Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Baalei Teshuva - Hurting their feelings


There is a clear halacha that it is a Torah prohibition to remind a baal teshuva of his past (Shulchan Aruch C.M. 428:4) - this is from the following gemora.


Bava Metzia (58b):If a man is a penitent, one must not say to him, ‘Remember your former deeds.’ If he is the son of proselytes he must not be taunted with, ‘Remember the deeds of your ancestors. If he is a proselyte and comes to study the Torah, one must not say to him, ‘Shall the mouth that ate unclean and forbidden food,14 abominable and creeping things, come to study the Torah which was uttered by the mouth of Omnipotence!’ If he is visited by suffering, afflicted with disease, or has buried his children, one must not speak to him as his companions spoke to Job, is not thy fear [of God] thy confidence, And thy hope the integrity of thy ways? Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent?1

My question is how to explain Rav Yochanon's behavior with Reish Lakish which resulted in them both dying - as is described in the following gemora?

Bava Metzia (84a): One day R. Johanan was bathing in the Jordan, when Resh Lakish saw him and leapt into the Jordan after him. Said he [R. Johanan] to him, ‘Your strength should be for the Torah.’13 — ‘Your beauty,’ he replied, ‘should be for women.’ ‘If you will repent,’ said he, ‘I will give you my sister [in marriage], who is more beautiful than I.’ He undertook [to repent]; then he wished to return and collect his weapons, but could not.14 Subsequently, [R. Johanan] taught him Bible and Mishnah, and made him into a great man. Now, one day there was a dispute in the schoolhouse [with respect to the following. Viz.,] a sword, knife, dagger, spear, hand-saw and a scythe — at what stage [of their manufacture] can they become unclean? When their manufacture is finished.15 And when is their manufacture finished? — R. Johanan ruled: When they are tempered in a furnace. Resh Lakish maintained: When they have been furbished in water. Said he to him: ‘A robber understands his trade.’16 Said he to him, ‘And wherewith have you benefited me: there [as a robber] I was called Master, and here I am called Master.’17 ‘By bringing you under the wings of the Shechinah,’ he retorted. R. Johanan therefore felt himself deeply hurt,18 [as a result of which] Resh Lakish fell ill. His sister [sc. R. Johanan's, the wife of Resh Lakish] came and wept before him: ‘Forgive him19 for the sake of my son,’ she pleaded. He replied: ‘Leave thy fatherless children. I will preserve them alive.’20 ‘For the sake of my widowhood then!’ ‘And let thy widows trust in me,’21 he assured her. Resh Lakish died, and R. Johanan was plunged into deep grief. Said the Rabbis, ‘Who shall go to ease his mind? Let R. Eleazar b. Pedath go, whose disquisitions are very subtle.’ So he went and sat before him; and on every dictum uttered by R. Johanan he observed: ‘There is a Baraitha which Supports you.’ ‘Are you as the son of Lakisha?’22 he complained: ‘when I stated a law, the son of Lakisha used to raise twenty-four objections, to which I gave twenty-four answers, which consequently led to a fuller comprehension of the law; whilst you say, "A Baraitha has been taught which supports you:" do I not know myself that my dicta are right?’ Thus he went on rending his garments and weeping, ‘Where are you, O son of Lakisha, where are you, O son of Lakisha;’ and he cried thus until his mind was turned. Thereupon the Rabbis prayed for him, and he died.

20 comments :

  1. maybe the story of Reish Laqish and Ribbi Yohhanan is how we learned the importance of this principle

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  2. Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

    maybe the story of Reish Laqish and Ribbi Yohhanan is how we learned the importance of this principle
    =================
    The problem with that explanation is there is no hint of criticism of R' Yochanon in this gemora. In fact R' Yochanon was only upset [according to Rashi] in that he lost his chavrusa and student.

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  3. i dunno... he goes crazy and dies. sounds like implicit criticism to me.

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  4. Rashi says the upset that R' Yochanon felt for causing Reish Lakish's death and which led to his own death - was entirely because he couldn't find a comparably excellent student to replace Reish Lakish.

    רש"י מסכת בבא מציעא דף פד עמוד א

    מצטער - מתחרט על שהמיתו, שלא היה מוצא תלמיד ותיק כמותו.

