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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sotah

Folio 13a

and said: 'My mother will bear a son who will be the saviour of Israel'. When Moses was born, the whole house was filled with light; and her father arose and kissed her upon her head, saying 'My daughter, thy prophecy has been fulfilled'; but when they cast him into the river, her father arose and smacked her upon her head, saying: 'Where, now, is thy prophecy!' That is what is written: And his sister stood afar off to know what would be done to him1  — what would be the fate of her prophecy.

JOSEPH EARNED MERIT etc. Why the difference that first it is written: And Joseph went up to bury his father, and with him went up all the servants of Pharaoh etc.,2  followed by, And all the house of Joseph, and his brethren, and his father's house,3  and in the sequel it is written: And Joseph returned into Egypt, he and his brethren,4  followed by, And all that went up with him to bury his father? — R. Johanan said: At first, before [the servants of Pharaoh] beheld the glory of the Israelites, they did not treat them with respect;5  but in the sequel, when they beheld their glory, they treated them with respect. For it is written: And they came to the threshing-floor of Atad;6  but is there a threshing-floor for brambles? — R. Abbahu said: It teaches that they surrounded Jacob's coffin with crowns like a threshing-floor which is surrounded with a hedge of brambles, because the sons of Esau, of Ishmael and of Keturah also came. A Tanna taught: They all came to wage war [against the Israelites]; but when they saw Joseph's crown hanging upon Jacob's coffin, they all took their crowns and hung them upon his coffin. A Tanna taught: Sixty-three crowns were hung upon Jacob's coffin.

And there they lamented with a very great and sore lamentation.7  It has been taught: Even the horses and asses [joined in the lamentation]. When [the cortege] arrived at the Cave of Machpelah, Esau came and wished to prevent [the interment there], saying to them, Mamre, Kiriath-arba, the same is Hebron8  — now R. Isaac has said: Kiriath-arba [is so called] because four couples [were buried there], viz. Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah — [Jacob] had buried Leah in his portion and what remains belongs to me'. They replied to him, 'Thou didst sell it'. He said to them, 'Granted that I sold my birth-right, but did I sell my plain heir's right!' They replied: 'Yes, for it is written: In my grave which I [Jacob] have digged for me',9  and R. Johanan has said in the name of R. Simeon b. Jehozadak: The word kirah [dig] means nothing else than 'sale' [mekirah], and thus in the coast-towns they use kirah as a term for 'sale'. — He said to them, 'Produce a document [of sale] for me'. They replied to him, 'The document is in the land of Egypt. Who will go for it? Let Naphtali go, because he is swift as a hind'; for it is written: Naphtali is a hind let loose, he giveth goodly words10  — R. Abbahu said: Read not 'goodly words' [imre shefer] but imre sefer [words of a document]. Among those present was Hushim, a son of Dan, who was hard of hearing; so he asked them, 'What is happening?' They said to him, '[Esau] is preventing [the burial] until Naphtali returns from the land of Egypt'. He retorted: 'Is my grandfather to lie there in contempt until Naphtali returns from the land of Egypt!' He took a club and struck [Esau] on the head so that his eyes fell out and rolled to the feet of Jacob. Jacob opened his eyes and laughed; and that is what is written: The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance; he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.11  At that time was the prophecy of Rebekah fulfilled, as it is written: Why should I be bereaved of you both in one day?12  Although the death of the two of them did not occur on the one day, still their burial took place on the same day. — But if Joseph had not occupied himself with [Jacob's burial], would not his brethren have occupied themselves with it? Behold it is written: For his sons carried him into the land of Canaan!13  — They said [among themselves], 'Leave him [to conduct the interment]; for the honour [of our father] will be greater [when it is conducted] by kings than by commoners'.

WHOM HAVE WE GREATER THAN JOSEPH etc.? Our Rabbis have taught: Come and see how beloved were the commandments by Moses our teacher; for whereas all the Israelites occupied themselves with the spoil, he occupied himself with the commandments, as it is said: The wise in heart will receive commandments etc.14  But whence did Moses know the place where Joseph was buried? — It is related that Serah, daughter of Asher, was a survivor of that generation. Moses went to her and asked: 'Dost thou know where Joseph was buried?' She answered him, 'The Egyptians made a metal coffin for him which they fixed in the river Nile so that its waters should be blessed'. Moses went and stood on the bank of the Nile and exclaimed: 'Joseph, Joseph! the time has arrived which the Holy One, blessed be He, swore, "I will deliver you", and the oath which thou didst impose upon the Israelites15  has reached [the time of fulfilment]; if thou wilt shew thyself, well and good; otherwise, behold, we are free of thine oath'. Immediately Joseph's coffin floated [on the surface of the water]. Be not astonished that iron should float; for, behold, it is written: As one was felling a beam, the axe-head fell into the water etc. Alas, my master, for it was borrowed. And the man of God said: Where fell it? And he shewed him the place. And he cut down a stick and cast it in thither, and made the iron to swim.16  Now cannot the matter be argued by a fortiori reasoning — if iron floated on account of Elisha who was the disciple of Elijah who was the disciple of Moses, how much more so on account of Moses our teacher! R. Nathan says: He was buried in the sepulchre of the kings; and Moses went and stood by the sepulchre of the kings and exclaimed. 'Joseph! the time has arrived which the Holy One, blessed be He, swore "I will deliver you", and the oath which thou didst impose upon the Israelites has reached [the time of fulfilment]; if thou wilt shew thyself, well and good; otherwise, behold, we are free of thine oath'. At that moment, Joseph's coffin shook, and Moses took it and carried it with him. All those years that the Israelites were in the wilderness, those two chests, one of the dead and the other of the Shechinah,17  proceeded side by side, and passersby used to ask: 'What is the nature of those two chests?' They received the reply: 'One is of the dead and the other of the Shechinah'. 'But is it, then, the way of the dead to proceed with the Shechinah?' They were told,

