Friday, February 27, 2009

Joshua ben Levi: Esoteric Master, Cosmic Jester

[Elijah by Michael D. O'Brien]

I thought I'd start a thread on my favorite Talmudic figures. First among equals is Joshua ben Levi (3rd Cent. Amora).

He is the source of one of my favorite Talmudic aphorisms: "A word is worth a sela, silence is worth two" (Lev. R. 16:5). No slouch in the area of Jewish Law (Ber. 4b; Shab. 46a; Tosefta to Meg. 27a and Chul. 97a), he was also an adept of esoteric knowledge. A frequent visitor to heavenly realms, he was tight with such unlikely figures as Elijah, the Messiah, and the Angel of Death.

He [Joshua ben Levi] once asked Elijah: "When will the Messiah come?"
Elijah replied: "'Go and ask him himself." "And by what sign may I recognize him?"
"He is sitting among the poor, who are afflicted with disease; all of them untie and retie [the bandages of their wounds] all at once, whereas he unties and re-bandages each wound separately, thinking, perhaps I shall be wanted [to appear as the Messiah] and I must not be delayed." Joshua thereupon went to the Messiah and greeted him: "Peace unto you, master and teacher!" He replied, "'Peace unto you, son of Levi." "When will you come, master?" "Today." He returned to Elijah … and said: "He spoke falsely to me. For he said he would come today and he has not come." Elijah responded: "This is what he said! Today – if you would but hearken to His voice
(Ps. 95:7) " (Sanh. 98a paraphrased)

He was also bit of a cosmic prankster:

When he (ben Levi) was about to die, the Angel of Death was instructed, "Go carry out his wish." [the origins of the Make a Wish Foundation?] When he (the Angel) showed himself to him, [ben Levi] said, "Show me my place [in paradise]." "Very well" He replied. [ben Levi] Said "And give me your sword, or you may frighten me on the way." He gave it to him. On arrival, he lifted him up [over the wall] and showed him [paradise]. [ben Levi] Jumped and dropped on the other side. The Angel grabbed him by the cloak, but he exclaimed "I swear I will not go back!"..."Return my sword!" He [the Angel] said, but he would not. A Bat Kol [a heavenly echo] finally went forth and said to him, "Return the thing to him, for it is required for mortals" [and he returned it] (Ketubot 77b)

Both these maasot reveal Joshua's ben Levi's not only his spiritual chutzpah, but also his passionate impulse to resolve the injustices of the world. Got to love a guy like that.
Other Talmudic shamans to learn about:


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi. I am Mr. C (I am female) and I am Jewish too! I found your blog after creating one of my own, and I read it all the time! I love to read it! I love everything about mythology!

9:22 AM  

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