Thank you for joining us for our sixth and final lesson of Portraits in Leadership: Timeless Tales for Inspired Living, in which we profiled Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, called Rebbi. Born on the day of Rabbi Akiva’s execution, his mother hid his circumcision by exchanging him with a Roman baby who would later become a lifelong friend, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.
From his early years, Rebbi studied with many teachers – at least four of Rabbi Akiva’s five major students – though his stature remained unassuming, asking for no special privilege in the academy. As a nasi, Rebbi was incredibly wealthy, though he didn’t use his wealth and position for personal benefit. Rather he used it to garner respect and influence from the Roman notables of his time – and many stories are told of Rebbi’s friendship with Marcus Aurelius Antoninus.
For fourteen centuries, there had been a strict prohibition against recording the oral tradition, which relied heavily on memory for transmission through the generations. Yet due to persecution, it was often in danger of being forgotten, as we have seen throughout this course. Rebbi therefore decided to take advantage of a period of relative tranquility for undertaking the monumental task of recording the oral tradition. He convened gatherings to collect and transcribe the student’s body of knowledge, to clarify any points of disagreement, and to organize the knowledge into tractates. As a leader, Rebbi excelled in both spiritual and political arenas. Despite his stature, he was humble and willing to accept the opinions of others. He was greatly mourned upon his death.
The six leaders that we profiled in this course each made a unique contribution to the survival of our people through a time of great upheaval. The key to our survival as a people is the Torah. Though we must not neglect political and practical means of protecting our people, these efforts can only succeed when they are preceded by the vision provided in the Torah, which gives purpose to our survival—Rebbi understood this well and exemplified this synthesis.
Thank you for joining us for this journey, and I hope you’ll sign up for JLI’s spring course, Beyond Never Again: How the Holocaust Speaks to us Today. Our first session will be held at the Chabad Torah Centre on Tuesday, April 27th at 7:30pm. For more information on registration, please visit www.ChabadWinnipeg.org/JLI.
Rabbi Shmuly Altein