THE FOUR PEOPLE WHO ENTERED THE PARDES (cont.)
Ben Zoma gazed and went out of his mind.
About him the verse says, "If you find sweet honey, eat only what suffices for you, lest it fill you up and you vomit it out" (Mishlei 25:16).
They asked Ben Zoma several Halachic questions (to test him if he was still out of his mind).
R. Yehoshua told his students that Ben Zoma was still out of his mind, when Ben Zoma oddly expounded the verse, "And the spirit of G-d levitated above the waters" (Bereishis 1:2).
Acher entered the Pardes ("orchard") and "cut down the plantlings" (i.e. he became corrupt).
Rebbi Akiva entered in peace and exited in peace.
THE STORY OF ACHER
Acher entered the Pardes and cut down the plantlings (i.e. he became corrupt).
About him the verse says, "Do not let your mouth cause your flesh to sin" (Koheles 5:5).
What happened to him:
He saw the angel "Mttrn" who received permission to sit and write the the merits of Yisrael.
Acher said, "We have a tradition that there is no sitting, competition, no backside, and not tiredness (among the heavenly beings) -- perhaps there are two powers!"
They took out "Mttrn" and lashed him with 60 pulses of fire and said to him, "You should have stood up when you saw him (an earthly being)!"
They gave him permission to erase the merits of Acher (because of his blasphemy).
A Bas Kol issued forth saying, "'Repent, o' wayward children' (Yirmiyahu 3:22) -- except for Acher!"
When he heard this, Acher said, "Since I have been pushed out from the next world, I might as well go and get pleasure from this world!"
He went onto an evil path.
He found a harlot and propositioned her.
She said, "But are you not Elisha ben Avuyah!?"
He went and uprooted a radish from its row on Shabbos and gave it to her.
She said, "You are someone else ('Acher')."
Acher asked R. Meir, his Talmid, to explain several verses, and Acher rejected his explanations, saying that his teacher, R. Akiva, expounded them differently.
R. Meir urged Acher to do Teshuvah, in accordance with one of the explanations of the verses that Acher told him.
Acher responded, "I have already heard from behind the heavenly curtain that my repentance will not be accepted."
It once happened that Acher was riding a horse on Shabbos, and R. Meir was following on foot behind him in order to learn Torah from him.
Acher said to R. Meir, "Stop here, for I have measured the footsteps of my horse, and until here is the Techum of Shabbos."
R. Meir said, "You, too, should return!"
Acher replied, "I have already told you that I have already heard from behind the heavenly curtain that my repentance will not be accepted."
R. Meir grabbed him and took him to the Beis Midrash.
Acher told a child to tell him what verse he was learning at the moment.
The child told him a verse that discusses the permanent stain of sin upon the sinner.
R. Meir took Acher to a total of 13 Batei Midrash, and in each one a child told Acher a verse discussing the irrevokable effect of sin.
The last child told him the verse, "G-d says to the wicked (Resha'im), 'Why do you discuss my laws!?'" (Tehilim 50:16).
That child stuttered, and it sounded like he said, "G-d says to Elisha, 'Why do you discuss my laws!?'"
Some say that Acher had a knife and he butchered the child and sent his body parts to the 13 synagogues.
Other say that he merely said, "If I had a knife, I would butcher him."
When Acher died, they said they he cannot be punished, because he learned Torah, but he also cannot go to Olam ha'Ba, because he sinned.
R. Meir said it is best that he be punished and then go to Olam ha'Ba.
He added, "When I die, I will bring up smoke from his grave!"
When R. Meir died, smoke arose from Acher's grave.
R. Yochanan said that it is not proper to cause one's teacher to be punished.
When R. Yochanan died, he caused the smoke to stop rising from Acher's grave and he brought Acher to Olam ha'Ba.
In the eulogy said for R. Yochanan, it was said that "not even the guard of the gate (of Gehinom) could stand in his way!"
Rebbi met a daughter of Acher.
He was surprised, because the verse (Iyov 18:19) says that a Rasha will have no descendents.
She said to him, "Remember his Torah, and not his deeds!"
A fire descended and scorched Rebbi's bench.
Rebbi cried and said, "If this is the honor that those who disgrace the Torah (such as Acher) receive, then how much more so will be the honor that those who praise the Torah will receive!"
LEARNING TORAH FROM A RASHA LIKE ACHER
Question: How could R. Meir learn Torah from Acher?
The verse (Malachi 2:7) teaches that one should only learn Torah from a Rav who is similar to a Malach of Hash-m!
Answer: R. Meir relied on another verse (Mishlei 22:17, or Tehilim (45:11) which teaches that one may learn Torah from a Rasha, as long as one follows Hash-m's laws and not the deeds of the Rasha.
Question: If so, the verses (in (a) and (b)) contradict!
Answer: One verse refers to a Gadol (one who knows how to be careful not to learn from the deeds of the Rasha may learn Torah from him), and one verse refers to a Katan (one who does not know how to avoid being influenced by the deeds of the Rasha may not learn Torah from him).
(R. Dimi): R. Meir ate the outer flesh (the good part) of the fruit, and he discarded the pit (the bad part).
Rava expounded a verse (Shir ha'Shirim 6:11) which compares a Talmid Chacham to a nut: just as a nut might become dirty on the surface and its fruit inside is not affected, so, too, a Talmid Chacham who becomes corrupt, his Torah is not affected.
Eliyahu ha'Navi told Rabah bar Shila that Hash-m is discussing the teachings of all of the sages, except for R. Meir, since R. Meir learned Torah from Acher.
Rabah bar Shila defended R. Meir and said that he found a pomegranate and ate the inside (the good part) while he discarded the shell (the bad part).
Eliyahu said back that now, Hash-m is discussing the teaching of R. Meir.
R. Meir taught that when a man suffers (by sinning), the Shechinah is pained; if the Shechinah is pained for the blood of a Rasha, how much more so for the blood of Tzadikim that was spilled!
Shmuel found R. Yehudah leaning on the doorpost, crying.
He was crying that if such great sages, such as Doeg and Achitofel, have no share in Olam ha'Ba because of their sins, then how much more so we!
Shmuel told him that their hearts were corrupt from the beginning (and that is why they went bad and were punished).
WHY DID ACHER GO BAD?
Why did Acher go bad?
Greek (foreign) songs did not cease from his mouth.
When he would rise from the Beis Midrash, many books of heresy would slip from his lap.
Nimus ha'Gardi asked R. Meir: Does all wool that is dyed endure?
R. Meir answered: Any person who was pure from his beginning will endure.
And any person who was not pure from his beginning will not endure.
REBBI AKIVA EXITED THE PARDES IN PEACE
R. Akiva entered in peace and exited in peace.
About him, the verse says, "Draw me after you, and I shall run" (Shir ha'Shirim 1:4).