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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate ‘Abodah Zarah

Folio 5a

[God predestined it so] in order to teach thee that if an individual hath sinned [and hesitates about the effect of repentance] he could be referred to the individual [David], and if a community commit a sin they should be told: Go to the community.1  And both these instances are necessary; for if [the case of] the individual only were mentioned. [it might have been thought that pardon is granted] because his sin is not generally known, but in the case of a community whose sins are publicly known it might not be so; if, on the other hand, the case of a community only were mentioned, it might have been thought, because they command greater mercy,2  but with an individual, whose merits are not so numerous, it is not so; hence both are necessary.

This accords with the following saying of R. Samuel b. Nahmani, who said in the name of R. Jonathan: What is the meaning of the verse The saying of David the son of Jesse, and the saying of the man raised on high.3  [It means this:] The saying of David the son of Jesse, the man who elevated the yoke of repentance.4 

R. Samuel b. Nahmani in the name of R. Jonathan also said: Every good deed that one does in this world precedes him and walks in front of him in the world to come, as it is said: And thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward.5  Likewise, every transgression that one commits clasps him and leads him on the day of judgment, as it is said, They clasp him in the course of their way.6  R. Eleazar said: It is tied on to him like a dog, as it is said, He hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, to be with her;7  [it is to say that] to lie by her in this world, [would mean for him] to be with her in the world to come.

Said Resh Lakish: Come let us render gratitude to our forebears,8  for had they not sinned, we should not have come to the world, as it is said: I said ye are gods and all of you sons of the Most High; now that you have spoilt your deeds, ye shall indeed die like mortals etc.9  Are we to understand that if the Israelites had not committed that sin they would not have propagated? Had it not been said, And you, be ye fruitful and multiply?10  — That refers to those who lived up to the times of Sinai. But of those at Sinai, too, it is said, Go say to them, Return ye to your tents11  which means to the joy of family life?12  And is it not also said, that it might be well with them and with their children?13  — It means to those of their children who stood at Sinai. But did not Resh Lakish [himself] say. What is the meaning of the verse This is the book of the generations of Adam?14  Did Adam have a book? What it implies is that the Holy One, blessed be He, showed to Adam every [coming] generation with its expositors, every generation with its sages, every generation with its leaders; when he reached the generation of R. Akiba15  he rejoiced at his teaching, but was grieved about his death, and said, How precious are Thy thoughts unto me, O God!16  Also, what of the teaching of R. Jose:17  The Son of David will only come when all the souls destined to [inhabit earthly] bodies will be exhausted, as it is said, For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth, for the spirit should fall before me and the spirits which I have made?18  — Do not take Resh Lakish's saying to mean that [if our ancestor had not sinned] we should not have come to the world, but that [they would have become immortal and] we should have been [disregarded] as if we had never come to the world. Does that mean then that if they had not sinned, they would have been immune from death? But there are written [in the Torah] the chapter about the widow of a man dying without issue, and the chapter about inheritances!19  — These were written conditionally. But are conditional passages written [in the Torah]? — Certainly; for R. Simeon b. Lakish said:20  What is the meaning of the verse, And it was evening and it was morning the sixth day?21  It teaches us that the Holy One, blessed be He, made a condition with all creation, saying, If Israel will accept the Torah all will be well, but if not, I will turn the world void and without form.

The following objection was then raised: 'The verse, O that they had such a heart as this alway that it may be well with them and their children22  cannot obviously refer to the abolition of the angel of death, since the decree [of death] had already been made?23  It means therefore that the effect of Israel's acceptance of the Torah would be that no nation or tongue could prevail against them, as it is said, that it might be well with them and their children after them'?24  He [Resh Lakish] may be of the same opinion as the following Tanna, for it is taught: R. Jose said, The Israelites accepted the Torah only so that the Angel of Death should have no dominion over them, as it is said: I said ye are gods [i.e., immortals] and all of you children of the Most High, now that you have spoilt your deeds, ye shall indeed die like mortals.25  But against R. Jose, too, [it may be argued] that the verse that it may be well with them and their children for ever holds out the promise of well-being but not of deathlessness? — R. Jose may reply: The abolition of death is surely as desirable a kind of well-being as you might wish for. Then how does the first Tanna26  explain the phrase: Ye shall indeed die? — What may be meant here by dying is to become impoverished27  for a Master has said:28  Four [kinds of persons] may be regarded as dead, they are: the poor, the blind, the leprous, and the childless; the poor, for it is said, for all the men are dead which sought thy life29  — now these 'men' were Dathan and Abiram, and they surely were not then dead, they only became reduced in their material circumstances; the blind, as it is said: He hath made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have been long dead;30  the leprous, as it is said, Let her not, I pray thee, be as one who is dead;31  the childless, as it is said, Give me children, or else I die.32 

