rabbi Joshua Ben Levi

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1.

Rabbi Joshua ben Levi was one of the great Sages whose teachings came down to us in the Talmud. He lived almost at the same time as two other great Sages, Rav Jochanan and Resh-Lakish, and he belonged to the first generation of Amoraim. The Amoraim, as you surely know, were the Sages who interpreted the Mishnah after it was compiled and edited by Rabbi Judah ha-Nassi. In fact, Rabbi Joshua hen Levi was privileged to learn in the Yeshiva of Rabbi Judah ha-Nassi in his youth.

The life story of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi is filled with wonderful happenings. Because of his piety and saintliness, he often used to meet the Prophet Elijah from whom he learnt the deepest wisdom of the Torah. He could also communicate with the souls of the saintly Sages of Israel of past generations, and many secrets of the heavenly spiritual worlds were revealed to him.

Rabbi Joshua ben Levi lived mainly in the south of Judah, in the town of Lad (Lydda). Later on, he was the head of the famous Yeshiva in this town. In his younger days he studied here at the feet of three great scholars: Rabbi Eliezer ha-Kappor, Bar Kappara, and Judah bar Pediah (Bar Kappara's nephew). From time to time he used to visit the scholars in the North, such as Rabbi Hiyya in Tiberias, and Rabbi Chanina in Zipporin, where the Sanhedrin was located. Later on he used to meet with Rav Jochanan and Resh-Lakish in Tiberias.

In addition to his great scholarship and saintliness, Rabbi Joshua hen Levi must have had a strikingly impressive appearance. Whenever it was necessary to send delegates to appear before the Roman governor in Caesaria to plead with him to ease the plight of the Jews, it was Rabbi Joshua hen Levi who was chosen together with Rabbi Chanina bar Chama to be the emissaries of the Jewish people. When they came before the Roman ruler, he used to rise in their honor. Asked by his counselors why he gave such honor to the two Jews, the Roman governor replied: "They have the appearance of angels."

2.

Rabbi Joshua ben Levi was blessed also with worldly goods and was quite rich. His wife was the daughter of a great scholar, and their son, Rabbi Joseph, became the son-in-law of Rabbi Judah the "Prince."

Needless to say, Rabbi Joshua had very fine children and grandchildren, who were all the finer because Rabbi Joshua himself spent much time on their upbringing and education from their earliest childhood. "Be sure to rise early in the morning to go to the synagogue," he told them, telling them also not to fail to go there in the evening. He promised that they would be blessed with long life, if they would do so. He also told them to be among the first ten to arrive in the synagogue, and to stand near and face the wall during their prayers; he urged them to pray with devotion and be careful in answering "Amen," and "Yehay Shmay Rabba" (during the recital of Kaddish).

Rabbi Joshua was famous for his exceptional love and devotion towards Torah-scholars, often stressing the importance of the Mitzvah of giving honor to them. He, naturally, stressed the importance of learning Torah and observing the Mitzvoth with great care. "All the Mitzvoth a person performs in this world come to bear witness in his behalf in the World to Come," he used to say.

He also had many an encouraging word for those who, because of weakness of character, or because of temptation, failed in their duties as Jews. All was not lost, because Repentance was G‑d's wonderful gift for the sinner to make amends and start afresh. "The whole episode of the Golden Calf was only to strengthen the hands of those who would repent," said Rabbi Joshua ben Levi. For, the story of the Golden Calf showed that even persons on the highest spiritual plane could relapse into sin because of the weakness of the flesh. Yet, even so great a sin as idolatory, so soon after receiving the Torah and in full view of Mount Sinai, could be forgiven through proper repentance.

At the same time he warned that the neglect of the Torah will not go unpunished. "Each and every day, a heavenly voice goes forth from Mount Horeb (Sinai) and calls out, 'Woe to the creatures that shame the Torah!'"

So eager was he to spread Torah learning among his brethren that nothing could stop him, not even the gravest danger. For example, when some people in his town were struck by a painful and extremely infectious disease, so that the slightest contact with them was considered most dangerous, Rabbi Joshua ben Levi ignored the danger. He visited them and went about teaching them the Torah saying that the holy Torah was a sure protection against all ills and dangers.

3.

Rabbi Joshua's sayings and teachings in matters concerning the relationship between Jew and Jew, display his great love of mankind. "One who had not seen his friend for a month, must on seeing him again, say the blessing of Shehecheyanu; if, however, a whole year had passed since he saw him last, he should say the blessing Mechayey Hameisim." These blessings express gratitude to G‑d for the joy of seeing one's friend after such an interval.

Malicious gossip and slander were considered by him unforgivable sins. "If one speaks maliciously about his fellow-man, one sins against all the Five Books of Moses," he said. Slander and tale-bearing were like murder, in his eyes. "For two sins no forgiveness can be expected: murder and slander," was another of his sayings. To the same category of his teachings belongs his statement: "He, who suspects his innocent fellow-man will be punished in kind."

Not only did Rabbi Joshua ben Levi teach purity of speech, saying that "a person should never utter a single unclean word," but he taught that people should altogether speak less, and so they will more likely be able to avoid saying the wrong thing. "If a word is worth a seta (silver coin), then silence is worth two," he used to say.

4.

Being so saintly a man, in whom Torah and wisdom, piety and virtue, were combined to perfection, Rabbi Joshua ben Levi merited the unusual distinction of meeting with the Prophet Elijah, as already mentioned. Elijah would appear to Rabbi Joshua ben Levi every day, converse with him and teach him the secrets of the Torah. It happened once that a man was devoured by a lion some three miles from the place where Rabbi Joshua lived. Because of this, Elijah did not appear to Rabbi Joshua ben Levi for three days, for Rabbi Joshua should have prayed to G‑d that no such calamity should happen anywhere near him.

Once, Rabbi Joshua met Elijah entering the cave of Simeon ben Yohai. Rabbi Joshua ben Levi asked the Prophet, "When will the Messiah come?" For the Prophet Elijah is the one who will announce the coming of the Messiah.

Elijah replied, "You should ask that question of the Messiah himself."

Having learned from Elijah where the Messiah could be found, Rabbi Joshua ben Levi set out for that place and met the Messiah. This was their conversation: "Peace unto you, Master and Teacher," Rabbi Joshua greeted the Messiah.

"Peace unto you, son of Levi," the Messiah replied.

"When will my Master appear?" Rabbi Joshua inquired.

"Today! Even today..." the Messiah replied.

Full of happiness and joy, Rabbi Joshua ben Levi returned to Elijah and told him what the Messiah had said. Thereupon Elijah explained to Rabbi Joshua that the Messiah was speaking of the word "today" mentioned in the verse: "Today - if you will hearken to my voice." This meant, that the Messiah could come any day if only the Jews would repent, and all together return to G‑d and the Torah and Mitzvoth which He commanded us to fulfill every day.

Rabbi Joshua passed on at a very old age. It was related that when Rabbi Joshua entered Gan-Eden, where the saintly souls enjoy the Presence of G‑d, Elijah the Prophet ran ahead of him, calling out: "Make room for the son of Levi."

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Esther Brooklyn, NY November 6, 2011

question how did Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi attain his wealth? Reply

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