Thank you for joining us for the third lesson of Portraits in Leadership: Timeless Tales for Inspired Living. We began with the unsettling story of Aaron Feuerstein who reached into his personal finances to pay his factory’s employees after a devastating fire. Unable to finance both the company’s recovery and the payroll, he was forced to file bankruptcy. Several years later, when he tried to buy back the factory, his bid was refused. We reviewed the story together and then discussed our opening question – is bitterness justified when good goes unrequited?
We then turned to the life of Rabbi Eliezer, beginning with his wealthy background and the many struggles he faced when he wanted to begin learning Torah at 28 years old. Later, after enduring poverty and hardship, Rabbi Eliezer’s family saw how learned he became. His father changed his mind and decided to give Eliezer all of his wealth. Eliezer felt no rancor toward his brothers and refused to accept their portion of the estate.
Rabbi Eliezer had an excellent memory and was chosen to preserve the teachings of his instructors. He was committed to faithfully transmitting the Torah of previous generations without distorting it with his own understanding. At the same time, he worked tirelessly to master the material that he learned and make it his own, thereby adopting the mindset at his teachers.
In the study hall, a landmark debate occurred regarding the status of an oven. In spite of a heavenly voice concurring with Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion and other supernatural signs, the rabbis did not understand his logic and refused to concede. Because Rabbi Eliezer faithfully transmitted what he learned from his teachers, he too refused to concede. The academy could not allow him to maintain an opinion that differed from the majority, lest its authority and credibility be undermined. Eliezer was thus banned from participating in the academy, and students could not stand within four cubits of him.
Though the ban remained in effect until the end of his life, Rabbi Eliezer continued to answer questions that were brought to him, and he continued to be held in the highest esteem. The ban was lifted immediately after his death so that he could have a proper and honorable burial. Rabbi Eliezer teaches us that we must be willing to graciously pay the cost of our convictions.
Thank you again for joining us for this class, and next week, we will continue with our next portrait, Rabbi Akiva.