WHEN RAV HUNA was named “Head of the Academy” in Sura, Rav Chisda, who is called “Rav Chisdai” in the Jerusalem Talmud, was among the prominent pupils of Rav who lived there. It is said that he was a priest.1)ברכות מ״ד א׳, חולין מ״ד ב׳. When he was still a child, astrologers predicted that he would be a scholar.2)יבמות כ״א ב׳. For a long time this Rav Chisda conducted his own academy in Kafri, and after Rav Huna and Rav Judah bar Ezekiel died he took Rav’s place in the academy of Sura.
If we judge by the number of years that Rav (Aba Arecha) lived in Babylon, it seems likely that Rav Chisda was about 30 years old when Rav died. From this we may infer that he probably studied under Rav, although there is no mention of any personal encounter between Rav Chisda and Rav or Shmuel; for during Rav’s life Rav Chisda apparently sat modestly in a corner of his school and listened to his words with pious attention. Several times, however, he repeats certain laws in the name of Rav.3)ברכות מ״ג א׳, פּסחים ק״ז א׳. On one occasion in repeating a law of Rav’s he termed him “Rabbenu” (our Rabbi).4)ברכות ל״ח ב׳. Since he considered himself the greatest expert in the laws of Rav, he once said that he would give away two portions of his “perquisites of priesthood” to anyone who could tell him of some new saying of Rav’s.5)שבת י׳ ב׳.
Only after the death of Shmuel Yarchinaa, when Rav Huna became the “Head of the Academy” did Rav Chisda attain recognition as a student of Rav Huna’s. He was a man of forty at the time. In the meantime he had studied under a number of other pupils of Rav’s, and people were beginning to pay attention to his opinions. Still it is characteristic that in all the time that Rav Chisda sat under Rav Huna as a student he was very careful never to say anything that might appear to be a statement of a law.6)ערובין ס״ב ב׳. And when someone once came to consult him on a question of law he immediately referred him to Rav Huna.7)בבא מציעא ז׳ א׳. Only one exception is recorded: when the “Exilarch” asked Rav Huna what was the basis of the law which forbade bride and groom to wear crowns on their heads at a wedding. Rav Huna answered: “This was an enactment of the Rabbis who relate that in the time of the war against Emperor Vespasian it was forbidden to wear bridegroom’s crowns and to celebrate engagement parties.” After this statement Rav Huna left the school. Then Rav Chisda said: “It is not only an enactment of the Rabbis, but there is also a Bible text for it: ‘Remove the mitre and take off the crown.’ (Ezekiel, 21, 31). It is natural to ask what is the relation between the mitre and the crown? The following exegesis solves this problem: the verse means that so long as the mitre remains on the head of the High Priest, others may wear the crown, but when the mitre was removed from the head of the High Priest, the crown upon the heads of others had to fall also!”
In the meantime Rav Huna had returned and hearing Rav Chisda’s interpretation he was not angry because Rav Chisda had allowed himself to express an opinion in opposition to his teacher, but he said: “I swear to God that the prohibition of which we spoke is an enactment of the Rabbis. But concerning the words of Chisda we can only say that just as his name is Chisda so are his words full of ״חסד״ (grace).8)גטין ז׳ א׳.** This story is related in a different form in the Jerusalem Talmud. (סוטה פרק ט׳ הלכה ט״ז). There it seems that the Exilarch sent to Rav Chisda to inquire the meaning of the verse “Remove the mitre and take off the crown.” Rav Chisda interpreted the verse as above, and Rabbi Jochanan heard it and said; “His name is Chisda and his words are full of chesed.”
Rav Chisda and Rav Huna were usually called “the elders of Sura” by their contemporaries.9)סנהדרין י״ז ב׳.
The work of both served to raise the prestige of the academy in Sura, besides which Rav Huna attained great fame in Palestine.10)גטין נ״ט ב׳. Both lived very long. Rav Chisda reached the age of 92 years, and it seems that he lived more than ten years after Rav Huna’s death.11)מועד קטן כ״א א׳.
