Rabbi Abba

Rabbi Abba was among the great Amoraim. He was the student of Shemuel, and though he learned from the great Babylonian Rabbanim, he often traveled to Eretz Israel to learn Torah from its Rabbanim.

The Gemara recounts that Rabbi Abba traveled to Eretz Israel by sea, and when his boat arrived by the shores of Akko, he embraced the earth. He had the merit of seeing Rabbi Yochanan, who headed the great yeshiva of Tiberias and was extremely old at the time. He also saw Resh Lakish (who died before Rabbi Yochanan). We also see just how much he loved Eretz Israel from a story found in the Gemara. Rabbi Abba purchased a plot of land in Eretz Israel, then returned to Babylon. However, what he didn’t know was that another Amora, by the name of Rav Gidel, had previously begun negotiations to purchase that same plot of land. Rav Gidel went and complained about Rabbi Abba to Rav Zeira, who in turn told Rabbi Yitzchak bar Napacha of the incident (the latter were old friends of Rabbi Abba, and all three of them were among those who had come to Eretz Israel from Babylon). Rabbi Yitzchak bar Napacha said, “Wait until he returns for the holidays,” meaning that they should wait until he comes back from Babylon to verify the story with him.

When Rabbi Abba came back, his friends asked him what was the law concerning “a poor man who awaits his portion, but then another comes and takes it.” In other words, what was the law concerning a person who acts maliciously with the poor, trying to seize what awaits him before he has time to take possession of it? Rabbi Abba responded that such a person was a wicked man. And when he was asked why he himself acted in this way concerning the land of Rav Gidel, he replied that he was not aware that Rav Gidel had wanted to purchase it.

Rav Yitzchak bar Napacha therefore decided that he should give up the plot of land for Rav Gidel’s benefit. Rabba Abba replied that he didn’t want to sell the plot of land, for it was his first purchase in Eretz Israel, hence it didn’t bode well to sell it. Rather, he said that he was ready to give it to Rav Gidel as a gift.

For his part, Rav Gidel didn’t want the land as a gift because of the principle that “one who hates gifts will live” (Proverbs 15:27). The Gemara concludes the story by saying that neither of them wanted to use the land in question, and so it was abandoned. This plot of land came to be known as “the land of the Rabbis” (see Kiddushin 59a for details).

Rabbi Abba lived temperately and was accustomed to praying that his Torah views be accepted by his colleagues. Among the Sages who had particularly great respect for Shabbat, Rabbi Abba is mentioned favorably. He had the habit of purchasing 13 selaim of meat in honor of Shabbat, and pressed his servant to prepare everything in the best possible way. Rabbi Abba apparently had many guests on Shabbat, and he wanted to honor them with the finest tasting meals. He lived an exceedingly long time, and in his latter years he was considered as a leading Halachic authority in Eretz Israel. He shared this distinction with Rav Ami, who was Rosh Yeshiva, while Rabbi Abba himself was the Av Beit Din.

Rav Ami was named Rosh Yeshiva after the death of Rabbi Eliezer ben Pedat, who continued the academy of Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Shimon ben Eliakim. When Rav Ami moved the yeshiva to Cesarea, Rabbi Abba also joined him there. Rav Papa and Rav Ami called Rabbi Abba, “Our father of Eretz Israel.”

The teachings of Rabbi Abba in Halachah and Aggadah are found throughout the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, as well as in the Midrashim. One of his famous parables, by which he explained what occurred between Ahasuerus and Haman, is cited in Megillah 14: “To what can the story of Ahasuerus and Haman be compared? To two men, one who had a mound in his field, and the other who had a pit in his. The latter thought, ‘Who could sell me a mound?’ while the other thought, ‘Who could sell me a pit?’ After a certain time, they encountered each other. The one who had a pit said to the one who had a mound, ‘Sell me your mound,’ to which the other replied, ‘Take it for free! You’re doing me a favor.’ This is what happened when Ahasuerus said to Haman, ‘The silver is given to you, the people also, to do with as you see fit’ [Esther 3:11].”

To show just how catastrophic honor-seeking is, Gemara Sanhedrin cites the explanation of Rabbi Abba on the verse that states, “After this, Jeroboam did not repent from his evil way” (I Kings 13:33). The Gemara asks about the meaning of “After this,” to which Rabbi Abba explains: “After the Holy One, blessed be He, grabbed hold of Jeroboam by his cloak and said to him, ‘Repent, and I, you, and the son of Jesse will walk in Gan Eden,’ Jeroboam replied, ‘Who will be in charge?’ to which the answer was ‘the son of Jesse will be.’ Jeroboam then responded by saying, ‘In that case, I want nothing of it!’ ”

Rabbi Abba died at a great old age, apparently in Eretz Israel.




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