Monday, June 11, 2012

Teshuva from Love and Fear

Teshuva from Love and Fear

One of the most exalted teachings of Judaism is the concept of teshuva. The belief that one's present or future need not be devastated by past mistakes is one of the most important and uplifting ideas in Jewish thought. While it is certainly true that there are actions whose ramifications are unchangeable[1], teshuva does provide a cathartic cleansing of the soul which uplifts the penitent and transforms the sinner into beloved friend of God. The Rambam’s poetic description of the impact of teshuva is spiritually breathtaking:

Yesterday he was hated, distant, despised by God, abhorred and loathed and cast far away; and today he is loved and desired and close at hand; a friend"[2] (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Teshuva 7:6)

A theological/ philosophical question emerges: What is the precise effect of teshuva? Does the negative action vanish as if it never happened, or is the negative behavior somehow retained and transformed?

The Talmud discusses this question:

Resh Lakish said: Great is repentance, for because of it premeditated sins are accounted as errors, as it is said: Return, O Israel, unto the Lord, thy God, for thou hast stumbled in thy iniquity. ‘Iniquity’ is premeditated, and yet he calls it ‘stumbling.’ But that is not so! For Resh Lakish said that repentance is so great that premeditated sins are accounted as though they were merits, as it is said: “And when the wicked turneth from his wickedness, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall live thereby!” That is no contradiction: One refers to a case [of repentance] derived from love, the other to one due to fear. (Yoma 86b[3])

Here both sides of the "argument" are opinions of Rav Shimon ben Lakish, better known as Resh Lakish. We are told that there is more than one type of teshuva; one type is motivated by love, and the other by fear. One type of teshuva transforms the sin into an accident, while the other type transforms the sin into merit. Interestingly, in neither case does the sinful action simply dissipate or disappear with the advent or completion of repentance.

A careful reading of the text does not reveal which is which (the text read: “there is no contradiction: One refers to a case [of repentance] derived from love, the other to one due to fear”).  However, logic would dictate that love is associated with merit while fear is associated with accident. This logic is "associative": love is greater than fear[4] and meritorious behavior is surely greater than any accidental action; ergo, teshuva motivated by love must render the act in question a merit while teshuva motivated by fear causes sin to be redefined as accident.

This logic is clear in hindsight, but what brought Resh Lakish to this understanding initially? More importantly, what is the intrinsic relationship between love and merit, and fear and accident?[5] What is the meaning of this relationship for us, as students/readers/potential penitents? What is the spiritual dynamic which retrospectively turns a rebellion against God into a meritorious deed? Furthermore, why would a rebellion against God consequently be considered an accident simply because the sinner becomes consumed with fear of God? How does this process work?

Of the two, the process of turning a sin into a merit seems more daring and therefore more difficult to explain. One would be tempted to say that the merit in question is the merit of teshuva[6], but this suggestion is untenable: Teshuva motivated by fear is also teshuva, albeit of a somewhat less impressive variety, and should therefore yield the same rewards. The merit of teshuva motivated by love must therefore be independent of the act of teshuva per se, and must lie in a different realm.

Rabbi Soloveitchik posited that the different types if teshuva depend upon the attitude of the individual – whether he sees his past misdeeds as a source of inspiration for the future or as a mistake best forgotten. While this distinction seems accurate – it does not necessarily correlate with fear and love.[7]

There is a teaching cited in the name of the Chafetz Chaim which may provide a more direct correlation. In The Path of the Just, Ramch”al points out that without God’s incredible capacity for forgiveness mere “regret” would have no effect whatsoever. Logically, remorse should, at most, impact future behavior, but is powerless to “undo” prior deeds. In the Ramchal’s view, this is where the Divine aspect of forgiveness comes into play. However, the Talmud also teaches that a person may forfeit the merit of mitzvot he performed by later regretting and rejecting these positive deeds:

Shimon b. Yohai said: Even if he is perfectly righteous all his life but rebels at the end, he destroys his former [good deeds], for it is said: “The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression.”… Said Resh Lakish: It means that he regretted his former deeds. (Kidushin 40b)

