אַחֵר קִיצֵּץ בִּנְטִיעוֹת, עָלָיו הַכָּתוּב אוֹמֵר: ״אַל תִּתֵּן אֶת פִּיךָ לַחֲטִיא אֶת בְּשָׂרֶךָ״. מַאי הִיא? חֲזָא מֶיטַטְרוֹן דְּאִתְיְהִבָא לֵיהּ רְשׁוּתָא לְמֵיתַב לְמִיכְתַּב זַכְווֹתָא דְיִשְׂרָאֵל, אֲמַר: גְּמִירִי דִּלְמַעְלָה לָא הָוֵי לֹא יְשִׁיבָה וְלֹא תַּחֲרוּת, וְלֹא עוֹרֶף וְלֹא עִיפּוּי. שֶׁמָּא, חַס וְשָׁלוֹם, שְׁתֵּי רְשׁוּיוֹת הֵן. אַפְּקוּהּ לְמֶיטַטְרוֹן ומַחְיוּהּ שִׁיתִּין פּוּלְסֵי דְנוּרָא. אֲמַרוּ לֵיהּ: מַאי טַעְמָא כִּי חֲזִיתֵיהּ לָא קַמְתְּ מִקַּמֵּיהּ? אִיתְיְהִיבָא לֵיהּ רְשׁוּתָא לְמִימְחַק זַכְווֹתָא דְאַחֵר. יָצְתָה בַּת קוֹל וְאָמְרָה: ״שׁוּבוּ בָּנִים שׁוֹבָבִים״ — חוּץ מֵאַחֵר. אֲמַר: הוֹאִיל וְאִיטְּרִיד הָהוּא גַּבְרָא מֵהָהוּא עָלְמָא, לִיפּוֹק לִיתְהֲנֵי בְּהַאי עָלְמָא. נְפַק אַחֵר לְתַרְבּוּת רָעָה. נְפַק, אַשְׁכַּח זוֹנָה תַּבְעַהּ, אֲמַרָה לֵיהּ: וְלָאו אֱלִישָׁע בֶּן אֲבוּיָה אַתְּ? עֲקַר פּוּגְלָא מִמֵּישְׁרָא בְּשַׁבָּת וִיהַב לַהּ, אָמְרָה: אַחֵר הוּא. שָׁאַל אַחֵר אֶת רַבִּי מֵאִיר לְאַחַר שֶׁיָּצָא לְתַרְבּוּת רָעָה, אֲמַר לֵיהּ: מַאי דִּכְתִיב: ״גַּם אֶת זֶה לְעוּמַּת זֶה עָשָׂה הָאֱלֹהִים״? אָמַר לוֹ: כׇּל מַה שֶּׁבָּרָא הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, בָּרָא כְּנֶגְדּוֹ. בָּרָא הָרִים — בָּרָא גְּבָעוֹת, בָּרָא יַמִּים — בָּרָא נְהָרוֹת. אָמַר לוֹ: רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא רַבְּךָ לֹא אָמַר כָּךְ, אֶלָּא: בָּרָא צַדִּיקִים בָּרָא רְשָׁעִים, בָּרָא גַּן עֵדֶן בָּרָא גֵּיהִנָּם. כׇּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד יֵשׁ לוֹ שְׁנֵי חֲלָקִים, אֶחָד בְּגַן עֵדֶן וְאֶחָד בְּגֵיהִנָּם. זָכָה צַדִּיק — נָטַל חֶלְקוֹ וְחֵלֶק חֲבֵרוֹ בְּגַן עֵדֶן, נִתְחַיֵּיב רָשָׁע — נָטַל חֶלְקוֹ וְחֵלֶק חֲבֵרוֹ בְּגֵיהִנָּם. אָמַר רַב מְשַׁרְשְׁיָא: מַאי קְרָאָה — גַּבֵּי צַדִּיקִים כְּתִיב: ״לָכֵן בְּאַרְצָם מִשְׁנֶה יִירָשׁוּ״, גַּבֵּי רְשָׁעִים כְּתִיב: ״וּמִשְׁנֶה שִׁבָּרוֹן שׇׁבְרֵם״. שָׁאַל אַחֵר אֶת רַבִּי מֵאִיר לְאַחַר שֶׁיָּצָא לְתַרְבּוּת רָעָה, מַאי דִּכְתִיב: ״לֹא יַעַרְכֶנָּה זָהָב וּזְכוֹכִית וּתְמוּרָתָהּ כְּלִי פָז״? אָמַר לוֹ: אֵלּוּ דִּבְרֵי תוֹרָה, שֶׁקָּשִׁין לִקְנוֹתָן כִּכְלֵי זָהָב וּכְלֵי פָז, וְנוֹחִין לְאַבְּדָן כִּכְלֵי זְכוּכִית. אָמַר לוֹ: רַבִּי עֲקִיבָא רַבָּךְ לֹא אָמַר כָּךְ, אֶלָּא: מָה כְּלֵי זָהָב וּכְלֵי זְכוּכִית, אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁנִּשְׁבְּרוּ — יֵשׁ לָהֶם תַּקָּנָה, אַף תַּלְמִיד חָכָם, אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁסָּרַח — יֵשׁ לוֹ תַּקָּנָה. אָמַר לוֹ: אַף אַתָּה חֲזוֹר בָּךְ! אָמַר לוֹ: כְּבָר שָׁמַעְתִּי מֵאֲחוֹרֵי הַפַּרְגּוֹד: ״שׁוּבוּ בָּנִים שׁוֹבָבִים״ — חוּץ מֵאַחֵר. תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: מַעֲשֶׂה בְּאַחֵר שֶׁהָיָה רוֹכֵב עַל הַסּוּס בְּשַׁבָּת, וְהָיָה רַבִּי מֵאִיר מְהַלֵּךְ אַחֲרָיו לִלְמוֹד תּוֹרָה מִפִּיו, אָמַר לוֹ: מֵאִיר, חֲזוֹר לְאַחֲרֶיךָ, שֶׁכְּבָר שִׁיעַרְתִּי בְּעִקְבֵי סוּסִי עַד כָּאן תְּחוּם שַׁבָּת. אָמַר לוֹ: אַף אַתָּה חֲזוֹר בָּךְ. אָמַר לוֹ: וְלֹא