Talmud 2. The Rabbi Who Was Right

The story of the Rabbi Who Was Right,[1] made Elijah’s mother squint sideways at Elisheva, but it put a big smile on the face of her father. “Crazy story,” he chuckled. “But spot on about God.” A rabbi in Babylon invented this story. The main character is a Rabbi Eliezer, and Elijah only comes in at the end.

It seems this Rabbi Eliezer proposed a technology to prevent an oven from becoming ritually impure, but the wise men studying with him said his method would not work. He showed them all the ways it would work. But they disagreed.

The Rabbi was so confident that he said, “Look, I’m right, and this carob tree will prove I’m right!” And with everybody watching, the carob tree uprooted itself, moved 100 cubits (some say 400), and dug itself in again. The other scholars said, “Carob trees have nothing to do with our discussion.”

“Okay,” he said, “If I’m right, let the water prove it!” But when the stream started flowing backward, they said, “Water has nothing to do with this.”

Again he urged, “Let these walls prove it!” The walls started to fall in on the sages, but Rabbi Joshua lifted his hand. “When we are discussing halakhah (the path), what right have you to interfere?!” So the walls stood still, and the sages said, “Walls have nothing to do with this.”

“Hmm … ,” Rabbi Eliezer told them, “I know I’m right, and a voice from heaven is going to prove it.” Sure enough, a divine voice boomed down at them, “Why do you dispute Rabbi Eliezer?! He is always right about halakhah!”

But Rabbi Joshua looked up and replied, “The Torah is not in heaven, and we pay no attention to voices from heaven! Our Torah tells us the majority rules!” (Deut. 30:12, Ex. 23:2)

When the sages were on their way home, one saw Elijah and asked how the Holy One reacted to Rabbi Joshua’s rebuke. Elijah told him the Lord laughed out loud, “My children have defeated Me! My children have defeated Me!”

Elijah’s father, Zadok, said he liked how this story shows our Father in Heaven wanting His children to grow up and cooperate. He gave us His Torah, and now He wants us to put our heads together and make it work.[2] Elijah’s mother, Tirzah, said it’s just a silly story.

[1] Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia 59b, H.N. Bialik and Y.H. Ravnitzky, eds., Sefer Ha-Aggadah (The Book of Legends), translated by William G. Braude, Schocken Books, NY, 1992). page 223

[2] From Hyam Maccoby

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Fun with Elijah

Fun with Elijah