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The Holy Heretic

The Story of the Greatest Heretic in Jewish History: Elisha Ben Avuyah

51 min

Class Summary:

Of all the Rabbis cited in the Talmud, only one became a heretic. His name was Elisha ben Avuya. He was, by all accounts, one of the outstanding Jewish sages of the second-century, a contemporary of Rabbi Akiva and the teacher of Rabbi Meir, the leading scholars of his generation.

Elisha moved so far from Jewish tradition that his colleagues stopped referring to him by his name, but rather called him Acher, “the other”, the outcast, the renegade. Only his student Rabbi Meir remained loyal to the man who had once been his master, sought out his company and still believed that he might one day repent.

Against this backdrop we find a deeply moving scene in the Talmud. It is Shabbat, and Elisha ben Abuya is publicly desecrating the holy day by riding on a horse. Walking alongside him is Rabbi Meir. Heretic teacher and faithful disciple travel together along the road arguing and debating Jewish law. Rabbi Meir, the pious Jew, has become so immersed in the conversation that he has not noticed they are nearing the limits beyond which one may not walk on Shabbat. “Acher”, the apostate, realizes this and says: “Meir, turn back. I have measured the distance we have walked by the paces of my horse, and we have reached the Shabbat limit. Beyond here, you are forbidden to walk.

Meir replied: “You too turn back.”

“I cannot turn back,” says Elisha. “One day I was riding on my horse. It was Yom Kippur, which in that particular year fell on Shabbat. I was roaming behind the Holy of Holies, when I heard a heavenly voice saying: ‘Turn back to me, O lost children, except for Acher... ’”

What is the message of this story? That G-d indeed does not forgive all humans who want to repent? That some must truly be condemned forever? This would contradict a fundamental idea in Judaism that nothing stands in the way of repentance.

Furthermore, if G-d did not want Elisha to repent, why did He communicate with him at all? Why did the heavenly voice begin with words of love and encouragement “Turn back to me, O lost children,” and end with the fearful decree “except for Acher”? And why did Rachel name her long-awaited-for son Joseph, so that “G-d may grant me yet another son!” Why not celebrate this child?

This class will analyze the tragic story of Acher, the mysterious call to him on Yom Kippur, and his misinterpretation of it. It will teach us about the pain and destiny of our own lives, often lost and fragmented.

Please leave your comment below!

  • WF

    Wells Fargo -3 years ago

    Seize Your Own Destiny

    All religion, all gods, all religious ideas, all religious rites,and  all religious taboos are nothing more than the creation of human minds and primordial human fears. There are no gods in the real universe. It is time that mankind discarded these Bronze Age myths and seized their destiny in their own hands, All else is mere commentary.

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  • Anonymous -3 years ago

    The great Heretic

    If Elisha ben Avuyah had been followed by all, ther would be no Jewish religion today, a great loss to civilization. However, that does not mean that he was wrong.

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  • Y

    YL -12 years ago

    Inaccurate Information
    "out of thousands of rabbis...there was only on heretic, elisha ben avuyah". what about yochanan kohen gadol who after eighty years of service became a tzeduki?

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    • A

      Anonymous -12 years ago

      Re: Inaccurate Information

      Dear YL:

      1) Yochanan was not one of the Rabbis. He was a Kohen Gadol, from the family of the Chashmonaeim. He lived before the era of the Tanaaim.

      2) A Tzeduki, who beleived in G-d and in Torah Shebeksav, is not in the same category as Elisah ben Avuyah.

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  • SC

    Shmuli C. -12 years ago

    Acher's Final Destination!

    TALMUD CHAGIGAH TOSFOS (15a) writes that when Acher's father brought him as a child to learn Torah, his intentions were impure, "Lo Lishmah." Acher's father had seen the great respect afforded to Talmidei Chachamim and he wanted his son to receive the same respect. As a result, all of his life Acher learned Torah "Lo Lishmah."