This teaching, codified in the “Laws of Teshuva” of the Rambam, is what troubled Rav Elchanan Wasserman: If regret can nullify good deeds, why can’t regret simply expunge the bad as well? If regret is a spiritual dynamic which erases the past, why is it selective? Rav Elchanan Wasserman posed this question to his teacher, the Chafetz Chaim: Why does teshuva necessitate the intervention of Divine compassion, rather than acting as an automatic mechanism for deleting the past? The Chafetz Chaim explained that when a person repents, what they actually fear is punishment. In fact, had they received “inside information” from above that they will not be punished for this offense, the person would feel no need to repent. People reject punishment, not sinful actions; the ramifications of sin are frightening, not sin itself. The penitent (due to fear of punishment) never really rejected the action – only the punishment.  This is the reason that all teshuva requires some degree of Divine compassion: God rescinds the sentence, repeals the punishment, but also forgives the sinner for the action for which he should have been punished.  This also explains the mechanics of repentance, providing the link between teshuva motivated by fear and accidental transgression: As a result of God’s compassion, a misdeed goes unpunished; this is also the case in unintentional sins.

Rav Elchanan did not accept this answer of his mentor, for it assumes that all teshuva is motivated by fear.[8] Rav Elchanan himself suggested that we consider various facets of sin and adherence, taking into account both action and the impact such action has on the relationship between man and God. When, for example, a person eats non-kosher food, they have ignored the word of God and ingested spiritual poison[9]. Teshuva – expressing regret and accepting upon oneself not to repeat the action itself– repairs the relationship but does not remove the spiritual toxins. Here is where God’s compassion steps in: God eradicates the poison of the sin once the relationship has been healed.

On the other hand, fulfilling a positive commandment means fostering a relationship with God as well as doing a good deed. When a person rejects their good deeds they destroy the relationship. To give a harsh example: if a husband presents his wife with flowers and declares that he does not love her, nor has he ever loved her, it is unlikely that those flowers will end up in a vase. Similarly, Rav Elchanan concludes that a good deed is of no value in the absence of a relationship[10].

This helps us understand the first half of Resh Lakish’s dictum: Teshuva motivated by fear turns the sin into an accident. Teshuva is the effort to mend the relationship, and God’s compassion tends to the residual effects of the action itself. However the second part of the dictum remains obscure. Why would teshuva motivated by love transform a rebellion into a meritorious deed?

Another source may offer some insight.  Resh Lakish's attitude toward teshuva should be considered in light of the fact that he himself may have been the most important ba’al teshuva in the annals of the Talmud and perhaps in all of Jewish history.[11] There is, to be sure, a certain danger in interpreting an individual’s teachings and opinions in light of the life and times the subject lived. We assume that our spiritual heroes had the ability to transcend their subjective experience, and that their opinions are not merely based on limited scope and experiences but rather contain existential truths that make them timeless. Nonetheless, Resh Lakish, being a “ba’al teshuva”, may have had a more profound understanding of the process of teshuva than other sages. We would be well-advised to be especially attentive to his expressions regarding teshuva, and to carefully study his personal metamorphosis.[12]

In order to appreciate the enormity of his return, we need to understand who Resh Lakish was. According to the composite that emerges from various primary and secondary sources, Resh Lakish’s early education was befitting a young Jewish man.[13] Later he left his study and spent time as a circus performer, a gladiator, and eventually became a thief and murderer[14] and apparently leader of his “gang”.[15]

Perhaps the most amazing tale is told in Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer:

Ben Azzai[16] said: In order to understand the power of teshuva come and see from Rav Shimon Lakish; he and his two companions [lived] in the hills and robbed and abused anyone who passed their way. What did Rav Shimon do? He left his companions to rob [by themselves] and returned to the God of his fathers with a full heart, with fasting and prayer. He would arrive early every morning and evening spending his time in the house of prayer in front of the Holy One blessed be He. And spent all his days involved in learning Torah and gave gifts to the poor. And he never returned to his previous nefarious ways, and his teshuva was accepted.
The day he died his two former companions, the robbers from the hills, died as well. Rav Shimon was placed in the treasure of life (heaven) while the two companions were placed in the lower recesses of hell. The two companions said to God; “Master of all worlds, you play favorites! He who robbed with us was placed in heaven while we were sentenced to the lower recesses of hell!” He responded, “He did teshuva while alive and you did not”.  [They said,] “Allow us and we will do incredible teshuva”. He said, “Teshuva is only possible until the day of death”. (Chapter 42, “Teshuva and Good Deeds”)

The extent of Rav Shimon’s metamorphosis from gang member to righteous scholar is striking. The Talmud describes the transitional moment:

One day R. Yochanan was bathing in the Jordan, when Resh Lakish saw him and leapt into the Jordan after him. Said he [R. Yochanan] to him, ‘Your strength should be for the Torah.’ — ‘Your beauty,’ he replied, ‘should be for women.’ ‘If you will repent,’ said he, ‘I will give you my sister [in marriage], who is more beautiful than I.’ He undertook [to repent]; then he wished to return and collect his utensils[17] but could not. Subsequently, [R. Yochanan] taught him Bible and Mishnah, and made him into a great man.

