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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin

Folio 96a

'and disguise thyself'. 'How shall I disguise myself?' 'Bring me a razor, and I myself will shave thee'. He answered. 'Whence shall I procure it?' 'Enter that house and take it', He rejoined. So he went and found it there. But the Ministering angels appeared to him in the shape of men grinding palm kernels. 'Give me the razor,' said he. 'Grind a griwah1  of palm kernels,' they replied, 'and we will give it thee'. So he ground a griwah of palm kernels, and they gave him the razor. By the time he returned, it had become dark. 'Go and bring some fire', He ordered. So he went and brought fire. Whilst he was blowing it [into a blaze], it caught hold of his beard, whereupon He shaved off the hair of his head together with his beard.2  They [sc.' the scholars] said: That is what is meant by the phrase, and it shall also consume the beard.3  R. Papa said: Thus men say, If thou art singeing [the hair of] an Aramean, and he is pleased therewith, set light to his beard; so wilt thou not suffer his mockery.4  He then went away and found a plank of Noah's ark. 'This', said he, 'must be the great God who saved Noah from the flood. If I5  go [to battle] and am successful, I will sacrifice my two sons to thee', he vowed. But his sons heard this, so they killed him, as it is written, And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword etc.6

And he fought against them, he and his servants, by night [lailah]7  and smote them.8  R. Johanan said: The angel who was appointed to [aid] Abraham was named lailah [Night]. as it is written, [Let the day perish wherein I was born], and the Lailah which said, There is a man child conceived.9  R. Isaac, the smith, said: He [the angel] set into motion the activities of the night [viz.. the stars] on his behalf, as it is written, They fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.10  Resh Lakish said: The smith's interpretation is better than the son of the smith's.11  And he pursued them unto Dan.12  R. Johanan said: As soon as that righteous man came unto Dan, his strength failed him, for he [prophetically] saw his descendants who would practise idolatry in Dan, as it is written, And he set the one in Beth-el, and the other put he in Dan.13  That wicked man [Nebuchadnezzar] too did not prevail until he reached Dan, as it is written, The snorting of his horses was heard from Dan.14

R. Zera said: Though R. Judah b. Bathyra15  sent a message from Nisibis,16  [saying]. Observe [the respect due to] a scholar17  who has forgotten his learning through a misfortune [e.g., illness]; and be careful [to cut] the jugular veins, in accordance with R. Judah's ruling;18  and be heedful of the honour due to the children of the ignorant, for from them proceedeth the Torah:19  yet such a thing as this is made known to them.20  [Viz..] Righteous art thou, O Lord, when I plead with thee: Yet let me talk to thee of thy judgments: wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? Wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously? Thou hast planted them, yea, they have taken root: they grow, yea, they bring forth fruit.21  What was he answered? — If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with the horses? And if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of the Jordan?22  This may be compared to a man who boasted, 'I can run three parasangs in front of horses on marshy land.' But happening to meet a pedestrian, he ran three mils23  before him on dry land, and was exhausted. Thereupon he said to him: 'If thou art thus before a pedestrian, how much more so before horses: and if three mils have so [tired thee], how much more so three parasangs; and if on dry land it is thus, how much more so on marshy swamps!' It is even so with thee: if thou art thus astonished at the reward wherewith18  requited that wicked man for the four steps which he ran in my honour,24  how much more when I give their due reward to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who ran before me like horses [i.e., eagerly and swiftly]! Hence it is written, My heart within me is broken because of the prophets;25  all my bones shake; I am like a drunken man, and like a man whom wine hath overcome; because of the Lord, and because of the words of his holiness.26

To what does the 'four steps' refer? — As it is written, At that time, Merodach-baladan, the son of Baladan, king of Babylon, sent letters and a present to Hezekiah: [for he had heard that he had been sick, and was recovered].27  But just because Hezekiah had fallen sick and was recovered, he sent him letters and a present!28  Indeed 'to enquire of the wonder that was done in the land.'29  For R. Johanan said: The day on which Ahaz died consisted of but two hours;30  and when Hezekiah sickened and recovered, the Holy One, blessed be He, restored those ten hours, as it is written, Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward. So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down.31  Thereupon he [Merodach-baladan] inquired of them [his courtiers], 'What is this?' They replied, 'Hezekiah has sickened and recovered.' 'There is such a [great] man,' exclaimed he, 'and shall I not send him a greeting! Write thus to him: "Peace to King Hezekiah, peace to the city of Jerusalem, and peace to the great God!"' Now Nebuchadnezzar was Baladan's scribe, but just then he was not present. When he came, he asked them, 'How did ye write?' And they told him, 'We wrote thus and thus.' 'Ye called him the great God,' said he, 'yet ye mentioned him last! Thus,' said he, 'should ye have written: "peace to the great God, peace to the city of Jerusalem, and peace to King Hezekiah."' 'Let the reader of the letter,' said they to him, 'become the messenger.'32  So he ran after him;33  but when he had taken four steps, Gabriel came and made him halt. R. Johanan observed: Had not Gabriel come and stopped him, nothing could have saved34  the enemies of Israel.35

