The greatest of all Rabbi
Akiva's students was Rabbi
Meir, as we learn in [Tractate] Eruvin: "Rav Aøa
ben Øanina said, 'It is revealed and known before
Him Who spoke and the world came into existence, that in
the generation of Rabbi Meir there was none equal to him.
Then why was not the halakhah
fixed in agreement with his views? Because his colleagues
could not fathom the depths of his mind, for he would declare
the ritually unclean to be clean, and the ritually clean
to be unclean, and he would supply plausible proof." Therefore
Rabbi Akiva was fond of him and ordained him in his youth.
In his halakhot Rabbi
chose the way [of teaching] of Rabbi Meir, which was the
way of Rabbi Akiva because Rabbi saw that Rabbi Meir's way
was succinct and easy to teach. His statements were well
composed, each topic [placed] with that which was similar
to it. His teachings were more exact than those of any of
the other tannaim,
without superfluous language. Each word makes a vital point
without unnecessary exaggeration. Nothing was missing or
extra, except in a few instances. The way [of presentation]
was concise. Great and wondrous things were included in
every single word. Not everyone who is learned knows how
to create such a composition, as it is said: "A man may
arrange his thoughts, but what he says depends on God" [Proverbs
16:1]. All the rabbis shared the same underlying principles;
nevertheless, since Rabbi Akiva possessed a broad heart
and his disciple Rabbi Meir also possessed a broad heart,
they arranged [the material] in an excellent manner, and
they were preferable to all the other tannaim.
Therefore, Rabbi gathered [their arrangement]. To it he
added [halakhot] that were [formulated] in his time. He
arranged it as he saw fit. He also explained the essence
and the main principles behind disputes of the rabbis. Since
there were rabbis who had heard from great sages a different
opinion [from that in the Mishnah] or who taught minority
opinions anonymously, if someone heard about this he could
become confused [when studying the Mishnah]. [But] when
Rabbi explained the matter, no doubt [regarding the halakhah]
could set in. Thus we learn in the Mishnah. Rabbi Judah
said: "Why is the opinion of the minority recorded along
with the majority? In order to nullify it, so that if a
man says this, [one can] say to him: 'Where did you hear
this?' If he replies: 'I received it [as a tradition from
my teachers],' one can say to him: 'Perhaps what you heard
was the opinion of so-and-so.'"
When everybody saw the form of the Mishnah, the truthfulness
of its teachings, and the exactness of its words, they abandoned
their previous formulations and compilations. These halakhot
were disseminated throughout the Jewish people, while the
other halakhot were shunted aside. . . . However, the Jewish
people gave [only] these halakhot [binding] authority. They
accepted it faithfully when they saw it, and no one has
disputed its authority.
Using this approach [of Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Meir], Rabbi
arranged the six orders of the Mishnah. This does not mean
that the more numerous earlier sages were abandoned for
the later ones. Rather, the earlier sages had no need for
compiled material and the things that we learn by memory.
Every single one of the [earlier] rabbis knew these things
through a chain of transmission. They had no need to compile
them and write them down among themselves until the Temple's
destruction. Then came [these earlier sages'] students,
who were not as knowledgeable, and found it necessary to
Therefore Rabbi had to compile and arrange the six orders
of the Mishnah after a respite of two generations from the
persecutions that took place during the Temple's destruction..
When Rabbi arranged the Mishnah he did not place the tractates
in a specific order, one after another. [Rather] he arranged
[and taught] each tractate separately in whatever order
was convenient for him. We do not know which he taught first.
However, the halakhot [in each chapter] and the chapters
of each tractate were arranged in a specific order.