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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Nedarim

Folio 32a

Because he busied himself first with the inn,1  as it is written, And it came to pass by the way, in the inn.2  R. Simeon b. Gamaliel sand: Satan3  did not seek to slay Moses but the child, for it is written, [Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it as his feet, and sand,] Surely a bloody hathan art thou to me.4  Go forth and see: who is called a hathan? Surely the infant [to be circumcised].5

R. Judah b. Bizna lectured: When Moses was lax in the perform ance of circumcision, Af and Hemah6  came and swallowed him up, leaving nought but his legs. Thereupon immediately Zipporah 'took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son';7  straightway he let him alone.8  In that moment Moses desired to slay them, as it is written, Cease from Af and forsake Hemah.9  Some say that he did slay Hemah, as it is written, I have not Hemah.10  But is it not written, for I was afraid of Af and Hemah?11  — There were two [angels named] Hemah. An alternative answer is this: [he slew] the troop commanded by Hemah, [but not Hemah himself].

It was taught: Rabbi sand, Great is circumcision, for none so ardently busied himself with [God's] precepts as our Father Abraham, yet he was called perfect only in virtue of circumcision, as it is written, Walk before me and be thou perfect,12  and it is written, And I will make my covenant between me and thee.13  Another version [of Rabbi's teaching] is this: Great is circumcision, for it counterbalances all the [other] precepts of the Torah, as it is written, For after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel.14  Another version is: Great is circumcision, since but for it heaven and earth would not endure, as it is written, [Thus saith the Lord,] But for my covenant by day and night,15  I would not have appointed the ordinances of Heaven and earth.16  Now this [statement]17  conflicts with R. Eleazar's: for R. Eleazar18  said, Great is the Torah, since but for it heaven and earth could not endure, as it is written, But for my covenant by day and night, I would not have appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth.19

Rab Judah sand in Rab's name: When the Holy One, blessed be He, said to our Father Abraham, 'Walk before me and be thou perfect',20  he was seized with trembling. 'Perhaps,' he said, 'there is still aught shameful in me!' But when He added, 'And I will make my covenant between me and thee', his mind was appeased.21

Aid he brought him forth abroad.22  Now Abraham had said unto him, 'Sovereign of the Universe! I have gazed at the constellation which rules my destiny, and seen that I am not fated to beget children.' To which [God] replied: 'Go forth from thy astrological speculations: Israel is not subject to planetary influences.'

R. Isaac said: He who perfects himself, the Holy One, blessed be He, deals uprightly with him, as it is written, With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful, and with the upright thou wilt shew thyself upright.23  R. Hoshaia said: If one perfects himself, good fortune will be his,24  as it is written, Walk before me and be thou perfect;25  and it is further written, And thou shalt be a father of many nations.26

Rabbi33  said: He who practises enchantment will be harassed by witchcraft, as it is written, For against him, of [the seed of] Jacob, there is enchantment.28  But surely it is written with lamed aleph?29  — But he is thus punished as measure for measure.30

Ahabah the son of R. Zera learnt: He who does not practice enchantment is brought within a barrier [i.e., in proximity to God] which not even the Ministering Angeis may enter, as it is written, For there is no enchantment in Jacob, neither is there any divination in Israel: now it shall be asked [by the angels] of Jacob and Israel, What hath God wrought?31

R. Abbahu said in R. Eleazar's name: Why was our Father Abraham punished and his children doomed to Egyptian servitude for two hundred and ten years? Because he pressed scholars into his service, as it is written, He armed his dedicated servants32  born in his own house.33  Samuel34  said: Because he went too far in testing the attributes [i.e., the promises] of the Lord, as it is written, [And he sand, Lord God,] whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?35  R. Johanan sand: Because he prevented men from entering beneath the wings of the Shechinah, as it is written, [And the king of Sodom said it to Abraham,] Give me the persons, and take the goods to thyself.36

And he armed his trained servants, born in his own house.37  Rab said, he equipped them38  by [teaching them] the Torah.39  Samuel sand, he made them bright with gold [i.e., rewarded them for accompanying him]. Three hundred and eighteen:40  R. Ammi b. Abba sand: Eliezer outweighed them all. Others say, It was Eliezer, for this is the numerical value of his name.41