    The gemora thus seems to blame Reish Lakish for being overly sensitive and causing his Rebbe upset. There is no hint that R' Yochanon did anything wrong.

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  5. Maybe the gemara doesn't have to tell us something when it's so darned obvious.

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  6. What to do in case where the BT’s insult other Jews. Here the talmidim in Kol Yaakov (Tropper’s yeshiva) like to go around calling Reform, Conservative and Modern Orthodox Jews "shekotzim".

    They refer to people who support the state of Israel "Idolatry worshippers", call other frum Jews people who don’t share their kushrus standards "ochlei nevelos". Refer to Ohr talmidim as "burim ve’hamey aratzot" etc etc.

    All this from people who year ago were probably were eating bacon cheeseburger. Is not a mitzvah to silence their bizuy of other Jews?

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  7. the Monsey Tzadik said...

    What to do in case where the BT’s insult other Jews. Here the talmidim in Kol Yaakov (Tropper’s yeshiva) like to go around calling Reform, Conservative and Modern Orthodox Jews "shekotzim".
    ===============
    I think what you are saying is actually close to that which this gemora is saying.

    R' Yonachon had absolutely no intention of hurting Reish Lakish by saying that he had greater expertise about weapons because of his past activities - it was simply a fact. The prohibition of mentioning that a person has sinned is where it is reasonable that a person will be hurt or view it as a put down. Reish Lakish overreacted and in essence said he didn't see any beneift to becoming frum. The gemora points out that this hurt R' Yochanon very much to the degree that R' Yochanon couldn't forgive Reish Lakish [see the Maharal chidushei agadada] Thus Reish Lakish was finished and beyond redemption. R' Yochanon, however, didn't realize how important Reish Lakish was to him as a student and that is why he eventually went crazy and died.

    Thus it was the baal teshuva Reish Lakish who was at fault in this gemora by being insensitive to the FFB R' Yochanon

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  8. It is also intersting to see the keiruv techniques of that time. Rav yochana tries to mekarev resh lakish and says "Your strength should be for the Torah"

    Resh Lakish refuses and answers back "Your beauty should be for women"

    So Rav yochana now actually offering him something tangible, his sister who is prettier than him.

    Basically it is using sex to convince someone to study torah.

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  9. the Monsey Tzadik said...

    It is also intersting to see the keiruv techniques of that time. Rav yochana tries to mekarev resh lakish and says "Your strength should be for the Torah"

    Resh Lakish refuses and answers back "Your beauty should be for women"

    So Rav yochana now actually offering him something tangible, his sister who is prettier than him.

    Basically it is using sex to convince someone to study torah.
    ==================
    Your description is misleading. R' Yochonon was promising him a good shidduch if he would return to Torah. Thus it involved kavod and companionship etc etc.

    Don't see that differs from modern practice - If the guy studies hard he will get a beautiful girl with a rich father who has yichus.

    This idea of studying Torah for ulterior motivation also is manifested in R' Eliezar ben R' Shimon who was given semicha at an early age in order to motivate him to devote himself to Torah.

    It would also seem that R' Akiva became a gadol because of his love for a woman.

    My brother told me a story about a bachur in Monsey who learned with R' Yaakov Kaminetsky. The guy was very bright but was also lazy. R' Yaakov provided him with ice cream to motivate him to learn.

    Thus ulterior motivation is a time honored practice - even codified by the Rambam.

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  10. Yes, Rachel was probably the first kollel wife but the difference is that she married him while he was still baal melacha (Shepard) unlike the today kollel wife who will only marry the guy if he is already learning. Also not many kollel wives would like to live in the poverty of Akiva and Rachel.

    The love of Akiva and Rachel is portrayed so powerfully so one may wonder why rabbi Akiva said that a man is allowed to divorce his wife if he finds a prettier one...

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  11. "The problem with that explanation is there is no hint of criticism of R' Yochanon in this gemora."
    Pardon if I, as a woman and complete ignoramus speak up in this illustrous assembly. But to me, the whole story is a huge critisism of R' Yochanon, especially the end.

