Friday, 14 November 2008

Yahrtzeit 16 MarCheshvan - Rav Amram Chasidah (The Pious) - A Lesson in Humility




(And a Lesson in Humility)


Died: 300 Babylon

Rav Amram is one of the Amoraim (teachers mentioned in the Talmud.) He was a second generation Amora. He is famous for being extra stringent upon himself – something looked down upon by many even in his generation.

So stringent was he that he maintained that women should wear Tzitzit and had them attached to all the aprons of the women in his household (Sukka 11a).

Rashi says that the servants of the Reisha Degaluta (the leading Rabbi of each generation of the exile from the time the first Temple was destroyed,) mistreated him because he imposed stringencies upon them. He became sick from them, and Yalta, the daughter of the Reisha Degaluta and wife of Rav Nachman, cured him (Gittin 67b).

The Talmud (Kiddushin 81a) tells a fascinating story of Rav Amram. One which we would all do well to internalise in order to understand the wiles of the evil inclination – and to know that many of our own challenges were experienced by even the greatest of the rabbis in previous generations.

It happened that some captive redeemed women were brought to the house of Rav Amram Chasida in Nahardea. It seems that he had been instrumental in their release, and therefore the women were brought to his house. They were placed in the second story of his house and the ladder was taken away. As one of the women passed by the hatch that was used as a passageway between the upper and lower stories of the house, a light shone into the house through the hatch. The light illuminated one of the women – and her face was so beautiful that it itself provided even more “light”. Rav Amram was so taken in by the beauty of this woman that he took a ladder that even ten people could not lift and lifted it by himself, placed it under the hatch, and began to ascend! When he reached the middle of the ladder he steadied himself on it and began to scream, “There is a fire in the house of Amram!” (He realised well what would happen and that people would come running to find him climbing the ladder to commit a prohibited act, thereby embarrassing himself right then and there!)

The Rabbis came running and saw that there was not in fact any fire at all. They shouted at him, “You have put us to shame!” He replied to them, “Better that you be shamed in the house of Amram in this world, and not be ashamed of him in the World to Come.” At this point in time the Talmud says something quite amazing! Rav Amram commanded the evil inclination to leave him and it left him in the form of a fiery column! Rav Amram said to it, “Observe, you are fire, and I am flesh – yet I am stronger than you.”

What can we learn from a 1700 year old story?!

It is known that throughout the generations the levels of holiness actually declines. It may seem to many of those devoted to Torah today, that they have already perfected most areas of Torah fulfilling it with the highest levels of piety! But even a Rav Amram – a leader, a giant and a lion of Torah who lived 1700 years ago can also stumble. (This is at least in accordance with the simple meaning of the text. There is obviously much more hidden underneath this superficial veneer of the event that occurred to him!)

If these tests could occur to such giants, we should well realise just how truly far from the path of Torah we are. Such stories should therefore also give us the encouragement to realise that even such things can happen to us today (no matter how great we think we have become!) We should realise that the battles we face are very real ones. We do have the power to overcome them though if we are able to truly work on ourselves. Sometimes, however it means being a Rav Amram to overcome them! Sometimes it also means simply being humble enough to acknowledge our “humanness” – a shared balance between animal (the body) and G-d (the soul.)

It is no wonder that the focus of the magnum opus of the Alter Rebbe – the Tanya – is all about the battle between the animal soul of man and the G-dly soul which is his essence.

Many areas of the world are flooded today with “extremely pious people”. All would do well to know that dressing the part, acting the part, speaking the part or even thinking the part, do not take away from the reality of a person having within himself an animal soul as well. A very real one that does its utmost to make a man (or woman) succumb to the basest of desires in moments. As the Talmud teaches “No man comes to sin unless a spirit of folly enters him” (Sota 3a). In a sudden moment when we least expect it, these negative forces enter one imposing their own powers compelling one to obey their wishes – even when in the most logical of moments we would “laugh” at even thinking of doing the things we sometimes do.

Thank G-d – our true Torah teachers and Tzaddikim teach us the real path, to know where we stand in reality and to balance ourselves accordingly at all times – to use the lights of Tohu (the most powerful lights to achieve anything) – with the vessels of Tikkun (vessels that shape the light making it only reach out to where it should without becoming lost in it’s own erratic and destructive behaviour!)

It takes the humility of a Rav Amram to make us aware of the need to see life in reality, to know its tests and to fight them with every possible force we have – and to ultimately win the battle!

Ever wondered about the real power of the animal soul, the Yetzer HaRa– or felt that maybe it’s simply easily overcome through wearing the right outer garments?! Get yourself a copy of the Tanya to see just how this “clever little fellow” is able to trick us – and how we can work on winning the battle against it. If you’d like to learn it together, be in touch with Rav Eliyahu – and set up a one-on-one or group session – over the Internet using Skype, or in person.

For an easy read, get yourself a copy of “Under the Table” by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum.

This beautiful book tells the story of the Turkey Prince – one of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov’s most famous stories. He tells of a prince who one day went mad. He took off all his garments, and sat under the table of the king – naked – while behaving like a turkey! (One can well imagine him making the same noises that a turkey makes!) He ate the scraps of food that would be thrown from the table, refusing to sit up, put on his garments and eat like everyone else – at the table of the king! The king was saddened by the behaviour of his son and longed for a cure. Nobody could seem to help, until a wise man told the king that he could heal the prince. He too sat under the table together with the turkey-prince. The story is a fascinating one as it continues with the “healer” helping the turkey-prince to find himself again. He may well seem to be a turkey – but he’s very much so also a prince! And even a turkey can be the son of the king (and so much more!) even if he still thinks he’s a turkey!

The turkey-prince may well reflect the battle between the two souls. The tests are real. What we need to do is to battle through them, doing our best (and even better!) each day to overcome these awesome challenges. We should realise though – that even the greatest giants of Torah have experienced such similar challenges – they on their levels – and we on ours. Let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that we have overcome the greatest challenges and tests of life – just because we look the part. Rather, let us confront our own challenges as best as we can, to overcome the fires in our own houses.

For more information about “Under the Table” or to purchase directly, see Rabbi Greenbaum’s site AZAMRA or click HERE! to go directly to the book.



May the merit of Rav Amram Chasida protect us all, especially from the trickery of the Yetzer HaRa, and may we all merit – as did Rav Amram to be able to simply command our Yetzer Hara to leave – and it do so immediately – and with the removal of the side of unholiness, may we merit the final redemption immediately!

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