    The Yerushalmi Chagigah (cited by Tosfos) records two possible causes for Acher's waywardness. One opinion says that he saw a young man die while performing the Mitzvah of honoring his father (for which the Torah says one is rewarded with long life), when his father asked him to send away a mother-bird from the nest in order to take the chick (for which the Torah also says one is rewarded with long life).

    Another opinion says that he witnessed the tragic scene as the tongue of the martyred Rebbi Yehudah haNachtom was dragged away by a dog. Rebbi Yehudah haNachtom had spent his entire life steeped in the learning and teaching of Torah (see also Kidushin 39b). Since Acher perceived the purpose of learning Torah as a means of gaining respect, when he saw that one could learn Torah all of his life and receive no honor for it and even suffer torture and disgrace for it (in this world), he could not tolerate the incongruence. This incongruity caused him to go astray.

    Judgment in Gehinom means that a soul realizes the terrible void that characterized his life in the physical world due to the transgressions he committed. This terrible shame continues until the soul has suffered enough for all of the transgressions that he committed. The soul is then cleansed of the stain of those transgressions and the person is able to receive reward for all of the Mitzvos which he fulfilled Lishmah.

    Since Acher had learned so much Torah and had excelled to great heights in his Torah learning (even though it was not Lishmah), his soul could not experience the feeling of void and lacking which characterizes the Gehinom experience. On the other hand, since his soul could not be purged of his transgressions in Gehinom, his soul also could not enter Olam haBa (heaven). Rebbi Meir, therefore, decided that he would help the soul of Acher.

    Rebbi Meir excelled in learning Torah Lishmah. It was Rebbi Meir who said, "One who has learned Torah Lishmah merits many things" (Avos 6:1). Since Rebbi Meir's learning was entirely Lishmah, he had the ability to cause Acher's soul a great sense of shame. When Rebbi Meir died and Acher saw the difference between his learning and Rebbi Meir's, the soul of Acher finally felt the shame of the tainted way he had learned Torah while he was alive. Thus, it was through Rebbi Meir that Acher was able to experience Gehinom and be cleansed of his transgressions and, as a result, merit entry to Olam haBa and be rewarded for his Mitzvos.

    Rebbi Yochanan, however, sought to bring Acher's soul directly to Olam haBa. Through learning Torah, a student gives merit to his deceased teacher. Rebbi Yochanan often quoted teachings he had heard from Rebbi Meir. It is likely that he also ascribed them to their original source -- Acher, the teacher of Rebbi Meir. (See TOSFOS to Sotah 12a, D"H Acherim Omrim, who says that whenever the Gemara quotes the opinion of Acherim it refers to a teaching taught by Rebbi Meir which he had heard from Acher.) By transmitting the teachings of Acher, Rebbi Yochanan was able to bring merit to the soul of Acher.

    When Rebbi Yochanan died, people quoted the teachings he had taught in the name of Rebbi Meir and Acher, and thus he was able to raise Acher out of Gehinom and bring him to Olam haBa. Rebbi Meir, in contrast, could not bring Acher to Olam haba in that manner. Since Rebbi Meir lived in the same generation as Acher, he could not quote Acher and give honor to Acher's teachings because he did not want others to respect Acher and learn from his corrupt conduct (even after Acher's death). Therefore, the only way Rebbi Meir could cause Acher to go to Olam haBa was to cause him to be judged for his transgressions. Rebbi Yochanan lived later, in a generation in which no one could have known Acher personally and learned from his ways, and thus he had nothing to fear by quoting teachings in his name.

    Perhaps this concords with the explanation Rabbi that you have presented in the class in the name of Rabbi Solevietchik. Both the Jerusalem and Babolonian Talmuds were correct in the ultimate fate of Acher, albeit two distinct time periods and generations. Immediately following his passing, Teshuva was much harder to complete in Rabbi Meirs generation, but in Rabbi Yochanan's generation, he successfully ensured Acher would merit proper entrance into the Heavenly academy. So in fact in Reb Meir's generation, Yerushaimi's opinion is correct. Elisha Ben Avuyah had ample obstacles and challenges to gain a spot in the celestial academy.

