Rav Nachman bar Yaakov - frequently mentioned in the Talmud by his own name alone, without his father's - was one of the greatest sages of his time, the third generation of Amoraim in Babylon.

The Amoraim, you will recall were the successors to the Tanaim, the authors of the Mishnah. The Babylonian Amoriam flourished for six generations (from about 219 to 500). They interpreted and expounded the Mishnah. Their teachings - called gemara - were compiled and edited, and together with the Mishnah comprise the main body of the Talmud, which was thereby completed.

Rav Nachman was born in Nehardea, the main center of Babylonian Jewry and the city of residence of the Resh-Galuta (Exilarch). Here the famed (first-generation) Amora, Mar Shmuel headed the great Yeshiva. Rav Nachman's father was Sofer and Dayan in Shmuel's Rabbinic Court, and he was Rav Nachman's first teacher.

Rav Nachman was only seven years old when the great Rosh Yeshiva of Nehardea died - too young to be a disciple of his. Years later, when Rav Nachman was already an outstanding Talmudic authority and Rosh Yeshiva, he was able to transmit many Halachot in Shmuel's name, as also in the name of Rav, the famed Rosh Yeshiva of Sura, who died seven years before Shmuel.

When Shmuel died, no successor was appointed immediately, as there arose the question where the main Yeshiva should be located: should it be continued in Nehardea, the main Jewish center, or should it revert to Sura, the seat of the first and greatest Yeshiva which had been headed by Rav, but since Rav's death had taken second place to Nehardea out of respect for Shmuel.

The question was resolved three years later in favor of Sura, and Rav Huna was elected as Rosh Yeshiva. He was not only the recognized leading Torah authority of that generation, but also a member of the distinguished family of the Resh Galuta, whose family tree traced their descent from King David. Rav Huna headed the Yeshiva of Sura for forty years.

In the year 259, five years after Shmuel's death, the city of Nehardea was destroyed during an uprising led by a certain Pappa bar Netzer against King Shapur (Sapor 1, 241-272). Most of the population fled to other cities. Some of the Rabbis and scholars went to Pumbaditha, where Rav Yehuda bar Yehezkel, one of the leading disciples of Rav and Shmuel, founded a large Yeshiva. Others went to Mehoza, where another leading disciple of Rav and Shmuel, Rabbah bar Abuha, established another large Yeshiva. Among the latter was young Rav Nachman, one of Rabbah's outstanding and favorite disciples. Rav Nachman's father had been a close friend of Rabbah in Nehardea, and when he died, Rabbah took the young orphan under his wing.

Rabbah bar Abuha, too, was a descendant of the princely family of the Resh Galuta. He had a very fine daughter, named Yalta, and he was happy to give her in marriage to his favorite disciple. He also appointed his son-in­law as Dayan in his Rabbinic Court. When Rabbah died, his son-in-law was elected to succeed him as Rosh Yeshiva and Mayor of Mehoza. Soon afterwards, the city of Nehardea began to rise from the rubble and many Jews returned to it. Rav Nachman then transferred the Yeshiva to Nehardea.

By then Rav Nachman was generally regarded as one of the leading Torah authorities of that generation, a man with a triple crown: He was Head of the Academy of Nehardea, Chief Dayan of Babylonia, and "Son-in-law of the Nassi," although Rabbah bar Abuha was never actually a Resh Galuta.

Rav Nachman was also a man of considerable wealth. He possessed fields and vineyards and other property which he had partly inherited from his father and partly from his father-in­law, who had no sons and distributed his wealth among his sons-in-law.

Being a member of the princely family of the Resh Galuta, Rav Nachman conducted himself in a princely fashion. He dressed like a prince, rode in a golden carriage, and had many attendants. In relation to his colleagues he conducted himself with humility. He considered himself a disciple of Rav Huna, head of the academy of Sura, and frequently went there to attend Rav Huna's lectures. Indeed, he considered Rav Huna the greatest Torah authority of the generation. Rav Huna was also considerably older than he. However, as mentioned, Rav Huna headed the Yeshiva of Sura for forty years, and in his latter years Rav Nachman was also an old man; so they regarded themselves rather as colleagues than master and disciple.

It is stated in the Gemara (Sanhedrin 5a) that Rav Nachman was an outstanding authority on Jewish civil law (in monetary disputes), although he was, of course, proficient also in other areas of Jewish Law. He ruled that one who is as knowledgeable in legal aspects involving money as he was was authorized to preside in disputes all by himself, and it was not necessary to have a Court of three judges, as usual. Rav Nachman was also an authority on the law of the land, namely, Babylon (Persia), as mentioned in the Talmud (Babba Batra 1736).

As Chief Dayan (Justice) of Babylon, Rav Nachman strictly upheld the authority of his office and showed no favoritism to anyone, while he was quite humble otherwise. A case in point is the following Talmudic story.

A man from Nehardea once came to Pumbaditha, and came into a butcher store to buy meat. He was told to wait, while the messenger of Rav Yehuda bar Yehezkel was being attended to. The man from Nehardea felt slighted and spoke out in scoffing terms about that "big shot" who was given priority. His insulting conduct, which included also calling people "slave," was reported to Rav Yehuda, who imposed on the man a penalty for belittling the honor of Torah, and declared that the man should be shunned and that he was probably himself a descendant from slaves.

