(This originally formed the 2nd half of the previous post. However, after re-reading it many times, I felt that it made that post too long and complicated. In the interests of simplicity and clarity, I’ve made this a separate post). 

The gemorrah [1] gives a “supporting” example.

“A certain disciple was once following R. Ishmael b. R. Jose in the marketplace of Zion. The latter noticed that he [the disciple] looked afraid, and said to him, “You’re a sinner, as it’s written, ‘The sinners in Zion are afraid [2].”

Like a psychotherapist, R. Ishmael derives insight into his disciple’s feelings by observing his “behavior” (his fearful expression). The manifestation of fear “speaks volumes” to the master about his disciple’s thoughts and feelings.

Calling his disciple a “sinner” might sound harsh to us in this era. Respecting a student’s or client’s dignity is a fundamental principle in teaching or counseling children or adults. But in a true master-disciple relationship, the disciple always agrees to accept the criticisms of the master. It’s how the disciple surrenders an inflated sense of self-pride that actually obstructs spiritual growth.

We should also note in passing that in the quote from Yishiyahu, “Zion” refers to Israel/Judah in the wider sense, while R. Ishmael uses it somewhat humor-ously to refer to the “marketplace in Zion” — i.e. Jerusalem, where he and his disciple are walking. That affectionate teasing moderates the otherwise harsh sound of the literal text, too. 

Rabbi Ishmael has certainly taught his disciple that G-d is the only “power.” The disciple’s “sin” is his lack of faith in G-d. Why? Because he’s attributing a possible event to “chance.” He’s telling himself that he might be robbed or harmed on that day, in that place. When he tells this to himself, he’s assuming and accepting that there’s a power other than G-d: the “power” of “chance,” perhaps, or the “power” of the mugger! He’s thereby denying the “kingship of G-d;” At that very moment, he has violated the first of the “10” commandments itself (and made a mockery of his own reciting of the “Shema,” which proclaims G-d as the only “power”).

So, the master, noting his disciple’s fear [of pickpockets, thieves, or “muggers” in the marketplace, perhaps], takes steps to liberate his disciple from fear by bring him more fully to the recognition of G-d’s Presence and Power.

We too often tell ourselves that we should “just learn to live with” fear or worry. We “sympathize” with our own fear and worry. To “sympathize” is far better than condemning ourselves, but is only useful until we use it to avoid making steps in our own growth. Rabbi Ishmael uses “sharp” language to motivate his disciple, as if to say, “This fear shows a serious error in your thinking. You’re paying more attention to the problem, and less to G-d’s Goodness and Power. I don’t accept this in you, and you shouldn’t accept it in yourself.”

The master teacher knows when and how to employ an outward show of “impatience” as a tool to help his spiritual child: “In order to bring anyone to knowledge, it is first necessary to bring him [or her] to a state of mind where he [she] will listen.” [3] The purpose isn’t to insult or demean the student/ disciple. Rather, it’s to make the student responsive to instruction: “Immedi-ately he lost confidence in the way he was thinking. This made him look to [his teacher].”  [4]

Rabbi Ishmael’s sharp but loving rebuke tells his student: “Change your think-ing: If you pay more attention to G-d and less to the problem, faith will cause fear to disappear by itself. You won’t ‘fear bad news’ if your ‘heart is steady, trusting G-d’.”


[1] Berachot 60a
[2] Yishiyahu/Isaiah 33:14
[3] Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; On the Bhagavad Gita; commentary to 2:2 (p. 78)
[4] ibid., p. 79