Our Rabbis taught: In the verse, If ye walk in my statutes,33  the word if is used in the sense of an appeal, similar to the verse, O that my people would hearken unto Me, that Israel would walk in my ways . . . I should soon subdue their enemies;34  or in the verse, O that thou hadst hearkened to my commandments: Then had thy peace been as a river, thy seed also had been as the sand, etc.35 

Our Rabbis taught: In the verse, O that they had such a heart alway.36  Moses said to the Israelites, Ye are an ungrateful people, the offspring of an ungrateful ancestor. When the Holy One, blessed be He, said to you37  . Who might grant that they had such a heart alway38  , you should have said: 'Thou grant!' [They proved themselves] ungrateful by saying. Our soul loatheth

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. I.e., the Israelites, in order to be convinced that the gates of repentance are ever open.
  2. As their collective merits are greater.
  3. II Sam. XXIII, 1.
  4. A play on the words 'al, [H] 'on high', and 'ol, [H] 'yoke', i.e., 'duty', 'obligation'. [The way of penitence which he showed to sinners is David's distinct greatness, which set him 'on high'.]
  5. Isa. LVIII, 18.
  6. Homiletical rendering of Job VI, 18, based on a play on the word lapath [H] which means 'to turn aside' as well as 'to clasp', or 'cling'.]
  7. Gen. XXXIX, 10.
  8. Who worshipped the golden calf.
  9. Ps. LXXXII, 6, which is applied to the Israelites who witnessed the revelation at Sinai.
  10. Gen. IX, 7.
  11. Deut. V, 27.
  12. Which had been interrupted for three days (Ex. XIX, 15).
  13. Deut. V, 26.
  14. Gen. V, 1.
  15. The great sage who died a martyr's death during the persecution of Hadrian.
  16. Ps: CXXXIX, 17.
  17. Yeb. 62b.
  18. Isa. LVII, 16. In face of the foregoing teachings how could it be stated that had it not been for the sin of the golden calf, we should not have come into the world?
  19. Which takes the incidence of death for granted.
  20. Supra 3a.
  21. Gen. I, 31.
  22. Deut. V, 26.
  23. At the worship of the golden calf.
  24. How then could Resh Lakish hold that but for the golden calf worship Israel would have enjoyed physical deathlessness?
  25. Ps. LXXXII, 6.
  26. Who holds that the Torah was to render Israel proof against attacks by other nations.
  27. Through oppression by other nations.
  28. Ned. 62b.
  29. Ex. IV, 19.
  30. Lam. III, 6.
  31. Of Miriam, who had become leprous. Num. XII, 12.
  32. Gen. XXX, 1.
  33. Lev. XXVI, 3.
  34. Ps. LXXXI, 14-15. [Cf, the Latin si, o si, and the English 'O if I had!' in which the conditional becomes a desiderative. V. Ges. K. [1910] 151e.]
  35. Isa. XLVIII, 18.
  36. Deut. V, 26.
  37. [So MS.M.]
  38. Lit., rendering of preceding verse.
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‘Abodah Zarah 5b

this light bread;1  'the offspring of an ungrateful ancestor', for it is written, The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the Tree, and I did eat.2  Yet Moses indicated this to the Israelites only after forty years had passed, as it is said, And I have led you forty years in the wilderness . . . but the Lord hath not given you a heart to know, and eyes to see and ears to hear, unto this day.3  Said Raba:4  From this you can learn that it may take one forty years to know the mind of one's master.