This description, which almost sounds like a comedy of errors, describes the moment that Rav Shimon returned to the Jewish community. From a distance he saw a figure bathing in the Jordan River; mistakenly he thought he had spied on an attractive woman. Accordingly he performed an impressive leap, and landed in the river right near his prey. Much to his shock, he had actually seen a good-looking rabbi from afar, not an attractive woman.[18]

The exchange between them seems obscure: Rav Yochanan says, “your strength[19] should be better employed for learning Torah”, indicating that he recognizes this wayward member of the community. Resh Lakish’s retort sounds as if his only regret is that he would have preferred finding a beautiful woman rather than a sharp- tongued rabbi. Yet this simple exchange was the beginning of a great relationship, and paved the way for the emergence of an exemplary scholar, Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish.

Something seems missing, though; where is the spiritual upheaval? Where is the soul searching, introspection, self-analysis? Where is the internal change? Resh Lakish’s reason for this decision does not seem terribly lofty. After all, his motivation was an attractive woman, Rav Yochanan’s available sister. The entire description seems disappointing: A major life change to “get the girl” doesn’t seem to be the type of teshuva that has the capacity to reach the very throne of God.

But if we pay careful attention to the words of Rav Yochanan perhaps we can learn something profound about teshuva. He says (initially) two words: “chaylech l’oraita”- use your strength for Torah. With great simplicity Rav Yochanan reveals the highest level of teshuva – the use of all of one’s capabilities in the service of God. He doesn’t say ‘reject who you were’ – rather, ‘transform who you were’.

In the aftermath of this meeting we are told that Resh Lakish attempted to return to the other side of the river, but he could not, as if he no longer had the strength and dexterity to perform the sort of feat which he performed moments before. Perhaps teshuva motivated by ulterior motives creates an individual who sees Teshuva as a total rejection of who he once was.  Rashi explains that merely accepting upon himself Torah rendered him unable to make impressive leaps anymore. At this point, he is not yet described as a learned or great man. He has only gone so far as to merely accept upon himself a plan of action.

We may conclude that this is a description of an inferior type of teshuva – motivated by mundane desires, coupled with a rejection of personality. Yet Rav Yochanan gave him the key to elevated teshuva: “Use your strength for Torah”.

The continuation of the Talmud’s narrative is tragic;  it illustrates the power of words and the capacity we have to hurt one another:

Now, one day there was a dispute in the schoolhouse [with respect to] a sword, knife, dagger, spear, hand-saw and a scythe — at what stage [of their manufacture] can they become unclean? When their manufacture is finished. And when is their manufacture finished? R. Yochanan ruled: When they are tempered in a furnace. Resh Lakish maintained: When they have been furbished in water. Said he to him: ‘A robber knows his trade.’ Said he to him, ‘And wherewith have you benefited me: there [as a robber] I was called Master, and here I am called Master.’ ‘By bringing you under the wings of the Shechinah,’ he retorted. R. Yochanan therefore felt himself deeply hurt, [as a result of which] Resh Lakish fell ill. His sister [sc. R. Yochanan's, the wife of Resh Lakish] came and wept before him: ‘Forgive him for the sake of my son,’ she pleaded. He replied: ‘Leave thy fatherless children. I will preserve them alive.’ ‘For the sake of my widowhood then!’ ‘And let thy widows trust in Me,’ he assured her. Resh Lakish died, and R. Yochanan was plunged into deep grief.[20] Said the Rabbis, ‘Who shall go to ease his mind? Let R. Elazar b. Pedat go, whose disquisitions are very subtle.’ So he went and sat before him; and on every dictum uttered by R. Yochanan he observed: ‘There is a Baraitha which Supports you.’ ‘Are you as the son of Lakisha?’ he complained: ‘when I stated a law, the son of Lakisha used to raise twenty-four objections[21], to which I gave twenty-four answers, which consequently led to a fuller comprehension of the law; whilst you say, "A Baraitha has been taught which supports you:" do I not know myself that my dicta are right?’ Thus he went on rending his garments and weeping, ‘Where are you, O son of Lakisha, where are you, O son of Lakisha;’ and he cried thus until his mind was turned. Thereupon the Rabbis prayed for him, and he died.[22] Bava Metziah 84a