כְּבָר אָמַרְתִּי לְךָ כְּבָר שָׁמַעְתִּי מֵאֲחוֹרֵי הַפַּרְגּוֹד: ״שׁוּבוּ בָּנִים שׁוֹבָבִים״ — חוּץ מֵאַחֵר. תַּקְפֵיהּ עַיְּילֵיהּ לְבֵי מִדְרְשָׁא, אֲמַר לֵיהּ לְיָנוֹקָא: פְּסוֹק לִי פְּסוּקָךְ. אָמַר לוֹ: ״אֵין שָׁלוֹם אָמַר ה׳ לָרְשָׁעִים״. עַיְּילֵיהּ לְבֵי כְנִישְׁתָּא אַחֲרִיתִי, אֲמַר לֵיהּ לְיָנוֹקָא: פְּסוֹק לִי פְּסוּקָךְ. אָמַר לוֹ: ״כִּי אִם תְּכַבְּסִי בַּנֶּתֶר וְתַרְבִּי לָךְ בּוֹרִית נִכְתָּם עֲוֹנֵךְ לְפָנַי״. עַיְּילֵיהּ לְבֵי כְּנִישְׁתָּא אַחֲרִיתִי, אֲמַר לֵיהּ לְיָנוֹקָא: פְּסוֹק לִי פְּסוּקָךְ. אֲמַר לֵיהּ: ״וְאַתְּ שָׁדוּד מַה תַּעֲשִׂי כִּי תִלְבְּשִׁי שָׁנִי כִּי תַעְדִּי עֲדִי זָהָב כִּי תִקְרְעִי בַפּוּךְ עֵינַיִךְ לַשָּׁוְא תִּתְיַפִּי וְגוֹ׳״. עַיְּילֵיהּ לְבֵי כְנִישְׁתָּא אַחֲרִיתִי, עַד דְּעַיְּילֵיהּ לִתְלֵיסַר בֵּי כְנִישָׁתָא, כּוּלְּהוּ פְּסַקוּ לֵיהּ כִּי הַאי גַוְונָא. לְבָתְרָא אֲמַר לֵיהּ: פְּסוֹק לִי פְּסוּקָךְ. אֲמַר לֵיהּ: ״וְלָרָשָׁע אָמַר אֱלֹהִים מַה לְּךָ לְסַפֵּר חֻקָּי וְגוֹ׳״. הָהוּא יָנוֹקָא הֲוָה מְגַמְגֵּם בְּלִישָּׁנֵיהּ, אִשְׁתְּמַע כְּמָה דַּאֲמַר לֵיהּ: ״וְלֶאֱלִישָׁע אָמַר אֱלֹהִים״, אִיכָּא דְּאָמְרִי: סַכִּינָא הֲוָה בַּהֲדֵיהּ, וְקַרְעֵיהּ וְשַׁדַּרֵיהּ לִתְלֵיסַר בֵּי כְנִישָׁתֵי. וְאִיכָּא דְּאָמְרִי, אֲמַר: אִי הֲוַאי בִּידִי סַכִּינָא, הֲוָה קָרַעְנָא לֵיהּ. כִּי נָח נַפְשֵׁיהּ דְּאַחֵר, אָמְרִי: לָא מֵידָן לִידַיְּינֵיהּ, וְלָא לְעָלְמָא דְּאָתֵי לֵיתֵי. לָא מֵידָן לִידַיְּינֵיהּ — מִשּׁוּם דַּעֲסַק בְּאוֹרָיְיתָא, וְלָא לְעָלְמָא דְּאָתֵי לֵיתֵי — מִשּׁוּם דַּחֲטָא. אֲמַר רַבִּי מֵאִיר: מוּטָב דְּלִידַיְּינֵיהּ וְלֵיתֵי לְעָלְמָא דְּאָתֵי. מָתַי אָמוּת, וְאַעֲלֶה עָשָׁן מִקִּבְרוֹ. כִּי נָח נַפְשֵׁיהּ דְּרַבִּי מֵאִיר סְלֵיק קוּטְרָא מִקִּבְרֵיהּ דְּאַחֵר. אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: גְּבוּרְתָּא לְמִיקְלֵי רַבֵּיהּ? חַד הֲוָה בֵּינַנָא וְלָא מָצֵינַן לְאַצּוֹלֵיהּ? אִינְקְטֵיהּ בְּיָד, מַאן מַרְמֵי לֵיהּ מִן. אָמַר: מָתַי אָמוּת, וַאֲכַבֶּה עָשָׁן מִקִּבְרוֹ. כִּי נָח נַפְשֵׁיהּ דְּרַבִּי יוֹחָנָן פְּסַק קוּטְרָא מִקִּבְרֵיהּ דְּאַחֵר. פְּתַח עֲלֵיהּ הַהוּא סַפְדָנָא: אֲפִילּוּ שׁוֹמֵר הַפֶּתַח לֹא עָמַד לְפָנֶיךָ, רַבֵּינוּ! בִּתּוֹ שֶׁל אַחֵר אָתְיָא לְקַמֵּיהּ דְּרַבִּי, אֲמַרָה לֵיהּ: רַבִּי, פַּרְנְסֵנִי. אָמַר לָהּ: בַּת מִי אַתְּ? אָמְרָה לוֹ: בִּתּוֹ שֶׁל אַחֵר אֲנִי. אָמַר לָהּ: עֲדַיִין יֵשׁ מִזַּרְעוֹ בָּעוֹלָם?! וְהָא כְּתִיב: ״לֹא נִין לוֹ וְלֹא נֶכֶד בְּעַמּוֹ וְאֵין שָׂרִיד בִּמְגוּרָיו״! אָמְרָה לוֹ: זְכוֹר לְתוֹרָתוֹ, וְאַל תִּזְכּוֹר מַעֲשָׂיו. מִיָּד יָרְדָה אֵשׁ וְסִכְסְכָה סַפְסָלוֹ שֶׁל רַבִּי. בָּכָה וְאָמַר רַבִּי: וּמָה לַמִּתְגַּנִּין בָּהּ — כָּךְ, לַמִּשְׁתַּבְּחִין בָּהּ — עַל אַחַת כַּמָּה וְכַמָּה!
