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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Baba Mezi'a

Baba Mezi'a 86a

shall be called "Sage'', but not "Rabbi'', and Rabbi's healing shall come through him. Rabbi and R. Nathan conclude the Mishnah, R. Ashi and Rabina1  conclude [authentic] teaching,2  and a sign thereof is the verse, Until I went to the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.'3

R. Kahana said: R. Hama, the son of the daughter of Hassa,4  related to me [that] Rabbah b. Nahmani died through persecution,5  information having been laid against him to the State. Said they [the informers]: There is an Israelite who keeps back twelve thousand Israelites from the payment of the royal poll-tax one month in summer and one in winter.6  Thereupon a royal officer was sent for him, but did not find him. He [Rabbah] then fled from Pumbeditha to Akra, from Akra to Agama,7  from Agama to Sahin, from Sahin to Zarifa, from Zarifa to 'Ena Damim,8  and thence back to Pumbeditha. In Pumbeditha he found him; for the royal officer chanced to visit the same inn where Rabbah [was hiding]. Now, they placed a tray before him [the royal officer], gave him two glasses of liquor, and then removed the tray;9  whereupon his face was turned backward [by demons]. 'What shall we do with him?' said they [the inn attendants] to him [Rabbah]; 'he is a royal officer.' 'Offer him the tray again,' he replied, 'and let him drink another goblet; then remove the tray, and he will recover.' They did so, and he recovered. 'I know,' said he, 'that the man whom I require is here;' he searched for and found him. He then said, 'I will depart from here; if I am slain, I will not disclose [his whereabouts]; but if tortured, I will.' He was then brought before him, and he led him into a chamber and locked the door upon him [to keep him there as a prisoner]. But he [Rabbah] prayed, whereupon the wall fell down, and he fled to Agama; there he sat upon the trunk of a [fallen] palm and studied. Now, they were disputing in the Heavenly Academy thus: If the bright spot preceded the white hair, he is unclean; if the reverse, he is clean.10  If [the order is] in doubt — the Holy One, blessed be He, ruled, He is clean; whilst the entire Heavenly Academy maintained, He is unclean.11  Who shall decide12  it? said they. — Rabbah b. Nahmani; for he said, I am pre-eminent13  in the laws of leprosy and tents.14  A messenger was sent for him, but the Angel of Death could not approach him, because he15  did not interrupt his studies [even for a moment]. In the meantime, a wind blew and caused a rustling in the bushes, when he imagined it to be a troop of soldiers. 'Let me die,' he exclaimed, 'rather than be delivered into the hands of the State. As he was dying, he exclaimed, 'Clean, clean!'16  when a Heavenly Voice cried out, 'Happy art thou, O Rabbah b. Nahmani, whose body is pure and whose soul had departed in purity!' A missive fell from Heaven in Pumbeditha, [upon which was written,] 'Rabbah b. Nahmani has been summoned17  by the Heavenly Academy. So Abaye and Raba and all the scholars went forth to attend on him [at his burial], but they did not know his whereabouts. They went to Agama and saw birds stationed there and overshadowing it [to give protection]. 'This', said they, 'proves that he is there. They bewailed him for three days and three nights; but there fell a missive from Heaven, 'He who [will now] hold aloof [from the lamentations] shall be under a ban.' So they bewailed him for seven days, and then there fell a missive from Heaven, 'Return in peace to your homes.' On the day that he died a hurricane lifted an Arab who was riding a camel, and transported him from one bank of the River Papa18  to the other. 'What does this portend?' he exclaimed. — 'Rabbah b. Nahmani has died,' he was told. 'Sovereign of the Universe!' he cried out. 'The whole world is Thine, and Rabbah b. Nahmani too is Thine. Thou art [the Friend] of Rabbah, and Rabbah is Thine; why dost Thou destroy the world on his account!' Thereupon the storm subsided.

R. Simeon b. Halafta was a fat man.19  One day, feeling hot, he climbed up, sat on a mountain boulder, and said to his daughter, 'Daughter, fan me with a fan, and I will give you bundles of spikenard.' Just then, however, a breeze arose, whereat he observed, 'How many bundles of spikenard [do I owe] to the Master of the [breeze]?'

