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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate ‘Abodah Zarah

Folio 19a

our father Abraham who did not follow the counsel of the men of the Generation of the Division1  who were wicked, as it is said, Come, let us build us a city, and a tower, with its top in heaven,'2  nor stood in the way of sinners — for he did not take up the stand of the Sodomites, who were sinful, as it is said, Now the men of Sodom were wicked and sinful against the Lord exceedingly;3  nor sat in the seat of the scornful — for he did not sit in the company of the Philistines, because they were scoffers; as it is said, And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said: Call for Samson that he may make us sport.4

Happy is the man that feareth the Lord:5  Does it mean happy is the 'man' and not the woman? — Said R. Amram in the name of Rab: [It means] Happy is he who repents whilst he is still a 'man'.6  R. Joshua b. Levy explained it: Happy is he who over-rules his inclination7  like a 'man'. That delighteth greatly in His commandments,8  was explained by R. Eleazar thus: 'In His commandments,' but not in the reward of His commandments.9  This is just what we have learnt. 'He used to say, Be not like servants who serve the master on the condition of receiving a reward; but be like servants who serve the master without the condition of receiving a reward.'10

But whose desire is in the law of the Lord.11  Said Rabbi: A man can learn [well] only that part of the Torah which is his heart's desire,12  for it is said, But whose desire is in the law of the Lord.

Levi and R. Simeon the son of Rabbi were once sitting before Rabbi and were expounding a part of Scripture.13  When the book was concluded, Levi said: Let the book of Proverbs now be brought in. R. Simeon the son of Rabbi however said: Let the Psalms be brought; and, Levi having been overruled, the Psalms were brought. When they came to this verse, 'But whose desire is in the Law of the Lord', Rabbi offered his comment: One can only learn well that part of the Torah which is his heart's desire. Whereupon Levi remarked: Rabbi, You have given me the right to rise.14

Said R. Abdimi b. Hama: He who occupies himself with the Torah will have his desires granted by the Holy One, blessed be He, as it is said: He who [is occupied] with the Law of the Lord, his desire [shall be granted].15

Raba likewise said: One should always study that part of the Torah which is his heart's desire, as it is said, But whose desire is in the law of the Lord. Raba also said: At the beginning [of this verse] the Torah is assigned to the Holy One, blessed be He, but at the end it is assigned to him [who studies it],16  for it is said, Whose desire is in the Law of the Lord and in his [own] Law doth he meditate day and night.17

Raba also said the following: One should always study the Torah first and meditate in it afterwards,18  as it is said, ' … the Law of the Lord', and then, 'and in his [own] law he meditates.'19  This, too, did Raba say: Let one by all means learn, even though he is liable to forget, yea, even if he does not fully understand all the words which he studies, as it is said, My soul breaketh for the longing that it hath unto Thy ordinances at all times.20  'Breaketh' is what Scripture says, it does not say 'grindeth'.21

Raba pointed to the following contradictions:22  Scripture says, Upon the highest places,23  and then it says. On a seat [in the high places]!24  — At the beginning [the student occupies] any place, but ultimately [he will occupy] a seat.25  [In another instance] Scripture says, In the top of high places26  and then it says by the road!27  — Though at first he is in the [solitary] top in [out of the way] high places, yet ultimately [he will sit as judge] by the road.

'Ulla pointed to the following contradiction: Scripture says, Drink waters out of thine own cistern;28  and then it says, and running waters out of thine own well!29  — At first drink from thy cistern, and latterly, running waters from thine own well.30

Said Raba in the name of R. Sehorah, who said it in the name of R. Huna:31  What is the meaning of the verse, Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished, but he that gathereth little by little shall increase?32  — If one takes his studies by heaps at a time, he will benefit but little, but if one gathers [knowledge] little by little he will gain much.

Said Raba: The Rabbis know this thing, and yet they disregard it. Said R. Nahman b. Isaac: I have acted up to it and it stood me in good stead.

Said R. Shizebi in the name of R. Eleazar b. Azariah: What is the meaning of the verse, The slothful man shall not hunt his prey?33  — [It means that] he who is, as it were, a cunning hunter [in matters of learning], will not live or have length of days.34  R. Shesheth, however, said: [It means that] the cunning hunter has prey to roast,35  When R. Dimi came36  he said: This may be likened to one who is hunting birds; if he breaks the wings of each one in turn,37  he has made sure that all will remain in his possession, otherwise none will remain with him.

