Of Prophets, Anger, and Humor

The actions by Eliyahu noted in the previous post precipitated an interesting response from a sage of the Mishnaic period, many centuries later. It is well known that Eliyahu was granted immortality, rising to heaven alive, and according to Jewish tradition, continues to visit the Jewish people secretly throughout the generations, and will ultimately reveal himself before the end of days to herald the coming of Mashiach (Messiah). The Talmud (Sanhedrin 113A) records the following incident:

Rabbi Yosey in Tzipori taught [based on the above incident]: ‘Master Eliyahu was an angry man.’ Although Eliyahu would regularly visit [Rabbi Yosey], he hid himself from [Rabbi Yosey] for three days and did not come. When he [finally] came, [Rabbi Yosey] said to him: ‘Why did the master not come?’ [Eliyahu] said to him: ‘You called me an angry man!’ [Rabbi Yosey] said to him: ‘Behold, the master has just become angry!’

When I came upon this passage, I wondered that Rabbi Yosey’s retort to Eliyahu seemed brash, disrespectful, even scoffing. Having been shunned by the great and holy prophet Eliyahu, should Rabbi Yosey not have humbled himself to this spiritual giant rather than respond in what seems like an almost childish manner?

Rabbi Yoseph Chayim of Baghdad in his work Ben Yehoyada questions this passage as well, but from the opposite perspective:

The Torath Chayim of blessed memory asked, since in the first place [Rabbi Yosey] called [Eliyahu] “angry” because he got angry at Achav, why did [R’ Yosey] not offer this reason when [Eliyahu] rebuked him for calling him “angry,” rather than answering him that he called him angry because of his present anger? Another difficulty is that since Eliyahu did indeed become angry at Achav, why did he get angry at Rabbi Yosey for calling him an angry person? The resolution appears to me to be that the body of Eliyahu that became angered at Achav was not the body that appeared to Rabbi Yosey. Rather, even though the body that Eliyahu had had previously had ascended in a storm and become purified, he would not descend in the same body anymore to this world when he would appear to the Sages. Rather, he would appear in another, new body that was prepared for him. And if Rabbi Yosey had said, ‘Eliyahu was an angry person,’ it would have implied the holy body of Eliyahu that existed during the time of Achav when Eliyahu actually became angry at [Achav]. But Rabbi Yosey said, ‘Master Eliyahu was an angry person’… Behold, this implies that he was referring to the body of Eliyahu that would appear to Rabbi Yosey and teach him Torah… therefore this body became angry at Rabbi Yosey and did not come to him for three days. When [Eliyahu finally] came and Rabbi Yosey asked him, ‘Why did the master not come?’ [Eliyahu] answered him, ‘You called me an angry person!’ [‘Me’ here implies] specifically this (present) body, for this body did not exist in the days of Achav and [therefore] did not become angry at Achav. Rabbi Yosey replied to him, ‘Even according to you, that this body did not exist in the days of Achav, nevertheless, I have not wronged you in this body by calling it ‘angry,’ for presently this very body of yours has become angry and you [subsequently] did not come for three days!’ It further appears to me, with G-d’s help, that after Rabbi Yosey asked him, ‘Why did the master not come?’ that [Eliyahu] answered him jokingly and calmly, ‘You called me angry.’ I.e. ‘I used to come to you to teach you Torah. Since you called me an angry person, rightly I should not come to teach you Torah, since we learned in the Mishnah that, ‘an angry person should not teach.’ I have therefore acted toward you in accordance with your words.’ Rabbi Yosey therefore answered him jokingly, ‘Behold, the master has presently become angry!’ I.e. You not coming to me [for three days] proves that the master is angry at me, and that you have punished me by withholding your presence for three days. If you had been acting in accordance with my words, because I said [you are] an angry person, and an angry person should not teach, then why did you come today? You should not have come ever again!’ They were speaking to one another jokingly.


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