EVERYTHING DEPENDS ON LOCAL CUSTOM. What does EVERYTHING add?20  — The case where it is customary to break bread21  and drink a small measure [of liquor];22  if he [the employer] demanded of them, 'Come early, that I may bring it to you,'23  they can answer, 'You have no power [to demand this].'

IT ONCE HAPPENED THAT R. JOHANAN B. MATHIA SAID TO HIS SON, 'GO OUT AND ENGAGE' etc. A story [is quoted] contradicting [the stated law]!24  — The text is defective, and should read thus: But if he stipulates to provide them with food,

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. [According to Sherira Gaon, Letter, p. 95, (ed. Lewin) the reference is to Rabina II, son of R. Huna.]
  2. Rashi: Before Rabbi, the Mishnah was in no systematic order, each Tanna teaching in which order he desired. Rabbi compiled and arranged these teachings in a systematized order, admitting those which he considered authentic and rejecting others. This compilation formed the basic code of Jewish law (though Weiss, Dor. II, p. 183, maintains that he never intended it to be authoritative); subsequently scholars might define and explain it, and deduce new laws from it, but not dispute with it. In the course of time the discussions on the Mishnah grew to very large dimensions, and it was the work of Rabina and R. Ashi to compile the huge mass of accumulated material and give it an orderly arrangement. This is expressed by saying that they were at the end of authentic teaching (hora'ah), i.e., they edited the Talmud. [The signification of the term hora'ah is obscure and has been variously explained: (a) transmission of the oral Law; (b) the insertion by scholars of halachic matter in the Talmud; (c) the right to change the Talmud whether in substance or form; (d) legislative activity, v. Kaplan, op. cit., pp. 34 and 289ff.]
  3. Ps. LXXIII, 17; [H] ('sanctuary') bears a slight resemblance to [H] (Ashi), and [H] ('understood') to [H] (Rabina): thus R. Ashi and Rabina are 'their end', sc. of the Talmud.
  4. Var. lec.: Hama.
  5. [Sherira, letter, P. 87: 'persecution of the Law'.]
  6. They used to flock to the academy in Nisan and Tishri, the months of popular lectures, and in consequence the tax-collectors could not obtain their taxes for these months. So Rashi. [The Karasa (poll-tax) appears to have been payable monthly, and the absence of so many tax-payers during these two months in the year (according to Sherira, Adar and Elul, litter, p. 87) was responsible for a drop in the monthly royal revenue. There was, however, no question of evading the tax, as the arrears could in any case be collected with subsequent payments. Obermeyer, op. cit., p. 237. For another explanation connecting it with the exemption of scholars from taxes, (cf. B.B. 8a) v. J. Kaplan. Horeb (New York 1934), I.; 1, pp. 42ff. 1.]
  7. There is only an [H] (Akra di Agama) mentioned elsewhere in the Talmud (v. B.B. (Sonc. ed.) p. 529, n. 11), and Neubauer p. 368, n. 2, suggests that the same should be read here too.
  8. [All these places appear to be in the neighbourhood of Pumbeditha. 'Ena Damim is probably to be identified with the village Dimima on the canal Nahr 'Isa on the Euphrates; Sahin and Zarifa cannot be exactly located. Obermeyer, loc. cit. n. 3.]
  9. To drink an even number of glasses would excite the ill-will of certain demons; he had thus been unintentionally placed in danger.
  10. V. Lev. XIII, 1-3. As stated here, the bright spot must appear first, and then the white hair.
  11. It is a daring fancy to picture the Almighty disputing with the Heavenly Academy on one of His own laws, but is in keeping with the spirit of Talmudic inquiry that the Law once having been given, it is for man to interpret it. Cf. supra 59b.
  12. Lit., 'prove it'.
  13. Lit., 'unique'.
  14. I.e., uncleanliness caused by the dead.
  15. Lit., 'his mouth'.
  16. As though the subject of the Heavenly controversy had already been communicated to him.
  17. Lit., 'sought for'.
  18. [The canal passing through Pumbeditha. Obermeyer, op. cit., p. 237.]
  19. Because the beginning of this narrative portion (aggadah) deals with R. Eleazar b. Simeon, who was very fat, a story is related about another fat man (Rashi).
  20. When a particular law is followed by a general proposition in this form, it is axiomatic that its purpose is to extend the law to a case that does not obviously follow from the first.
  21. [Lit., 'to wrap the bread', to break a piece of bread and place some relish in between. For a discussion of the phrase, v. Krauss, T.A. III, 51.]
  22. [H] = 1 log.
  23. That the workmen should eat and drink before their day starts.
  24. After stating that everything depends on local custom, the Tanna narrates a story which contradicts this, for custom certainly fixed the limits of the meals.
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Baba Mezi'a 86b


