Ben Pazi” is a strange name, even in Hebrew. It means “son of gold.” Maybe you think he had a lot of that precious metal, or that he was very rich? Well, that was not the reason at all. But let me tell you the story. I’ll even tell you where you can find it told for the first time. It is in the holy book, the Zohar, of which you must have thought on Lag BaOmer, not very long ago. For, as you know, the author of the Zohar was the holy sage Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, whose yahrzeit is on Lag BaOmer. Here is the story:

In the days of the sages of the Talmud, when Rabbi Abba returned from the Holy Land to Babylonia, he founded there a yeshivah of his own. There was no telephone, radio or television at that time, but somehow word spread that Rabbi Abba had sent out a call: “Whoever wants to live long, be rich and enjoy honors, should come to my yeshivah to study Torah.”

Many students came to Rabbi Abba’s yeshivah and began to learn the Torah. One day a young man came to the yeshivah and said, “Rabbi, I would like to have honor and riches, as you promised. So I came to study in your yeshivah.”

Well, here, at least, was an honest man. Rabbi Abba asked him, “What’s your name, my son?”

“Yose,” he replied.

Rabbi Yose remained in the yeshivah for several years, and studied diligently. He earned the respect of everybody, but he remained as poor as ever. Finally he approached the dean of the yeshivah and reminded him of his promise.

“You see, Rabbi Yose,” replied Rabbi Abba, “half of the promise has already been fulfilled. Stay a while longer, study well, and the other half of the promise will also be fulfilled.”

Rabbi Yose returned to his studies, and studied more diligently than ever.

A few days later, a rich man came to the yeshivah and brought with him a large amount of gold, as well as some other precious gifts, to be distributed among the poor students, so that he would have a share in the holy Torah which they studied.

Rabbi Abba selected the most precious of all the gifts, a large chalice made of pure gold, and gave it Rabbi Yose. “This exquisite chalice is for you, Rabbi Yose, for your learning with such devotion and diligence.”

Rabbi Yose continued to learn at the yeshivah with ever greater devotion, until he became the greatest scholar among all the scholars of the yeshivah.

One day Rabbi Abba found his beloved student weeping and distressed. “Why are you crying, my son?” he asked him.

“How can I keep my tears back, when I recall that I came here to learn the Torah for the sake of riches and honor? How foolish I was then. Now I know better. I know that there is nothing in the world that is anywhere nearly as precious as the Torah. Has not King David said, ‘The Torah of Your mouth is better for me than thousands of gold and silver treasures!’”

“Don’t let that worry you now. Such is the Torah, that no matter how and why one begins to learn it, as long as one learns it with devotion and piety, it is sure to enlighten one’s mind and lead one onto the right path. I am truly happy that you can now learn G‑d’s Torah for its own sake.”

Saying this, Rabbi Abba kissed Rabbi Yose on the forehead. “I shall call you now ‘Ben Pazi,’ because, although you began learning for the sake of gold, you have come to realize that it is more precious than gold.”

And this is how Rabbi Yose ben Pazi got his strange name. He was one of the great sages known as the Amora’im.