    R' Yochanon does not want to forgive Resh Lakish, therefore Resh Lakish dies (did I understand it right that this gemora postulates a causal link between R Yochanon not pardonning and Resh Lakish dying?)

    He does not want to pardon for the sake of his nephew who will be an orphan.
    He does not want to pardon for the sake of his sister who will be a widow.
    No one tells him in advance that he himself will miss Resh Lakish so much that he will die from it.

    If someone had told him, if he had forseen it, would he have let him die? I suppose not.
    So he is a complete egoist: never mind the child who looses his father, never mind the wife who looses her husbund, but I loose my Chavrute? Yes, this is a problem.

    So under the bottom line, R'Yochanan appears as a heartless, egoist, kannai (fanatic). Sorry to say so.

    And as far as Resh Lakish's answer is concerned: there is no more reason to be hurt than from R. Yochanans apostrophy at the beginning. He gave one, he gets one back.

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  12. "The problem with that explanation is there is no hint of criticism of R' Yochanon in this gemora."
    Pardon if I, as a woman and complete ignoramus speak up in this illustrous assembly. But to me, the whole story is a huge critisism of R' Yochanon, especially the end.

    R' Yochanon does not want to forgive Resh Lakish, therefore Resh Lakish dies (did I understand it right that this gemora postulates a causal link between R Yochanon not pardonning and Resh Lakish dying?)

    He does not want to pardon for the sake of his nephew who will be an orphan.
    He does not want to pardon for the sake of his sister who will be a widow.
    No one tells him in advance that he himself will miss Resh Lakish so much that he will die from it.

    If someone had told him, if he had forseen it, would he have let him die? I suppose not.
    So he is a complete egoist: never mind the child who looses his father, never mind the wife who looses her husbund, but I loose my Chavrute? Yes, this is a problem.

    So under the bottom line, R'Yochanan appears as a heartless, egoist, kannai (fanatic). Sorry to say so.

    And as far as Resh Lakish's answer is concerned: there is no more reason to be hurt than from R. Yochanans apostrophy at the beginning. He gave one, he gets one back.

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  13. shoshi said...

    "The problem with that explanation is there is no hint of criticism of R' Yochanon in this gemora."

    Pardon if I, as a woman and complete ignoramus speak up in this illustrous assembly. But to me, the whole story is a huge critisism of R' Yochanon, especially the end.

    R' Yochanon does not want to forgive Resh Lakish, therefore Resh Lakish dies (did I understand it right that this gemora postulates a causal link between R Yochanon not pardonning and Resh Lakish dying?)
    ==================
    You seem to be assumng that Reish Lakish has done nothing wrong.

    You also are too hasty with your condemnation. R' Yochanon and Reish Lakish are major rabbinical figures. To simply translate the words is simply unacceptable. You acknowledge that you are an ignoramus - while at the same time it is obvious that you are intelligent and senstive. But the bottom line is that you are not familiar with the way of reading and understanding agadata and medrash.
    -
    Soshi wrote: So under the bottom line, R'Yochanan appears as a heartless, egoist, kannai (fanatic). Sorry to say so.

    I am sorry you are so fast to dump out nasty condemnation - as if you were reading a story in the Daily News. That is not an acceptable way the understand a description of chazal.

    I presented this as source of clarification of Torah - and you are treating it as pop psychology.

    Sometimes we have to simply admit that we don't understand.

    Anyway there is more to the story = it is discussed by Rav Tzadok and others. There is also a related story about R' Yochanon and R' Kahana.

    Soshi, you have raised some important questions - but your conclusion are simply not acceptable.

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  14. There is no contradiction between being intelligent and sensitive and an ignoramus in Gemara. You yourself point out to what extend I am an Ignoramus and not reading it in the right way.

    You said that in your view the Gemara contains not a hint of criticism against R" Yochanan's position. I said, that from a candid point of view, the whole story looks like a big criticism of R"Yochanan.
    That's all.

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  15. Recipients and PublicityJanuary 1, 2009 at 11:30 AM

    The ENTIRE premise and basis of this discussion so far is based on a falacy because there is NO connection between the notion of a ba'al teshuva in the times of the Talmud, and what is today known as a Ba'al Teshuva as part of the Baal teshuva movement that is unprecedented in all ways.