And he shall be like a tree transplanted38  by streams of water.39  — Those of the school of R. Jannai said: 'a tree transplanted,' not 'a tree planted' — [which implies that] whoever learns Torah from one master only will never achieve great success. Said R. Hisda to the Rabbinic students: I have a mind to tell you something, though I fear that you might leave me and go elsewhere: 'Whoever learns Torah from one master only will never achieve great success.'40  They did leave him and went [to sit] before Rabbah, who however explained to them that the maxim only applies to lessons in logical deductions,41  but as to oral traditions42  it is better to learn from one master only, so that

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. The builders of the Tower of Babel. Abraham was a younger contemporary of Peleg in whose days was the earth divided. (Gen. X, 25.)
  2. Ibid. XI, 4.
  3. Ibid. XIII, 13.
  4. Judges XVI, 25.
  5. Ps. CXII, 1.
  6. [Enjoying the full vitality and energy of youthful manhood.]
  7. V. supra p. 22, n. 8.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Cf. Ab. IV, 2. 'The reward of a precept is the precept.'
  10. V. Ibid. I, 3, note (Soncino ed.)
  11. Ps. I, 2.
  12. I.e., for which he has an aptitude, or to which his mood is attuned.
  13. The phrase here used [H], 'expounded a part of scripture', which occurs only in the Babylonian Talmud, is the equivalent of [H] of the Palestinian Talmud, which has the same meaning. Though it refers to Scripture generally, the phrase is mostly applied to the exposition of the Hagiographa. The passage in Shab. 116b, [H], 'In Nehardea a portion of the Hagiographa is expounded at the Sabbath Afternoon Service' has been taken to indicate the custom of reading a Haftarah from the Hagiographa at those services. This is hardly warranted by the passage in question. V. Bacher Terminologie s.v. [H].
  14. From the exposition, as the subject was not of his choice.
  15. Homiletilca rendering of the same verse.
  16. Kid. 32b.
  17. By diligent study the student makes the subject his own.
  18. One should make oneself master of a subject before discussing it.
  19. Ber. 63b.
  20. Ps. CXIX.
  21. Comparing the intellect (soul) to a mill, the above verse is made to indicate that it is satisfied just to break up the grain, even though it cannot grind it into fine flour.
  22. Sanh. 38a.
  23. Prov. IX, 3. Wisdom, the subject of this chapter, is taken as a synonym for the Torah.
  24. Ibid. 14.
  25. As an exponent of the Torah to disciples. V. Sanh. 38b.
  26. Ibid. VIII, 2.
  27. Ibid,
  28. Prov. V, 15.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Imbibe the knowledge drawn from other sources, and in time you will become an inexhaustible source of learning.
  31. 'Er. 54b.
  32. Prov. XIII, 11.
  33. Ibid. XII, 27.
  34. He who poses as a man of learning without having acquired any knowledge does not deserve to live. The interpretation is based on a play on the words [H] which is made to read [H] 'He will not live nor have length of days.'
  35. The wise scholar who gathers knowledge little by little will amass good stores.
  36. From Palestine.
  37. Lit., 'of the first one' (and then proceeds to hunt for other birds).
  38. [H] (E.V. planted) is rendered 'transplanted' as distinct from [H] 'planted'. V. Malbim, [H] s.v. [H].
  39. Ps. I, 3.
  40. Lit., 'a sign of blessing.'
  41. [H] dialectic, from [H], 'to hold an opinion', 'to reason'.
  42. [H] Gemara from [H] — 'to complete', a subject that has been completely acquired by means of oral study, v. Bacher, HUCA. 1904, pp. 20 seqq.
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‘Abodah Zarah 19b

one is not confused by the variation in the terms used.

'By streams of water'.1  — Said R. Tanhum b. Hanilai:2  [This implies that] one should divide one's years [of study] into three [and devote] one third of them to Scripture, one third to Mishnah,3  and one third to Talmud.3  But does a man know the tenure of his life? — What is meant is that he should apply this practice to every day of his life.4

That bringeth forth its fruit in its season and whose leaf doth not wither5  — was explained by Raba thus: If he bringeth forth his fruit in its season, then, his leaf will not wither,6  otherwise, both to the one taught and to the one who teaches does the scriptural verse apply, Not so the wicked; but they are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.7

R. Abba said in the name of R. Huna, in the name of Rab:8  The scriptural words, For she hath cast down many wounded,9  refer to the disciple who gives decisions though he has not reached the age of ordination;10  yea, a mighty host are her slain11  refer to the disciple who has reached the ordination age but refrains from giving decisions.12  And what is the age? — Forty years. But did not Rabbah act as Rabbi?13  — That was a case of being equal [to anyone].14

And whose leaf doth not wither.15  — Said R. Aha b. Adda in the name of Rab (some ascribe it to R. Aha b. Abba in the name of R. Hamnuna, in the name of Rab): Even the ordinary talk of scholars needs studying, for it is said, And whose leaf doth not wither, and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.16  R. Joshua b. Levi said: The following is written in the Law,17  repeated in the Prophets and mentioned a third time in the Hagiographa: Whosoever occupies himself with the Torah, his possessions shall prosper. 'It is written in the Law,' — for it says, Observe therefore the words of this covenant, and do them, that ye may make all that ye do to prosper.'18  'It is repeated in the Prophets,' — for it is written, This book of the Law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein; for then thou shalt make thy ways prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.19  'It is mentioned a third time in the Hagiographa,' — for it is written,

