Rabbi Meir was a disciple of Rabbi Akiba. He was called Rabbi Meir because he enlightened the Sages with his great scholarship. (Meir comes from the word "Or" light). He belonged to the third generation of Tannaim after the destruction of the Beth Hamikdash. He lived at the time of the second Rabbi Simeon ben Gamliel, and his son Rabbi Judah the Prince, who gathered the teachings of all the Sages and arranged them in six volumes, known as the Mishnah.
Rabbi Meir lived in troubled times, at the time of the destruction of Bethar. Scholars were severely persecuted in his time. Before his very eyes, the cruel Romans murdered his illustrious teacher, Rabbi Akiba, whose flesh they combed with iron combs until he delivered up his soul to his Creator for the Sanctification of His Name. Rabbi Meir's father-in-law, the great Tanna, Rabbi Hanina ben Tradyon, met a similar fate, being burnt alive. (These were two of the unforgettable Ten Pious Sages killed by the Romans.)
When the persecution against the Sages was being carried out, Rabbi Meir fled to Babylon. Later, however, when Anthony Pius ascended the Roman throne and put a stop to the oppression, Rabbi Meir returned to Eretz Yisroel. He amazed his colleagues with his learning. It was said of Rabbi Meir that "whoever saw him studying the holy Torah, got the impression that he was tearing up mountains and grinding them to dust upon each other." His colleague Rabbi Jose said about him: "He is a great personage, a holy and humble man."
Rabbi Meir had a beautiful handwriting. He earned three ducats a week. One ducat he used to sustain himself and his family; another he used for clothes, and with the third he supported poor Torah scholars. Rabbi Meir's wife was called Beruriah. She was the daughter of Rabbi Hanina ben Tradyon and was famous for her knowledge of the Torah, her great piety and wisdom.
At one time, some disorderly people moved in as Rabbi Meir's neighbors, and caused him much trouble to such a degree, that Rabbi Meir was ready to pray that G-d should make them die. Beruriah said to him: "One should despise the sins of the wicked people, but not the people themselves, as King David said. It would be more correct to pray that they should improve their ways." Rabbi Meir took her advice and G-d accepted his prayer. Rabbi Meir's neighbors became pious kind-hearted people.
Rabbi Meir introduced many laws. Wherever we find a Mishnah where a law is stated with no name mentioned, we know that it is Rabbi Meir's Mishnah. Rabbi Meir used to make parables to help explain his ideas. Many people found his wise sayings an aid in their daily lives. For example, Rabbi Meir remarked that everyone should teach his child an honest trade, but one must bear in mind that it is not the person's job that makes him rich or poor, but that the Almighty provides him according to his merits.
"Great is the power of Repentance!" exclaimed Rabbi Meir. It not only saves the person himself, but it can also be instrumental in saving the whole world.
"If you have friends who praise you, and others who reproach you, hold dear those who reproach you . . . ." These and many other sayings of Rabbi Meir are to be found in the Talmud and Midrash.
Rabbi Meir used to travel a lot, both in Eretz Yisroel and outside Eretz Yisroel. When the Sanhedrin (Supreme Court) was once again set up in Usha under the leadership of Rabbi Simeon ben Gamliel the Prince, Rabbi Nathan was appointed Head of the Court and Rabbi Meir was appointed Haham - Sage. Later on he lived in Tiberias and he visited many other towns. In one town, which he visited before Purim, he found that they had no Megillah, so, being a Scribe, Rabbi Meir wrote the complete Megillah by heart and read it for the Jews of that town.
Rabbi Meir died at a ripe old age. He even attended the wedding of the son of Rabbi Judah the Prince.
Rabbi Meir lived about 1,800 years ago, but he is still very much alive among the many Yeshivah students and Torah scholars, who mention his name many times a day in their study of the holy Torah.