Rabbi Yehuda’s ancestry links him to Israel’s greatest leaders. His mother’s family tree goes back to King David. His grandfather was Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh – the nasi (head) of the Sanhedrin in Yavneh in the period following the destruction of the Beit haMikdash.
After the passing of his father, Rabbi Simeon ben Gamliel, Rabbi Judah haNasi, was also elected to be nasi and became the leader of the Jewish community at large.
He foresaw that due to the period of Exile which had begun with the destruction of the Beit ha-Mikdash, it was likely that much of the Torah could be forgotten. To stop this from happening, Rabbi Judah decided to gather and record teachings transmitted over hundreds of years ever since the revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai. For the first time the Oral Law was set down in writing in the form of the Mishnah.
Although he was extremely wealthy and on friendly terms with the Emperor Antoninus, at the time of his passing Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi raised his ten fingers toward Heaven and said in prayer:
Master of the Universe, it is revealed and known before You that I toiled with my ten fingers in the Torah, and I have not derived any benefit from the world even with my small finger. (Ketubot 104a).
The Talmud (Ketubot 103a) relates: Every Shabbat eve, even after his passing, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi would come to his house as he had done during his lifetime, and he therefore wished for everything to be set up as usual. Wearing Shabbat clothes, he would recite the Kiddush for his family – and discharged his family members from their obligation to hear Kiddush.
However, on a certain Shabbat eve that a neighbor came by and called and knocked at the door. His maidservant said to her: Be quiet, for Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi is sitting.
When Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi heard his maidservant reveal his presence to the neighbor, he did not come again, so as not to cast aspersions on earlier righteous individuals who did not appear to their families following (what seemed to be) their passing.