    And it does not help modern-day Ba'alei teshuva by looking for clear-cut "Halachik" answers to their situation in the Talmud, and vice versa people in the times of the Talmud cannot be fathomed by equating them with modern-day BTs, which they are not.

    This is more a question of general derech eretz, by way of derech eretz kadma laTorah,something that is applicable to ALL people, frum and not frum, than of the way the question is presented here as some major Talmudic and Halachik question, which it is not as it applies to most (but not all) modern-day BTs!

    That is why poster "Monsey Tzadik" is onto something very significant and he should not be brushed off because most modern-day BTs are in a complex state and situation in life (by becoming very religious after having been secular) even though they are usually proud of their "leap of faith" and status and will often let you know about it as a point of pride themselves, regardless of what it says in Gemoras, they will themslves often adevertise what they did and how they imroved and got to where they are. THERE IS A WHOLE GENRE OF BT BOOKS LIKE THAT, AND THE HAREDI ESTABLISHMENT ENCOURAGES SELF-DISCLOSURE STORIES BY AND ABOUT BTs (just think of Dr. kevin/Akiva Tatz's book "Anatomy of a Search") and the "How and why I became religious" and personal journey stories etc etc, so to quote a lot of this stuff from the Gemoras as actually quite contradictory if not hypocritical.

    There are a variety of modern-day ba'alei teshuva. There are some who have or do integrate very quickly into the mainstream Torah world either as a result of long term living in it or the ability to adapt quickly to frum life.

    Then there are those who will always stand out and they have no problem with it. Indeed, it was asked at an AJOP convention of Rav Heineman in Baltimore what to do with BTs since they have trouble both fitting in and being accepted into "regular" shulls of mostly FFBs and he said that BTs should be encouraged to stay in shulls of their own catering to them where they will not feel like second class citizens.

    Then there are those gifted BTs who overlap all the worlds.

    At any rate, this is not a simple question, and it is an exercise in futility to compare modern-day BTs with Talmudists who lived 1,800 years ago in a different world.

    This also brings us to the way Rabbi Tropper recently was quoted as saying that BTs "must" adhere to the same standards as FFBs even when becoming frum, like not driving to hosts on Shabbos when they are not yet frum and they have not learned about nor accepted Shemiras Shabbos on themselves yet they are willing to learn. Does one say that they are tinkos shenishbu in any case and one must doe whatever one can to save them by reaching out to them, or are they already "mechalel Shabbos" even more by wanting to learning about Shabbois and driving to a Shommer host for a meal that may convince them and clinch it for them to decide to become Shommer Shabbos to be viewed as BTs in the making and the principle of "mitzva haba'a be'aveira" should not be applied in this scenario?