§ The Gemara stated earlier that Aḥer chopped down the saplings, becoming a heretic. With regard to him, the verse states: “Do not let your mouth bring your flesh into guilt” (Ecclesiastes 5:5). The Gemara poses a question: What was it that led him to heresy? He saw the angel Mitatron, who was granted permission to sit and write the merits of Israel. He said: There is a tradition that in the world above there is no sitting; no competition; no turning one’s back before Him, i.e., all face the Divine Presence; and no lethargy. Seeing that someone other than God was seated above, he said: Perhaps, the Gemara here interjects, Heaven forbid, there are two authorities, and there is another source of power in control of the world in addition to God. Such thoughts led Aḥer to heresy. The Gemara relates: They removed Mitatron from his place in heaven and smote him with sixty rods [pulsei] of fire, so that others would not make the mistake that Aḥer made. They said to the angel: What is the reason that when you saw Elisha ben Avuya you did not stand before him? Despite this conduct, since Mitatron was personally involved, he was granted permission to erase the merits of Aḥer and cause him to stumble in any manner. A Divine Voice went forth saying: “Return, rebellious children” (Jeremiah 3:22), apart from Aḥer. Upon hearing this, Elisha ben Avuya said: Since that man, meaning himself, has been banished from that world, let him go out and enjoy this world. Aḥer went astray. He went and found a prostitute and solicited her for intercourse. She said to him: And are you not Elisha ben Avuya? Shall a person of your stature perform such an act? He uprooted a radish from a patch of radishes on Shabbat and gave it to her, to demonstrate that he no longer observed the Torah. The prostitute said: He is other than he was. He is not the same Elisha ben Avuya, he is Aḥer, other. The Gemara relates: Aḥer asked Rabbi Meir a question, after he had gone astray. He said to him: What is the meaning of that which is written: “God has made even the one as well as the other” (Ecclesiastes 7:14)? Rabbi Meir said to him: Everything that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created, He created a similar creation corresponding to it. He created mountains, He created hills; He created seas, He created rivers. Aḥer said to him: Rabbi Akiva, your teacher, did not say so, but explained the verse as follows: Everything has its opposite: He created the righteous, He created the wicked; He created the Garden of Eden, He created Gehenna. Each and every person has two portions, one in the Garden of Eden and one in Gehenna. If he merits it, by becoming righteous, he takes his portion and the portion of his wicked colleague in the Garden of Eden; if he is found culpable by becoming wicked, he takes his portion and the portion of his colleague in Gehenna. Rav Mesharshiyya said: What is the verse from which it is derived? With regard to the righteous, it is stated: “Therefore in their land they shall possess double” (Isaiah 61:7); whereas with regard to the wicked, it is stated: “And destroy them with double destruction” (Jeremiah 