The scholars of Babylon had a tremendous impact on Jewish life. Many of the greatest rabbis came from the academies in Babylon, whose thoughts and opinions were recorded in the Talmud. Among these great Babylonian scholars was a sage called Rava.
Rava’s real name was Abba ben Joseph ben Chama. Both his father and grandfather were respected sages as well. Raised in the town of Machuza, Rava was a student of the nearby Academy of Pumbedita (in what is today Falluja, Iraq). Rava’s rise to scholastic greatness was matched by his fellow student Abaye, with whom he is paired throughout the Talmud. In almost all of their recorded debates, however, the halachic ruling follows Rava’s opinion.
It is interesting to note that Rava is quoted saying, “I had asked three things of God: the wisdom of Rav Huna, the riches of Rav Chisda, and the modesty of Rabbah bar Rav Chuna, The first two requests were granted me, but not the third”(Talmud Moed Katan 28). His actual humility, however, was confirmed by the fact that he graciously stepped aside when Abaye was appointed as head of the Pumbedita Academy, even though Rava was acknowledged to be the greater scholar. After Abaye’s death, the students of Pumbedita looked to Rava as their leader, even though he was the head of the Academy in Machuza.
Rava’s wealth came from his wine business. Consequently, Jewish Treats will leave you with one interesting anecdote that demonstrates his excellent character, as well as his skill as a winemaker: “When Rava learnt this [that something he said had offended his teacher, Rav Joseph], he went before him on the eve of the Day of Atonement, and found his attendant mixing him a cup of wine.* ‘Let me prepare it for him [as a sign of respect],’ said he. So he gave it to him, and he mixed the cup of wine. On drinking it he observed, ‘This mixture is like that of Rava the son of Rabbi Joseph ben Hama” (Talmud Nedarim 55a).
*It was common to mix and dilute wine.