    Nevertheless, in R. Yochanan's generation, then Talmud Bavli's opinion, which was authored later, even though not authored by R. Yochanan himself, Acher had no possible entrance into Gan Eden, paradise, but Elisha Ben Avuyah, did finally merit a proper and complete Teshuva.

    How dare i speculate such an insolent possibilty, but ultimately, his Teshuva was accepted and all opinions have been concretely acknowledged and reconciled.

    Thank you Rabbi for presenting a profound analysis on a millennial sage the way you did, and giving us a deeper glimpse into the life of a great Tzaddik!

    Gmar Chasimah Tova!

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  • ESE

    Esther Sarah Evans -13 years ago

    Regarding the grit and gravel, etc. - figuratively, maybe, for up to now I had believed as was brought down that Moshe Rabeinu called the coffin up from where it had been lowered into the Nile River - the life-line, so to speak of the Egyptians, and symbolically immersed in Torah. All the history of the Jewish people in Egypt flowed past him - male Jewish babies being thrown into the Nile, Moshe Rabeinu being set afloat there and being rescued by the Egyptian princess, the river's being turned to blood during the plagues (the area around Yosef HaTzaddik's coffin will likely have been, as for all the Jews, miraculously kept in water state, or ? Indeed, his actual burial did not take place until he was brought here, if we follow that through to its culmination. So in a double sense he was mamash immersed in our Torah.

    Had he been buried, anybody could have dug up his grave or desecrated it. Secretly lowered into the water, his coffin was accessible only through summons - in this case, the summons being spoken by Moshe Rabbeinu.

    His Petira in itself was sad, but he was constantly with us - immersed in what happened to us, immersed in Torah.

    Even here beAretz, there is no real rest in a Kever for Yosef HaTzaddik. Just consider the Balagan there has been on the part of the Arabs. Even after finally getting back the land, we have not known how to appreciate it and provide a more or less safe resting place even for a Tzaddik like Yosef to whom we all owe so much. That, I think, is the main reason for shedding tears - tears of shame.

    Be well, and take care, Rabbi. Thanks for sharing your experiences of the Rebbe too.

    Esther Sarah and Halakha
    in Yerushalayim.

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  • RH

    ruth housman -13 years ago

    Joseph: out of Egypt
    There might be another message in Joseph's coffin remaining in Egypt at the end of Genesis, and that is, I am certain the problems that do involve humanity, both sides, in the Middle East will ultimately involve the co-operation of neighboring countries in terms of the greening of the desert. In other words, the "solution" itself IS solution, being the introduction of water into the desert areas.

    What I am "getting" is deep, and profound, and I am doing it with "words".

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  • RH

    ruth housman -13 years ago

    Out of the box

    Sorry, because we have the words, out of the box, as in "thinking out of the box" and since G-d is about the ALL, what is eternal, and all comes from that same Source, then words themselves, come from the Divine.

    that's what I divine, and I stand by what I wrote about Elisha. I think he, like so many others, many biblical personages, got a "bad rap" and just maybe this same G-d we both worship, is sending messages, and if they are mixed, then it's perhaps up to us to decide. Not everyone has to think or feel the same way.

    Many a rabbi has written, "Diversity is the key".

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  • YS

    Yael S. -13 years ago

    Elisha lecture
    Please, don't change your voice level from whisper to loud. I am eager to hear every single word of your wisdom !

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  • C

    CARMELA -13 years ago

    In the eye of the beholder, ruth housman 

    We were created in G-ds image, so from knowing our characteristics, we can assume about G-ds traits, and learn about them also from his actions.

