RAV PAPA WAS about twenty years younger than Rav Nachman bar Isaac, but a more prominent figure. He was a student of Abayei in Pumbeditha and he remained there studying with Rava until the latter died.1)ערובין נ״א א׳, פּסחים קי״א ב׳. Rav Papa was born about 300 C. E. and died 375 C. E. In his youth it appears that Rav Papa was a poor man. Later he began to make beer out of dates and became very rich.2)ברכות מ״ד ב׳, מנחות ע״א א׳. He also dealt in poppy-seeds.3)גטין ע״ג א׳.
Rav Papa carried on his business affairs in partnership with Rav Huna the son of Rav Joshua, and the friendship of these two scholars was so great that they never parted from each other all their life, neither at home nor on journeys.4)ברכות נ״ח א׳, שבת קל״ו א׳, יבמות פ״ח א׳. And when Rav Papa later became head of the academy, Rav Huna the son of Rav Joshua was his ״ראש כלה״ 5)ברכות נ״ו א׳.
After Rava died, Rav Nachman bar Isaac became the head of the academy in Pumbeditha and Rav Papa conducted his own school in Nares. Almost all the scholars in Mechoza went there and when they would get up after studying, their number would reach over two hundred.6)כתובות ק״ו א׳.
It is said that Rav Papa was more scrupulous than the law required in his everyday conduct. Once he bought a field from a man who needed the money to buy an ox. Later this seller no longer needed the money and he regretted the bargain. Rav Papa returned his field without any difficulty even though legally he did not have to do so.7)כתובות צ״ז א׳. For such acts Rav Papa’s good name was known to all the people and even Samaritans who did not ordinarily have any confidence in Jewish scholars also came visiting to him.8)בבא מציעא ס״ט א׳. Very different was Rav Papa’s attitude to the pagans, whom he did not trust. It is said that he once went to collect a debt from an Aramitess. She invited him to sit down upon the bed. He would not sit down until he had examined the bed to see whether there were not something about it that would enable her to fix up a false charge against him and as the story goes he did indeed find a dead child in the bed.9)ברכות ח׳ ב׳.
We should add that Rav Papa was a warden of charity in his city and as such, in the conditions of that time, it was impossible to act to everybody’s satisfaction.10)בבא בתרא ט׳ א׳. It is, in fact, related that Rav Papa once slipped on his step and almost fell. He said: “If I had fallen I should have suffered the punishment prescribed for a profaner of the Sabbath without having deserved it.” Said Chiya bar Rav Medafti to this: “It may be that you deserved it because a poor man came to you and you did not provide for him.”11)בבא בתרא י׳ א׳.
Rav Papa was also known as a great eater, who consumed at least four times as much as an ordinary man.12)פּסחים פ״ט ב׳. Although Rav Papa was the head of an academy and a very prominent scholar, he had a pupil named Rav Shimi bar Ashi who used to catch Rav Papa with such questions that they humiliated Rav Papa because he was unable to answer them. He therefore prayed to God to be delivered from Shimi’s questions.13)תענית ט׳ ב׳. Rav Papa and his above-mentioned friend, Rav Huna the son of Rav Joshua, once had a trial with several merchants who complained against the two of them to Rava. And when Rava decided in favor of those merchants Rav Papa said: “White geese try to pull the clothes off man.”14)גטין ע״ג א׳.
The laws and proverbs of Rav Papa number hundreds. Being a merchant with a wide experience of life, he said things which still have value today: “At the door of a food-shop there are many brothers and friends, but at hunger’s door there are no brothers and no friends.15)שבת ל״ב א׳. When you set out on a journey settle your accounts with your enemies first, so that they may fear you.16)סנהדרין צ״ה ב׳. In a house of sorrow it is well to be silent.17)ברכות ו׳ א׳. Whoever has a short wife, should bend down to speak with her.18)בבא מציעא נ״ט א׳. If you let a quarrel stand over night, it disappears by itself.19)סנהדרין צ״ה א׳. Anybody who takes vengeance in the midst of his wrath destroys his own house.20)סנהדרין ק״ב ב׳. In the presence of a convert, even after the tenth generation, one should never refer to a Gentile in any derogatory manner.21)סנהדרין צ״ד א׳. Sow your wheat so that you need not buy, because no matter what you realize out of it it will still be a blessing.22)יבמות ס״ב א׳. Even wool-washing is an honest occupation and one should not be ashamed to call one out to the gate and sit down near him.23)יבמות קי״ח ב׳. If somebody tells you that your friend is dead, don’t believe it.24)גטין ל׳ ב׳. A dog and a cat sometimes make a meal together in peace, when they get rid of a common enemy.25)סנהדרין ק״ה א׳. When the grain runs out of the jar, conflict comes into the house.26)בבא מציעא נ״ט א׳. Go down a degree to take a wife; go up a degree to choose your relations.27)יבמות ס״ג א׳. Many old camels carry the skin of young ones upon them.28)סנהדרין נ״ב א׳. Be quick in buying a field and slow in taking a wife.29)יבמות ס״ג א׳. Go put silk on a pig, when he wallows in the mud.30)ברכות מ״ג א׳. Anybody who can drink beer and insists on drinking wine, transgresses against the commandment ‘Thou shalt not destroy.’”31)שבת ק״מ ב׳.