The Gemarah (Megillah 7b)describes how Rabba and Rav Zeira celebrated Purim together. While intoxicated Rabba kills (slaughters) Rav Zeira. The next day he resurrects him. The next year Rabba invites Rav Zeira to celebrate Purim together again. Rav Zeira declines explaining that miracles don't happen all the time.

  1. Why did Rabba wait until the next day to resurrect Rav Zeira? If it was a question of sobering up why not state so explicitly?
  2. Is Rav Zeira still married to his wife (assuming he had one)?
  3. Why does it use the term slaughter instead of simply saying he killed him? If he did, in fact, ritually slaughter him, what was the purpose in doing so?
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    It is not clear that Rabba invites Rav Zeira the next year. The Chasam Sofer (in his commentary on Megillah) and others explain that it is actually the opposite, that Rav Zeira actually invited Rabba because he wanted to demonstrate mesiras nefesh, and it was Rabba that refused, because miracles don't always occur.
    – Curiouser
    Commented Feb 29, 2012 at 3:45
  • The Lubavitcher Rebbe said a Sicha regarding this Gemara: לקוטי שיחות, חלק ל״א, פורים ב׳ See the link below for a summary: chabad.org/therebbe/article_cdo/aid/93598/jewish/…
    – C.K.
    Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 19:11

5 Answers 5


Ben Ish Chai identifies two understandings of this aggada: (1) It's literal interpretation in which Rabba actually slaughters R' Zeira, and (2) the "explanation of the kabbalists", in which Rabba and R' Zeira were discussing esoteric secrets of the Torah, and Rabba's soul in some way triumphed over his R' Zeira's, in some sense "unraveling" his soul. (Don't ask me what that means.) So to answer your questions one by one:

  1. This is not entirely clear. I would say according to the literal interpretation that Rabba either simply passed out or was not sober enough to perform resurrection until the following day and this detail is left out of the story, since it is clear through the context and not really relevant to the point of the story. According to the kabbalistic interpretation, in which Rabba prayed the next day for R' Zeira's soul to "return fully to its body", I don't know why he waited until the following day.
  2. According to the literal interpretation, Ben Ish Chai deduces from other sources that his wife in fact would remain married to him. (See the link.) According to the kabbalistic interpretation, it is not clear if R' Zeira actually physically died or not. If he did not, clearly he remained married. If he did, Ben Ish Chai's deductions still apply.
  3. According to the literal interpretation, "slaughtered him" does not necessarily mean that he performed ritual animal slaughter with all its laws. It just means that he killed him with a knife, which must be what happened. According to the kabbalistic reading, we would not translate "slaughtered", but rather something like "unraveled", as in "זהב שחוט" - "spun gold" (Yoma 45a).

There are, of course, a lot of explanations about what happened here and what this story means.

Shaloh (Torah Shebichsav, Tetzaveh) states that Rabbah brought R. Zeira to a level of Divine understanding, and with that divestment from his physical body, beyond his capabilities. As for the term "slaughtered" (שחיטה), he compares it to the phrase וישחטם במדבר in Num. 14:16 - the Jews who died in the desert didn't have their throats cut, they simply died a natural death.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l (in Likkutei Sichos, vol. 31, pp. 180ff) builds further on this, citing another statement from Shaloh (Shaar HaOsiyos) that with Torah scholars, drinking wine can go hand in hand with the revelation of deep Torah secrets. This, then, he says, is what happened with Rabbah and R. Zeira: they did indeed drink wine at their Purim feast, but more to the point is that Rabbah (whose very name - which literally means "great" - signifies his greater capacities) brought R. Zeira ("small") to such a level of ecstasy that his soul left him. (The Rebbe compares this to the deaths of Nadav and Avihu, which on the one hand is associated with their having drunk wine (Rashi to Lev. 10:2) and on the other hand is viewed as a sign of their greatness (Rashi ibid. v. 3, and Ohr Hachaim ibid. 16:1).

He then goes on to say that this is hinted at by the term שחיטה, for אין ושחט אלא ומשך (Chullin 30b) - shechitah means to "draw out" and elevate.


