The Holy Tanna Rebbe Eliezer Ben Yaacov
he Midrash tells us that Rebbe Akiva's had 12,000 pupils from the North of Israel to the south. They all died in a short time - between Passover and Lag B'Omer - because they weren't thoughtful and respectful of one another. Rebbe Akiva then started all over again with seven hand-picked extraordinary pupils, in whom he poured his entire heart and soul. They were Rebbe Meir Baal HaNess, Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai, Rebbe Yossi Ben Chalafta, Rebbe Elazar Ben Shamoa, Rebbe Yehuda Bar Ilai, Rebbe Yochanan HaSandlar, and Rebbe Eliezer ben Yaacov. Rebbe Akiva implored them, "My sons! My first pupils died because they acted improperly with one another. Please don't make the mistakes they made! (Midrash, Breishit Raba, 69:3).
The holy gravesite of Rebbe Eliezer Ben Yaacov in the Galilee
Rebbe Eliezer Ben Yaacov, the youngest of Rebbe Akiva's students who carried the torch of their teacher's wisdom through the terrible period after the Hadrianic persecutions and the subduing of Bar Kochba's revolt, was especially meticulous on the emphasis that he placed on the mitzvoth between man and fellow man. Rebbe Eliezer Ben Yaacov was not only kind and compassionate, but he exercised charity with a special thoughtfulness. In fact, the Yerushalmi Talmud says that maskil el dal, what King David describes in Psalm 41 as especially thoughtful of the needy, was manifest in Rebbe Eliezer ben Yaacov. As brilliant as he was, for he was one of the Elders of Usha, he was extremely humble. The Yerushalmi Talmud at the tractate Peah tells the following story:
A blind beggar came into the town where Rebbe Eliezer Ben Yaacov lived and presided as rabbi and spiritual leader. The beggar walked into the synagogue; Rebbe Eliezer Ben Yaacov rose to his feet, greeted the blind beggar, and guided him to his ornamented chair. He then sat down beside the beggar.
The entire congregation began whispering: "That blind man must either be a concealed tzaddik or a fabulous Torah scholar. Look at the honor the Rebbe is giving him. No one is ever allowed to sit in the Rebbe's chair!" For the rest of the week, the townspeople readily gave him food and monetary contributions. In his entire life, the blind beggar never enjoyed such treatment.
At the end of his stay in town, the blind beggar asked one of the townspeople: "Why is everyone so nice to me in this town? I've never seen felt such kindness and generosity."
"What, you don't know?" asked the local man. When you came to the synagogue the first day you arrived, Rebbe Eliezer seated you in his chair. We've never seen anyone else sit in his chair. We all assumed that you're either a secret tzaddik of a holy scholar..."
"Aha," nodded the beggar. "Now I understand." Before he left town, he blessed Rebbe Eliezer Ben Yaacov. "You have shown compassion with he who is seen but can't see. May He Who is not seen but can see always be compassionate with you!"
* * *
Rebbe Eliezer Ben Yaacov says in the Misha (Ethics of the Fathers, 4:11), "He who performs a mitzva earns an advocating angel for himself, but he who commits a transgression incurs an accusing angel for himself; teshuva and and pious deeds constitute a shield against stern judgments."
Roman persecution during the generation of Rebbe Eliezer Ben Yaacov was at its heights. He weathered the fall of Beitar. Yet, his piety, humility and total devotion to spreading the teachings of his teacher Rebbe Akiva bear witness to Rebbe Eliezer Ben Yaacov's unshakable emuna.
Rebbe Eliezer ben Yaacov is buried on the north side of Route 85, a little less than two kilometers east of route 866, which takes you north to Meron. I highly recommend that you stop there, especially if you're on the way to Tzfat or Meron. You won't be sorry. The holy tzaddikim have phenomenal power to invoke Divine blessings for those who pray from their gravesites. You won't come home empty-handed after doing an hour of personal prayer from here. Guaranteed!
Above image: entrance to the cave where Rebbe Eliezer Ben Yaacov is buried
All images ©2012 Tal Rotem and Breslev Israel. All rightsreserved.