17:18); therefore, each receives a double portion. Aḥer asked Rabbi Meir another question, again after he had gone astray. What is the meaning of that which is written: “Gold and glass cannot equal it; neither shall its exchange be vessels of fine gold” (Job 28:17)? If it is referring to the praise and honor of the Torah, it should have compared it only to gold, not to glass. He said to him: This is referring to words of Torah, which are as difficult to acquire as gilded vessels and vessels of fine gold but are as easy to lose as glass vessels. Aḥer said to him: Rabbi Akiva, your teacher, did not say so, but taught as follows: Just as golden vessels and glass vessels have a remedy even when they have broken, as they can be melted down and made into new vessels, so too a Torah scholar, although he has transgressed, has a remedy. Rabbi Meir said to him: If so, you too, return from your ways. He said to him: I have already heard the following declaration behind the dividing curtain, which conceals God from the world: “Return, rebellious children,” (Jeremiah 3:22) apart from Aḥer. The Gemara cites a related story: The Sages taught: There was once an incident involving Aḥer, who was riding on a horse on Shabbat, and Rabbi Meir was walking behind him to learn Torah from him. After a while, Aḥer said to him: Meir, turn back, for I have already estimated and measured according to the steps of my horse that the Shabbat boundary ends here, and you may therefore venture no further. Rabbi Meir said to him: You, too, return to the correct path. He said to him: But have I not already told you that I have already heard behind the dividing curtain: “Return, rebellious children,” apart from Aḥer? Nevertheless, Rabbi Meir took hold of him and brought him to the study hall. Aḥer said to a child, by way of divination: Recite your verse that you studied today to me. He recited the following verse to him: “There is no peace, said the Lord, concerning the wicked” (Isaiah 48:22). He brought him to another study hall. Aḥer said to a child: Recite your verse to me. He recited to him: “For though you wash with niter, and take for you much soap, yet your iniquity is marked before Me” (Jeremiah 2:22). He brought him to another study hall. Aḥer said to a child: Recite your verse to me. He recited to him: “And you, spoiled one, what are you doing, that you clothe yourself with scarlet, that you deck yourself with ornaments of gold, that you enlarge your eyes with paint? In vain you make yourself fair” (Jeremiah 4:30). He brought him to another synagogue, until he had brought him into thirteen synagogues, where all the children recited to him similar verses that speak of the hopeless situation of the wicked. At the last one, he said to him: Recite your verse to me. He recited to him: “And to the wicked [velerasha] God says, what is it for you to declare My