R. Johanan said on behalf of R. Bana'ah: What is the meaning of the verse, Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters, that send forth the feet of the ox and the ass?5  [It means this: [Blessed is Israel; when they occupy themselves with Torah and acts of kindness their inclination is mastered by them, not they by their inclination,6  as it is said, Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters. For what is meant by 'sowing' but doing kind deeds, as it is said,7  Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap according to mercy; and what is meant by 'water' is Torah, as it is said, Oh ye who are thirsty come to the water.8  [The phrase,] that send forth the feet of the ox and the ass, [was explained in the] Tanna debe Eliyyahu9  thus: In order to study the words of the Torah one must cultivate in oneself the [habit of] the ox for bearing a yoke and of the ass for carrying burdens.


Is all this period necessary? Have we not learnt:10  'At four periods of the year it is necessary for one, when selling cattle to another for slaughter, to let him know if its dam had been sold or if its young had been sold to be slain [the same day]:11  namely, the eve of the last day of the Feast [of Tabernacles].12  the eve of the first day of Passover, the eve of Pentecost, and the Eve of the New Year,13  and, according to R. Jose the Galilean, also on the day preceding the Eve of the Day of Atonement, in Galilee'?14  — In those cases where the animals are bought for consumption, one day is enough, but in the case where these are required for sacrifices, three days are needed.15  But are three days enough in the case of sacrifices? Have we not learnt';16  'The laws relating to Passover should be discussed for thirty days before the Passover; R. Simeon b. Gamaliel says two weeks'? — We, with whom blemishes [disqualifying a sacrifice] abound, since we disqualify an offering even because of a blemish in the eye-lid, require thirty days; but for the heathen, who only take note of a missing limb, three days suffice. And so also R. Eleazar said: How do we know that [an animal] short of a limb is forbidden to Noachides [for use as a sacrifice]? — Because it is written, Of every living thing of all flesh two of every sort shall thou bring into the ark.17  The Torah thus says. 'Bring such cattle whose principal limbs are living [i.e. sound]'. But is not this phrase needed to exclude such animals as are trefa,18  so that they were not [brought into the ark]? — Trefa is excluded by the phrase, to keep seed alive.19  This answer holds good according to the one who is of the opinion that an animal which is trefa cannot bear any young;20 

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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. Num. XXI, 5.
  2. Gen. III, 12, wherein Adam, instead of being appreciative of his God-given gift, makes Eve an object of complaint.
  3. Deut. XXIX, 3, 4.
  4. Some texts have Rabbah.
  5. Isa. XXXII, 20.
  6. [H] i.e. character, not to be confused with the 'Evil Urge' but 'man's vital and active impulse in general'; Lazarus, M., The Ethics of Judaism II, 107.] Sending forth the ox and the ass is interpreted to mean the banishment of bestial inclinations.
  7. Hos. X, 12.
  8. Isa. LV, 1.
  9. The title of a Midrash, containing chiefly Baraithas compiled by R. Anan, Bab. Amora of the 3rd cent.
  10. Hul. 83a.
  11. So as to avoid slaying an animal and its young on the same day (Lev. XXII, 28).
  12. Which was regarded as a 'festival by itself'. On the eve of the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, the erection of the Sukkah (the booth) did not leave much time for slaying animals.
  13. As on these days preceding the respective festivals the animals would be slain for the festivals.
  14. From the mention made in Lev. XXIII, 32 of the ninth day of the month Tishri, it is deduced that the partaking of meals on that day, the eve of the Day of Atonement, is as much a religious observance as the fasting on the Day of Atonement, hence the meals on that day were specially lavish. Thus, the assumption is that the animals needed for the festival are slain only on the preceding day: why then extend the prohibition to three days?
  15. As they have to be prepared for the purpose beforehand.
  16. Meg. 29b.
  17. Gen. VI, 19. Some of these animals were intended for the purpose of sacrifices: v. Gen. VIII, 20.
  18. Trefa, lit., 'torn' — connotes any animal which is mortally affected and forbidden for consumption.
  19. Gen. VII, 3.
  20. Zeb. 113a.
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