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  16. Bava Kama(117a):[[ A certain man who was desirous of showing another man's straw [to be confiscated] appeared before Rab, who said to him: ‘Don't show it! Don't show it!’ He retorted: ‘I will show it! I will show it!’ R. Kahana was then sitting before Rab, and he tore [that man's] windpipe out of him. Rab thereupon quoted: Thy sons have fainted, they lie at the heads of all the streets as a wild bull in a net;34 just as when a ‘wild bull’ falls into a ‘net’ no one has mercy upon it, so with the property of an Israelite, as soon as it falls into the hands of heathen oppressors no mercy is exercised towards it.35 Rab therefore said to him: ‘Kahana, until now the Greeks36 who did not take much notice of bloodshed were [here and had sway, but] now the persians37 who are particular regarding bloodshed are here, and they will certainly say, "Murder, murder!";38 arise therefore and go up to the Land of Israel but take it upon yourself that you will not point out any difficulty to R. Johanan39 for the next seven years. When he arrived there he found Resh Lakish sitting and going over40 the lecture of the day for [the younger of] the Rabbis.41 He thereupon said to them: ‘Where is Resh Lakish?’42 They said to him: ‘Why do you ask?’ He replied: ‘This point [in the lecture] is difficult and that point is difficult, but this could be given as an answer and that could be given as an answer.’ When they mentioned this to Resh Lakish, Resh Lakish went and said to R. Johanan: ‘A lion43 has come up from Babylon; let the Master therefore look very carefully into tomorrow's lecture.’ On the morrow R. Kahana was seated on the first row of disciples before R. Johanan, but as the latter made one statement and the former did not raise any difficulty, another statement, and the former raised no difficulty, R. Kahana was put back through the seven rows until he remained seated upon the very last row. R. Johanan thereupon said to R. Simeon b. Lakish: ‘The lion you mentioned turns out to be a [mere] fox.’44 R. Kahana thereupon45 whispered [in prayer]: ‘May it be the will [of Heaven] that these seven rows be in the place of the seven years mentioned by Rab.’ He thereupon immediately stood on his feet46 and said to R. Johanan: ‘Will the Master please start the lecture again from the beginning.’ As soon as the latter made a statement [on a matter of law], R. Kahana pointed out a difficulty, and so also when R. Johanan subsequently made further statements, for which he was placed again on the first row. R. Johanan was sitting upon seven cushions. Whenever he made a statement against which a difficulty was pointed out, one cushion was pulled out from under him, [and so it went on until] all the cushions were pulled out from under him and he remained seated upon the ground. As R. Johanan was then a very old man and his eyelashes were overhanging he said to them, ‘Lift up my eyes for me as I want to see him.’ So they lifted up his eyelids with silver pincers. He saw that R. Kahana's lips were parted47 and thought that he was laughing at him. He felt aggrieved and in consequence the soul of R. Kahana went to rest.48 On the next day R. Johanan said to our Rabbis, ‘Have you noticed how the Babylonian was making [a laughing-stock of us]?’ But they said to him, ‘This was his natural appearance.’ He thereupon went to the cave [of R. Kahana's grave] and saw a snake coiled round it. He said: ‘Snake, snake, open thy mouth1 and let the Master go in to the disciple.’ But the snake did not open its mouth. He then said: ‘Let the colleague go in to [his] associate!’ But it still did not open [its mouth, until he said,] ‘Let the disciple enter to his Master,’ when the snake did open its mouth.2 He then prayed for mercy and raised him.3 He said to him, ‘Had I known that the natural appearance of the Master was like that,I should never have taken offence; now, therefore let the Master go with us.’ He replied, ‘If you are able to pray for mercy that I should never die again [through causing you any annoyance],4 I will go with you, but if not I am not prepared to go with you. For later on you might change again.’ R. Johanan thereupon completely awakened and restored him and he used to consult him on doubtful points, R. Kahana solving them for him. This is implied in the statement made by R. Johanan: ‘What5 I had believed to be yours6 was In fact theirs.’7

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  17. ספר בניהו בן יהוידע על בבא מציעא דף פד/א
    שם ומאי אהנית לי וכו'. לכאורה נראה פירוש רש"י ז"ל דחוק, איך ישוה ר' שמעון בן לקיש רבנות של לסטות עם רבנות של תורה, ואדם גדול שכמותו איך יוציא דברים אלו מפיו. על כן יותר נראה פירוש רבינו תם, שפירש שהוא היה תחלה אדם גדול בתורה, אלא שאח"כ פרק עול תורה, ושכח תלמודו ועסק בלסטות, ועל ידי ר' יוחנן חזר בתשובה, ולמד תורה מחדש, ובתוספות עירובין דף ס"ה ע"ב הוכיחו כן, ועיין בתוספות יבמות דף נ"ז ע"א בד"ה אתא, וכן כתב בשטה מקובצת בשם הרא"ש ז"ל. מיהו לפירוש זה איכא דוחק בלשון התם והכא, דהוה ליה למימר מעיקרא והשתא. ונ"ל בס"ד כונת ר' שמעון בן לקיש התם על בני בבל, והכא על בני ארץ ישראל, כי בראותו דר' יוחנן זלזל בכבודו הרבה, באומרו אליו ליסטאה, אמר ודאי דר' יוחנן חושב דהכבוד שאני משיג פה בארץ ישראל בין החכמים, הוא בא לי בעבורו בשביל שלקחתי אחותו, ולכן כל החכמים שהם סרים למשמעתו, מכבדים אותי, כי ר' יוחנן הוא חכם, ומגיע לי הכבוד מחמתו, ולכן לא חש אלי, וזלזל בכבודי בחשבו שכבודי בא לי מצידו, ועל כן אמר לו מאי אהנית לי בכבוד הזה שנתת לי אחותך, הלא התם שאין החכמים תלמידיך, ואין אתה רבם, מכבדים אותי בתואר רבי, וכאן אין מכבדים אותי יותר מבני בבל, אלא גם כן קרו לי רבי, ונמצא זה הכבוד אינו בא לי מחמתך, והשיב לו אהנית לך בתתי לך את אחותי, דעל ידי זה קרבתי אותך תחת כנפי השכינה, כי על ידי שאמרתי לך אתן לך אחותי דשפירא מנאי, נתרצית לחזור בתשובה, ולמדת תורה, ועל ידי זה קורין אותך רבי הכא והתם:

