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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate ‘Abodah Zarah

Folio 4a

by it, as it is said: For, behold, the day cometh, it burneth as a furnace; and all the proud, and all that work wickedness, shall be stubble; and the day that cometh shall set them ablaze, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.1  It shall leave them neither root — in this world, nor branch — in the world to come. The righteous are healed by it, as it is said, But unto you that fear My name, shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in its wings.1  Moreover, they will revel therein, as it is said, And ye shall go forth, and gambol as calves of the stall.2

Another explanation:3  Just as among fish of the sea, the greater swallow up the smaller ones, so with men, were it not for fear of the government, men would swallow each other alive. This is just what we learnt: R. Hanina, the Deputy High Priest, said, Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for the fear thereof, men would swallow each other alive.4 

R. Hinena b. Papa pointed to the following contradiction: Scripture says, As to the Almighty, we do not find him [exercising] plenteous power,5  yet it says, Great is our Lord and of abundant power6  and also, Thy right hand, O Lord, is become glorious in power!7  [The answer is] there is no contradiction here: the former refers to the time of judgment,8  the latter refers to a time of war.9

R. Hama b. Hanina pointed to another contradiction: Scripture says, Fury is not in me,10  yet it also says. The Lord revengeth and is furious!11  But there is really no contradiction: the former refers to Israel, the latter to idolaters.12  R. Hinena b. Papa [or R. Aha b. Hanina] explains the foregoing verse thus: Fury is not in me, for I already vowed;13  would that I had not so vowed, then, as the briars and thorns in flame I would with one step burn it altogether.14

This15  accords with the following teaching of R. Alexandri: What is the meaning of the verse, And it shall come to pass on that day that I will seek to destroy all the nations16  — ‘seek’ among whom? What the Holy One, blessed be He, says is, I will seek their records:17  if they have any meritorious deeds to their credit, I will redeem them, but if not, I will destroy them. This also accords with what Raba said: What is the meaning of the verse, Howbeit He will not stretch out a hand for a ruinous heap though they cry in his destruction ?18  — The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel, ‘When I judge Israel, I do not judge them as I do the idolaters concerning whom it is said, I will overturn, overturn, overturn it,19  but I only exact payment from them [little at a time] as the hen does her picking.’20 Another explanation: Even if Israel does before Me but few good deeds at a time, like hens picking in a rubbish heap, I will make it accumulate to a large sum, as it is said, though they pick little they are saved.21  Another rendering is: As a reward of their crying unto Me, I help them.22  This is similar to what R. Abba said, What is the meaning of the verse, Though I would redeem them, yet they have spoken lies against Me?23  I thought I would redeem them by depriving them of monetary possessions in this world, so that they be worthy to merit the world to come, yet they etc. Which is in agreement with what R. Papi said in the name of Raba: What is the meaning of the verse, Though I have trained [yissarti], strengthened their arms, yet do they imagine mischief against Me?24  The Holy One, blessed be He, says, I thought I would chastise them25  with suffering in this world, so that their arm might be strengthened in the world to come, yet they etc.

R. Abbahu commended R. Safra to the Minim26  as a learned man, and he was thus exempted by them from paying taxes for thirteen years.27  One day, on coming across him, they said to him; ‘It is written: You only have I known [or loved] from all the families of the earth; therefore I will visit upon you all your iniquities;28  if one is in anger does one vent it on one's friend?’ But he was silent and could give them no answer; so they wound a scarf round his neck and tortured him. When R. Abbahu came and found him [in that state] he said to them, Why do you torture him? Said they, ‘Have you not told us that he is a great man? he cannot explain to us the meaning of this verse!’ Said he, ‘I may have told you [that he was learned] in Tannaitic teaching; did I tell you [he was learned] in Scripture?’ — ‘How is it then that you know it?’ they contended. ‘We,’ he replied. ‘who are frequently with you, set ourselves the task of studying it thoroughly, but others29  do not study it as carefully.’ Said they, ‘Will you then tell us the meaning?’ ‘I will explain it by a parable.’ he replied. ‘To what may it be compared? To a man who is the creditor of two persons, one of them a friend, the other an enemy; of his friend he will accept payment little by little, whereas of his enemy he will exact payment in one sum!’30

Said R. Aba b. Kahana: What is the meaning of the verse, That be far from Thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked?31  What Abraham said is: ‘Sovereign of the Universe, it is profanation to do after this manner.’32 And does not God act after this manner? Is it not written, And I will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked?33  — That refers to one who is not thoroughly righteous. But not to one who is wholly righteous? Is it not written, And begin [the slaughter] with my sanctuary,34  which, R. Joseph learned, should not be read my sanctuary but my sanctified ones, namely the men who fulfilled the Torah from Aleph to Taw? — There, too, since it was in their power to protest against [the wickedness of the others] and they did not protest, they are not regarded as thoroughly righteous.

