One of the great Tannaim who lived at the time of the destruction of the Beth Hamikdosh was Rabbi Tarfon. Rabbi Tarfon lived in Lydda, but he very often came to Yavneh to take part in the discussions of the Sanhedrin. He was a descendant of a priestly family, both on his father's side and mother's side. He used to relate about the times when he used to pronounce the Priestly Blessings in the Beth Hamikdosh, and described the ceremony of the Avodah (Sacred Service). He used to accept "Terumah" (heave-offerings given to the Priests) despite the fact that he was rich, in order to perform the mitzvah. The money he received from "Redemption of the First-born" he generally gave away.

As mentioned, Rabbi Tarfon was a rich man. Once, his disciple and colleague, Rabbi Akiba, met him and said to him: "Would you like me to buy you some durable goods?" Rabbi Tarfon immediately gave him four thousand golden coins. Rabbi Akiba took the money and gave it away to poor Torah scholars. When Rabbi Tarfon met Rabbi Akiba later, he inquired as to the location of the properties that Rabbi Akiba was to have bought for him. Rabbi Akiba took him by the hand and led him into the Beth HaMidrash. There he took out a book of Psalms, and started reciting the Psalms from the beginning until they reached the verse: "He gave away to the poor people . . . ."

"These are the everlasting possessions that I bought you . . ." Rabbi Akiba told him. Rabbi Tarfon arose and kissed Rabbi Akiba on his head and exclaimed: "My teacher and leader-my teacher in wisdom and my leader in conduct."

Rabbi Tarfon never wished to use his great knowledge of the Torah for his own personal gain. He never used his fame to gain material advantage. Once however, he used his name in order to save his life, and even so he regretted it all his life. It happened as follows: Rabbi Tarfon owned many orchards, but the watchmen did not know him personally. He once entered one of his orchards and started eating a fig. The watchman saw him and started hitting him. Then, grabbing hold of him, he wanted to throw Rabbi Tarfon into the river. Rabbi Tarfon started moaning: "It's goodbye for Tarfon . . . . " As soon as the watchman heard this, he naturally released him on the spot. Rabbi Tarfon later felt sad at the thought of having "used the Crown of the Torah."

Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiba very often had differences of opinion as to the meaning of a certain Mitzvah or precept. Rabbi Tarfon was never ashamed to admit that Rabbi Akiba was correct if he felt that he himself had made a mistake. Such a case occurred when there arose the question as to whether crippled Priests were permitted to sound the Shofar in the Beth Hamikdash. Rabbi Akiba was of the opinion that they were not permitted to do so. Rabbi Tarfon maintained that he himself had seen his mother's brother who was lame on one foot, blow the Shofar in the Beth Hamikdosh. When Rabbi Akiba remarked that maybe that had happened at an exceptional time, such as at the "Jubilee" year, Rabbi Tarfon admitted that that was indeed the case, and exclaimed: "Happy may be Abraham our father, having such a 'son' as Akiba; Tarfon saw and forgot, but Akiba understood of his own accord. Whosoever parts with you, Akiba, parts with life itself!"

The respect and reverence that was accorded to Rabbi Tarfon, can be seen from the fact that he was given the title "Father of All Israel."

Rabbi Tarfon was extremely particular in honoring his mother. When she once lost a shoe and wanted to step down in her bare feet to look for it, Rabbi Tarfon bent down and placed his hands under her feet so that she should not have to walk on the bare ground!

With reference to a person's life in this world he said (Aboth 2): "The day is short, there is much work, and the workers are lazy, but the reward is great and the Owner is pressing." He added: "You are not duty-bound to finish the work, but on the other hand, you have no right to waste time from it; if you have learned much Torah you will receive great reward; your Owner is to be trusted that He will reward you for your efforts, but be mindful that the reward of the righteous is in the World to Come."