Like Rav Huna who was a poor man and later became rich Rav Chisda, according to his own story, became rich after an earlier period of poverty. Once when the importance of eating vegetables was being discussed, Rav Chisda said: “I never ate any vegetables. When I was poor I did not eat them because they awaken appetite, and I had nothing with which to satisfy my appetite. When I became rich I didn’t eat them because I preferred to eat meat and fish.”12)שבה ק״מ ב׳. A story telling of Rav Chisda’s riches says that it came to him in a natural manner. His own statement was that having occupied himself with the manufacture of beer he found the secret of how to become rich.13)פּסחים קי״ג ב׳. In proof of the immensity of his wealth it is related that his deer ate nothing but the finest meal.14)מועד קטן כ״ח ב׳. His students, however, seem to have been treated differently because he used to train them in frugality and he would say: “Anyone who can eat rye bread and eats a wheaten loaf, is guilty of a transgression against the commandment ‘Thou shalt not destroy.’”15)שבת ק״מ ב׳. In spite of his wealth which permitted him to maintain a large following of servants, he personally supervised all the work on his fields and kept an eye on every bit of expense.16)בבא קמא צ״א ב׳. It is interesting, too, that he would entrust the whole conduct of his household to his servants, but he always kept the key to the woodshed himself.17)גטין נ״ז א׳.
It is related that Rav Chisda was the pupil of the Babylonian Amora Avimi for a long time. This man had no title and we know of him only through Rav Chisda’s quotations of his enactments, as well as by Rav Chisda’s statement that he had often been beaten by Avimi and he had borne the blows patiently.18)מנחות ז׳ א׳.
When Rav Chisda grew rich he felt a rebellion of his pride against Rav Huna, although he continued to be as modest as before in his ordinary life, and whenever he met anyone in the street, even a pagan, he met them with a friendly “Good morning.”19)גטין ס״ב א׳. But since he seems to have felt injured in some way by Rav Huna he was on the lookout for a chance to pay him out for the injury. He found his opportunity when the two of them had an argument about the respect which one is obliged to pay one’s teacher. Rav Chisda asked how the case stood with a student whose teacher needed him in order to sharpen his mind by answering his acute questions. Rav Huna understood that Rav Chisda meant himself by the reference and intended to cast a reflection upon Rav Huna. He replied; “Chisda, Chisda, know that I need you not at all, but you do need me.” Afterwards they parted from each other for forty long years. Rav Chisda left Sura and settled in Kafri where he established an academy of his own and taught students according to his own methods.20)ערובין ס״ב ב׳. Later Rav Chisda fasted forty times in repentance for having caused his teacher pain, and Rav Huna also fasted 40 times for having wrongly suspected Rav Chisda of wishing to insult him.21)בבא מציעא ל״ג א׳.
Rav Chisda was very keen in the interpretation of law and he was also very clever in reading new meanings into things by skillful analogies. We shall cite two examples of his way of thinking: In explaining the reason why a man is allowed to go two thousand ells away from his place on the Sabbath even though the Bible says, “Let no man leave his place on the seventh day” (Exodus, 17, 29) Rav Chisda said that in as much as the expression “place” was also used in the verse “and I shall set up a place for you” (Exodus, 21, 13) in the case of an accidental homicide the two passages were parallel and the word “place” (מקום) should be understood to mean a city. Later the word “he will flee” is used concerning an accidental homicide, so that we must understand the word “place” used concerning the Sabbath to refer also to flight. The problem arises how far one may flee. There is another verse “the boundary of his city of refuge that he flees” (Numbers, 38, 26) so that we must interpret the verse “let no man leave his place” as if it used the word “boundary”. The meaning of the word boundary must be inferred from its meaning in its use in the verse which uses the expression outside “and their measures are two thousand ells outside the city” (Numbers, 35, 5). We find therefore that the measure of a “Sabbath pale” from which a man is allowed to flee is the boundary of “two thousand ells”.22)ערובין נ״א א׳.
Rav Chisda performed a similar feat of interpretation in connection with the law of “searching out leaven”. How do we know that leavened bread must be searched out before Passover with a candle? In dealing with the matter the Bible says “rye shall not be found for seven days” (Exodus, 12, 19) and since in the story of Joseph’s cup the Bible says “and he searched and he found” (Genesis, 44, 12) it is clear that in order to find one must search, and there is a Biblical verse concerning searching which states “I will search Jerusalem with candles” (Zephaniah, 1, 12) so that we know that in order to search to find, one must use candles. And if we wish to know how many candles to use there is a verse which states “The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord searching all the inward parts of the belly” (Proverbs, 20, 27). From this we may infer that if one searches in order to find, one should search with one candle.23)פּסחים ז׳ ב׳.