    Only a loving g-d can be angry and jealous, otherwise he would be considered as indifferent... Only a loving G-d can teach a lesson to his streyed children (teach a lesson and not punish!),otherwise he would be considered indifferent. Only a loving G-d can keep us and forgive us numerous times despite of our repeated betrayals of him, otherwise he would be indifferent... Only a loving g-d doesn't punish the villain immediately upon wrongdoing, giving him a chance to repent, waiting for the villains regret, and being a loving, forgiving, merciful g-d, he would turn all the villains purposeful evil deeds into points in his favor, after the villains ''teshuva''... Only a loving g-d doesn't judge our actions as severely as he ''should’’, because if he did, we wouldn't ''pass the test'', we wouldn't deserve a second chance...yet he keeps giving us the ''second chances''... One can choose how to perceive g-d, because g-d gave us the gift of choice !!! He isn't the only story teller, we do participate in the writing of our stories ! He didn't create robots nor puppets as his children. He gave us choice and he listens to us. he gave us the power to change and turn over his own decisions by our actions! moses argued with him and caused him to change ''his mind'' more than once or twice. There is this expression that the tzadik ''gozer'' - determins the sentence, and g-d ''mekayem'' - executes the tzadiks sentence...

    Only a loving king gives his subjects choice and power to overrule his decisions! Sometimes (many)we can't understand g-d nor his actions. Our seventh and last lubavicher rebbe said that of some things we can't ask ''why'', because to some things there is no answer that we can understand. I don't know who said the following:if i knew him, i would be him. Meaning: we are not g-d therefore we can't understand everything how and why, but faith in g-d as well as in people, is established on trust. The word faith means trust.of what we know of g-d, from experience, we know we can trust him, and should. He is proving us time and again his love, care and guarding. You have mentioned that elisha went out of the box. There is no such thing. there is no box, nor ''out of the box'' where g-d isn't there !!!

    In psalms 139 verses 7-8 you'll find that one can't run away/escape from g-d, he is high up as well as deep down. One can perceive g-d as angry etc. , or as the g-d that has 13 beautiful attributes stated in the bible as well as in our prayers. Or one can see that g-d is all there is, and he is a l l the characteristics together, and we possess all of them as well. What one perceives is in the eye of the beholder. The way one perceives reflects ones inner world and not necessarily what realy is out there.

    Shana tova and chatima tova, to you, ruth housman, from the bottom of my heart carmela, israel

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  • E

    Elki -13 years ago

    Incomparable shiur
    Brilliant and fascinating. The story of R' Elisha ben Avuya always remained beyond my understanding and it bothered me. Tonight it intrigues me more profoundly, in light of the shiur and my understanding of the story. (I hope I heard what Rabbi Jacobson said!)
    One question: Today in psychoanalysis, the "Acher" visitation upon R' Elisha, would be called a disassociative state, when someone has a psychotic break fronm reality, usually because of a past trauma. It seems that Acher was in a disassociative spiritual state. But do we know what drove him there, and if it was as Rabbi Jacobson said, comparable to a Dybbuk, it appears that the transformation of R' Elisha ben Avuya into Acher happened in this altered state when he couldn't hold on to G-d. What part does his bechirah play in this?
    Thank you, Rabbi Jacobson and the Schottensteins for your deeply appreciated generosity.

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  • SBMI

    shlomo bekhor, milan italy -13 years ago

    this shiur is beyond!!!
    yelhu mehail el hail.

    lots of blossing to the sponsors in particular to David and Eda Schottenstein that they should be blessed in the merit of this giant shiurim that we hear.

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  • A

    Anonymous -13 years ago

    really inspiring!!!!
    wow! thank you!

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  • RH

    ruth housman -13 years ago

    black and white
    I am moved to say one more thing, and perhaps I have written too much.

    Life does not exist in an ethical dimension that is all one or the other, meaning the decisions we make that are ethical are generally not black or white but rest in the gray area. We must exercise angst in making decisions, and when we do, who is to say, since we can look at both sides, and find reason often to judge one way, or the other, which is right?

    I believe we must use our gray matter to make difficult decisions in life, and we are given, daily, decisions that would try the wisdom of Solomon. So what does God want? I say God wants us to ponder, to experience the angst of the decision, to feel deeply, the weight of both sides.

    God is not asking for slavish devotion to the Commandments, because we can obviously find ways to argue within, about even these specifics when it comes to the angst of life and how it is led.

    I think this relates to Elisha's story. In a way, it's a story that very much moves back in time to Job, and probably this is why Steinberg's book, As a Driven Leaf, in title, is a page from the Book of Job.

    Was a good man, a truly deeply sensitive man, who thought so hard about all kinds of issues, about what he was taught, to be cast out, because his feelings, his learning, was wrong, and he was an apostate? or, is it possible he had something to teach about the need to break out of the box, and learn, and continue to discover new exciting and deeply difficult truths about life. It was initially his leaning toward the Greeks, their philosophy and ideas, that made the rabbis very upset.

    But we know, do we not, that all knowledge comes from God, and perhaps he was led, to study, to change his feelings, and maybe this change, was not necessarily a bad thing. Surely it made everyone think and made people intensely uncomfortable. But so it is in life.
    He pushed at the boundaries of what the rabbis said was the right way to act, and he knew this. But he persisted for a reason. And it could be that reason was just, and that his student, a very gifted man, tried hard to comprehend what it was that changed his mentor, that moved him to throw away so much he had held dear. There had to be a reason and it was not necessarily an evil reason, that compelled a man known as righteous and just.

    Even now, how do we get our heads around Einstein's theory of relativity and many other ideas, that seem so foreign. To travel at the speed of light and to arrive not having aged as others down below? And yet, it does seem, we are living in an age in which discovery is increasing at a rapid pace, and all of our ideas must somehow, relate to these changes. We must be flexible and think about rigidity of ways of being. I think this is a given.

    It could be everything changes and everything stays the same, and that the ultimate paradox, is the intense and beautiful One ness that is part of universe, one verse, that those who are deeply sensitive, deeply spiritual do see, and try to express through myriad books, through language, and that language has a truth that somehow resounds, that somehow resonates for us all.

    And yes, I say, we know the true meaning of love, and we also perceive it's myriad distortions. I say we do. And if we don't there's a learning curve.

    Even within a deterministic universe, with a master story teller there is a built in learning curve, and that is towards increasing compassion and love, or why ever are we here?

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  • RH

    ruth housman -13 years ago

    Response to my attacker:

    Before you cast stones, learn about the soul of another person. I know about the yetzer hara, and I know about the inner voice so many of my patients experience, who are not Jewish that tell them to do bad things, and it's a voice we all do experience, at times, which of course we must fight, because it's not a good thing to harm others, and in so doing we irrevocably do harm ourselves.

    Maybe someone will speak for God who has the authority of a voice everyone can agree is God's voice. I perceive that God is playing a game of What's my line? Will the real God please stand up?

    We are given stories, Biblical stories, of a God of terrible vengeance, an angry, upsetting God, who does terrible things, and yet, aren't they all, all these people being destroyed, also, children of God? The only book that I think is truly quite pure, is The Book of Ruth, a story actually about a non Jew who gives up her life for love (yes, that word again) to follow her Mother in Law Naomi into a new country, and she is a beautiful person in every possible way, and in fact her lineage is the lineage of the Messiah, do see the end of the Book of Ruth.

    We are immersed in paradox at every level. I don't go around labeling people as apostates, as heretics, in angry ugly terms, because they violated Orthodox rules of Shabbat. I know one thing, and that is, we do not know the soul of another person, deeply and truly. As far as I know, and I have my own personal relationship with God that is inviolate, what God wants is love, and this entire story is about tikkun olam. Are mitzvot, or such acts of love difficult to understand? I can use this word. And I do not abuse this word.

    As to LOVE, I think we all have a good idea of LOVE, an inchoate word, and I also think we have a good idea about how this word is abused, as people are abused, and daily, in the name of love, and also how religions are responsible for feeling their brand of love is the right brand, and in so doing label people and cast them aside, as unworthy, as ungodly, people who actually on a soul level might be deeply wonderful but they are judged.

    There is no other. We are all in this together, and when a man of deep religiosity and "love" of God, dare I say it, does something extra ordinary, I say, maybe it would be wise to try to understand why he did this, and perhaps in knowing this, he might be understood and not cast aside.

    Yes, Spinoza. Is he now suddenly to be considered a Jew? He was so ostracized, so cast out. I don't believe it is a truly Jewish thing to act in this way, and I feel, he had some very deep ideas that probably, as all comes from the Source, came from God.

    Who do you think is scripting every story and why do we ask God to write us in the Book of Life for another year, if God isn't the master storyteller who guides us all, even when it seems, terrible, angst ridden, and we ask, Why?

    Maybe there is a far far greater story, because for the Moshiach to arrive, it HAS to be scripted, all the way. It's the only way.

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  • I

    izzy -13 years ago

    Absolutely fascinating speech; an amazing lesson in life. Thank you so so so so so much!

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  • BG

    Bassi Garelik -13 years ago

    B"H Rabbi Jacobson You're a GENIUS

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  • C

    CARMELA -13 years ago

    Love - to ruth housman

    No two people understand, mean nor interpret the word/concept ''love'' the same way. Some would stifle others in the name of love, others would kill in its name, some would judge others of intolerance(that their words will be taken off the site off sight),convinced their way of thinking is the only right way - determined to persuade everyone in their conviction, believing it is out of love... Love is not a magic word, and repeating it time and again, doesn't necessarily convey the feeling of love... People can be very rigid in their so called love, as well.

    So, before lifting the flag of love, needed some humble self inner checking...

    There is room for rules along love. loving a child with no rules, spoils. that is just one simple common example.

    Anything that is given in exceeding amounts, with no boundries, spoils.

    On one side there is gods' ''chessed'' - love, completion, but on the other side there is ''gvurah''- discipline, might, strength, limits. The ideal is not only one or the other, but the balance between the two. In the tanya the alter rebbe describes it as a bird that can't lift itself up to fly with only one wing, even if that wing is ''love''!

    ''Only love...'' is holywood type expression/concept...

    G-d created a counterpart for each and every of his creations, i.e. boundaries, rules, limits.

    As far as the tzemach tzedeks beautiful explanation: there is the utmost love expressed by g-d to elisha ben avuya by asking him to return but leave the acher behind !!!

    The fact that he gives him the chance, to begin with, is an act of love.

    We all are elishas. we all are created with an acher in us that is called ''yeitzer hara'' or ''hanefesh habeheimit'',and we are all here in this world for the purpose of conquering the acher in us, letting the godly spark in us to return to its source: g-d. 

    Carmela, israel

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  • J

    josh -13 years ago

    Please don't whisper. I cant hear you when you do that.

    Thank you.

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  • C

    chaim -13 years ago

    From Videbarta Bam by Rabbi M Bogomilsky
    Man experiences many fluctuations in fortune during his lifetime. In addition to changes of wealth and poverty, of health and illness, he may also experience great variations in the level of his religious conviction. This not only affects ordinary people, but even outstanding spiritual personalities. One example of this is a great Talmudic sage.
    The Gemara (Chagigah 14b) relates that "four scholars entered the 'Garden.' They ascended to heaven in order to comprehend G-d and G-dliness. Ben Azzai gazed and died. Ben Zoma perceived and became demented. Rabbi Akiva departed unharmed, and Elisha ben Avuyah became an apostate, from then on to be called "Acheir" - "another."

    Elisha ben Avuyah was the teacher of the great sage Rabbi Meir. After his apostasy, Acheir asked Rabbi Meir, "What is the meaning of the verse, 'Gold and glass cannot equal it; neither shall the exchange thereof be vessels of fine gold?' "

    He replied, "These are the words of the Torah, which are hard to acquire like vessels of fine gold, but are easily destroyed like vessels of glass."

    Acheir said to him, "Rabbi Akiva, your master, did not explain thus, but as follows, 'Just as vessels of gold and vessels of glass, though they be broken, have a remedy, even so a scholar: though he has sinned, has a remedy.' "

    Thereupon Rabbi Meir said to him, "Then you, too, repent!"

