Rav Anan looked up from his holy book and greeted the stranger who had entered his chamber. “Shalom, what brings you here?” asked the sage, whose fame had spread across Babylon.

“I have a disagreement with someone, and we cannot resolve it,” said the man, who was bearing a basket of small fish for the rabbi. “We could only agree to abide by your judgment.”

“I cannot take the basket of fish,” said Rav Anan, who was as principled as he was wise. “That would render me partial toward you. Neither will I judge you, since my judgment has already been tainted in your favor.”

“But Rabbi,” pleaded the man, “if you will not judge me then surely you can still take the gift from me. After all, the sages say that giving a gift to a Torah scholar is akin to bringing bikkurim, first-fruits, to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem!”

Said Rabbi Anan: “Originally I was not going to take them, but now that you explained your reason, I will accept the basket from you. As for your judgment, I will refer you to my colleague, Rav Nachman.”

Rav Anan then wrote on a small slip of parchment and instructed the man to give it to Rav Nachman. On it, he wrote, “Let the master judge this man, for I, Anan, am unfit to judge him.”

Upon reading the letter, Rav Nachman thought the man must be a relative of Rav Anan, for why else would Rav Anan recuse himself from judging?

At that time, Rav Nachman had been judging a case that involved orphans. Caring for orphans is a mitzvah, but so is honoring a Torah scholar (and his relatives). Rav Nacḥman concluded that honoring Torah takes precedence and set aside the case of the orphans. He presided over the case between the man he believed to be a relative of Rav Anan and the other litigant, listening carefully to both sides. Now, the other litigant saw that Rav Nachman was acting deferentially toward the one he thought was Rav Anan’s relative. This caused him to become increasingly agitated and prevented him from properly presenting his arguments; as a result, he was unable to articulate his position and the case was decided in favor of the man who had brought the fish to Rav Anan.

This entire series of unfortunate events was due to an innocent mistake, but in the Heavens there was an uproar. Rav Anan had unwittingly caused an unjust verdict.

Until this time, Rav Anan had the privilege of being visited by Elijah the Prophet, who would teach him mystical secrets of the Torah known as Seder d’Eliyahu, the “Order of Elijah.” After this incident, the visits stopped.

Recognizing that something was wrong, Rav Anan fasted and prayed to G‑d that he be forgiven. The visits resumed, but Rav Anan would become frightened whenever the Prophet visited him. For this reason, the teachings that Rav Anan received from Elijah were divided into two sections: Seder d’Eliyahu Rabbah (the “Great Order of Elijah”) was from before this incident and Seder d’Eliyahu Zuta (the “Minor Order of Elijah”) was from after.

Adapted from Talmud Ketubot 105b-106a