After Rav Chisda left Rav Huna’s academy they had frequent differences of opinion over matters of law in which each one directly contradicted the other, as for instance in the question of how pure a place must be in order that ״קריאת שמע״ may be said there,24)ברכות כ״ח א׳. or whether one may make a hole in a barrel on the Sabbath in order to put in a tap,25)שבת קמ״ז א׳. or concerning the problem that all foods have to be salted and whether a dish kept overnight had to have spices.26)ביצה י״ד א׳. On another occasion they differed concerning an important problem of life: a man had given his agent a divorce for his wife and the agent had faithfully carried out his mission and delivered the divorce. Later the man regretted his action and claimd that he had simply given the divorce papers to his messenger for safe-keeping. The messenger, on the other hand, claimed that he had received the papers for delivery to the wife. Rav Huna said the man was to be believed and the divorce did not stand. Rav Chsida, on the other hand, said that the agent was to be believed and the divorce was valid.27)גטין ס״ד א׳.
But even though Rav Huna was annoyed by Rav Chisda he told his son Rabah to go to Rav Chisda’s academy. At first Rabah did not want to do so, but his father told him to go because Rav Chisda was very keen in his legal arguments and he could learn a great deal from him.28)שבת פ״ב א׳. Later Rabah bar Rav Huna became a devoted friend of Rav Chisda’s. Since they used to study together they would often concur in their opinons, as the Talmud says, “Rav Chisda and Rabah bar Rav Huna who both say.”29)שבת פ״ט א׳, פּסחים י׳ ב׳, כתובות צ״ט ב׳. Later they would often sit in judgment together.30)שבת י׳ ב׳.
Rav Chisda was very much inclined to interpret various Biblical verses in order to derive new laws or to justify accepted laws. Thus, for instance, he said that anyone who prays for another person should not mention the name of the person for whom he is praying, just as Moses prayed for his sister Miriam and said no more than “please Lord heal her please” because the Almighty knows without being told for whom the prayer is meant.31)ברכות ל״ד א׳.
Since the Sabbath was the most important element in the Jewish religion at that time and everybody considered it a merit to aid in the preparation of the Sabbath, Rav Chisda said that a person should rise very early on Friday morning in order to be able to have everything ready for Sabbath.32)שבת קי״ז ב׳.
It is certain that Rav Chisda spent some time in Palestine. It is not known however when this occurred. Some say that Rav Chisda went to Palestine for Rav Huna’s burial. But this is hard to believe since Rav Chisda was a man of eighty at the time of Rav Huna’s death and the trip from Babylon to Palestine would have been to difficult for a man of that age.
Rav Chisda’s friends were Rav Nachman bar Jacob, Rav Sheshet, and, as we said above, Rabah bar Rav Huna. It is said that when Rav Chisda once met Rav Sheshet his lips trembled with fear lest Rav Sheshet ask him some difficult questions. At the same time Rav Sheshet was trembling throughout his whole body for fear lest Rav Chisda start on one of his involved disputations.
Rav Chisda was accustomed to stay up all night and study. It is said that once one of his daughters suggested that he get a little sleep. Rav Chisda answered that soon enough the long days of the grave would come and then he would have plenty of time for a long sleep.33)ערובין ס״ה א׳.
Rav Chisda had six learned and prominent sons. Nevertheless he once said that daughters were preferable to sons.34)בבא בתרא קי״א א׳. In his anxiety for the welfare of his daughters he once urged them to be restrained in their intimate relations with their husbands.35)שבת ק״מ ב׳. Since he lived such a long time Rav Chisda had the good fortune to attend sixty weddings of his children and his grandchildren.36)מועד קטן כ״ח א׳.
The Talmud relates that when the time of his death drew near the Angel of Death could not approach him because he did not interrupt his study for an instant. Therefore the Angel of Death seated himself upon a cedar in the garden of the Temple, and when the tree broke, Rav Chisda was silenced for a moment and died instantly.