י״ז בשבט ה׳תשע״ח (February 2, 2018)

Avoda Zara 18a-b: Wanted: Rabbi Meir

One of the greatest Sages of the Mishna was Rabbi Meir, who was married to Berurya, the daughter of Rabbi Ḥanina ben Teradyon, one of the asara harugei malkhut – the ten Sages who were martyred. During this period of upheaval, Berurya’s sister was taken captive by the Romans and placed in a brothel. Encouraged by his wife, Rabbi Meir made his way to the brothel in order to negotiate her release. Her guard explained to Rabbi Meir that he was afraid of being punished were he to release her, at which point Rabbi Meir gave him a large sum of money, some for himself and some to pay those who questioned him about her disappearance. When the guard asked what he should do in the event that his money ran out and he was caught, Rabbi Meir told him to simply say elaha d’Meir aneini – “God of Meir answer me!” – and he would be saved. Unconvinced, Rabbi Meir suggested that he try it in the face of attack dogs, and it worked, so the guard turned Berurya’s sister over to Rabbi Meir.

The Gemara relates that the guard was ultimately caught and was sentenced to be hanged. When he was at the gallows he said elaha d’Meir aneini and they were unable to kill him. Demanding an explanation, the soldiers found out what had happened and put up “wanted” posters with a picture of Rabbi Meir, which forced him to flee Israel and move to Bavel.

Rashi explains that the money that Rabbi Meir originally gave to the guard was to bribe the officials who came looking for the missing girl, while Tosafot suggest that it was to pay whatever taxes or expenses were involved in the transfer. The Maharal explains that Rabbi Meir did not tell him to use the magical statement elaha d’Meir aneini in the first place because the money that was paid at the beginning needed to be paid, while any additional demands were clearly unreasonable and should not be paid. The Maharsha writes that Rabbi Meir did not want to suggest that he rely on miracles as long as he could be protected by ordinary means.

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