Sanhedrin 107a-b - Teacher-student relationships should always include encouragement

May 30, 2010

The Mishnah (daf, or page, 90a) taught that one of the people who has no portion in the World to Come is Gehazi, the student of the prophet Elisha. In II Melakhim, or Kings (chapter 5) we learn that Gehazi was condemned to suffer from leprosy because he accepted a reward from Na'aman, a foreign general whose leprosy was cured by Elisha. The Gemara concludes from this story that a person should always encourage a relationship, even when rebuking a student -- le-olam tehe semol dohah ve-yemin mekarevet -- a person should push aside with his weaker hand while bringing closer with his stronger hand. Elisha is presented as having failed as a teacher and mentor, having pushed Gehazi away with both hands.


Another example of this kind of fault is the story of Yehoshua ben Perahyah, who is presented as having pushed aside Yeshu ha-Notzri -- Jesus -- with both hands. The story that is told is that Yehoshua ben Perahyah was returning to Jerusalem following his flight to Alexandria in Egypt, together with his student, Yeshu ha-Notzri. When they stopped in an inn and were treated well, Yehoshua ben Perahyah mentioned to Yeshu that the service was good. Yeshu responded that the innkeeper was unattractive. This response led Yehoshua ben Perahyah to ban Yeshu, and Yehoshua ben Perahyah was unable to change his mind until it was too late and Yeshu had turned away from traditional Judaism.


In standard printings of the Talmud, this story appears without the name Yeshu ha-Notzri, which was removed by censors for reasons of sensitivity to the Christian society in which they lived. It should be noted, however, that the story of Yehoshua ben Perahyah who was driven from Jerusalem by King Yannai, could not have taken place any later than 76 BCE. Thus the reference to Yeshu ha-Notzri cannot be connected with the individual who established the Christian faith. Many commentaries suggest that all of the Talmudic references to Yeshu refer to another person, or else that there is more than one person with that name who lived during the times of the Mishnah.

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud. To learn more about the Steinsaltz Daf Yomi initiative, click here.

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