Thank you for joining us for our fifth lesson of Portraits in Leadership: Timeless Tales for Inspired Living. This lesson focused on Rabbi Meir, descendent of the Roman general Niron, who fled and converted to Judaism rather than destroy the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. A student of Rabbi Akiva, he was one of the five secretly ordained by Rabbi Yehudah ben Bava in defiance of Roman law. Rabbi Meir was a brilliant sage and is the one most often cited in the Mishnah, but is also frequently misunderstood. He endured great suffering with grace and optimism.
Rabbi Meir’s wife Beruria was the daughter of the scholar Rabbi Chanina ben Teradyon and a noted Torah scholar in her own right. When her husband was vexed by wicked neighbors, she taught him to pray for the sin to be removed, but not for the punishment of the sinners. When her children died suddenly one Shabbat, she gently asked her husband whether she must return a borrowed object to the owner who had come to collect it. After he answered in the affirmative, she told him about their sons. At Beruria’s behest, Rabbi Meir rescued her sister from a brothel and as a result was forced to flee from the Romans.
Elisha was a noted scholar who had dabbled in the Greek philosophy of the day and had a crisis of faith. He responded to this crisis and terrible suffering around him by betraying his community, informing on them to the Roman authorities, undermining the scholars and their young students, and even causing many deaths. Elisha seems to have been somewhat torn about his betrayal, longing to return while convinced that he had done so much evil that rehabilitation was impossible. While most of the sages responded by shunning Elisha, Rabbi Meir continued to seek him out, asking him questions about the Torah he had learned and trying to convince him to repent his evil ways.
Rabbi Meir was convinced that Elisha was capable of repentance – and indeed on his deathbed, he repented. On a deeper level, Rabbi Meir viewed Elisha – and all Israel – as children of G-d, possessing an innate goodness and an unconditional bond. In doing so, he revealed a deeper justification for retaining a connection to Elisha. Ultimately, this perspective was vindicated, and the children of Elisha were able to be brought back into the fold.
I look forward to seeing you next week for our last portrait, Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi.