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Rava

Rava

(circa 4038- 4112)

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The name of the great Amora-Rava, becomes familiar to every boy as soon as he begins to learn Gemara. Rava is almost always mentioned together with his friend Abaye, about whom he wrote in our Talks of last month. "Abaye and Rava" are mentioned very many times in the Talmud; they are almost inseparable. Yet more often than not their opinions differ. It is interesting to note that although Abaye is always mentioned first, the reason being that Abaye was the head of the Academy (Yeshivah) of Pumbeditha, while Rava succeeded him only after Abaye passed on, nevertheless the Sages ruled that Rava's opinion was valid in preference to Abaye's in all but six cases.

Rava was about the same age as Abaye and was born in, or near, the year 4038. In. their youth they learned together under Rabbah, Abaye's uncle. Both of them distinguished themselves as outstanding scholars. When Abaye was chosen to head the Academy of Pumbeditha, after the death of Rav Joseph bar Chiyah, Rava, too, acknowledged him as chief leader of Babylonian Jewry, and he would often go to Pumbeditha to pay his respects to his friend, though he himself (Rava) was the head of the Yeshivah in his hometown Mechoza.

Rava was the son of Rav Joseph bar Chama (not to be confused with Rav Joseph bar Chiya mentioned above), who headed the Yeshivah of Mechoza: There, under the care of his father, Rava received his earlier education, but most of all he learned under the great Amora Rav Nachman, who also lived in Mechoza. For a time Rava studied also under Rav Chisda, who headed the Yeshivah of Sura. Once, when Rava, together with another student, Rami bar Chama, were sitting before Rav Chisda, the latter asked his daughter, who was still a child at that time, which of the two students she would wish to marry? The child answered, "Both." Rava then remarked, "If it is indeed so destined, I'd rather be the second one." And it indeed came to pass that Rav Chisda's daughter married Rami bar Chama, and when he died she was married to Rava. The child's prophetic words came true.

Among Rava's teachers were also Rav Sheshet and Rav Joseph bar Chiya, head of the Academy of Pumbeditha. Our readers will remember that Rav Joseph became blind in his old age, and Rava used to walk backwards when leaving him, as one respectfully leaves the presence of a great Talmud-scholar or king. Rava did this even though Rav Joseph could not see in what manner his pupil departed. Thus, Rava never turned his back on his teacher, and when Rav Joseph was told of this, he blessed his devoted pupil to become a great man and deserve great honor.

While Rava was Rav Joseph's pupil, he attended his master in order to be close to him all the time. Rava knew what kind of food and drinks to give to his teacher. On one occasion, Rava offended his teacher, and he was ashamed to come to his teacher's house. When Erev Yom Kippur came around, Rava went to Rav Joseph's house in order to ask his forgiveness. Entering the house, Rava saw that Rav Joseph's servant was preparing a drink for his master. "Let me do it," Rava begged. When Rav Joseph tasted the drink, he said, "Rava must be in my house, for only he could prepare my drinks in this sway."

Rav Joseph had a very high opinion of Rava, and the master lived to see his pupil become an outstanding scholar. Later, when Rava was already a father and sent his son to learn Torah from Rav Joseph, the latter would often ask the boy: "What is your father's practice in this case?" or "What is your father's opinion on this matter?"

The greatest Talmud scholars (Amoraim) of the time were Rava's friends and colleagues, but his most devoted and beloved friend was Abaye, whom Rava affectionately called "Nachmani." As we have already noted, Rava not only loved his friend, but also respected his authority as head of the Academy of Pumbeditha. When Abaye died about the year 4098, Ra'va became head of the Academy of Pumbeditha as well, that is to say, all the students of Pumbeditha acknowledged him as their head and came to his Yeshivah in Mechoza.

Mechoza at that time was a large city, with a population of some 600,000, the majority of whom were Jews. The Jewish community of Mechoza was known far and wide. Many Jews from Rome came to live in Mechoza and built their own synagogue there. The Jews of Mechoza were well off, and lived well. Rava instituted many ordinances for the welfare of the community.

Rava himself was also well to do. Once he declared, "I had asked three things of G‑d: the wisdom of Rav Huna; the riches of Rav Chisda, and the modesty of Rabbah bar Rav Huna. The first two requests were granted me, but not the third." Though Rava in his modesty, claimed that he was lacking in that quality, the real message of his above­mentioned saying is, that while wisdom and riches are a blessing from Heaven, humility and other fine qualities of char­acter must be cultivated by one's own strenuous efforts.

Rava seems to have been an important wine merchant. His own ships carried his wares to distant places. He was also the owner of many fields and vineyards.

Thus, Rava combined spiritual wealth with material riches, and his position brought him close not only to the family of the Resh Galutha (Exilarch-Head of the Exile), the official representative of the Jews at the Persian Court, but with the Persian Court itself. King Sapor the Second of Persia was not particularly friendly to the Jews, but his Mother, the old queen Ifra Hurmiz, was very fond of Rava. On one occasion, when Rava displeased the king, the king wanted to punish him. But his mother warned him against doing any harm to so holy a man as Rava. "If this Rava is such a holy man, let him bring rain at this time." It was the month of Tammuz, in the middle of the dry summer season, when it never rains in that part of the world. Rava prayed to G‑d, and soon a torrential rain fell, which overflowed the banks of the River Tigris. During the night, Rava's father appeared to him in a dream and rebuked him for resorting to a miracle for his own benefit.

Needless to say, Rava valued very highly the study of the Torah, and he esteemed and loved all Torah scholars. At the same time he made it plain that stuoy without practice is not an ideal in itself. The whole purpose of study is in order to know how to live in accordance with the Torah and Mitzvoth.

One of the famous teachings of Rava is: "When a person sees that he is getting into misfortune, he should search his heart, in order to repent. If he finds no particular sin for which to account for his misfortune, he should regard his suffering as a punishment for neglecting to study the Torah. If he finds himself blameless also on this score, then he should regard his suffering as a blessing in disguise, which G‑d sends to those He loves most."

Rava had two outstanding sons, great scholars. One was named Rav Joseph, after Rava's father, the other Rav Mesharashay. Rava's grandchildren were also great scholars.

Rava was head of Babylonian Jewry for fourteen years, from the passing of Abaye to his own last day. Rava died in the year 4112 (approximately), at the age of about 74 years. As in the case of several other outstanding scholars whose death was accompanied by some catastrophe in nature, Rava's death brought an overflowing of the waters of the Tigris. It was as if Nature itself was shaken at the passing of such a great and holy a man.

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