It is overwhelming how three (in Aramaic five in English) words could destroy two lives and leave many more victims. Rav Yochanan surely did not intend to insult or harm is friend and colleague – indeed as soon as he understands that Resh Lakish was hurt by his words Rav Yochanan became depressed and ill.[23] Despite all these years as a committed Jew and scholar – the pain of Rav Yochanan dredging up his sordid past was overwhelming for Resh Lakish. Rav Yochanan most likely wanted to impress on the other students that when it comes to the area of weapons, Resh Lakish was the expert.[24] However his choice of words[25], which may have been said in a humorous or ironic manner were devastating.[26]

It is however a passing comment which a depressed Rav Yochanan makes, which may clarify for us the power of Teshuva. When the other scholars see the condition that Rav Yochanan is in, they correctly observe that they need to replace Resh Lakish.[27] They bring an able scholar who is ridiculed by Rav Yochanan for being a sycophant. When the competent Rav Elazer ben Padat supported the teachings of Rav Yochanan, he was dismissed as being unnecessary. But more than unnecessary, he was told that he could not compare to Resh Lakish[28]. For Resh Lakish attacked every idea that Rav Yochanan put forward. This is why he was loved. Rav Yochanan did not need students who agreed with everything he said – rather the student who could generate an attack was cherished. For when thesis and antithesis collide an enriched synthesis is the result.

An incredible observation emerges, the reason Rav Yochanan loved Resh Lakish was for his attacking, aggressive style. It was the ruffian in Resh Lakish that he loved, the ruffian with one caveat, that he channel his attacking style for the use of Torah not for the sake of money, intimidation or fear. “Use your strength for Torah “chaylech loraita”. Moreover the word chaylech doesn’t merely mean strength – the connotation is from the realm of soldiering, use your attacking skills in a Beit Midrash and not on an abandoned dark road. Rav Yochanan encourages the wayward Shimon ben Lakish not to abandon who he was – rather to channel his gifts in the service of Torah – to become a soldier in the army of God.[29]

We noted that initially, that before Resh Lakish had learned and became “a great man” he rejected who he was, perhaps embarrassed by his previous exploits he rejects that part of his personality. He can no longer leap to the “other side” – he has lost the agility and strength to leap and the other side is a place rejected, a place which represents the person he no longer wishes to be. However we now know that over the years Rav Yochanan brought out and nurtured the perceived darker side of Resh Lakish’s character and taught him to use them in the service of God. This is what Teshuva motivated by love of God is about – not a rejection of the past rather an elevation of the past motivated and punctuated by deep love of God.

There is an obscure passage in the Jersualem Talmud which bears out this idea in remarkable fashion.

Rav Isi[30] was captured by a gang. Rav Yochanan[31] said, “Wrap the dead in his shrouds” {i.e., there is no hope for him). Rav Shimon ben Lakish said, “I will or be killed[32](for his release), I will go and return him with my strength.” He went and negotiated [his release] and brought him back. (Yerushalmi Terumot 8:4 page 46b)           

In this remarkable passage we witness the fusion of the former highwayman and present sage: Rather than rejecting his past, he uses it-- not to take life but to preserve life. This heroic action is undertaken by Rav Shimon ben Lakish the Rabbi – who held human life with great esteem; Shimon the robber never would have been interested in a mission with no payoff. But Shimon the Rabbi never would have succeeded at this mission had his youthful years not been spent honing his skills of sword and mayhem.[33]

This life-saving act transpired because the robber became a rabbi. Such is teshuva motivated by love of God: It allows the sinner to transform himself, the sinful behavior of the past becoming something positive when seen through the prism of new context and purpose. When Rav Shimon underwent a metamorphosis, and now served God exclusively through love, his former transactions became transposed well into meritorious action.[34] Had Rav Shimon never learned to use a sword, had he not known how robbers think and act, Rav Isi never would have been liberated. Rav Isi was saved due to Rav Shimon’s misspent youth, which in retrospect, became the foundation for future meritorious action.

