Every Jewish boy who has learned Gemora, is familiar with the names of Rav and Shmuel - the two great Amoraim, who were colleagues. They lived at the time of the first generation of Amoraim and carried on with the two great Yeshivoth (Torah Academies) of Sura and. Nehardea, in Babylon. We will first tell you about Rav.
Rav, or Abba bar Ayvoh, was born in Babylon. There were great Jewish communities in Babylon at that time. When Rabbi Judah the Prince lived in Eretz Yisroel, many great Torah scholars went up to Eretz Yisroel to study under the guidance of this great Sage. Rabbi Hiyya and his sons Rab Haninah and Levi were amongst those who traveled to Eretz Yisroel and greatly aided Rabbi Judah in his compilation of the Mishnayot. Rav' was also among the aforementioned scholars.
"Rav" was a title of honor given him by the Jews, just as Rabbi Judah the Prince was called simply "Rebbe." Rav's name was Abbah arid his father was called Ayvoo (Ayvoh).
He belonged to a famous scholarly family, his father also having been a great scholar. Rav's father was one of five brothers, all Torah scholars, especially Rabbi Hiyya bar Abbah, Rabbi Judah's great friend.
Rav was famous not only for his brilliant intellect and great knowledge, but also for his handsome appearance. He was a handsome man, tall and strong. He was therefore often referred to as Abba Aricha (the "tall" Abba).
Rav in Eretz Yisroel,
Rav came to Eretz Yisroel at an early age. He studied at the feet of his uncle Rabbi Hiyya, who showed him great affection. Rav was so successful in his studies that Rabbi Hiyya appointed him to be his "interpreter" (every dean had a special scholar who used to explain in detail the various points raised by the dean, and enlarge upon them). Rav was ordained by Rabbi Hiyya as a Rabbi. Rabbi Hiyya treated him as if he was his own son, and he used to call him endearing names.
As Rabbi Hiyya was a close friend of Rabbi Judah the Prince, he presented Rav before Rabbi Judah. The latter invited him to dine together with him and Rabbi Hiyya. Rabbi Hiyya instructed Rav as to how he should behave in the princely home of Rabbi Judah.
After Rav filled himself with Torah and wisdom, he decided to, pay a short visit to Babylon. He arrived in Nehardea, where he clarified many difficult legal problems.
His parents died while he was in Babylon. When Rav returned to Eretz Yisroel, Rabbi Hiyya asked him if his (Rav's) father was still alive. Not, wishing to bring evil tidings, Rav replied: "Why do you not inquire if my mother is still living?" Rabbi Hiyya then asked: "Is your mother alive?" Rav again countered with a question: "And does my father live?" Rabbi Hiyya understood from the form of Rav's replies that both of Rav's parents were no longer alive.
On Rav's return to Eretz Yisroel he attached himself more than ever to Rabbi Judah. He studied in his Yeshivah and was one of his most prominent students. Rabbi Judah appointed him as a member of his Court and when he transferred his Court to Zippory, he took Rav with him.
The high esteem with which Rav was regarded by the other Amoraim can be seen from the Talmud, Hullin 137: When Issi bar Hinni mentioned Rav in the presence of Rabbi Jochanan, he referred to him as "Abba Arichah." Rabbi Jochanan turned to .him angrily and said: "You dare to call him "Abba Arichah?" I remember when I sat seventeen rows behind Rav in Rabbi Judah's Yeshivah, and sparks of fire passed from Rav's mouth to his Master's mouth, and back to Rav's mouth, and I could not even understand their conversation!"
Rav was famous also for his wide knowledge in different subjects such as medicine and nature-study; he knew which foods were beneficial and healthy and which were harmful; he was well acquainted with the lives of animals and birds. He had a clear and wide knowledge of geography, etc. His reason for studying these secular subjects was in order to be in a better positron to decide on legal questions arising in these fields. For example, the Palestinian Talmud (Jerusalem) relates that Rav learned from a shepherd for eighteen months how to differentiate between permanent "blemishes" and temporary "blemishes" in animals in order that he should be absolutely sure as to which "blemish" renders a first-born animal unfit.