R' David Silverberg discusses some non-literal interpretations:

The Maharsha explains that Rava urged Rabbi Zeira to drink during the Purim festivities, to the point where Rabbi Zeira took seriously ill. Rava then prayed on his colleague's behalf and Rabbi Zeira recovered from his intoxication. According to this reading, the Gemara relates this story in order to emphasize the dangers of excessive drinking, and warns against encouraging others to drink beyond their tolerance levels.

Rav Yaakov Emden explains differently, claiming that Rava pretended to kill Rabbi Zeira in order to restore a degree of solemnity to what had become a scene of frivolous merrymaking, rather than a true expression of gratitude to God.... Rabbi Zeira, who was unaware of Rava's intentions, was terror-stricken and fainted. Rava thus had to pray for Rabbi Zeira's recovery, which the Gemara describes as his revival from death....

Rav Yitzchak Hutner, in his Pachad Yitzchak (Purim, 32), suggests interpreting the Gemara's reference to Rabbi Zeira's "death" as a metaphoric description of the transformational experience he underwent over the course of his Purim observance. Chazal famously describe Purim as a day of kabbalat ha-Torah, when we celebrate the Jewish people's reacceptance of the Torah even under the trying conditions of exile.... Chazal comment that when Benei Yisrael accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai, their souls departed and had to be restored to their bodies. Rav Hutner understood this image as expressing the transformational element of kabbalat ha-Torah, the notion that committing oneself to Torah means fundamentally changing one's character, lifestyle and outlook. In a similar vein, Rabbi Zeira experienced kabbalat ha-Torah so fully and genuinely that he could be said to have been "killed" as a result of this profound experience.


For those who are interested in the views of Rishonim: 1) Many Rishonim have a girsa that explicitly places the tefillah after the sobering; see dikdukei Sofrim.

2) Rishonim do not discuss this. But according to those who understand that he wasnt actually killed, there would obviously be no question. Besides for Meiri (see below) a student of the Rashba, the Ri ibn Shuib, writes in drashos to the Torah that he didnt literally kill him, but rather intoxicated him until he threw up vomit that looked like blood.

3) the Meiri (Megillah 7b) says that the word is actually "sachtei" with sin, rather than "shachtei" with a shin. That means he squeezed him (presumably in an act of drunken exuberance), R. Zeira was evidently unnerved, and after tefillah he was reconstituted (Meiri cites there examples of the root "chayim" meaning rejuvenation rather than literal resuscitation).


A simple understanding of the "slaughtering" is that Rabba had a distorted perception of reality, and in the drunken haze probably thought Rabbi Zeira was a cow.

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    While this statement could work if we were talking about a drunken frat party, we are talking about two Torah Sages. This kind of talk is disrespectful and foolish.
    – user1292
    Commented Feb 29, 2012 at 17:12
  • You are welcome to sight your sources. The gemara using "three-dimensional characters" and you and myself using them are not even in the same galaxy. Your comment was not a "simple understanding" and not such comment is made about Rabba in this Gemara.
    – user1292
    Commented Feb 29, 2012 at 21:43
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    Shabbos 156a says Rabba was born with an astrological propensity towards bloodshed. For the simplest understanding of the Gemara about Purim, see the Baal HaMaor -- the Gemara is giving a strong cautionary note about the dangers of drinking!
    – Shalom
    Commented Mar 1, 2012 at 14:59
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    @mochinrechavim, jake's answer says the Ben Y'hoyada says (in one explanation) Raba actually killed R' Zera.
    – msh210
    Commented Mar 21, 2012 at 21:38
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    @msh210 Why is it that almost every one of the mforshim that brings the literal also brings a second explanation? This entire thread of response is based off of the original comment that in a "distorted perception of reality, and in the drunken haze probably thought Rabbi Zeira was a cow." which I don't recall a single commentary using such base and coarse language to describe on of the greatest Sages in history.
    – user1292
    Commented Mar 22, 2012 at 16:37

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