JUDGING THE JEWISH PEOPLE FOR DECADES, AFTER HIS P’TIRA 
August 23, 2013
Rabbi Shloma Majeski in #893, Moshiach & Geula, Rashbi, chai v'kayam

For roughly two decades after his passing, the body of Rebbi Elazar, son of Rashbi, did not decompose. In fact, he continued to serve as a judge, ruling in actual legal cases, judgments that were carried out in practice. * Source materials compiled by Rabbi Shloma Majeski.

Presented by Boruch Merkur

Rebbi Yehuda HaNasi is noted for having returned to the world post mortem and even being obligated to perform Mitzvos. The following case in the Talmud (Bava Metzia 84b) describes how for roughly two decades after his passing, the body of Rebbi Elazar, son of Rashbi, did not decompose. In fact, he continued to serve as a judge, ruling in actual legal cases, judgments that were carried out in practice:

When Rebbi Elazar b’Rebbi Shimon was dying, he said to his wife: I know that the Rabbis are upset with me and will not properly attend to my burial.* So lay my body in the attic [when I die], and do not be afraid of me.**

Rebbi Shmuel bar Nachmani said: Rebbi Yonasan’s mother related to me that Rebbi Elazar b’Rebbi Shimon’s wife had told her: For at least eighteen years, and up to twenty-two years, I laid his body to rest in the attic. When I went up to the attic I would examine his hair. Wherever a hair would come out, blood would appear.*** One day, however, I saw a worm coming out of his ear and I was disheartened, thinking that perhaps his body was now beginning to decay. My husband appeared to me in a dream and told me: The worm is nothing to worry about. [It is not a sign that my body has begun to rot. Rather, it was a punishment for a particular occurrence.] One day, I heard a disparaging comment about a rabbinical student, and I did not protest as I should have.

[During this period of eighteen to twenty-two years] when two people would come to Rebbi Elazar’s home to be judged, they would stand at the gate of his house and each would state his case. A voice would then emerge from his attic, saying, “So and so, you are liable,” or, “So and so, you are absolved.”

One day Rebbi Elazar’s wife was quarreling with a female neighbor. The neighbor said to her: May you become like your husband, who was not granted burial!

[Hearing of this remark] the Rabbis said: [If Rebbi Elazar’s condition is] so widely known, it is certainly improper [to maintain the status quo; he should be honored with a proper burial].****

There are those who say that Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai appeared to the Rabbis in a dream and told them: I have [only] one fledgling among you, yet you do not wish to bring it to me.***** [As a result] the Rabbis went to attend to Rebbi Elazar’s burial.

NOTES:

*Specifically, he was concerned that they would not inter him in the burial cave of his father, R’ Shimon bar Yochai. This was a valid concern: The Rabbis held that, relative to his saintly father, he was a “wayward son,” and thus undeserving of a place next to him. R’ Elazar the son of R’ Shimon sought to demonstrate to the Rabbis that he was a righteous man and had not departed from his father’s footsteps. He thus chose to remain in his attic, unburied for years, in the hope that his miraculous preservation would change their minds. They would then inter him alongside his father on their own. This is indeed what ultimately happened (Ben Yehoyada ––Note 16 of the Artscroll Schottenstein Edition)

**Maharsha and Maharal both point out that one transgresses a negative commandment by leaving the dead unburied (Sanhedrin 46a). How then could R’ Elazar the son of R’ Shimon have instructed his wife to do just this? They explain that there is an exception to this rule – where the non-internment is for the honor of the deceased (ibid.). Indeed, this was R’ Elazar the son of R’ Shimon’s explicit concern, that the Rabbis would not bury him properly. (Note 17 of the Artscroll Schottenstein Edition)

***I.e., R’ Elazar the son of R’ Shimon’s body did not decompose as corpses usually do. (Maharal ––Note 18 of the Artscroll Schottenstein Edition)

****If people know that he is not alive and yet he has not been buried, this does him no honor. (Rashi) (He must then be buried as soon as possible. His non-internment was permitted only because it dignified him more than internment (see note 17). If he has now become the subject of taunts, then the lack of burial is a dishonor to him.) (Note 20 of the Artscroll Schottenstein Edition).

*****This established that R’ Elazar the son of R’ Shimon was deserving of burial in his father’s cave, a point some Rabbis had disputed (see note 16). There was no longer any reason for R’ Elazar the son of R’ Shimon’s body to remain in the attic. (Note 21 of the Artscroll Schottenstein Edition).

 

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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