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December 25, 2007



I've long had a problem with this issue as well regarding the generation of Shimon HaTzadik and Antiginos.
Shimon was the last of the Anshei Kneset HaGedolah, which included "several prophets", so the generations of Shimon and Antiginos could be considered the link between the Era of the Prophets and the Era of the Tannaim, with either Shimon or Antiginos being considered the first of the Tannaim.
The latter Tannaim revered the earlier ones and the earlier ones revered the even earlier ones, so we can imagine that Shimon and Antiginos, who were closest to the Era of Prophesy, were greater than all who succeeded them. We should assume that they and their talmidim were men of the highest caliber of Torah knowledge and understanding.
Yet, when we read this story of Antiginos' disciples (or even if we take it to mean his second generation of disciples) the question is obvious: Are we dealing with idiots? אטו בטפשי עסקינן How can anyone with even a minimal degree of intelligence and Torah learning make such a gross mistake? Torah tradition is so full of references to the Afterlife that there is hardly a schoolchild who does not know that it is an integral part of our faith. I clearly remember when I learned this Mishnah the first time it was clear as day that it was coming to teach that one should do mitzvot "lishmah" rather than for the sake of being rewarded, although it was understood that reward comes anyway. And even if one of them did have such a question, didn't it ever dawn upon him, or any one of the others he might have discussed it with to raise the seeimgly conflicting teachings for clarification?
And this is not the only example. In Menahot 109b the Talmud tells of how Shimon appointed one of his sons to succeed him as Kohen Gadol, and how this son was such an unbelievable idiot and ignoramous even by the standards of today's yeshivot, let alone the standards of the Tannaim. See the story there. How can we understand all this?


I think that as a part of an "approach" to aggadata we need to strip out the message of an aggaddata or saying and work to uderstand it on the level of advanced drush, mussar or kabbala and attribute some of such details to literary technique.

With Hashem help, I will address the error of Atnigonos' students in one of the next installments of Avos.

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