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. Ibid. II, 4.
  2. Gen. L, 7.
  3. Gen. L, 8.
  4. Ibid. 14. The order of the procession is now reversed.
  5. And proceeded in front of them.
  6. Ibid. 10. As a common noun 'atad' means 'brambles'.
  7. Gen. L, 10.
  8. Ibid. XXXV, 27. Kiriath — 'arba is literally 'the burial of four'. He claimed that only four couples were to be buried there, and demanded the one remaining sepulchre for himself. The explanatory remark of R. Isaac is interpolated into Esau's words.
  9. Ibid. L, 5.
  10. Gen. XLIX, 21.
  11. Ps. LVIII, 11.
  12. Gen. XXVII, 45.
  13. Ibid. L, 13. It is not stated that Joseph did this.
  14. Prov. X, 8.
  15. To carry Joseph's bones out of Egypt (Exod. XIII, 19).
  16. II Kings VI, 5f.
  17. Aron means in Hebrew both an ark and a coffin. It here refers to the Ark of the Covenant.
Tractate List

Sotah 13b

'This one [Joseph] fulfilled all that was written in the other'.1  But if Moses had not occupied himself with him, would not the Israelites have occupied themselves with him? Behold, it is written: And the bones of Joseph which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt buried they in Shechem!2  Furthermore, if the Israelites had not occupied themselves with him, would not his own sons have done so? And, behold, it is written: And they became the inheritance of the children of Joseph!3  — They4  said [to one another], 'Leave him; his honour will be greater [when the burial is performed] by many rather than by few'; and they also said: 'Leave him; his honour will be greater [when the burial is performed] by the great rather than by the small'.

Buried they in Shechem.3  Why just in Shechem? — R. Hama son of R. Hanina said: From Shechem they stole him,5  and to Shechem we will restore what is lost. The following verses are contradictory: it is written: And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him,6  and it is written: And the bones of Joseph which the children of Israel brought up7  etc.! — R. Hama son of R. Hanina said: Whoever performs a task without finishing it and another comes and completes it, Scripture ascribes it to the one who completed it as though he had performed it. R. Eleazar said: He8  is likewise deposed from his greatness; for it is written: And it came to pass at that time that Judah went down.9  R. Samuel b. Nahmani said: He also buries his wife and children; for it is written: Shua's daughter, the wife of Judah, died etc.,10  and it is written: But Er and Onan died.11

Rab Judah said in the name of Rab: Why was Joseph called 'bones' during his lifetime?12  Because he did not interfere to safeguard his father's honour when [his brothers] said to him, Thy servant our father13  and he made no reply to them. Rab Judah also said in the name of Rab, and others declare that it was R. Hama son of R. Hanina: Why did Joseph die before his brothers? Because he gave himself superior airs.

And Joseph was brought down to Egypt.14  R. Eleazar said: Read not 'was brought down' but 'brought down', because he brought Pharaoh's astrologers down from their eminence.15  And Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh's bought him, Rab said: He bought him for himself;16  but Gabriel came and castrated him,17  and then Gabriel came and mutilated him [pera'], for originally his name is written Potiphar but afterwards Potiphera.18

WHOM HAVE WE GREATER THAN MOSES etc. And the Lord said unto me, Let it suffice thee.19  R. Levi said: With the word 'suffice' [Moses] made an announcement and with the word 'suffice' an announcement was made to him. With the word 'suffice' he made an announcement: 'Suffice you';20  and with the word 'suffice' an announcement was made to him: 'Let it suffice thee'. Another explanation of 'Let it suffice [rab] thee' is, Thou hast a master [rab], viz., Joshua.21  Another explanation of 'Let it suffice thee' is, That people should not say: How severe the Master is and how persistent the pupil is.22  And why so? In the School of R. Ishmael it was taught: According to the camel is the burden.23

And he said unto them, I am an hundred and twenty years old this day.24  Why does the text state 'this day?' [The meaning is], This day are my days and years completed.25  Its purpose is to teach you that the Holy One, blessed be He, completes the years of the righteous from day to day, and from month to month; for it is written: The number of thy days I will fulfil.26  I can no more go out and come in24  — what means 'go out and come in'? If it is to be understood literally, behold it is written: And Moses was an hundred and twenty years old when he died; his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated;27  it is also written: And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto mount Nebo;28  and it has been taught: Twelve steps were there, but Moses mounted them in one stride! — R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in the name of R. Jonathan: [It means] to 'go out and come in' with words of Torah, thus indicating that the gates of wisdom were closed against him.

