Two Sages Who Were in Tzippori: Why were Rav and Rabbi Hanina Unable to Come to Terms?

Shlomo Kassierer

A short story in the Talmud (b. Yoma 87a) describes a confrontation between two of R. Judah Ha-nasi’s greatest students: Rav and R. Hanina. Rav said something to which R. Hanina took offense; for many years Rav sought his forgiveness, to no avail. Finally, the tension between the two induced Rav to leave the Land of Israel. He moved to Babylon, founded the Yeshivah of Sura, and served as its head. R. Hanina, for his part, was appointed head of the the yeshivah in Erez Israel. In this manner both of these great figures came to fulfill their historical role.

This article presents the two main versions of the story and their meaning, addresses the historical questions that the story arouses, and offers an interpretation of the dream and its symbols included in it; all this in the attempt to understand the background – revealed and concealed – of the conflict. In the final section, the author discusses the editorial context and suggests that the story, which concludes a larger section on forgiveness, comes to teach that despite the effort demanded of us to forgive others, certain conflicts cannot be resolved by human resources alone. At such impasses, Divine providence might intervene, bringing solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems.