Death of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus

 


 

When Rabbi Eliezer fell ill, they said on that day it was Friday, and Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues entered to visit him. He was sleeping in his room, sitting on a couch, and they sat in his hallway. His son Hyrcanus entered to remove his tefillin and he resisted and he cried. Hyrcanus left him and said to the sages, “My rabbis, it seems that my father is confused.” He said, “My son, it is not me who is confused, it is you who are confused, as you have neglected lighting the lamp, for which the penalty is death from Heaven, in favor of bothering with the tefillin, which is a minor Shabbat issue. When the sages saw that his mind was settled, they entered and sat before him at a distance of four cubits. [They ask a series of questions about the ritual purity status of several items, to which he answers and admonishes that these matters are major laws given to Moses at Sinai] They said, “Rabbi, what about this?” He said, “Impure.” “What about this?” He said, “Pure.” He answered about the impure “impure,” and the pure, “pure.” Afterwards, Rabbi Eliezer said to the sages, “I wouldn’t be surprised if the sages of this generation are punished with death from Heaven.” They said to him, “Rabbi, why?” He said to them, “Because they did not come and attend to me.” Afterwards, he said to Akiva ben Yosef, “Akiva, why didn’t you come and attend to me?” Rabbi Akiva replied, “I was unavailable.” He said to him, “I would be surprised if you die a natural death.” There are those who say he did not say anything to him, but that upon hearing what Rabbi Eliezer said to his students, his heart melted. Rabbi Akiva said to him, “Rabbi, how will I die?” He said to him, “Akiva, your death will be hardest of them all.” Rabbi Akiva moved forward and sat before him and said to him, “Teach me now,” and he began teaching him… [Rabbi Eliezer teaches Akiva and gives a speech about how he had learned a great deal in his life but it was a mere drop in the bucket compared to what there was to know, Akiva had been his best student, etc.] Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah said to him, “A shoe on top of the shoemaker’s last, what is its status?” He said, “Pure.” He continued to answer questions about ritual impurity and purity until his soul left him in purity. Immediately Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah rent his garment and wept, and he went out and said to the sages, “Rabbis, come and see Rabbi Eliezer, as he is in a state of purity for the world to come, as his soul has left in purity.” After Shabbat, Rabbi Akiva came and found him in an arisratya going from Caesarea to Lod. Immediately, he rent his garments and tore his hair, and his blood ran down to the ground, and he cried, wept and said, “Woe to me rabbi on your account, woe to me on your account my teacher, that you left a generation orphaned.”    (Avot d'Rabbi Natan Version 1,Chap. 25)

 

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