Chevruta - Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish

We'll begin by watching this video together to learn a bit about Resh Lakish and Rabbi Yochanan, the OG chavruta:

[Bava Metzia is one tractate, or book, of the Talmud, a voluminous 63-tractate collection of Oral Law and tradition that was redacted into written form in the years 200-500 CE, after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (70 CE) and subsequent persecution and dispersal of the Jews by the Roman Empire. The Talmud is comprised of two parts: the Mishna, the original teaching, and the Gemara, or the later explanation of that teaching.]

With regard to Rabbi Yoḥanan’s physical features, the Gemara adds that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: I alone remain of the beautiful people of Jerusalem. The Gemara continues: One who wishes to see something resembling the beauty of Rabbi Yoḥanan should bring a new, shiny silver goblet from the smithy and fill it with red pomegranate seeds and place a diadem of red roses upon the lip of the goblet, and position it between the sunlight and shade. That luster is a semblance of Rabbi Yoḥanan’s beauty.

The Gemara relates: One day, Rabbi Yoḥanan was bathing in the Jordan River. Reish Lakish saw him and jumped into the Jordan, pursuing him. At that time, Reish Lakish was the leader of a band of marauders. Rabbi Yoḥanan said to Reish Lakish: Your strength is fit for Torah study. Reish Lakish said to him: Your beauty is fit for women. Rabbi Yoḥanan said to him: If you return to the pursuit of Torah, I will give you my sister in marriage, who is more beautiful than I am. Reish Lakish accepted upon himself to study Torah.

Rabbi Yoḥanan taught Reish Lakish Bible [i.e. the Written Torah], and taught him Mishna [i.e. the Oral Torah], and turned him into a great man. Eventually, Reish Lakish became one of the outstanding Torah scholars of his generation. One day the Sages of the study hall were engaging in a dispute concerning when swords, daggers, and other weaponry are considered "completed" in their manufacture.

These Sages inquired: And when is the completion of their manufacture? Rabbi Yoḥanan says: It is from when one fires these items in the furnace. Reish Lakish said: It is from when one scours them in water, after they have been fired in the furnace.

Rabbi Yoḥanan said to Reish Lakish: A bandit knows about his banditry, i.e., you are an expert in weaponry because you were a bandit in your youth. Reish Lakish said to Rabbi Yoḥanan: What benefit did you provide me by bringing me close to Torah?! There, among the bandits, they called me: Leader of the bandits, and here, too, they call me: Leader of the bandits! Rabbi Yoḥanan said to him: I provided benefit to you, as I brought you close, under the wings of the Divine Presence!

As a result of the quarrel, Rabbi Yoḥanan was offended, which in turn affected Reish Lakish, who fell ill. Rabbi Yoḥanan’s sister, who was Reish Lakish’s wife, came crying to Rabbi Yoḥanan, begging that he pray for Reish Lakish’s recovery. She said to him: Do this for the sake of my children, so that they should have a father. Rabbi Yoḥanan refused. She said to him: Do so for the sake of my widowhood. Rabbi Yohanan refused again.

Ultimately, Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish, Reish Lakish, died. Rabbi Yoḥanan was sorely pained over losing him. The Rabbis said: Who will go to calm Rabbi Yoḥanan’s mind and comfort him over his loss? They said: Let Rabbi Elazar ben Pedat go, as his statements are sharp, i.e., he is clever and will be able to serve as a substitute for Reish Lakish.

Rabbi Elazar ben Pedat went and sat before Rabbi Yoḥanan. With regard to every matter that Rabbi Yoḥanan would say, Rabbi Elazar ben Pedat would say to him: There is a legal ruling that supports your opinion. Rabbi Yoḥanan said to him: Are you comparable to ben Lakish [i.e. Reish Lakish]?? In my discussions with ben Lakish, when I would state a matter, he would raise twenty-four difficulties against me in an attempt to disprove my claim, and I would answer him with twenty-four answers, and the law in question would become broadened and clarified. And yet you say to me: There is a legal ruling that supports your opinion. Do I not know that what I say is good?!? Being rebutted by Reish Lakish served a purpose; your bringing proof to my statements does not!

Rabbi Yoḥanan went around, tearing his clothing, weeping and saying: "Where are you, ben Lakish?! Where are you, ben Lakish?!" Rabbi Yoḥanan screamed until he lost his sanity. The Rabbis prayed and requested Divine mercy on him so he would not continue to suffer, and Rabbi Yoḥanan died.

When you are finished reading:

Please discuss following questions in chavruta with your partner. No need to rush to get through all of them.

  • What does a good chavruta look like? What does it not look like?

  • What went right and what went wrong with this chevruta? What/who could have saved it?

  • Why didn’t Rabbi Yochanan’s new chevruta suit him? What does Rabbi Yochanan really want in a chevruta? What do you think he means when he cries out, "Where are you, ben Lakish?!"