Why was he called [Merodach-]Baladan the son of Baladan?36  It is told: Baladan was a king whose face turned into that of a dog,37  so that his son sat upon his throne instead. In his documents he wrote his own name, and the name of his father, King Baladan, [i.e., Merodach-baladan]. This is the meaning of the verse, A son honoureth his father, and a servant his master.38

Now, 'a son honoureth his father' refers to what has just been said. 'And a servant his master' — as it is written, Now in the fifth month, in the tenth day of the month, which was the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, came Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard, and stood before the king of Babylon in Jerusalem, And burned the house of the Lord, and the king's house.39

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. A dry measure: the quantity put in one time into a handmill.
  2. Thus he was shaved with a razor hired by his own work, a work which is done 'by the riverside', viz., grinding, the water providing power for the mill.
  3. 'Consume' not being applicable to the action of a razor, something else must be intended, viz., the fire.
  4. I.e., even when he is pleased with a Jew, he is still a potential source of danger.
  5. V. p. 646, n. 6.
  6. II Kings XIX, 37.
  7. [H]
  8. Gen. XIV, 15.
  9. Job III, 3 the verse is translated: And Lailah fought on their behalf; he (Abraham) and his etc.
  10. Judges V, 20; thus, just as there, so here too.
  11. So Rashi, assuming that R. Johanan was the son of a smith. But Bar Nappaha may simply mean a smith (Jast.); R. Johanan was so occasionally dubbed; e.g., B.M. 85b. Rashi also suggests that the name may allude to his beauty. In that case [H] may be understood, the sense being, inflaming one's desires.
  12. Gen. XIV, 14.
  13. I Kings XII, 29. The reference is to the golden calves set up by Jeroboam.
  14. Jer. VIII, 16.
  15. Var. lec., R. Joshua b. Levi; but v. next note.
  16. Nisibis was on the frontier of Armenia, not far from Mesopotamia. There R. Judah b. Bathyra had his school. (V. supra, 32b — this fact supports the reading of our text.)
  17. Lit., 'elder,' but generally used of a mature scholar.
  18. When a fowl is slaughtered, the jugular vein, which contains much blood, must be cut too; otherwise the fowl may not be roasted whole. This is R. Judah's opinion.
  19. Though the fathers may be unlearned, the children, if scholars, must be duly respected, for they may be the forebears of great scholars, as is evidenced by Shemaiah and Abtalion who were the descendants of Sennacherib (Rashi); v. infra 96b.
  20. The reference is not quite clear. Rashi gives two alternatives: (i) They are honoured on account of the slight merit which their father possessed; or (ii) they are honoured solely on account of their learning, not their ancestry, lest they forget their ignoble origin.
  21. Jer. XII, 1f. The question refers to Nebuchadnezar's military successes, particularly in Palestine.
  22. Ibid, 5.
  23. Mil = 1/4 parasang.
  24. The allusion is explained further on.
  25. I.e., Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: I am filled with wonderment at the magnitude of their reward. Maharsha explains this more naturally: My heart is broken because of the false prophets, who assure Israel that Nebuchadnezzar will not meet with success in Palestine, being a greater sinner than the Jews. But that is a false hope: he shall be rewarded with victory on account of the four steps which he ran in God's honour.
  26. Ibid. XXIII, 9.
  27. Isa. XXXIX, 1.
  28. Surely not!
  29. II Chron. XXXII, 31.
  30. I.e., it set ten hours too soon, to allow of no time for the funeral obsequies and eulogies. This was in order to make atonement for his sins, for the disgrace of being deprived of the usual funeral honours expiates ones misdeeds, as stated supra 46b and 47a.
  31. Isa. XXXVIII, 8. The return of the ten degrees is assumed to mean a prolongation of the day by ten hours, light having healing powers.
  32. I.e., let him who gave the advice carry it out.
  33. I.e., the messenger, who was already on his way, to recall him and rewrite it.
  34. Lit., 'there would have been no remedy for …
  35. A euphemism for the Jews themselves. Had he run further and actually carried out his desire, his title to reward would have been so great as to enable him to wipe out Israel. The scholarly children of the ignorant — a synonym here for the wicked — should thus be informed that the honour paid to them is due to the slight merit of their fathers, as in this case.
  36. It being unusual for father and son to bear the same name.
  37. [In Assyrian-Babylonian Monuments there are to be seen dogs in the company of Merodach, and this is very likely an explanation of this conception of Baladan's dog-face; v. Ginzberg, Legends, VI, 368, 82.]
  38. Mal. I, 6.
  39. Jer. LII, 12f.
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Sanhedrin 96b

