The Gemara on Amud Aleph related to us a number of conversations that Rabbi Yochanan had with Reish Lakish’s precocious and learned young son. The boy’s mother eventually becomes alarmed and cuts the relationship short, as she fears her son will suffer the same fate as his father. As described in Bava Metzia 84a, Rabbi Yochanan was responsible for Reish Lakish’s death, due to Reish Lakish having offended him. The power of Rabbi Yochanan’s disapproval was enough to act as a curse, killing off Reish Lakish despite having been Rabbi Yochanan’s prize student. Given the history, it is understandable why this boy's mother wanted to keep him far from Rabbi Yochanan, despite him being a promising student.

One of the topics discussed between Rabbi Yochanan and this young boy was the phenomenon of people blaming God for their own misfortune. The boy quotes a verse in Mishley (19:3):

אִוֶּ֣לֶת אָ֭דָם תְּסַלֵּ֣ף דַּרְכּ֑וֹ וְעַל־דָ' יִזְעַ֥ף לִבּֽוֹ

“The foolishness of man perverts his way, and his heart frets against the Lord” 

Rabbi Yochanan searches for a verse from the Pentateuch that hints at this idea, since there is a principle that there is nothing in the prophets and scriptures that cannot be found hinted at in the Torah. Raish Lakish’s son cleverly offers the following verse (Bereishis 42:28), which is taken from the brothers lamenting their misfortune, despite it being a product of their own perfidious behavior toward Yosef:

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֶל־אֶחָיו֙ הוּשַׁ֣ב כַּסְפִּ֔י וְגַ֖ם הִנֵּ֣ה בְאַמְתַּחְתִּ֑י וַיֵּצֵ֣א לִבָּ֗ם וַיֶּֽחֶרְד֞וּ אִ֤ישׁ אֶל־אָחִיו֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר מַה־זֹּ֛את עָשָׂ֥ה אֱלֹקים לָֽנוּ׃

“And their heart failed them and they turned trembling to one to another, saying: What is this that God has done to us?”

We already discussed the Rambam’s view on human suffering and how nearly all of it is self inflicted, see Psychology of the Daf Taanis 3. This Gemara dovetails well with everything we wrote on this matter.

I also believe this Gemara may be subtly self-referential. If we reflect on the tragic story of Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish, you will note that Rabbi Yochanan eventually went insane with grief that he no longer had his friend and study partner, Reish Lakish. The rabbis searched in vain for a replacement study partner for Rabbi Yochanan, but to no avail. No one could match Reish Lakish’s ability to challenge his rebbe. 

Reish Lakish died, as it were, at Rabbi Yochanan’s own hand. If that alone isn’t an example of self-inflicted suffering, we see that Rabbi Yochanan could have found a replacement in Reish Lakish’s son, if not for his mother being fearful that he would meet the same fate. This is another example of more suffering for Rabbi Yochanan that indeed was from his own actions.


For Video versions of this click here, and look for title and daf.  

Translations Courtesy of Sefaria, (except when, sometimes, I disagree with the translation cool.)