Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai

To get an idea of the greatness of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai, one needs only to read the following narrative, brought by the Sages:

Having fallen gravely ill, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai’s students came to visit him, and in seeing them he began to cry. His students asked, “Our master, the light and pillar of Israel, why are you crying?”

Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai replied, “If I were being preparing to come before a king of flesh and blood, a king who is today in the world and tomorrow in the grave, I know that if this king were angry with me, his anger would not be forever. If he were to imprison me, the imprisonment ordered by him would not last forever. If he were to put me to death, the death ordered by him would not be eternal. I would appease him with words and bribe him with money. Nevertheless, I would still cry. Now, today, I am being brought before the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He. He lives forever, and His anger, if He were to turn it against me, would be final. If He were to imprison me, this imprisonment would be forever; if He would put me to death, this death would be eternal. I will not be able to appease Him with words or bribe Him with money. And not only that, but there are two paths that lie before me – one for Gan Eden and the other for Gehinnom – and I don’t know by which path they will make me go. And yet you don’t want me to cry?

His students said, “Our Master, bless us!”

Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai replied, “May G-d grant that your fear of Heaven equal your fear of beings of flesh and blood!”

Surprised by this response, the students asked him, “That’s all? Nothing more?”

Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai said to them, “If only you reach that level. Know this: When a man commits a sin, he tells himself, ‘I hope no one saw me!’”

A few moments before dying, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai told his students the following: “Remove all impurity from the vessels in the house, and prepare a throne for Hezekiah, King of Judah, who is about to arrive.”





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