But had Nebuchadnezzar gone up to Jerusalem? Surely it is written, They carried him up unto the King of Babylon to Riblah,'1  and R. Abbahu said that this was Antioch? — R. Hisda and R. Isaac b. Abudimi [replied as follows] — One answered: His [Nebuchadnezzar's] portrait was engraved on his [Nebuzaradan's] chariot; and the other explained: He stood in such awe before him that it is as though he were in his presence.2

Raba said: Nebuchadnezzar sent Nebuzaradan three hundred mules laden with iron axes that could break iron,3  but they were all shattered4  on a single gate of Jerusalem, for it is written, And now they attack its gate [lit., 'door'] together: with axes and hammers they smite.5  He desired to return, but said, 'I am afraid lest I meet the same fate which befell Sennacherib.'6  Thereupon a voice cried out, 'Thou leaper, son of a leaper, leap, Nebuzaradan, for the time has come for the Sanctuary to be destroyed and the Temple burnt.' He had but one axe left, so he went and smote [the gate] with the head thereof, and it opened, as it is written, A man was famous according as he had lifted up axes upon the thick trees.7  He hewed down [the Jews] as he proceeded, until he reached the Temple. Upon his setting fire thereto, it sought to rise up, but was trodden down8  from Heaven, as it is written, The Lord hath trodden down the virgin daughter of Judah [the Temple] as in a winepress.9  His mind was now elated [with his triumph], when a voice came forth from Heaven saying to him, 'Thou hast slain a dead people, thou hast burned a Temple already burned, thou hast ground flour already ground, as it is written, Take the millstones, and grind meal: uncover thy locks, make bare the leg, uncover the thigh, pass over the rivers:'10  not 'wheat' but meal is said.11

[After that] he saw the blood of Zechariah12  seething. 'What is this?' cried he. 'It is the blood of sacrifices, which has been spilled,' they answered. 'Then,' said he, 'bring [some animal blood] and I will compare them, to see whether they are alike.' So he slaughtered animals and compared them, but they were dissimilar. 'Disclose [the secret] to me, or if not, I will tear your flesh with iron combs,' he threatened. They replied: 'This is [the blood of] a priest and a prophet, who foretold the destruction of Jerusalem to the Israelites, and they killed him.' 'I,' said he, 'will appease him.' So he brought the scholars and slew them over him,13  yet it did not cease [to boil]. He brought schoolchildren and slew them over him, still it did not rest; he brought the young priests and slew them over him, and still it did not rest, until he had slain ninety four thousand, and still it did not rest. Whereupon he approached him and cried out, 'Zechariah, Zechariah, I have destroyed the flower of them: dost thou desire me to massacre them all?' Straightway it rested. Thoughts of repentance came into his mind: if they, who killed one person only, have been so [severely punished], what will be my fate? So he fled, sent his testament to his house, and became a proselyte.

Our Rabbis taught: Naaman was a resident alien,14  Nebuzaradan was a righteous proselyte,15  the descendants of Sisera studied Torah in Jerusalem; the descendants of Sennacherib taught Torah to the multitude: Who were these? — Shemaiah and Abtalion.16  The descendants of Haman studied Torah in Benai Berak. The Holy One, blessed be He, purposed to lead the descendants of that wicked man17  too under the Wings of the Shechinah,18  but the ministering Angels protested before Him, 'Sovereign of the Universe! Shalt Thou bring him under the wings of the Shechinah who laid Thy House in ruins, and burnt Thy Temple?' That is meant by the verse, We would have healed Babylon, but she is not healed.19  'Ulla said: This refers to Nebuchadnezzar;20  R. Samuel b. Nahmani said: By this are meant the rivers of Babylon21  which run along the palm-trees of Babylonia.22

