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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sotah

Folio 37a

the tribe of Benjamin and descended first into the sea; as it is said: There is little Benjamin their ruler1  — read not rodem [their ruler] but rad yam [descended into the sea]. Thereupon the princes of Judah hurled stones at them; as it is said: The princes of Judah their council.2  For that reason the righteous Benjamin was worthy to become the host of the All-Powerful,3  as it is said: He dwelleth between his shoulders.4  R. Judah said to [R. Meir]: That is not what happened; but each tribe was unwilling to be the first to enter the sea. Then sprang forward Nahshon the son of Amminadab5  and descended first into the sea; as it is said: Ephraim compasseth me about with falsehood, and the house of Israel with deceit; but Judah yet ruleth with God.6  Concerning him it is stated in Scripture,7  Save me O God, for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing etc.8  Let not the waterflood overwhelm me, neither let the deep swallow me up etc.9  At that time Moses was engaged for a long while in prayer; so the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, 'My beloved ones are drowning in the sea and thou prolongest prayer before Me!' He spake before Him, 'Lord of the Universe, what is there in my power to do?' He replied to him, Speak unto the children of Israel that they go forward. And lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thy hand etc.10  For that reason Judah was worthy to be made the ruling power in Israel, as it is said: Judah became His sanctuary, Israel his dominion.11  Why did Judah become His sanctuary and Israel his dominion? Because the sea saw [him] and fled.12

It has been taught. R. Eliezer b. Jacob says: It is impossible to declare that Levi [was stationed] below since it is stated that he was above,13  and it is impossible to declare that he was above since it is stated that he was below;14  so how was it? The elders of the priests and Levites were below and the rest above. R. Joshiyah said: All [the Levites] who were qualified to serve [as bearers of the ark] were below and the rest above. Rabbi says: Both [the priests and Levites] and also [the Israelites] were standing below.15  They turned their faces towards mount Gerizim and opened with the blessing, and then towards mount Ebal and opened with the curse; for what means 'al?16  It means 'near to'; as it has been taught: And thou shalt put pure frankincense near ['al] each row17  — Rabbi says: 'Al means 'near to'. You declare that 'al means 'near to'; but perhaps it is not so and the signification is actually 'upon'? Since it states: Thou shalt put a veil 'al the ark,18  conclude that 'al means 'near to'.

THEY TURNED THEIR FACES TOWARDS MOUNT GERIZIM AND OPENED WITH THE BLESSING etc. Our Rabbis taught: There was a benediction in general and a benediction in particular, likewise a curse In general and a curse in particular.19  [Scripture states]: to learn, to teach, to observe and to do;20  consequently there are

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. Ps. LXVIII, 28, E.V. 27.
  2. Ibid. The word for council has the same root as the verb 'to stone'; so it is here understood as 'their stoners'.
  3. The Temple was erected on the territory of Benjamin, v. Yoma 12a.
  4. Deut. XXXIII, 12, i.e., God dwells in the land of Benjamin.
  5. He was the prince of the tribe of Judah (Num. VII, 12).
  6. Hos. XII, 1. The last words are rod 'im el, which are interpreted: he descended (into the sea because his trust was) with God.
  7. Kabbalah, lit., 'tradition', a term used for the Biblical canon other than the Pentateuch, v. B.K. (Sonc. ed) p. 3. n. 3.
  8. Ps. LXIX, 2f.
  9. Ibid. 16.
  10. Ex. XIV, 15f.
  11. Ps. CXIV. 2. The Temple was in the kingdom of Judah. 'His dominion' is understood as Judah's rule over Israel.
  12. Ibid. 3.
  13. On Gerizim (Deut. XXVII, 12).
  14. Josh. VIII, 33.
  15. This seems to be implied in Josh. l.c.
  16. In Deut. XXVII, 12, translated 'upon'.
  17. Lev. XXIV, 7.
  18. Ex. XL, 3. The veil was not 'upon' the ark but 'near to, i.e., in front of it.
  19. The general blessing or curse was in connection with Deut. XXVII, 26, and the particular blessing or curse for the actions specified in that chapter.
  20. Cf. ibid. v. I and Xl, 19.
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Sotah 37b