And Moses and Joshua went, and presented themselves in the tent of meeting.29  A Tanna taught: That was a Sabbath when two teachers [gave discourses] and the authority was taken from one to be transferred to the other. It has further been taught: R. Judah said: Were it not for a Scriptural text, it would be impossible to utter the following. Where did Moses die? In the portion of Reuben, for it is written: And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto mount Nebo, and Nebo was located in the portion of Reuben, for it is written: And the children of Reuben built … and Nebo etc.30  — It was called Nebo because three prophets [nebi'im] died there, viz. Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. — And where was Moses buried? In the portion of Gad, for it is written: And he provided the first part for himself etc.31  Now what was the distance between the portion of Reuben and that of Gad? Four mil.32  Who carried him those four mil? It teaches that Moses was laid upon the wings of the Shechinah, and the Ministering Angels kept proclaiming, He executed the justice of the Lord, and His judgments with Israel,33  and the Holy One, blessed be He, declared: Who will rise up for Me against the evil-doers? Who will stand up for Me against the workers of iniquity?34

Samuel35  said [that God declared], Who is as the wise man? and who knoweth the interpretation of a thing?36  R. Johanan said [that God declared], Where shall wisdom be found?37  R. Nahman said [that God announced], So Moses died there etc.38  Semalyon39  said: So Moses died there, the great Sage of Israel.40

It has been taught: R. Eliezer the Elder said: Over an area of twelve mil square, corresponding to that of the camp of Israel, a Bath Kol made the proclamation, 'So Moses died there', the great Sage of Israel. Others declare that Moses never died; it is written here, 'So Moses died there', and elsewhere it is written: And he was there with the Lord.41  As in the latter passage it means standing and ministering, so also in the former it means standing and ministering.

And He buried him in the valley in the land of Moab over against Beth-peor.42  R. Berechyah said: Although [Scripture provides] a clue within a clue, nevertheless no man knoweth of his sepulchre.42  The wicked Government once sent to

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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. The Ark contained the tables of the Decalogue.
  2. Josh. XXIV, 32.
  3. Josh. XXIV, 32.
  4. Joseph's sons.
  5. His brothers. Cf. Gen. XXXVII, 12.
  6. Ex. XIII, 19.
  7. Josh. XXIV, 32.
  8. Viz., he who does not finish his undertaking.
  9. Gen. XXXVIII, 1, i.e., descended from his greatness, because he began to rescue Joseph but did not complete it.
  10. Ibid. 12.
  11. Ibid. XLVI, 12. They were Judah's sons.
  12. Cf. L, 25.
  13. Ibid. XLIV, 31.
  14. Ibid. XXXIX, 1.
  15. He interpreted the dreams which baffled them.
  16. For an immoral purpose, being inflamed by Joseph's beauty.
  17. The word Hebrew for 'officer' also means eunuch.
  18. Cf. Gen. XLI, 45.
  19. Deut. III, 26.
  20. Num. XVI, 3.
  21. The meaning is that his leadership was coming to an end and Joshua was about to succeed him.
  22. Do not petition Me more, lest the people make reflections on My nature.
  23. God is stricter with the righteous because their faith will stand the test.
  24. Deut. XXXI, 2.
  25. It was his birthday.
  26. Ex. XXIII, 26.
  27. Deut. XXXIV, 7.
  28. Ibid. 1.
  29. Deut. XXXI, 14.
  30. Num. XXXII. 37f.
  31. Deut. XXXIII, 21. It continues, For there was the lawgiver's portion reserved.
  32. A mil equalled 2,000 cubits, or 3,000 feet.
  33. Ibid.
  34. Ps. XCIV, 16. I.e., now that Moses is dead.
  35. The Rabbi of that name.
  36. Eccl. VIII, 1.
  37. Job XXVIII, 12.
  38. Deut. XXXIV, 5.
  39. Rashi explains it as the name of a wise man. Others take it as the designation of an angel who made the proclamation, v. Aruch.
  40. [ [H]. Lit., 'the Great Scribe'. Moses is so designated because he wrote the Torah (Maharsha). Krauss, S., (Hagoren, VII, p. 32ff) attempts to connect this appellation with the mythological idea of a heavenly Scribe by the side of the Deity determining the fate of nations and individuals].
  41. Ex. XXXIV, 28. The word there is common to both verses.
  42. Deut. XXXIV, 6.
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