'Ulla said: Ammon and Moab were evil neighbours of Jerusalem. As soon as they heard the prophets predicting the destruction of Jerusalem, they sent to Nebuchadnezzar, 'Leave [thy country] and come hither.' He replied, 'I am afraid lest I be treated as my predecessors. Thereupon they sent word, 'For the man is not at home;23  and 'man' refers only to the Holy One, blessed be He, as it is written, The Lord is a man of war.24  He sent answer, 'But he may be near, to which they returned, 'He hath gone a long journey.'25  He again sent word: 'They have among them righteous men who may pray to Him and bring Him back.' They answered, 'He hath taken a bag of money with him;'26  and 'money' refers to none but the righteous, as it is written, So I bought her to me for fifteen pieces of silver, and for an homer of barley, and an half homer of barley.27  He sent back: 'The wicked may repent, pray for mercy, and bring Him back.' They answered, 'He hath already fixed a time for them,'28  as it is written, And will come home at the day appointed [ha-kese]29  and 'kese' can only refer to time, as it is written, in the time appointed [ba-kese] on our solemn feast day.30  He then sent word, 'It is winter, and I cannot come on account of the approaching snows and rains.' They replied, 'Come by way of the mountains, [which will protect you];'31  as it is written, Send ye a messenger to the ruler of the earth [i.e., Nebuchadnezzar] [that he may come] by way of the rocks [i.e., mountains] to the wilderness, [unto the mount of the daughter of Zion].32  He sent back, 'If I come, I have no place for encamping.'33  They replied, 'Their graveyards are better than thy palaces'; as it is written, At that time, saith the Lord, they shall bring out the bones of the King of Judah, and the bones of his princes, and the bones of the priests, and the bones of the prophets, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, out of their graves: And they shall spread them before the sun, and the moon, and all the host of heaven, whom they have loved, and whom they have served, and after whom they have walked.34

R. Nahman said to R. Isaac: 'Have you heard when Bar Nafle35  will come?' 'Who is Bar Nafle?' he asked. 'Messiah,' he answered, 'Do you call Messiah Bar Nafle?' — 'Even so,' he rejoined, 'as it is written, in that day I will raise up

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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. Ibid. 9.
  2. According to both answers the verse shews the singular honour which he paid him.
  3. Lit., 'that has power over iron;' to hew down the gate of Jerusalem.
  4. Lit., 'swallowed up.'
  5. Ps. LXXIV, 6.
  6. Who was assassinated on his return from Jerusalem, II Kings XIX, 37.
  7. Ps. LXXIV, 5.
  8. I.e., forced down.
  9. Lam. I, 15.
  10. Isa. XLVII, 2.
  11. I.e., he had no cause for pride, for the destruction of Israel having been decreed, they were already as destroyed.
  12. Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada, was a priest who flourished during the reign of Joash, king of Judah. On account of his stern denunciation of idolaters a conspiracy was formed against him, and he was stoned in the Temple Court at the king's command — II Chron. XXIV, 20-22. In his dying words he called for vengeance. [V. however, Baeck, MGWJ, pp. 313ff.]
  13. I.e., his blood.
  14. One who renounces idolatry for the sake of certain rights of citizenship in Palestine.
  15. One who accepts all the laws of Judaism with no ulterior motive.
  16. The teachers of Hillel.
  17. Nebuchadnezzar.
  18. I.e., make them proselytes.
  19. Jer. 21, 9.
  20. That God desired his descendants to become proselytes.
  21. Which are unfit for drinking purposes (v. Obermeyer, op. cit. 195). [The reference is to Ps. CXXXVII, 1; v. Strashun, a.l.]
  22. [Which stand by the river's edge and bear no fruit. Thus Rashi on the basis of a slightly different reading. According to Obermeyer, op. cit. 295, following our text, it may be rendered thus: 'By this are meant the rivers of Babylonia which, as is explained, run along the palm trees of Babylon.' The water, that is to say, is rendered unfit for drinking purposes by reason of the salt it absorbs from the soil, as palm trees need salty ground for their cultivation.]
  23. Prov. VII, 19.
  24. Ex. XV, 3.
  25. Prov. Ibid.
  26. Ibid. 20.
  27. Hos. III, 2: This is figuratively interpreted: I redeemed the Israelites from Egypt on the fifteenth of Nisan, in the merit of the forty five righteous men (a homer and a half is forty five se'ahs) by whose virtue the world exists (Hul. 92a). Thus 'silver', the price of redemption, is an allegorical reference to the righteous.
  28. That He will not return to them until seventy years of exile have passed.
  29. [H] Prov. Ibid.
  30. Ps. LXXXI, 1, 3.
  31. So Rashi. Jast. renders: 'Come, even if it be necessary to march over the cliffs and mountains.'
  32. Isa. XVI, 1.
  33. 'There is no sheltered place outside Jerusalem where I may encamp with my whole army.'
  34. Jer. VIII, 1f. I.e., the great burial vaults will be cleaned to give shelter to Nebuchadnezzar's army.
  35. [Lit., 'son of the fallen.' Bar Nafle is generally assumed to represent the Greek [G], the 'son of the clouds;' cf. Dan. VII, 13, there came with the clouds of heaven one like a son of man, which R. Nahman gave a Hebrew connotation.]
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