Rabbi Meir Ba’al HaNess
Tonight (April 23, 2013 after sundown until sundown April 24) is the death anniversary of Rabbi Meir Ba’al Hannes. His name means ‘The master of the Miracle’. He was the student of the great Rabbi Akiva. His study friend was Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai that we all know so well. His parents were descendants from the line of Nero Claudius Caesar that moved to the Holy land and converted. Rabbi Akiva himself was also a son of converts and that teaches us that great souls come from a concealed source. Abraham the patriarch was also a convert that moved to the Holy Land from a place of idol worshipping and negativity.
The Talmud (Gittin 56a) mentions that he was a descendant of proselytes.
According to the Talmud, his real name was not R’ Meir but R’ Nehorai (or R’ Measha, or R’ Nechemiah, (Dikdukei Soferim) , and he was called R’ Meir (“the illuminator”) because “he enlightened the eyes of the scholars in halacha” (Eruvin 13b).
His wife was the famous wise woman, Beruriah. She advised him wisely when neighboring wicked people disturbed him (Berachot 10a), and when their two sons died, she broke the news gently and comforted him (Midrash Mishlei 31).
He was a scribe and once in a place where there were no books, he wrote the entire Magillat Esther from memory.
He earned three selahs (unit of money) a week. He purchased food and drink with one selah, clothing with the second selah, and he gave the third to Torah scholars. When he was asked by his students what would remain for his children, he answered: “If they will be righteous, it will be as King David said ‘I have never seen a tzaddik neglected and his children begging for bread.’ If not, why should I leave from my own for the enemies of God?”
Together with Rabbi Shimon,he was ordained by Rabbi Akiva. When the plague that killed 24000 students of Rabbi Akiva happened, Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Shimon were among the only five students that survived it.
Rabbi Meir used to deliver a lecture every Friday evening. The Midrash tells of a woman who once attended R’ Meir’s Friday night lecture. She returned very late and the shabbat candles had already burned down. Her irate husband demanded to know where she had been and she explained that she had been attending R’ Meir’s lecture. He brashly swore that she would not be allowed to enter the house until she’d spit in the face of R’ Meir. As she left the house, Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet) appeared before R’ Meir and told him that on his account, a woman is being banished from her house. When R’ Meir heard the whole story, he went and sat in the beit midrash (study hall). When he saw that woman approaching, he acted as if he had a serious eye problem. “Do you know how to cure an eye problem?”, he asked the startled woman. “No, I do not”, she stammered. “Well then quickly, right now, spit seven times in my face and that will alleviate the problem.” The dazed and astonished woman did as she was asked and spat the seven times. R’ Meir then said to her: “go and tell your husband that he had asked you to spit once and you spat seven times!”.
The astounded students asked R’ Meir if the husband and wife’s spat needed to be ended through such a thorough degradation of the Torah‘s honor. “We would have brought him here, whipped him and forced him to take back his wife!”, they exclaimed.
“Should the honor of Meir be greater than the honor of Hashem?!”, was R’ Meir’s piercing response. “Hashem instructed us to blot His holy name onto the water that a woman suspected if adultery drinks, in order to establish her innocence and restore peace to their relationship. I certainly won’t be concerned about my honor!”
Why was he called, “Ba’al Haness” (“the Master of the Miracle”)?
Rabbi Meir was married to Beruriah, the daughter of Rabbi Chananiah ben Teradyon, one of the ten martyrs. The government ordered Rabbi Chanina’s and his wife’s execution for teaching Torah publicly. They decreed that his daughter (Beruriah’s sister) should live a life of shame. She was placed in a brothel.
Beruriah asked her husband to save her sister. R’ Meir took a bag of gold coins and went to the brothel disguised as a Roman horseman. When he discovered that Beruriah’s sister kept her chastity, he offered the money as a bribe to the guard. The guard replied, “When my supervisor comes, he will notice one missing and kill me.” R’ Meir answered, “Take half the money for yourself, and use the other half to bribe the officials.” The guard continued, “And when there is no more money, and the supervisors come – then what will I do?” R’ Meir answered, “Say, The God of Meir – answer me!’ (אלוה דמאיר ענני ‘Eloha D’Meir Aneni’) and you will be saved.” The guard asked, “And how can I be guaranteed that this will save me?” R’ Meir replied, “Look – there are man-eating dogs over there. I will go to them and you will see for yourself.” R’ Meir walked over the dogs and they ran over to him to tear him apart. He cried, “God of Meir – answer me!” and the dogs retreated. The guard was convinced and gave him the girl. When the group of supervisors came, the guard bribed them with the money. Eventually, the money was used up, and it was publicized what had happened. They arrested the guard and sentenced him to death by hanging. They tied the rope around his neck and he said, “God of Meir – answer me!” The rope tore, much to everyone’s amazement. He told them the incident, and they went after R’ Meir. The guard was saved.
Light a candle in his memory, read Zohar and donate to those who teach you the Zohar like Rabbi Meir used to do. With that you will connect to his great soul and amazing source of light, especially on his death anniversary.
(you can light the candle anytime between sundown April 23, 2013 and sundown April 24, 2013)
Read in the comments below a true miracle story related to Rabbi Meir, submitted by a DZ subscriber.