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The Vessel

The Vessel

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Once Rabbi Elazar son of R. Shimon was coming from Migdal Gedor, from the house of his teacher. He rode along the riverside on his donkey, and was feeling happy and elated because he had studied much Torah.

There chanced to meet him an exceedingly ugly man, who greeted him, "Peace be upon you, my master!" R. Elazar did not return his salutation but instead said to him, "How ugly this person is! Are all the people of your city as ugly as you?"

"I do not know," said the man. "But go to the craftsman who made me, and say to him: How ugly is the vessel which you have made!"

Realizing that he had done wrong, R. Elazar dismounted from his donkey, prostrated himself before the man, and said to him, "You are right. Forgive me!" But the man replied, "I will not forgive you until you go to the craftsman who made me and say to him, 'How ugly is the vessel which you have made.'"

R. Elazar kept on walking after him until he reached his city. The residents of the city came out to greet him, saying, "Peace be upon you, O Teacher! O Master!" Said the man to them, "Whom are you calling 'Master'?" Said they, "The person walking behind you."

Said he to them: "If this is a 'Master,' may there not be any more like him in Israel."

"Why?" asked the people.

Said the man: Such-and-such he has done to me.

"Nevertheless, forgive him," said they, "for he is a man greatly learned in the Torah."

"For your sakes I will forgive him," said the man, "but only if he does not act this way anymore."

Soon after this R. Elazar entered the study hall and taught: "A person should always be pliant as the reed, and let him never be hard as the cedar. And for this reason the reed merited that of it should be made a pen for the writing of the Torah, tefillin and mezuzot."

Talmud, Taanit 20a–b
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Steve Staten Island December 29, 2015

Stunned! I am stunned at how many modern readers defend R, Elazar's behavior. Reply

Zachaia Manchester February 1, 2013

Reflections I've heard one interpretation that says:
[1] The Talmud never wastes words - so it is important that he is 'riverside'
[2] The confusion of multiple 'He says' is because this is the uncertaintly of a new rabbi looking at his reflection in the water.
[3] ie there is no 2nd person - the 'Ugly Man'
[4] It makes more sense that the final line - being 'pliant as the reed' is the reflection of R. Elazar taking up a new position in the town
[5] Not too judgemental on himself, or others Reply

Rabbi Shlomo Gnagte beit el, israel November 24, 2011

The Vessel Do not take the content of this story literally since Talmud has many layers of meaning to it. The incident here when taken literally, is superflous as we all know that Rabbi Eliezer, son of Rabbi Shimon bar Yokhai is G-d fearing, holy in the highest degree, and all his life, he dedicated his time learning Torah and loving his fellow-men. Can he really say that the stranger was ugly? Not at all ! He mean to say that this man has ugly character -bad middot-which is apparently seen in his form. Evidently, Rabbi Eliezer apologised to him, for it is said :Do not judge any man until you are in his situation. (Ethics).
"The stranger said: But go to the craftsman who made me, and say to him: How ugly is the vessel which you have made!"
This means that G-d created the good and evil inclination, and the stranger was following his evil inclination which dominates him-even then, he is the product of the evl inclination, which G-d created. Reply

Anonymous queens July 26, 2011

blame the victim, indeed! after learning that gemorah in its original and checking many commentaries, i still wonder.
why does everyone miss the horrible thing that the rabbi does in blaming the victim when he "teaches" that one should be pliant, meaning that he still blames the man for his attitude even after the simple person had taught him one of the most important lessons in torah, namely not to judge a book by its cover? Reply

Anonymous June 16, 2009

To be humble R' Eliazar understood that one who judges his fellow is like he is also judging G-d himself. But in the meantime, the man also underserstood,that one who forgives his fellow is also forgiven by G-d himself. Reply

Anonymous June 8, 2009

the vessel Excellent content. Thank you Reply

Rayquel Dixon June 6, 2009

The Vessel This shows us how there are people who say they are of God but sometimes don't act like they are. Today more then ever people with Love and compassion are very much needed. Someone who will speak up for righteousness but in a loving way. Reply

chaim sm, ca via chabadonmontana.com June 3, 2009

Rabbi YY Jacobson... ...Who learned from the Rebbe that still, he should not have been so quick to Judge... Reply

mendel segall las vegas, usa June 2, 2009

the vessel it is a great story i think that it should be sent worldwide Reply

Michoel Shraga HaKatan June 2, 2009

good on the ugly guy! this rabbi elazar seems like a pretty judgemental guy. I am happy that the ugly dude had the insight to put him in his place and not be intimidated by public opinion.

i feel this way because i am also kind of ugly and feel that ppl often judge.... Reply

miriam June 2, 2009

ugly i learned from rabbi yy jacobson that rabbi elazar ben rabbi shimon said this to this man because he saw a spiritual ugliness in this man. and the only way he could be shaken into growth and refinement was to be taken out of his complacency. Reply

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