Off the Pulpit: A lesson from Rabbi Abbahu

By RABBI DAVID WOLPE

How important was respect for our Sages? The Talmud discusses whether one can carry a lit candle on the Sabbath. In Talmudic times of course, without a candle the night was entirely dark. It relates that when Rabbi Abbahu was with Rabbi Joshua Ben Levi, he would carry a candle, but when he was with Rabbi Johanan, he would not (Yebamot 14a).

Explaining the difference, we are told that Rabbi Abbahu would act in accordance with the beliefs of his colleagues. Although he shared Rabbi Joshua Ben Levi’s belief that it was permitted, out of respect for Rabbi Johanan, when he was with him he would follow the practice of not carrying a candle.

I have often seen people accede to the desires of others but also making sure their sentiments are known. “I’ll take my shoes off in your house, but I think it is silly. I will wear a mask if you insist, but there is no good reason for it.”

That is not how Rabbi Abbahu behaved. He simply accommodated the beliefs of Rabbi Johanan because he understood that derech eretz, decent and thoughtful behavior, was more important than insisting upon his own position.

Rabbi Abbahu, how badly we need your example in our day.

(Rabbi David Wolpe is the senior rabbi of Sinai Temple of Los Angeles.)

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