R. Ammi b. Abba also said: Abraham was three years old when he acknowledged the Creator, for it is written, Because [Heb. 'ekeb] that Abraham obeyed my voice:42  the numerical value of [H] is one hundred seventy two.43  R. Ammi b. Abba also said:

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. Instead of with circumcision.
  2. Ibid. IV, 24. This implies that as soon as he left the road he turned his attention to the inn, arranging his baggage, quarters, etc., instead of immediately circumcising his son.
  3. Var. lec. 'that angel'. Generally speaking. Satan was regarded as man's adversary and accuser, but without independent power, which be must derive from God. (Cf. Job I, seq., Zech. III. 1f.) In the older Talmudic literature Satan is seldom mentioned, but his name is found more frequently in the amoraic period, and it may well be that the variant reading here (angel) is the original one. V. also Kid. (Son. ed.) p. 142, n. 5.
  4. Ex. IV, 25.
  5. Hathan generally means bridegroom, son-in-law: but in connection with circumcision it refers to the infant to be circumcised
  6. Wrath and anger personified.
  7. As the whole body was swallowed up save the legs. Zipporah understood that this was a punishment for neglecting the circumcision of the foreskin.
  8. Ex. IV, 26.
  9. Ps XXXVII, 8. Af and Hemah are regarded here as proper nouns.
  10. Isa. XXVII, 4. Spoken by God, and according to this interpretation, because Hemah had been slain.
  11. Deut. IX, 19. This refers to the sin of the Golden Calf, which was subsequent to the incident under discussion.
  12. Gen. XVII, 1, in reference to circumcision.
  13. Ibid. XVII, 2. [Indicating that Abraham was to attain perfection through the covenant of circumcision.] Rashi, without pointing out any incorrectness in the text, relates this verse to the next passage; v. next note.
  14. Ex. XXXIV, 33. After the tenor of these words is taken to refer to all God's precepts; by a 'covenant', 'circumcision' is understood; thus the two — all God's precepts and circumcision — are equated. Rashi appears to have the following reading: As it is written, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words (Ex. XXIV, 8); and it is also written. And I will mike my covenant between me and thee (Gen. XVII, 2). Just as 'covenant' in the latter verse refers to circumcision, so also in the former; whilst the end of that verse, 'concerning all these words', shews that circumcision is equal in importance to 'all these words', i.e., all God's commandments.
  15. V. p. 93, n. 8.
  16. Jer. XXXIII, 25.
  17. Which identifies 'covenant' here with circumcision.
  18. [So Pes. 68b. Cur. edd. R. Eliezer.]
  19. Thus, according to him, 'covenant' in this verse refers to the Torah, not to circumcision.
  20. Gen. XVII, 1.
  21. For be then understood that the imperfection was not in himself, but in the lack of a formal covenant between him and the Almighty.
  22. Gen. XV, 5.
  23. II Sam. XXII, 26.
  24. Lit., 'the hour will stand by him'.
  25. Gen. XVII, 1.
  26. Ibid. XVII, 4. This should be his good fortune, as a reward for perfecting himself.
  27. Var. lec.: R. Levi.
  28. Num. XXIII, 23.
  29. Lo = not, so that the verse reads, Surely there is no enchantment in Jacob.
  30. I.e., this is not deduced from a Scriptural verse, but from the general axiom that punishment corresponds to the crime. Though the Jewish Sages attributed reality to supernatural agencies in general, they nevertheless sought to discourage superstitious practices; v. M. Joseph. Judaism as Creed and Life. pp. 79-81.
  31. Num. XXIII, 23. The Israelites, through not practising enchantments, are brought into such close contact with God, that they know secrets not entrusted to the angels.
  32. I.e., scholars dedicated to the study of the Torah. The word is treated as a derivative of hanok, to educate, dedicate.
  33. Gen. XIV, 14.
  34. Var. lec.: R. Samuel b. Nahmani.
  35. Gen. XV, 8.
  36. Ibid. XIV, 21. Abraham, by permitting this, instead of taking the persons himself, and teaching them to know' God, is said to have prevented them from coming beneath the wings of the Divine Presence. This dictum seems to indicate that R. Johanan was in favour of proselytes.
  37. Ibid. XIV, 14.
  38. A variant reading is herikan; he emptied them from the Torah, i.e., disregarded their learning and forced them into service, or perhaps, withdrew them from their studies.
  39. Wa-yarek is here connected with yarak to make shine; cf. yerakrak., yellow (shining).
  40. Ibid.
  41. Hebrew letters are also used as numbers, and the numerical value of rzghkt is 318.
  42. Gen. XXVI, 5.
  43. The verse is therefore thus interpreted: 172 years hath Abraham obeyed my voice. As he lived 175 years in all, he was three years old when he acknowledged the Creator.
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Nedarim 32b

