Resh Lakish, the Reformed Bandit

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30 Jun 2006

Shimon, the son of Lakish, was the leader of a group of bandits, during the role of the Romans, after the Destruction of the Second Temple. He had a reputation for great strength, with a wild, even violent streak. He was also supposed to have great leadership ability, with very high, if somewhat misdirected, intelligence.

RobberOne time, Rabbi Yochanan, a great Torah scholar, was bathing in the Jordan River. All of a sudden, another figure plunged into the water and swam to him. Rabbi Yochanan said, “Your strength should be devoted to the Torah!”

Rabbi Yochanan was known as one of the most handsome men of his time. Shimon, quickly noticing this, responded, “Your beauty should be devoted to women!”

Rabbi Yochanan searched for a way to persuade the leader of the bandits to abandon his present lifestyle and come into the Bet Midrash (a room or building dedicated to the study of Torah), and to adopt the lifestyle of the Torah. Nothing he could think of was likely to work, except for one.

Rabbi Yochanan had a younger sister, whose beauty even surpassed his, translated, of course, to the feminine side. Certain that his sister would see the same great qualities in Shimon as he did, Rabbi Yochanan said, “Ben Lakish, Repent! If you begin to study Torah, you can have my sister, whose beauty is even greater than mine (with her permission, of course), as a wife!”

This was more than enough to draw the interest and attention of Shimon. He accepted the offer, began to study Torah, married Rabbi Yochanan’s sister, and eventually became the student-colleague of his brother-in-law. Known in the Talmud as “Resh Lakish,” he entered history as one of the immortal Torah giants, in scholarship and character, of the Jewish People. (Masechet “Bava Metzia,” “The Middle Gate,” 84a)