    He replied, "I have already heard from behind the "pargod" - Partition - i.e. Heaven, 'Return O backsliding sons (Jeremiah 3:22) chutz mei'Acheir - except Acheir.' "

    The Gemara then continues to relate the following episode. Once Acheir was riding on a horse on Shabbat, and Rabbi Meir was walking from behind to learn Torah from him. Acheir said to him, "Meir, turn back, for I have already measured by the paces of my horse that thus far extends the Shabbat limit."

    He replied, "You, too, go back (do teshuvah)!"

    Acheir answered, "Have I not already told you that I have heard from behind the Partition, 'Return O backsliding sons chutz mei'Acheir - except for Acheir.' "

    This exchange between Rabbi Meir and his teacher is enigmatic. Obviously, Rabbi Meir respected him highly; otherwise, he would have not sought Torah from him, and undoubtedly when Acheir told his student of hearing a voice from heaven, it was not an hallucination. If so, why would Rabbi Meir torment his teacher and keep insisting that he return?

    The Gemara goes on to relate another episode, that Rabbi Meir prevailed upon him and took him to a Beit Hamidrash. Acheir asked the children to recite the Biblical verse they were studying. One child quoted, "Velarasha amar Elokim mah lecha lesapeir chukai" - "Hashem said to the wicked, 'What have you to do to declare My statutes' " (Psalms 50:16). The child stuttered, so the word "velarasha" - "and to the wicked" - sounded like "ve'la'Elisha" i.e. "and to Elisha Hashem said...." Elisha at that time said, "If I had a knife in my hand, I would cut him up."

    Superficially, this story compounds the difficulty, since Elisha claimed that he heard a voice from Heaven, why was he so upset with the child who stuttered? On the contrary, he should have felt vindicated because at least the child substantiated the words of the Heavenly voice.

    Undoubtedly, Rabbi Meir believed that Elisha was telling the truth when he told him what he heard. However, he interpreted the words differently.

    Every person is at times his authentic self, and at times there is an "acheir" - "stranger" - within him that challenges his spiritual identity. In modern psychology there is the concept of dual personality, and in literature this is expressed by the story of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde." However, this is not a modern phenomena or recent finding, but something which has affected mankind from its early beginning to this very day and which is connected to the essence of teshuvah.

    When one studies Torah and performs mitzvot, his true inner self is expressed. When G-d forbid, he transgresses, it is the "acheir" within him who is acting in an alien manner in defiance of the true inner self.

    It is related that Aristotle, the "primary thinker of philosophy," was once seen acting boorishly, totally unbecoming to a person of his stature. When he was asked how it was possible for him to act so inappropriately, he responded, "The man you are seeing now is not Aristotle - now I am someone else." In other words, he was saying "At times I am myself - Aristotle - and at times I am 'acheir' - 'someone else.' "

    Consequently, while Elisha ben Avuyah had indeed heard a Heavenly voice proclaim, "Return you backsliding children chutz mei'Acheir - except Acheir" - Rabbi Meir asserted that this was a misinterpretation. The correct message was, "Return you backsliding children, [and the way to do so is] 'chutz mei'Acheir' - 'to detach yourself from acheir' - rid yourself of the stranger within you and return to your true self."

    Rabbi Meir knew that the gates of heaven are open to all Jews and even for those of whom it has been ruled "he is not granted an opportunity to return" (Yoma 85b). As Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad Chassidut, states, "If a person strives forcefully and overpowers his evil impulse and repents, then his repentance is accepted" (see Iggeret Hateshuvah 11). Therefore, he persisted in his plea that Elisha ben Avuyah do teshuvah - not to permit the "acheir" - "stranger within" - to prevail over his true self, and return to his original status as the great sage Rabbi Elisha ben Avuyah.

    While Elisha ben Avuyah desired that his student's interpretation be the correct one, he was somewhat apprehensive. Therefore, when Rabbi Meir forcefully took him to the Beit Hamidrash, Elisha asked the children the pasuk they were studying, hoping to find in it a glimmer of hope for himself. When it appeared from the child who stuttered that there was a pasuk in the Torah which confirmed his interpretation of the voice of Heaven, and that he, Elisha ben Avuyah could not do teshuvah, he was deeply frustrated, for he truly desired to return and be a dedicated child of Hashem and the Torah.

    The theme of the day of Yom Kippur is "shuvu banim" - "[My] children return" - do teshuvah. Stop being a dual personality. Be your true self at all times, and Hashem will gladly stretch out His hand to you and accept your sincere return.

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  • I

    Isaac -13 years ago

    to Yochanan Gordon
    First, according to the Bavli he did not do Teshuvah. according to the Yerushalmi, it was at his death bed, and see there in Yerushalmi, that Rabbi Meir had to work hard to persuade him that his teshuvah would be accepted. Apparently, at his last moment he felt his deeper self, his elisah ben avuyah, not his acher. it does say that before death the divine presence comes in to a person's soul. it is one of the reaons for "taharah," because of the semen that comes out of the body during death, why? because of the awe and intense experience of greeting the Divine. (Zohar. in other places it says that was the reason for Joseph's emission, because he sae the image of his father, which was the image of the sechinah.) so maybe at his deathbed Elisha felt a deeper dimension.

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  • RH

    ruth housman -13 years ago

    I am sure my former comment will be deleted from this site, out of sight.

    I know, I deeply know, that what God wants (and I write God's name this way because I hear and feel the AWE in the name itself, and have a deep relationship with the Creator, the Divine), is for people to learn about LOVE, and I can say, love reigns supreme. Love breaks all the rules. That's the learning curve and that's what Elisha was saying when he rode that horse out and through boundaries set by rigid rules, rules whose rigidity, crushed the meaning behind the rules, namely it's about love. He was teaching something that apparently was not learned, in the name calling that ensued and continues.

    There is no "other". The word brother contains "other" and what is done with Hebrew in parsing language and meaning can be done across Babel, and I can do this and I am doing this.

    The deepest possible lesson is to put the kind back into "mankind" and for that I am saying the lesson to be learned, is not orthodoxy but that love is the deepest of spiritual truths in how we act, how we respect, and how we are, towards each other.

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  • KT

    Kayo, Tokyo -13 years ago

    Leave Acher
    Baruch HaShem

    I hope Conservative and Reform rabbis listen to HaShem's call.

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  • YG

    Yochanan Gordon -13 years ago

    The End of Elishas Life
    But what then changed according to the Yerushalmi that says that he repented at the end of his life? How did his self perception change?

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  • TG

    tzipi glick -13 years ago

    amazing!!! That we should all speak to the Achar within ourselves and bring it back.

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  • RH

    ruth housman -13 years ago

    there is another story running
    I thought of the comment above, about Spinoza, about who is an outcast, who is rooted? Why?

    Because when the Messiah comes every day is Shabbat. And I am saying, this man, recognized something deep about Shabbat, because he was deeply spiritual, and he had a message you are not receiving. The message is: God does not care about the rules, but what is important is this: LOVE breaks all the rules. I am saying, do not cast stones upon the waters. The yeast of this story, the bread upon the waters, is that spirituality is far far deeper, and the deepest of sages know this, and that it's not about rules around what God wants, but it's about LOVE.

    You are wrong. Sometimes it is the so called heretics that make us think and I am saying, he was saying something deep about what is important. What is the "measure" of man? It is putting the kind back into mankind.

    You rail against this man, but he had lessons to teach, and he was not in violation of God. He was deeply in touch with the spiritual.

    Your words are not words of love, but they are about the confines of love, and God says, cross those boundaries and there you will find me. I am, everywhere! I am in the heart of man. And this man, who dropped gems, on Shabbos, as he rode that horse, well he perceived something deep that the sages, that you, are not receiving.

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  • B

    ber -13 years ago

    was he a greater heretic than Boruch Spinoza?

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  • TG

    tzipi glick -13 years ago

    Waiting expectedly for tonight's shiur;. Thank you!!!

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  • I

    Isaac -13 years ago

    Thanks Mr. Schottenstein, and all of the people involved, i am looking forward as every week. this topic truly seems quite intreguing.

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