Yevamot 51 - 57
The Stages of a Life
When Rabbi Yochanan posed a question to his teacher Rabbi Oshea, he received no reply. But when Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish asked the same Sage a different question, he received an answer. Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi was puzzled by the silence that greeted Rabbi Yochanan’s question and asked Rabbi Oshea, “Is Rabbi Yochanan not great enough to also deserve a reply?”
Rabbi Oshea answered that the reason for his silence was that there was no answer to Rabbi Yochanan's question.
This account of Resh Lakish studying Torah with Rabbi Oshea, the teacher of Rabbi Yochanan, is cited by Tosefot as support for the position of the Rabbeinu Tam that Resh Lakish had already been a Torah scholar before his famous encounter with Rabbi Yochanan. But, Rabbeinu Tam claims, Resh Lakish had abandoned his life of Torah, and became the leader of thieves. Eventually, when Resh Lakish encountered Rabbi Yochanan, Rabbi Yochanan promised him his extraordinarily attractive sister in marriage as persuasion for return to the Torah and its studys, first as a disciple and then as a colleague who often disputed Rabbi Yochanan’s halachic opinions.
The incident in our gemara occurred during the first phase of Resh Lakish's eventful life, when he studied Torah in the presence of Rabbi Yochanan's teacher. It was only later that the encounter with Rabbi Yochanan took place, an encounter that set the stage for the latter, glorious phase of Resh Lakish’s life as one of the greatest Torah scholars in history.
- Yevamot 57a