Whether or not his own experiences changed or enhanced Resh Lakish’s perspective on the laws of teshuva is a question we cannot answer.[35] But his personal experience certainly serves as a model of the possibilities of teshuva, one where mistakes of the past become reinterpreted as a foundation for mitzvot in the future. We can certainly imagine Resh Lakish, sitting alone in the Beit Midrash the night after Rav Isi was liberated. The celebration of the improbable rescue had ended, and now Resh Lakish is alone with his thoughts. The greatest Rabbi of the age had given up the prisoner for dead, because the greatest Rabbi did not himself know how to handle a weapon. On the other hand the former bandit- circus performer- gladiator did know how to use a weapon and how to speak with some degree of intimidation in negotiations for the release of his colleague. Such is teshuva motivated by love; the use of all of ones skills and experience in the single-minded attempt to serve God. Such teshuva turns sins into merits.

[1]  The Sages described this concept with the verse from Kohelet (1:15): “That which is crooked cannot be made straight; and that which is wanting cannot be numbered”. See Mishna Sukka 2:6, Chagiga 1:6, 9b, Yevamot 22b.
[2] See Maharal, Netivot Olam, Netiv HaTeshuva Chapter 2
[3] See Midrash Rabbah – Bamidbar 10:1.
[4] See Rambam, “Laws of Teshuva” 10th Chapter - Rabbi Soloveitchik notes that the Rambam does not mention the teaching of Resh Lakish regarding the two types of teshuva, although he does speak of relating to God via love as the culmination of the ten-chapter discussion of teshuva. Rabbi Soloveitchik therefore posited that the Rambam’s entire book of teshuva should be studied along these lines– the earlier chapters as a discussion of teshuva by fear and the later ones of Teshuva by love. See Michel Shurkin, Harare Kedem section 37, pp. 78-80
[6] This would assume that teshuva is a mitzvah, which is a thesis not universally accepted. See Rambam’s Laws of Teshuva 1:1, and commentaries, notably the Avodat Hamelech by Rabbi Menachem Krakowsky, and the Minchat Chinuch Mitzvah Section 364.
[7]  See On Repentance, p. 273.
[8] See Kovetz Maamarim, Pachad Yitzchak, Rosh Hashanah.
[9]According to tradition, eating non-kosher food causes timtum halev--spiritual confusion. See Rabbenu Bachya on Shmot 23:19.
[10]  See Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin in Ha’amek Davar, Bamidbar 15:39, and Rav Yitzchak Hutner, Pachad Yitzchak-Pesach, Ma’amar 7, section 3 and Ma’amar 53, section 5. Presumably the non-believer who performs a good deed is rewarded – not for doing a “mitzvah” but for doing a good deed. The difference may be if the reward is received in this world or the next. Mitzvot are generally rewarded in the world to come (see Kiddushin 39b), while good deeds may be rewarded in this world. See Brachot 7a, Seforno on Dvarim 7:9
[11] Generally everyone’s first choice for most celebrated ba’al teshuva is Rabbi Akiva, although according to Rabbenu Tam technically the term ba’al teshuva would be inappropriate for Rabbi Akiva who, though ignorant, was always a practicing Jew. See Tosfot on Ketuvot 62b (“D’hava”). For more on Rabbi Akiva see my comments below on page ?? Chapter 18. 
[12] In a lecture given on Parshat Bo -January 10, 1976 Rabbi Soloveitchik made a similar point, as recorded in notes persevered from that lecture: “We find one important thing lacking with Rabbi Yochanan. He never had the experience of sin and teshuvah. He had always lived a saintly life. Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish, on the other hand, originally was a sinner, rather an underworld personality, who fortunately came under the influence of Rabbi Yochanan and rose to great heights. Rabbi Yochanan could not understand Resh Lakish's position, much as we may not be able to understand why a person turns to drugs or to alcohol.”