Rav was also an accomplished linguist. He could speak Persian, Greek and Aramaic. He was also well acquainted with the methods of business and traders. Many sayings of his in this field ate found in the Talmud.
We will bring here just a few of his sayings as examples:
"Better to be cursed than to curse." (Sanhedrin 49)
"A camel came begging for horns, so his ears were clipped" (Sanhedrin 106) meaning, that whoever seeks a lot loses even what he has.
"Better to have a pot of earth than a large amount on the roof" (Pesachim 113) meaning-better a little, at hand than a lot far away.
Rav used to say that a father should never show more love to one child than to another, because such action causes jealousy between children, as was the case of Joseph and his Brothers.
Rav was very humble and always sought peace. If someone happened to offend Rav, Rav was the one to go and ask forgiveness of that person in order to make peace between them.
Back in Babylon
Rav later decided to return to Babylon in order to strengthen the position of Torah and Judaism in that country.
On Rav's return to Babylon, he found several great scholars leading the Jewish community there. The dean in Nehardea was Rav Shilah. The Exilarch (leader of the Jews in Exile) was Mar Ukvah. Shmuel was a Dayon (Judge) in Nehardea.
In spite of Rav being greater in Torah knowledge and wisdom than the abovementioned scholars, he did not wish to take away any of their positions.
Rav arrived quietly, not revealing his identity. No one recognized him on his arrival in Nehardea. That day, Rav Shilah did not have an interpreter, so Rav volunteered his services. His great wisdom was soon apparent. When Rav Shilah recognized Rav, he exclaimed: "I am not worthy of having you as my interpreter." Rav replied, however: "If someone hires himself out for the day, he is duty-bound to carry out any job given him."
Rav remained a short while in Nehardea, becoming very friendly with Shmuel, despite the fact that Shmuel was younger than he.
Rav greatly respected all Torah scholars, even those on a lower level of knowledge than he was, but when a legal question was raised that needed his interpretation; he stated his opinion outspokenly, as he used to say: "When a question of Chilul HaShem (Desecration of the Holy Name) arises, one need not respect the feelings even of a great person." (Berachot 19b)
Rav was given a position by the Exilarch, as Inspector of the Markets, to see that the storekeepers should give a full weight and deal honestly.
Rav owned a brewery, but it was not successful and he suffered poverty. Rav Shilah died at that time, but Rav did not wish to occupy the vacant position because of Shmuel. Rav decided to leave Nehardea and settle down in a place where the study of the Torah had as yet not been spread. Rav traveled from town to town spreading Torah, setting up many disciples and strengthening the spiritual life of his brethren. When he arrived in Sura, Rav decided to stay there and turn the town into a Torah center. He set up a great Yeshivah, and students from near and far flocked to him. His material position also improved and he became quite rich. He also became friendly with the royal family.
While being an extremely modest person, he was as unbending as iron when the honor of the Torah was at stake.
The story is told in the Talmud (Jerusalem, Nedarim, Ch. 9, 4) of Rav sending a messenger to a rich man, calling him to Court. The rich man was proud of his riches, and instead of coming to Rav immediately, he arrogantly sent a message to Rav saying: "Do you know how rich I am? All the camels of the Arabs would not be able to carry even the keys to my treasures."
When Rav received the message, he remarked that the rich man would soon be relieved of his riches. Very soon afterwards the king issued an order that all the rich man's possessions should be confiscated.
The rich man, thereupon, came running to Rav, begging his forgiveness. Rav forgave him on the spot, and prayed for him. A short while later the rich man's possessions were returned to him.
Rav was for the Jews in Babylon, what Rabbi Judah Hanassi was for the Jews in Eretz Yisroel. Although Rav belonged to the first generation of Amoraim, he is also counted as being one of the last Tanaim and it was therefore said about him: "Rav may differ in opinion even from a Tana." Rav died at a ripe old age.