Elisha Acher came out of paradise a heretic. What went wrong? A worm had been eating away at him all the time. The worm’s name: skepticism.
When Elisha Acher entered paradise he saw the archangel Metatron sitting down. But he had learned that angels are not permitted to sit in paradise, but only stand in awe of the Almighty. Conclusion 1: The sages are not always correct in their assertions. Conclusion 2: Metatron is not subordinate to the Almighty, but a god himself.
What Elisha didn’t know is that there is an exception to the rule. Indeed angels are not permitted to sit in paradise, and that includes Metatron. But one of his divinely ordained tasks is to inscribe in the book of records the merits of Israel, and to do that he is allowed to sit. And that’s what Metatron was doing when Elisha entered the gates of paradise.
[Later Metatron was punished for not having realized that Elisha would misinterpret his sitting. He should have immediately stood up, caring for Elisha’s fate.]
Had Elisha not have been a skeptic as to the truth of the Oral Torah he would not have erred. But in secret – perhaps even from himself – he had been a skeptic all the time. Nonetheless, only after his mystical experience was he able to justify his skepticism and come to his conclusions.
Before he went sour Elisha had a great disciple, Rabbi Meir. Even after Elisha parted ways from the rabbinic community Rabbi Meir kept in contact with him. Although unable to rectify his mentor in that lifetime, Rabbi Meir did his best to rectify Elisha’s soul after his death.
The sages say that only Rabbi Meir is qualified to undertake the task of rectifying heretics, especially such great heretics as Elisha Acher. Of all of the sages of the Mishnah, Rabbi Meir is the most messianic. We must learn to take his lead. The subconscious is full of worms and wormholes. But there are ways to displace them.