[13] This is Rabbenu Tam’s understanding. See Tosfot Bava Metziah 84a (“Iy Hadart”). Rabbenu Tam writes that Resh Lakish had studied and then rejected Judaism, becoming a robber, before beginning his studies with Rav Yochanan. His early education would account for the occasions when Resh Lakish has different traditions from his mentor Rav Yochanan. See Tosfot Yevamot 57a Tosfot Eruvin  65b.
[14] Gittin 47a : “Resh Lakish once sold himself to the Lydians. He took with him a bag with a stone in it, because, he said, it is a known fact that on the last day they grant any request [of the man they are about to kill] in order that he may forgive them his murder. On the last day they said to him, ‘What would you like?’ He replied: ‘I want you to let me tie your arms and seat you in a row and give each one of you a blow and a half with my bottle.’ He bound them and seated them, and gave each of them a blow with his bag which stunned them. [One of them] ground his teeth at him. ‘Are you laughing at me?’ He said. ‘I have still half a bag left for you.’ So he killed them all and made off.”
[15] Rashi Bava Metziah 84a
[16] This tradition, reported in the name of Ben Azzai, creates an historical problem: According to our understanding, Ben Azzai died long before Resh Lakish was born. One of the two figures in question is mistakenly placed in this story. Being that we know from other sources that Resh Lakish was a criminal, we may safely assume that that part of the tradition is accurate, and it must have been reported in the name of Ben Azzai erroneously. See comments of Rav Dovid Luria to Pirkei D’rebbi Eliezer.
[17]  The Aramaic word is maney, literally meaning utensils, but the contextual meaning is most likely “clothing”, which is the translation found in the Artscroll Shottenstein edition. Steinzaltz also renders it “clothing”; indeed, this word is used later on in the same passage where is says that Rav Yochanan tore his maney – there in context it certainly means clothing. The Soncino translation renders it “weapons”.
[18] The attractiveness of Rav Yochanan was legendary. The Talmud a few lines before this story tells us that he did not have a beard – yet he would stand in front of the mikva and bless the woman that their children should be as attractive as him.
[19] See Chullin 125a
[20]  Subsequently Rav Yochanan apparently entertained the idea of learning with the son of Resh Lakaish but was rebuffed by his sister - On another occasion R. Yochanan met the young son of Resh Lakish sitting and reciting the verse, … R. Yochanan lifted up his eyes and stared at him, whereupon the boy's mother came and took him away, Saying to him, (the boy) ‘Go away from him, lest he do unto you as he did unto your father’ (Taanit 9a)
[21] see Menachot 93b
[22]  The Rabbis prayed for mercy, which God in His infinite wisdom interpreted as death. Regarding the permissibility of prayer for someone’s death see Kethubot 104a, Nedarim 40a and the comments of the Ran. The Oruch Hashulchan rules like the Ran, while Rav Moshe Feinstein limits the scope of the Ran’s ruling see Igret Moshe Choshen Mishpat volume 2 section 74. 
[23] The Talmud reports that on another occasion Rav Yochanan caused the demise of a scholar due to his perceived slight – see Bava Kamma117a. in that instance Rav Yochanan did pray and Rav Kahana returned to the living.           
[24]  Rav Yochanan may have been a smith, he is called on occasion bar Napcha which means smith, alternatively his father was a smith or the term is a euphemism for his beauty. See Rashi Sanhedrin 96a
[25] One is not permitted to remind a Baal Teshuva of their previous nefarious deeds see Bava Metziah 58b. Perhaps Rav Yochanan was focusing on the positive aspects of the former thief utilizing his knowledge to teach Torah.
[26] We do find the emphasis Rav Yochanan put on the crime of robbery in his lessons with Resh Lakish, see Midrash Rabbah - Ecclesiastes III:12
R. Yochanan said: It refers to the peculiarity of robbery; because R. Simeon b. Lakish said in the name of R. Yochanan: For instance when the measure of iniquities is full, which accuses first of all [before the judgment-throne of God]? Robbery
[27] Rav Yochanan described Resh Lakish as being his equal see Ketuvot 84b
[28] See Yevamot 72b After he went out, R. Yochanan said to Resh Lakish: I observed that the son of Pedat was sitting and making expositions like Moses in the name of the Almighty. ‘Was this his’? Resh Lakish replied.’It is really a Baraitha’. ‘Where’, the first asked ‘was it taught’? — ‘In Torath Kohanim’. He went out and learned it in three days; and was engaged in making deductions and drawing conclusions from it for a period of three months.

[29] See Makkot 10b where Resh Lakish teaches that divine retribution awaits sinners.
[30]  Some texts read “Immi”
[31]  Some texts read “Yonatan”
[32] Skoloff, in A Dictionary of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic (Bar Ilan University Press, 1990, page 487) translates this phrase “before I kill and am killed”. A modern English colloquial usage would be “over my dead body.” See page 386 and footnotes regarding the description of Rav Isi’s captors: בספנוסהas “an act of treachery”.
[33]  In the same section a second tale relates how Resh Lakish once interceded and liberated some money which had been stolen from Rav Yochanan.
[34] The Talmud in Bava Metziah 85b reports that Resh Lakish made marks by the cemetery of graves of the righteous – in order to insure that Kohanim not become defiled. One wonders if this was some sort of rectification for previous behavior.
[35] In San. 58b Resh Lakish teaches that even to lift one’s hand to strike a neighbor is criminal. Is this motivated pronouncement somehow motivated by his past?

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