    But his delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in His Law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by streams of water, that bringeth forth its fruit in its season, and whose leaf doth not wither; and in whatsoever he doeth he shall prosper.20

R. Alexandri was once calling out, 'Who wants life, who wants life?' All the people came and gathered round him saying: 'Give us life!' He then quoted to them, Who is the man who desireth life and loveth days that he may see good therein? Keep thy tongue from evil and thy lips from speaking guile, depart from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it.21  Lest one say, 'I kept my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking guile. I may therefore indulge in sleep,' Scripture therefore tells us, Turn from evil and do good. By 'good' nought but Torah is meant; as it is said, For I have given you a good doctrine, forsake ye not my Torah.

WHEN, HOWEVER, HE REACHES THE CUPOLA IN WHICH THE IDOL IS PLACED [HE MUST NOT BUILD]. Said R. Eleazar in the name of R. Johanan: If, however, he did build, the pay he received is permitted. This surely is obvious: it is a case of appurtenances of idols, and appurtenances of idols, whether according to R. Ishmael or according to R. Akiba,22  are not forbidden till actually worshipped! — Said R. Jeremiah: It is necessary in the case of the idol itself.23  This would be right according to the one24  who holds that [to derive any benefit from] the making of an idol for an Israelite25  is forbidden forthwith, but from the making of one for an idolater, not until it is worshipped. In that case this is very well; but according to the one who holds that even when made for an idolater [any benefit] is forbidden forthwith, what is there to be said?26  — But, said Rabbah b. 'Ulla, the statement is necessary in regard to the last stroke of work; for what is it that makes the idol fit for worship? It is its completion; and when is the completion

    brought about? With the last stroke.27  But the last stroke does not constitute the value of a perutah!28  Consequently, he holds the opinion that the wage is earned from the beginning to the end [of the work].29


GEMARA. Whence do we derive these rules? — Said R. Jose b. Hanina:

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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. Ibid.
  2. V. Kid. 30a.
  3. V. Glos.
  4. V. Tosaf. S.V. [H]. It is in conformity with this rule that the scriptural verses from Num. XXVIII, the Mishnah from Zeb. Ch. V, and the Baraitha de-R. Ishmael have been inserted into the preliminary part of the Morning Service. (V.P.B. pp. 9-14). [The term 'Talmud' when occurring in the Talmud denotes the discussion in the Amoraic schools based on the Mishnah of Rabbi.]
  5. Ps. ibid.
  6. Only if the student's deeds and conduct are in harmony with the teaching of the Torah will his study be of lasting benefit.
  7. Ps. I, 4.
  8. V. Sotah 22a.
  9. Prov. VII, 26.
  10. The word [H] in the original is suggestive of [H] = 'a child of premature birth'.
  11. Ibid.
  12. The original [H] (E.V. mighty host) is rendered those who shut themselves up, or suppress themselves, as [H] 'he closes his eyes'.
  13. Though he died on reaching the age of 40 years, (v. R.H. 18b). [On the difficulties involved in this figure v. Halevy Doroth. II, 438 ff. He maintains that Rabbah lived 60 years (40 in the text being a copyist's error), but seeing that he was head of his school for 22 years he must have already acted as Rabbi at the age of 38. Hence the question of the Gemara. Cf. however Funk, Die Juden in Babylonien, II, note 1.]
  14. Rabbah, though young in years, was second in learning to none in the town (Rashi). [Tosaf., Sotah 22b, s.v. [H] explains that Rabbah surpassed all other scholars in his town, and the restriction to age applies only where there are others who are equal in learning to the young scholar.]
  15. Ps. I, 3.
  16. Ps. ibid. Even the table-talk of the learned — here likened to the leaves, the least useful produce of the tree — is instructive,
  17. The Pentateuch.
  18. Deut. XXIX, 8.
  19. Josh. I, 8.
  20. Ps. I, 2-3.
  21. Ibid. XXXIV, 13-15.
  22. V. infra 51b, seq.
  23. Where an Israelite has been working at the making of an idol, R. Eleazar's statement, permitting the use of the payment for such work, is necessary.
  24. The point is under dispute between R. Ishmael and R. Akiba in the reference given above.
  25. Probably for selling to idolaters.
  26. About the statement of R. Eleazar permitting the payment received.
  27. It is therefore necessary for R. Eleazar to state that the payment received even for the completion of the work is not forbidden.
  28. Smallest coin (v. Glos.); it should therefore, in any case, be too insignificant to be forbidden!
  29. V. Kid. 48a and B.K. 99a, where it is discussed whether a job-worker is entitled to payment as his work progresses, or only on the completion of the job.
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