R. Papa mentioned the following contradiction: It is written, God is angry every day,35  while it is also written Who could stand before His anger?36  But there is really no contradiction; the latter refers to an individual, the former to men collectively.37  Our Rabbis taught: God is angry every day, but how long does His anger last? — A moment. And how long is a moment? — one fifty three thousand eight hundred forty eighth of an hour is a moment.38  No creature could ever precisely fix this moment, except Balaam the wicked, of whom it is written

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. Mal. III, 29.
  2. Ibid. 20.
  3. Of the foregoing verse, comparing men to fishes.
  4. Ab. III, 2. Shakespeare's lines, put in the mouth of Marcius (Coriolanus, Act 1, Sc. 1).
    What's the matter,
    That in these several places of the city
    You cry against the noble senate, who,
    Under the gods, keep you in awe, which else
    Would feed on one another?
    bear such a close resemblance to R. Hanina's words, that the suggestion has been made that the Poet was cognisant of them through the Latin translation of Aboth by Paulus Fagius which was published in 1541 (see L. Kelner in the Hebrew periodical D'VIR, Berlin, 1923, vol. 1, p. 287). It is, however, quite probable that Shakespeare merely had in his mind the scriptural verse:
    If it had not been the Lord who was for us,
    When men rose up against us,
    Then they had swallowed us up alive,
    When their wrath was kindled against us.
    Ps. CXXIV, 2, 3.
  5. A literal rendering of Job XXXVII, 23.
  6. Ps CXLVII, 5.
  7. Ex. XV, 6.
  8. When the Almighty restrains His power, by tempering Justice with Mercy.
  9. When Divine Power is exercised against His enemies.
  10. Isa. XXVII, 4.
  11. Nah. I, 2.
  12. V. nn. 6-7.
  13. That I would not be in wrath with thee (Isa. LIV, 9).
  14. According to this explanation the whole verse applies to Israel.
  15. The statement that in dealing wish Israel, God is ever mindful of His oft repeated promise of their eternal preservation.
  16. Zech. XII, 9.
  17. The reading in editions is [H] which Jastrow connects with the Latin benignae, favourable side. Kohut, however, points out that Mss. have [H] from root [H] which he associates with a Persian word meaning a book.
  18. Job XXX, 24.
  19. Ezek. XXI, 32.
  20. Little at a time; a play on the word [H] (pid) which stands here for destruction but which also means picking with the beak.
  21. A homiletical rendering of the phrase [H] — by picking they have salvation.
  22. [H] conveying the double sense of cry and salvation.
  23. Hos. VII, 13, v. RV.
  24. Ibid. 15.
  25. [H] (Yasser) stands both for training and chastising.
  26. Sectaries, dissenters; used generally as a designation for the early (Jewish) Christians. From many places in the Talmud it appears that to taunt Rabbis, particularly about difficult biblical passages, was a favourite practice of the Minim.
  27. [As honorarium for his work either (a) as teacher to the Minim (Herford, Christianity in Talmud and Midrash p. 267f) or (b) as assistant collector of imperial revenues (Bacher A. d. Pal. Am., II, 96 ff.) or (c) simply as a scholar, v. B.B. 8b.]
  28. Amos III, 2.
  29. [I.e., those of Babylonia.]
  30. So does God punish Israel only by intermittent visitations.
  31. Gen. XVIII, 25.
  32. The word Halilah [H] is here connected with [H] Hol profane, as secondary root of [H].
  33. Ezek. XXI, 8.
  34. Ibid. IX, 6.
  35. Ps. VII, 12.
  36. Nah. 1, 6.
  37. As the merits of some may atone for the rest. Cp. infra 5a.
  38. [The duration of the moment is given variously in different parts of the Talmud. V. Feldman, W. M. Rabbinical Mathematics etc., p. 188.]
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‘Abodah Zarah 4b

who knew the knowledge of the Most High.1  Is that possible? He did not know the mind of his animal, how could he have known the mind of the Most High! (What is meant by the words 'he did not know the mind of his animal'? — At the time when he was seen riding on his ass, they said to him, 'Why do you not ride on a horse?'2  And he replied, 'I consigned mine to the meadow.' Whereupon the ass said,3  Am I not thy ass — 'Just for carrying burdens,' he interrupted; she continued, upon whom thou hast ridden — 'Only casually' he again Interrupted; but she continued, ever since I was thine? 'What is more [she added] I have carried you by day and have been thy companion by night;' for the word I was wont [hiskanti], used here, is analagous to the word let her be his companion [sokeneth] used elsewhere.)4  What, then, is the meaning of He knew the knowledge of the Most High? — He knew the exact hour when the Holy One, blessed be He, is angry. This, indeed, is what the Prophet is alluding to when he says, O my people, remember now what Balak king of Moab consulted, and what Balaam son of Beor answered him from Shittim unto Gilgal; that ye may know the righteousness of the Lord.5  Said R. Eleazar: The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel, O my people, see how many righteous acts I did for you, in that I abstained from anger all those days, for had I been in anger, none would have remained or been spared of Israel's enemies.6  This, too, is what Balaam refers to when he says, How can I curse, seeing that God doth not curse, and how can I be wrathful, seeing that the Lord hath not been wrathful?7  And how long does His wrath last? — A moment [Rega']. And how long is a Rega'? Said Amemar (others say, Rabina): As long as it takes to utter this word. And whence do we know that His wrath lasts a moment? — Because it is written, For His anger is for a moment, His favour is for a life-time;8  or, if you wish, from this verse: Hide thyself for a little moment, until the wrath be past.9  When is He wrathful? — Said Abaye: During the first three hours,10  when the comb of the cock is white. And is it not white at all other times? — At other times it has red streaks, at that time there are no red streaks in it.