The numerical value of ha-satan [Satan] is three hundred sixty four.1

R. Ammi b. Abba also said: [First] Abram is written, then Abraham:2  at first God gave him mastery over two hundred forty three limbs, and later over two hundred forty eight, the additional ones being the two eyes, two ears, and the membrum.3

R. Ammi b. Abba also said: What is the meaning of, There is a little city. etc.?4  'A little city' refers to the body; and 'a few men within' to the limbs; 'and there came a great king against it and besieged [it]' to the Evil Urge;5  'and built great bulwarks against it', to sin; 'Now there was found in it a poor wise man, to the Good Urge; and he by his wisdom delivered the city, to repentance and good deeds; yet no man remembered that same poor man, for when the Evil Urge gains dominion, none remember the Good Urge.

Wisdom strengtheneth the wise more than ten mighty ones which are in the city.6  'Wisdom strengtheneth the wise' refers to repentance and good deeds; 'more than ten mighty ones,' viz., the two eyes, two ears, two hands, two feet, membrum and mouth.7

R. Zechariah said on R. Ishmael's authority: The Holy One, blessed be He, intended to bring forth the priesthood from Shem, as it is written, And he [sc. Melchizedek] was the priest of the most high God.8  But because he gave precedence in his blessing to Abraham over God, He brought it forth from Abraham; as it is written, And he blessed him and said. Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth, and blessed be the most high God.9  Said Abraham to him, 'Is the blessing of a servant to be given precedence over that of his master?' Straightway it [the priesthood] was given to Abraham, as it is written, The Lord said unto my Lord,10  Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool;11  which is followed by, The Lord hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek,'12  meaning, 'because of the words of Melchizedek.'13  Hence it is written, And he was a priest of the most High God, [implying that] he was a priest, but not his seed.14



GEMARA. Which Tanna [is the authority of the Mishnah]?18  — R. Adda b. Ahabah said, It is R. Eliezer. For it was taught: R. Eliezer said: Even the extra [given by a vendor to his customer] is forbidden to him who is under a vow not to benefit [by his neighbour].19


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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. This indicates that his seductive powers over mankind are only for 364 days of the year. On the 365th, viz., the Day of Atonement, he has no power over man.
  2. The original name of Abram, whose numerical value is 243, was changed to Abraham, with the value 248, the numbers of members of man's body. V. Mak. (Sonc. ed.) p. 109. n. 5.
  3. As a reward for his undergoing circumcision he was given mastery over those limbs, which, through hearing and seeing, entice one to immorality; but now he was enabled by his will-power to forbid them to look upon or listen to sin. The last mentioned, of course, refers to the control of the sex-lust. Cf. Maim. 'Guide', III, ch. 49.
  4. Eccl. IX, 14f.
  5. One's evil inclinations personified; in B.B. 16a he is identified with Satan.
  6. Ibid. VII, 19.
  7. I.e., by repentance and good deeds one can conquer the evil desires of all these.
  8. Gen. XIV, 18. The Midrash identifies him with Shem, the son of Noah, Abraham's eighth ancestor.
  9. Ibid. 19f.
  10. Here taken as referring to Abraham; cf. Ber. 7b, where my lord is explicitly so explained.
  11. Ps. CX, 1.
  12. Ibid. CX, 4.
  13. I.e., because of his giving precedence to Abraham.
  14. Though Abraham was a descendant of Melchizedek, and thus the priesthood was inherited by the latter's seed, yet this was through the merit of Abraham, not of Melchizedek. — Ran.
  15. If he is forbidden all benefit, these are forbidden; but if the vow is only in respect of food, these are permitted.
  16. This teaches that not only are those utensils prohibited which are used in the immediate preparation of food for eating, such as a cooking pot. but even those employed in the early stages only.
  17. [Or 'nose-rings].
  18. That even such a trifling benefit as walking over his property is forbidden.
  19. Since R. Eliezer held that the vow applied even to such trifles, he is the authority of our Mishnah.
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