The Talmud in Kiddushin 72B declares: As the Master said: While Rabbi Akiva was
dying, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi was born; while Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi was dying, Rav
Yehuda was born; ...This teaches you that a righteous person does not leave the world
before an equally righteous person is created, as it is stated: “The sun also rises and the
sun also sets” (Ecclesiastes 1:5).
What enormous shoes to fill!
What a responsibility to be the one that would attempt to fill the vacuum and void left by Rabbi Akiva’s demise. Who could possibly continue that legacy? But Rebbi, Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi, was such a man of destiny. The Guiding Hand of history created the opportunity and conditions; Rabbi Yehuda grabbed the bull by its horns and made his everlasting MVP mark on the Torah world and by extension Jewish history.
What was the key to Rabbi Yehuda’s historic greatness?
As seen in in other major historical figures it was a unique combination of skills,
attributes, conditions and timing.
Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi (135 – 219 ce) known as Yehuda The Prince; and Nassi, head of
the Senhedrin was born around eighty years after the Churban (Destruction of the Holy
Temple); and during the time of the intense persecution, Shmad.
His father, Shimon ben Gamliel II, was the Nassi of the Sanhedrin, and Rebbi was brought up in the city of Usha a leading center of Jewish life located in the Northern Israel area of the Galilee.
Rabbi Yehuda studied under his esteemed father and was raised with an eye to continue
the leadership role as Nassi. His other teachers included the outstanding sages Rav
Yehudah ben Ilai, Rav Yaakov ben Kurshai, the Rashbi, Rav Shimon bar Yochai, Rabbi
Yosi ben Chalafta and Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua.
Rabbi Yehuda established an academy of learning in Sh’faram, later relocated to Beit
Shearim and subsequently moved to Tzippori for health reasons. His stay in Tzippori
lasted seventeen years and the link is made between that stay and Yaakov’s seventeen
years in Egypt.
Rabbi Yehuda descended from royalty. He was a scion of the house of David and the son
of the Nassi.
Rav said: Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi, who descends from the house of David, seeks to
teach the verse in favor of David.
Rebbi was the seventh generation from Hillel from the royal dynasty from the side of the
mother of Hillel from Shaftia the son of Avital, King David’s wife.
As noted above, Rabbi Yehuda had a number of illustrious teachers who passed on to him
the full corpus of the written and oral Torah law.
Rava read the following verse about Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi: “One who draws water
from deep wells” (Mishlei 20:5); this verse describes Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi, because by
delving deeply into the Bible he found a source that a sliding-scale offering atones for the
unwitting defiling of sacrificial foods by partaking of them while ritually impure.
Rabbi Yehuda was an extremely wealthy man.
The Gemara relates: The stableman [ahuriyareih] of the house of Rabbi Yehuda
HaNasi was wealthier than King Shapur of Persia, due to Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi’s
During his days, the Nassi’s family came into control of wide assets in the Jezreel Valley,
the Golan Heights and probably in the Jordan Valley too where they raised the precious
persimmon fruit, from which perfumes and medical potions were produced. Besides the
Nassi’s industries that produced olives, wine and perfume, he had many other industries
and exports, such as fish and flax for weaving linen.
At the same time the Talmud teaches us that Rabbi Yehuda maintained his modesty and
humbleness and used his wealth on behalf of the people of Israel.
Despite his immense wealth, the luxury that surrounded him and the power that he
wielded, it was all an external show, and when it came to himself, he lived frugally and
Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi was known as the Our Rabbi, The Holy One.
Didn’t they say to Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi: Why did they call you our holy Rabbi? He
said to them: It is because in all my days I never looked at my circumcision. If so, why
wasn’t Rabbi Yosei also called our holy Rabbi? The Gemara replies: In the case
of Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi, another matter of modesty was present in him, as he did not
insert his hand below his belt due to his great modesty.
The love and passion of Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi for Bnei Yisroel was heartfelt,
overflowing and simply outstanding.
In Berachot we read of the extra prayers composed and recited by leading sages. Rebbi’s
prayer was as follows:
After his prayer, Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi said the following:
May it be Your will, Lord our God, and God of our forefathers,
that You save us from the arrogant and from arrogance in general,
from a bad man, from a bad mishap,
from an evil instinct, from a bad companion,
from a bad neighbor, from the destructive Satan,
from a harsh trial and from a harsh opponent,
whether he is a member of the covenant, a Jew,
or whether he is not a member of the covenant.
Michtav M’Eliyahu: The attributes of the soul are very sensitive instruments especially
the attribute of Good Deeds / Chesed. And they are susceptible to be blemished for any
reason. We can learn this idea from the wonderful story in the Talmud regarding Rebbi
Yehuda the Prince. He performed tons of Chesed for the Jewish people for many
generations in that he toiled and worked in organizing the oral Torah, the Mishna. He
was such a tremendous giver that he gave everything to others and took nothing for
himself. As the Sages teach us: the table of Rebbi was with extreme wealth, the guests
benefited from it and he didn’t benefit from it at all…
Rabbi Yehuda was blessed with great scholarship having studied under the outstanding
leaders of the previous generation including Rav Shimon Bar Yochai. He was wise,
wealthy, holy, modest, kind and compassionate.
He saw, understood and empathized with the day to day struggles of the individual. And he recognized the big picture as well.
But like all truly great historical leaders Rabbi Yehuda was a remarkable visionary. He
understood the urgency of the times and was able to see the future dangers for the post
Churban Jewish people. He understood that the Jewish people stood at a pivotal critical
juncture and realized that he could possibly be the conduit to help ensure the future
viability of Judaism and the Jewish people.
The result was not just leadership on a social, economic and political playing field, and
that there was in abundance, but also the passion and love for the Jewish people – past,
present and future – that propelled Rebbi to codify in writing that which was actually
prohibited to put to pen and paper (or rather reed brushes dipped in ink on papyrus).