Shall we say that the meals of Abraham, the Patriarch, were superior to those of Solomon; but is it not written, And Solomon's provisions for one day were thirty measures of fine flour and three score measures of meal. Ten fat oxen, and twenty oxen out of the pastures, and an hundred sheep, besides harts, and roebucks, and fallowdeer, and fatted fowl:2  whereon Gorion b. Astion said in Rab's name: These were for the cook's dough;3  and R. Isaac said: These [animals] were but for the [mincemeat] puddings. Moreover, said R. Isaac, Solomon had a thousand wives, and each prepared this quantity in her own house. Why? Each reasoned, 'He may dine in my house to-day.' Whereas of Abraham it is said, And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetched a calf tender and good:4  whereon Rab observed: 'A calf,' means one; 'tender' — two; and 'good' — three!5  — There the three calves were for three men, whereas here [the provisions enumerated] were for all Israel and Judah, as it is written, Judah and Israel were many, as the sand which is by the sea in multitude.6

What is meant by 'fatted fowl'? — Rab said: [Fowls] fed against their will. Samuel said: [Fowls] naturally fat. R. Johanan said: Oxen which had never toiled7  were brought from the pastures, and likewise fowls [that had never toiled]8  from their dungheaps.9

R. Johanan said: The best of cattle is the ox; the best of birds is the fowl. Amemar said: A fattened black hen10  which moves about the vats, and which cannot step over a stick.11

And Abraham ran unto the herd and fetched a calf, tender and good. Rab said: 'A calf', means one; 'tender' — two; and 'good' — three. But perhaps it [all means] one, as people say, a tender and good [calf]? — If so, Scripture should have written, [a calf] tender, good; why 'and' good? This proves that it is for exegesis.12  Then perhaps it means two?13  — Since 'good' is for exegesis, 'tender' [too] is for the same purpose. Rabbah b. 'Ulla — others say, R. Hoshaia — and others again Say, R. Nathan son of R. Hoshaia objected: And he gave unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it?14  — He gave each to one young man. [But is it not written] And he took butter and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them?15  — [This means,] each, as soon as it was ready, was brought before them. But why three? Would not one have sufficed? — R. Hanan b. Raba said: In order to offer them three tongues with mustard.16

R. Tanhum b. Hanilai said: One should never break away from custom. For behold, Moses ascended on High and ate no bread, whereas the Ministering Angels descended below and ate bread.17  'And ate' — can you really think so! — But say, appeared to eat and drink.

Rab Judah said in Rab's name: Everything which Abraham personally did for the Ministering Angels, the Holy One, blessed be He, did in person for his sons; and whatever Abraham did through a messenger,18  the Holy One, blessed be He, did for his sons through a messenger. [Thus:] And Abraham ran unto the herd — And there went forth a wind from the Lord;19  and he took butter, and milk15  — Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you;20  and he stood by them under the tree — Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock, etc.;21  And Abraham went with them to bring them on the way22  — And the Lord went before them by day;23  Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched24  — and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink.25  But he is thus in conflict with R. Hama son of R. Hanina. For R. Hama son of R. Hanina said, and the School of Ishmael taught likewise: As a reward for three things [done by Abraham] they [his descendants] obtained three things. Thus: As a reward for, [and he took] butter and milk, they received the manna; as a reward for, And he stood by them, they received the pillar of cloud;26  as a reward for, Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, they were granted Miriam's well.27

Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet:28  R. Jannai son of R. Ishmael said: They [the travellers] protested to him [Abraham], 'Dost thou suspect us of being Arabs, who worship the dust on their feet? Ishmael has already issued from thee.'29

And the Lord appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day.30  What is meant by 'in the heat of the day'? — R. Hama son of R. Hanina said: It was the third day from Abraham's circumcision,31  and the Holy One, blessed be He, came to enquire after Abraham's health; [moreover,] he drew the sun out of its sheath,32  so that the righteous man [sc. Abraham] should not be troubled with wayfarers. He sent Eliezer out [to seek travellers], but he found none. Said he, 'I do not believe thee'. (Hence they say there — sc. in Palestine — slaves are not to be believed.) So he himself went out, and saw the Holy One, blessed be He, standing at the door; thus it is written, Pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant.33  But on seeing him tying and untying [the bandages of his circumcision], He said, 'It is not well that I stand here'; hence it is written, And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and lo, three men stood by him, and when he saw them, he ran to meet them:34  at first they came and stood over him, but when they saw him in pain, they said, 'It is not seemly to stand here.'35

Who were the three men? — Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. Michael came to bring the tidings to Sarah [of Isaac's birth]; Raphael, to heal Abraham;36  and Gabriel, to overturn Sodom.37  But is it not written, And there came the two angels to Sodom at even?38  — Michael accompanied him to rescue Lot. [The Writ] supports this too, for it is written, And he overthrew those cities,39  not, and they overthrew: this proves it.

Why is it written in the case of Abraham, [And they said,] So do, as thou hast said;40  whereas of Lot it is written,

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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. I.e., where local usage is to give food, no stipulation need be made. Hence, if it was, it can only mean that he was to give them more than usual.
  2. I Kings V, 2f.
  3. Cooks used to place dough above the pot, to absorb the steam and vapour.
  4. Gen. XVIII, 7.
  5. I.e., each adjective denotes another. Hence the two passages prove that Solomon's meals were infinitely larger than Abraham's.
  6. I Kings IV, 20.
  7. The idleness made them extra fat.
  8. I.e., had no brood.
  9. R. Johanan treats the adj. 'fatted' as referring to all the animals enumerated.
  10. Be Botni; so Rashi. Jast. conjectures this to be a geographical term.
  11. Through fatness. This is Amemar's explanation of 'fatted fowl'.
  12. I.e., implying another.
  13. Since the first adjective has no copulative.
  14. Gen. XVIII, 7; thus the singular is used.
  15. Ibid. 8; thus there was only one young man.
  16. This was esteemed as a great delicacy.
  17. Thus conforming to, 'When in Rome, do as Rome does'.
  18. Lit., 'a servant'.
  19. Num. XI, 31.
  20. Ex. XVI, 4.
  21. Ibid. XVII, 6.
  22. Gen. XVIII, 16.
  23. Ex. XIII, 21.
  24. Gen. XVIII, 4; this implies an order to a servant.
  25. Ex. XVII, 6.
  26. [H], lit., 'the standing (column) of cloud.'
  27. Miriam's well corresponds to the verse quoted above: and thou shalt smite the rock, etc. The dispute is in respect of 'and he stood by them': according to Rab, his reward was the promise contained in 'behold, I will stand before thee there by the rock'; whereas in R. Hama b. R. Hanina's opinion, it was the 'pillar of cloud'. [This is an illustration of the principle 'measure for measure', which is God's guiding rule for reward and punishment.]
  28. Gen. XVIII, 4;
  29. I.e., thine own son does so.
  30. Gen. XVIII, 1.
  31. When one is particularly weak. Cf. Gen. XXXIV, 25.
  32. I.e., He made it pour forth all its heat.
  33. Gen. XVIII, 3. He called himself 'thy servant', because he was speaking to God.
  34. Ibid. 2.
  35. So they removed to a distance; hence it is first said that they 'stood by him', and then that 'he ran to meet them'.
  36. Heb. [H] means 'healer of God'.
  37. Gabriel means 'strength of God'.
  38. Gen. XIX, 1.
  39. Ibid. 25.
  40. Ibid. XVIII, 5: they immediately accepted the invitation.
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