R. Joshua b. Levy used to be pestered by a Min [with taunts] about scriptural verses. One day the Rabbi took a cock and, placed it between the legs of the bed and watched it, thinking. 'When that hour will arrive, I shall curse him.' When that hour did arrive, he was dozing. Whereupon he said: You can learn from this that it is not proper to act thus: His tender mercies are over all His works11  is what Scripture says, and it also says. Neither is it good for the righteous to punish.12 

It was taught in the name of R. Meir: It is when the kings place their crowns on their heads and bow down to the sun,13  that the Holy One, blessed be He, at once becomes wrathful.

Said R. Joseph: No one should recite the Prayer14  of the Additional Service on the first day of the New Year,15  during the first three hours of the day, in private,16  lest, since judgment is then proceeding, his deeds may be scrutinised and the prayer rejected. But if that be so, it should apply to congregational prayer also! — The [collective] merits of a congregation are greater. In that case, [the Prayer] of the Morning Service, too, should not be recited in private! — That is not so, since there is sure to be a congregation praying at the same time,17  the prayer will not be rejected. But have you not said,18  'During the first three hours the Holy One, blessed be He, is occupying Himself with the Torah, during the second three He sits in judgment over the whole world'? — You may reverse [the order]; or, if you wish, you may say it need not be reversed: [while occupied with] the Torah, which Scripture designates as 'truth', as it is written, buy the truth and sell it not,19  the Holy One, blessed be He, will not overstep the line of justice; [but when sitting in] judgment, which is not designated by Scripture as 'truth',20  the Holy One, blessed be He, may overstep the line of justice [towards mercy].

[To revert to] the above text:21  'R. Joshua b. Levi said: What is the meaning of the verse, The ordinances which I command thee this day to do them? It is that this day only is the time to do them; they cannot be done in the time to come: this day is the time in which to do them, but not in which to be rewarded for them'. R. Joshua b. Levi also said:22  All the good deeds which Israel does in this world will bear testimony unto them in the world to come, as it is said, Let them bring their witnesses that they may be justified; let them hear and say it is truth. Let them bring their witnesses that they may be justified — that is Israel; let them hear and say it is truth — these are the idolaters. R. Joshua b. Levi also said:23  All the good deeds which the Israelites do in this world will come and flutter before the faces of the idolaters in the world to come, as it is said, Keep therefore and do them, for this, your wisdom and understanding [will be] in the eyes of the peoples.24  It does not say in the presence of the peoples, but, in the eyes of the peoples; that teaches you that they will come and flutter before the faces of the idolaters in the world to come. R. Joshua b. Levi further said: The Israelites made the [golden] calf only in order to place a good argument in the mouth of the penitents,25  as it is said, O that they had such a heart as this alway, to fear Me and keep all My commandments etc.26 

This last statement accords with what R. Johanan said in the name of R. Simeon b. Yohai: David was not the kind of man to do that act,27  nor was Israel the kind of people to do that act.28  David was not the kind of man to do that act, as it is written, My heart is slain within me;29  nor were the Israelites the kind of people to commit that act, for it is said, O that they had such a heart as this alway etc. Why, then, did they act thus?

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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. Num. XXIV, 16.
  2. As a man of high rank would do when on an urgent errand.
  3. Num. XXII, 30.
  4. I Kings I, 2 [H] and [H]
  5. Micah VI, 5.
  6. A euphemistic substitution for Israel.
  7. Literal rendering of Num. XXIII, 8.
  8. Ps. XXX, 6.
  9. Isa. XXVI, 20.
  10. Of the day, the day always consisting of 12 hours, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  11. Ps. CXLV, 9.
  12. Prov. XVII, 26.
  13. Generally during the first three hours of the day.
  14. I.e., the part called 'Amidah. P.B., 245.
  15. Which is also the Day of Judgment.
  16. Without a congregation.
  17. Though not in the same place; as the Morning Service must be terminated by noon, whereas the Additional Service may be held any time during the day.
  18. Supra 3b.
  19. Prov. XXIII, 23.
  20. Judgment may be modified by equity, but Truth is rigid and unyielding.
  21. Supra 3a.
  22. Ibid. 2a.
  23. 'Er. 22a.
  24. Literal rendering of Deut. IV, 6.
  25. To rely on the efficacy of repentance, however grievous their sins might be.
  26. Deut. V, 26 which shows that they possessed all the self-discipline that could be desired.
  27. Relating to Bathsheba.
  28. The worship of the golden calf.
  29. This literal rendering of Ps. CIX, 22 is taken to mean that David's inclinations had been completely conquered by himself.
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