Upon returning to Nehardea, the man went to Rav Nachman and said he wanted to sue Rav Yehuda bar Yehezkel and demanded he be summoned to appear with him before Rav Nachman. Thereupon Rav Nachman sent a summons to Rav Yehuda to come before him to answer the charges. Upon receiving the summons, Rav Yehuda went to Rav Huna to inquire whether he was obliged to obey the summons. Rav Huna answered that, strictly speaking, he was not obliged to do it, but that he should nevertheless appear before Rav Nachman "out of respect for the House of the Nassi."

When Rav Yehuda came to Rav Nachman, he found him busy working on a "fence" around the roof of his house in accordance with the requirement of the Torah. Rav Yehuda asked him whether it was proper for a man in his position to engage in such labor publicly, especially in view of the opinion expressed by Rav Huna bar Ilai in the name of Shmuel to the contrary.

Rav Nachman attempted to justify his action, but became entangled in a debate with Rav Yehuda, in which Rav Nachman came out the loser every time. Rav Nachman's wife, the wise Yalta, was listening to the discussion in an adjacent room, and she sent word to be whispered into her husband's ear to cut short the discussion with the visitor before he will altogether leave.

In his embarrassement, Rav Nachman appeared to have forgotten why Rav Yehuda came to him, and he asked his visitor respectfully, why he had come.

Equally respectfully Rav Yehuda answered that he came because Rav Nachman had summoned him. Hereupon Rav Nachman expressed his astonishment at himself that he should have summoned such a great man, "whose even ordinary talk was above my head!"

.Rav Nachman was always humble enough to recognize the greatness of others and to yield to the opinion of another authority. Thus, when his disciple Rava once called his master's attention to the fact that an opinion he had expressed was not in accord with that expressed by Rav Acha bar Chanina, an older and highly respected Amora, Ray Nachman unhesitatingly replied, "if so, I withdraw my opinion" (Eruvin 64a). It is possible that Rav Acha may have been one of Rav Nachman's teachers in the past, since we find that Rav Nachman quoted him as authority for some Halachot he transmitted in his name (Chulin 132b).

Rav Nachman's Halachot are to be found in many Mesichtot (Talmudic Tractates), particularly Babba Kama, Babba Metzia, and Babba Batra. Most of them deal with money matters. But there are in the Talmud also many of his Halachot in the area of Issur v'Hetter ("Forbidden and Permitted," like dietary laws, and the laws of trefah), especially in the tractate Chulin and others.

Rav Nachman established certain principles in dealing with disputes in money matters. He is especially noted for having instituted a special oath in the case of an outright denial of a debt. Previously when Reuven claimed that Shimon owed him money but had no proof of it, and Shimon denied it completely, Reuven had no recourse; only if Shimon admitted part of the claim, he had to give an oath that he did not owe more. But Rav Nachman made it obligatory also on a defendant who denied the claim entirely to swear that he did not owe the claimant anything. This oath was sometimes referred to in the Talmud as "Rav Nachman's Oath."

Also in the Agadah sections of the Talmud (which do not deal strictly with legal matters, but with ethics and other non-legal aspects), many of Rav Nachman's teachings are found. One of his better known sayings is "Sinful thoughts are worse than sin" (Yoma 29a). One of the explanations of it is that the human mind and intellect is the highest gift of mankind and is closest to the soul itself. The thoughts and imaginations of a person therefore affect the purity of the soul.

Rav Nachman was most careful in honoring and observing Shabbos, particularly in regard to the three Shabbos meals. He was also extra careful in the observance of the Mitzva of Tzitzis (Shabbos 118b).

His piety and saintliness were extraordinary; he was described as one of the "Chassidim (pious men) of Babylon" (Megilah 28b). Rav Nachman died at the advanced age of 77.

As mentioned, Rav Nachman was one of the outstanding luminaries of his generation. In him were combined Torah scholarship and greatness; he was blessed with riches - in the ordinary sense, as well as in spirit, in Torah, in wisdom, and in honor. Rav Nachman's greatness is particularly emphasized in the following well known Talmudic story (Taanit 56):

A worthy visitor once came to Rav Nachman bar Yaakov from Eretz Yisroel, the Amora Rabbi Yitzchak. Rav Nachman received him with much honor, and arranged a banquet for him. When Rabbi Yitzchak was about to take leave of his host, Rav Nachman asked his guest to bless him, whereupon Rabbi Yitzchak told the following parable:

A man was traveling through a desert. He was tired, thirsty and hungry. Suddenly he sees a date-palm in the distance. He finds it growing by a spring of fresh, cool water. The wanderer ate of the tree's ripe fruit, refreshed himself with clear water, and sat down to rest under the tree's shade. When he was about to continue his journey, he turned to the tree and said: "O Tree, O Tree! How can I thank you and what shall I bless you with? Shall I wish you to produce good fruit? - It cannot be more delicious than it is! Shall I wish you that your shade be pleasant? - It could not be more pleasant than it is! Shall I wish you that a spring of fresh water should nourish your roots? - You already have it, too! So, I will wish you that all your offspring that are planted should grow into trees like you!"

"This is what I can say to you, also," Rabbi Yitzchak concluded: "Should I bless you with Torah knowledge - you are already blessed with Torah knowledge. Should I bless you with greatness - you already arc blessed with greatness. Should I bless you with riches - you already have riches; with honor - you already have it; with children - you are already blessed with good children. May G‑d grant that all your offspring should be like you!"