four [duties associated with each commandment]. Twice four are eight1  and twice eight are sixteen.2  It was similar3  at Sinai and the plains of Moab; as it is said: These are the words of the covenant which the Lord commanded Moses etc.'4  and it is written: Keep therefore the words of this covenant etc.5  Hence there were forty-eight covenants in connection with each commandment.6  R. Simeon excludes [the occasion of] Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal7  and includes that of the Tent of Meeting in the wilderness.8  The difference of opinion here is the same as that of the teachers in the following: R. Ishmael says: General laws were proclaimed at Sinai and particular laws in the Tent of Meeting. R. Akiba says: Both general and particular laws were proclaimed at Sinai, repeated in the Tent of Meeting, and for the third time in the plains of Moab. Consequently there is not a single precept written in the Torah in connection with which forty-eight covenants were not made. R. Simeon b. Judah of Kefar Acco9  said in the name of R. Simeon: There is not a single precept written in the Torah in connection with which forty-eight times six hundred and three thousand, five hundred and fifty10  covenants were not made. Rabbi said: According to the reasoning of R. Simeon b. Judah of Kefar Acco who said in the name of R. Simeon that there is not a single precept written in the Torah in connection with which forty-eight times six hundred and three thousand, five hundred and fifty covenants were not made, it follows that for each Israelite there are six hundred and three thousand, five hundred and fifty commandments.11  What is the issue between them? — R. Mesharsheya said: The point between them is that of personal responsibility and responsibility for others.12

R. Judah b. Nahmani, the lecturer13  of Simeon b. Lakish, expounded: The whole section [of the blessings and curses] refers to none other than the adulterer and adulteress. [It states,] Cursed be the man that maketh a graven or molten image etc.14  Does it suffice merely to pronounce cursed with such a person!15  — But it alludes to one who has immoral intercourse, and begets a son who goes to live among heathens16  and worships idols; cursed be the father and mother of this man since they were the cause of his sinning.17

Our Rabbis taught: Thou shalt set the blessing upon Mount Gerizim and the curse etc.18  What is the purpose of this text? If it is to teach that the blessing [is to be pronounced] on Mount Gerizim and the curse on mount Ebal, it has already been said: These shall stand upon mount Gerizim to bless the people,19  and it continues, And these shall stand upon mount Ebal for the curse!20  But [the purpose is to indicate] that the blessing must precede the curse. It is possible to think that all the blessings must precede the curses; therefore the text states 'blessing' and 'curse, I.e., one blessing precedes a curse and all the blessings do not precede the curses. A further purpose is to draw a comparison between blessing and curse to tell us that as the curse is pronounced by the Levites so the blessing must be pronounced by the Levites; as the curse is uttered in a loud voice so must the blessing be uttered in a loud voice; as the curse is said in the holy tongue21  so must the blessing be said in the holy tongue; as the curse is in general and particular terms so must the blessing be in general and particular terms; and as with the curse both parties respond with Amen so with the blessing both parties respond with Amen.


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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. In connection with every command there is a covenant for each of the four duties. So there were four blessings and four curses pronounced with each precept.
  2. Eight blessings and curses with the general commandment and eight with the particular commandments.
  3. Viz., there were sixteen blessings and curses implied with the covenants entered into in each of the two places named.
  4. Deut. XXVIII, 69. apart from the section at Mt. Gerizim.
  5. Ibid. XXIX, 8.
  6. Sixteen in each of the three places.
  7. Because not all the commandments formed the covenant there.
  8. After its erection God spoke to Moses from thence (Lev. I, 1).
  9. [Caphare Accho in lower Galilee, mentioned in Josephus, Wars II, 20, 6; v. Hildesheimer, Beitrage, p. 81.]
  10. The number of male Israelites, with each of whom the covenants were made.
  11. And forty-eight covenants were made in connection with each of them.
  12. If it is held according to the Rabbis that each Israelite is responsible for the conduct of the rest, then the number must be squared to get the total.
  13. It was customary for a teacher to impart the lesson to a lecturer who delivered it to the disciples.
  14. Deut. XXVII, 15.
  15. The penalty is death.
  16. [Being the offspring of an adulterous union, he is debarred from the Assembly and cannot marry an Israelite woman.]
  17. [And not only with idolatry. His heathen association will lead him to commit the other offences in this section, provoking upon his parents the enumerated curses; v., however, Rashi.]
  18. Ibid, XI, 29.
  19. Ibid. XXVII, 12.
  20. Ibid. 13.
  21. V. supra 33a.
  22. I.e., outside the Temple.
  23. As divided in Num. VI, 24ff., and after each sentence there was a response of Amen.
  24. There was no interruption because the response of Amen was not made in the Temple.
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