statutes” (Psalms 50:16). The Gemara relates: That child had a stutter, so it sounded as though he were saying to him: Vele’elisha, i.e., and to Elisha, God says. This made Elisha think the child was deliberately insulting him. Some say Aḥer had a knife, and he tore the child apart and sent him to the thirteen synagogues. And others say that Aḥer merely said: Had I a knife, I would have torn him apart. The Gemara relates: When Aḥer passed away, the Heavenly Court declared that he should not be judged, nor brought into the World-to-Come. He should not be judged in a manner befitting his deeds, because he occupied himself with Torah, whose merit protects him. And he should not be brought into the World-to-Come because he sinned. Rabbi Meir said: It is better that he be judged properly and be brought into the World-to-Come. When I die I will request this of Heaven, and I will cause smoke to rise up from his grave, as a sign that he is being sentenced in Gehenna. The Gemara relates: When Rabbi Meir passed away, smoke rose up from the grave of Aḥer, implying that Rabbi Meir’s wish was granted. Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Was this a mighty deed on Rabbi Meir’s part, to burn his teacher? Was this the only remedy available? Can it be that there was one Sage among us who left the path and we cannot save him? If we hold him by the hand, who will remove him from our protection; who? Rabbi Yoḥanan continued and said: When I die I will have the smoke extinguished from his grave, as a sign that he has been released from the sentence of Gehenna and brought to the World-to-Come. Indeed, when Rabbi Yoḥanan passed away, the smoke ceased to rise up from the grave of Aḥer. A certain eulogizer began his eulogy of Rabbi Yoḥanan with the following: Even the guard at the entrance could not stand before you, our rabbi. The guard at the entrance to Gehenna could not prevent Rabbi Yoḥanan from arranging the release of Aḥer. The Gemara relates: The daughter of Aḥer came before Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi and said to him: Rabbi, provide me with sustenance, as she was in need of food. He said to her: Whose daughter are you? She said to him: I am the daughter of Aḥer. He said to her, angrily: Is there still of his seed remaining in the world? But isn’t it stated: “He shall have neither son nor grandson among his people or any remaining in his dwellings” (Job 18:19)? She said to him: Remember his Torah, and do not remember his deeds. Immediately, fire descended and licked Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi’s bench. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi wept and said: If God protects the honor of those who treat the Torah with contempt in such a manner, as Aḥer despised the Torah and relinquished its teachings, how much more so would He do for those who treat it with honor.