    ודע, כי בודאי ר' יוחנן לא היתה כונתו מעיקרא לעשות לו אונאת דברים, דאמרינן לעיל [דף נ"ח ע"ב] אם הוא בעל תשובה, לא יאמר לו זכור מעשיך הראשונים, אך כונת ר' יוחנן לומר לו בעל כרחי צריך להודות לך, כי אתה בקי יותר ממני בדבר זה, מפני כי לסטאה בלסטאותיה ידע, אך ר' שמעון בן לקיש נצטער כי חשב דלא אכפת ליה לר' יוחנן בזלזול שלו:

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  18. Recipients and PublicityJanuary 1, 2009 at 12:05 PM

    Dr. Eidensohn/da'as torah, you are now quoting huge chunks of Torah sources in English and Hebrew, without stating any context or explaining what to look for or what your precise point really is. Could you make your point clearly and more explicit and not just quote huge chunks of text from a data base please. Thanks.

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  19. Recipients and Publicity said...

    Dr. Eidensohn/da'as torah, you are now quoting huge chunks of Torah sources in English and Hebrew, without stating any context or explaining what to look for or what your precise point really is. Could you make your point clearly and more explicit and not just quote huge chunks of text from a data base please. Thanks.
    ============
    Good point. Thought it would help me as I am working this out to post the material.

    I cited the gemora in Bava Kama 117 in which R' Yochanon killed Rav Cahane because he perceived that Rav Cahane was making fun of him. Thus there is a consistency that R' Yochanon was very particular about kavod haTorah - even if it lead to the death of a student

    I cited the Ben Yohoyada - to show that he recognized that there could be a question whether R' Yochanon was abusing a baal teshuva. First he discusses the problem whether Reish Lakish was originally a gadol and then went off the derech and the finally returned or whether he was never frum and was thus a classic baal teshuva. This is a dispute between Tosfos and Doros HaRishonim.

    Finally he explains why there was no attempt of R'Yochanon to hurt Reish Lakish's feelings and therefore was no halachic problem in what he did - but that Reish Lakish misunderstood his rebbe.

    At this point the gemora seems to be saying 1) R' Yochanon had a clear basis for mentioning Reish Lakish's expertise in weapons without concern that it would be an insult - thus he didn't violate the halacha 2) Reish Lakish over reacted and insulted not only his rebbe but also Torah. 3) According to straight din Reish Lakish's comments were totally wrong - and there is no mention that he apologized for them. This issue of kavod haTorah seems to be the main message [see Yoma 23a):A talmid chachom who does not seek vengence and bear a grudge [for the honor of Torah] is not a real talmid chachom.

    Reich Lakish died because he was upset that he had hurt his rebbe. It is not clear why he didn't apologize. R' Yochanon - who was the gadol hador - could not ignore a direct attack on Torah. But he suffered because of the loss of his unique student and died as a result.

    Reish Lakish needed to have given his rebbe the benefit of the doubt and not automatically assume that he was being ridiculted.

    BTW R' Yochanon was in fact very sensitive to the feelings others - he is the one who mentions the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza and personal insult causing the destruction of the Temple.

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  20. it's clear to me that this is the story of a tragic misunderstanding — i think it's safe to assume that neither Reish Laqish nor Ribbi Yohhanan meant to offend the other; but they did, and didn't understand how much they did — but by then it was too late, each one thought the other was in the wrong.

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