Joshua ben Levi: Esoteric Master, Cosmic Jester
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:
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.
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To learn more consult the: Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050