A story – spanning the end of yesterday’s daf (Ketubot 105b) and the beginning of our daf (Ketubot 106a) – is told about Rav Anan who recused himself from judging a case for fear of not being impartial. However, through his imprecise use of words, and through the fact that his colleague Rav Nachman made incorrect and improper assumptions, Rav Nachman not only prioritised judging this case ahead of the one that he was about to judge involving orphans, but he also judged this case with partiality towards the fellow whom he falsely assumed was a relative of Rav Anan.
We are then informed in today’s daf that Rav Anan would be taught Torah by Eliyahu HaNavi. However, after this event, Eliyahu did not appear to him. Aggrieved by this, Rav Anan fasted and pleaded for mercy, and Eliyahu came back. However, the relationship had changed and, from now on, Rav Anan felt fearful of Eliyahu.
Reflecting on why this change occurred, Rav Moshe Tzuriel (in his ‘Leket Mehegyonei HaTorah’ on Ketubot 106a) reminds us of the title of ‘קפדן’ (meaning ‘fastidious’) afforded by Rav Yosi to Eliyahu HaNavi (see Sanhedrin 113b), and how Eliyahu was particularly fastidious about miscarriages of justice. As such, it is understandable why Eliyahu chose to recuse himself from studying with Rav Anan. The question, however, is why, after his return, did Rav Anan feel fearful of Eliyahu?
Various suggestions have been offered to answer this question, but what I think is the most compelling answer, as presented by Rav Natan Lobart (see his ‘She’erit Natan’ on Ketubot 106a), that the quality of encounter with Eliyahu HaNavi is always a reflection of the spiritual integrity of the person that Eliyahu meets. Therefore, as a result of Rav Anan’s actions, not only did the dynamic between Eliyahu and he change, but so too did the quality of their encounter – with the fear experienced by Rav Anan not being fear generated by Eliyahu, but instead, being fear of unworthiness stemming from the inner psyche of Rav Anan.
This itself is an important insight. However, some years ago I read an essay that addresses a complementary idea and, quoting from numerous scholars such as Rabbi Moshe Cordovero and Rav Chaim Vital, it explains that in addition to the quality of a heavenly-like encounter with a maggid or angel being a reflection of the spiritual integrity of a person, if a person themselves are spiritually compromised then this is likely to cause the maggid or angel to state things as fact that are factually incorrect.
Naturally, this idea may be startling to some people. But upon reflection it makes sense, because divine inspiration isn’t just an arbitrary gift, but is – instead – a mirror reflecting the spiritual state and spiritual potential of an individual. And this is why the relationship between Rav Anan and Eliyahu changed because, through what he did and what he caused, Rav Anan changed too.