Known for his work in ordering the Mishnayot for posterity, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi (also known simply as Rebi) occupies a special place amongst the greatest of the Tannaim. He was the son of Rabbi Shim’on ben Gamliel and succeeded his father as leader of the Jewish People (Nasi means Prince, but is more akin to being the “president”, as the term is used today in the State of Israel).
Rav Sherira Gaon, one of the foremost Rishonim,writes that the words of the Mishnah are like the words that Moshe Rabbenu spoke on Mount Sinai. They are a wondrous sign and were given from Heaven, passed down by the generations of holy sages until they reached Rebi. Indeed, we find in many places in the Talmud and Midrashim that during his 40-day stay in Heaven, Moshe studied the Written Torah during daytime and the Oral Torah during nighttime.
What is it that distinguishes Rebi so much from all the other sages? Let’s find out!
Stories about Rebi
The greater a person, the greater standard by which he’s judged.
The sages tell us in Bava Metzia (85a), that once a calf came to Rebi while running away from the Shochet (the one who slaughters meat) and tried to hide underneath his skirt. Instead of providing comfort to it, he simply said “Go, it’s for this reason that you were created”. Immediately a Bat Kol (lower formprophecy) announced from Heaven that because Rebididn’t take pity on one of Hashem’s creatures, he should be punished. And, indeed he suffered from scurvy for 6 years and kidney stone for another 7, until he took pity upon baby weasels found in his house.Then his ailment was alleviated.
Rebi was incredibly rich and this is one of the factors that contributed to him acquiring his tremendous high spiritual level. This is brought in Likutey Moharan from Rebbe Nachman of Breslovsince, only with riches a person can properly concentrate in his Torah studies and not be worried.
Yet, in his incredible piety and humility, Rebistretched his fingers upwards while on his deathbed and announced that, during his entire life, he had not taken as much as a little finger of personal benefit from his riches. In fact, the Talmud teaches us that he used his wealth mostly for the benefit of the poor and downtrodden, heartily feeding them during a famine.
In order to have an idea of the magnitude of splendor even during those difficult days, the Gemaraalso tells us that the chief stableman of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi was wealthier than King Shapur from Persia!
Secrets of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and the Mishnayot
It was Rebi who ordered the Mishnayot after hearing it from the sages of his generation, and therefore his soul is intrinsically associated with them.
As one can imagine, not only Rebi’s soul, but also the Mishnayot hide tremendous Kabbalistic secrets. The Arizal explains that the study of Mishnayot is of tremendous benefit to the soul as the TikkuneyHaZohar teaches us the word Mishnah shares the same letters as the word “Neshama” and “Neshima” (breathing). Indeed, one of the meditations brought in Sha’arei Kedusha is the recital of any one Mishnah in rapid succession until the soul of the Tanna who authored it can vest itself in a person and even talk to him!
The Sedarim (orders) of Mishnayot (also called Shas, “six orders of Mishna” in Hebrew) are also divided according to the order of the 6 emotional attributes in the following manner: Seder Zeraim is Chesed (lovingkindness), Seder Moed is Gevurah(strength), Seder Nashim (women) is Tiferet (beauty), Seder Nezikim is Netzach (eternity), Seder Kodashim(holy things) is Hod (Splendor, also associated with Aharon HaKohen), and Seder Taharot is Yesod(Foundation).
The word Mishnah also has a numerical value of 395 which is the same Gematria as “BeinHaChoshech” (in the darkness). We see then that knowing Mishnayot can be a great source of light to illuminate the exile, just as Rebi redacted them in times of great persecution.
Interestingly enough, the sages say that Yaakov Avinu never died, because the world “death” is not recorded in his passing. According to the 6thLubavitcher Rebbe, R’ Levy Yitzchak Schneerson, the word Nasi, which is often associated with Rebi, can mean Nitzotz Shel Yaakov Avinu (a spark from our father Yaakov). This means that every leader of the Jewish nation has a spark of Yaakov Avinu in him that will aid in his work. Just as Yaakov Avinu didn’t die, so too, Rebi didn’t die as well. In fact, the Gemara in Kiddushin, writes that even after his passing, he’d come back to his house to do Kiddush for his family.
Today, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi is buried in KiryatAmal in Beit Shearim National Park, a pilgrimage site which is not so accessible, but to which many salvations have been attributed to. May his merit be an eternal protection for all of us!