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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sotah

Folio 11a

as it is written: I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house.1  Similarly it is stated: So he sent him [Joseph] out of the vale of Hebron.2  R. Hanina b. Papa said: [The meaning is:] It was through the deep plan of that righteous man [Abraham] who had been buried in Hebron; as it is written: Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs.3

For he said: I have no son.4  Had he, then, no sons? Behold it is written: And unto Absalom there were born three sons and one daughter!5  — R. Isaac b. Abdimi said: [His meaning was] that he had no son fit for the kingship. R. Hisda said: There is a tradition that whoever burns his neighbour's produce will not leave a son to succeed him; and he [Absalom] had burnt [the produce] of Joab, as it is written: Therefore he said unto his servants, See, Joab's field is near mine, and he hath barley there; go and set it on fire. And Absalom's servants set the field on fire.6

IT IS THE SAME IN CONNECTION WITH THE GOOD. MIRIAM etc. Is this like [the other cases mentioned]? There she waited a short while [for Moses], here [the Israelites waited for her] seven days?7  — Abaye said: Read that in connection with the good [the principle of measure for measure] does not apply. Raba said to him, But the Mishnah teaches IT IS THE SAME IN CONNECTION WITH THE GOOD! But, said Raba, the Mishnah must be understood thus: It is the same in connection with the good that there is the same measure; nevertheless the measure in the case of the good is greater than the measure in the case of punishment.8

And his sister stood afar off.9  R. Isaac said: The whole of this verse is spoken with reference to the Shechinah: 'and stood', as it is written: And the Lord came and stood etc.10  'His sister', as it is written: Say unto wisdom, thou art my Sister.11  'Afar off, as it is written: The Lord appeared from afar unto me.12  'To know', as it is written: For the Lord is a God of knowledge.13  'What', as it is written: What doth the Lord require of thee?14  'Done', as it is written: Surely the Lord God will do nothing.15  'To him', as it is written: And called it Lord is peace.16

Now there arose a new king etc.17  Rab and Samuel [differ in their interpretation]; one said that he was really new, while the other said that his decrees were made new. He who said that he was really new did so because it is written 'new'; and he who said that his decrees were made new did so because it is not stated that [the former king] died and he reigned [in his stead].

Who knew not Joseph — he was like one who did not know [Joseph] at all.

And he said unto his people, Behold the people of the children of Israel.18  A Tanna taught: He [Pharaoh] originated the plan first, and therefore was punished first. He originated the plan first, as it is written: And he said unto his people; therefore he was punished first, as it is written: Upon thee, and upon thy people, and upon all thy servants.19

Come, let us deal wisely with him20  — it should have been with them! — R. Hama b. Hanina said: [Pharaoh meant,] Come and let us outwit the Saviour of Israel. With what shall we afflict them? If we afflict them with fire, it is written: For, behold the Lord will come with fire,21  and it continues, For by fire will the Lord plead etc.22  [If we afflict them] with the sword, it is written: And by His sword with all flesh.23  But come and let us afflict them with water, because the Holy One, blessed be He, has already sworn that he will not bring a flood upon the world; as it is said: For this is as the waters of Noah unto Me, etc.24  They were unaware, however, that He would not bring a flood upon the whole world but upon one people He would bring it; or alternatively, He would not bring [the flood] but they would go and fall into it. Thus it says: And the Egyptians fled towards it.25  This is what R. Eleazar said: What means that which is written: Yea, in the thing wherein they zadu [dealt proudly] against them?26  In the pot in which they cooked were they cooked. Whence is it learnt that 'zadu' means cooking? — Because it is written: And Jacob sod [wa-yazed] pottage.27

R. Hiyya b. Abba said in the name of R. Simai: There were three in that plan,28  viz. Balaam, Job29  and Jethro. Balaam who devised it was slain; Job who silently acquiesced was afflicted with sufferings; Jethro, who fled, merited that his descendants should sit in the Chamber of Hewn Stone,30  as it is said: And the families of scribes which dwelt at Jabez; the Tirathites, the Shimeathites, the Sucathites. These are the Kenites that came of Hammath, the father of the house of Rechab;31  and it is written: And the children of the Kenite, Moses' father-in-law etc.32

And fight against us and get them up out of the land33  — it should have read 'and we will get us up!'34  — R. Abba b. Kahana said: It is like a man who curses himself and hangs the curse upon somebody else.

Therefore they did set over him taskmasters35  — it should have read 'over them'! — It was taught in the School of R. Eleazar b. Simeon, It indicates that they brought a brick-mould and hung it round Pharaoh's neck; and every Israelite who complained that he was weak was told, 'Art thou weaker than Pharaoh?'

Missim ['taskmasters'] — i.e., something which forms [mesim].36  'To afflict him with their burdens'- it should have read 'them'! — The [meaning is] to afflict Pharaoh with the burdens of Israel.37

And they built for Pharaoh store cities [miskenoth]. Rab and Samuel [differ in their interpretation]; one said, [They were so called] because they endangered [mesakkenoth] their owners,38  while the other said because they impoverished [memaskenoth] their owners,39  for a master has declared that whoever occupies himself with building becomes impoverished.40

Pithom and Raamses35  — Rab and Samuel differ [in their interpretation];41  one said: Its real name was Pithom, and why was it called Raamses? Because one building after another collapsed [mithroses]. The other said that its real name was Raamses, and why was it called Pithom? Because the mouth of the deep [pi tehom] swallowed up one building after another.

But the more they afflicted him, the more he will multiply and the more he will spread abroad42  — it should have read 'the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad­! — Resh Lakish said: The Holy Spirit announced to them. 'The more he will multiply and the more he will spread abroad'.

And they were grieved [wa-yakuzu] because of the children of Israel42  — this teaches that they were like thorns [kozim] in their eyes.

And the Egyptians made the children of Israel to serve

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. Ibid. XII, 11.
  2. Gen. XXXVII, 14. Here 'vale' is also explained as deep plan.
  3. Ibid. XV, 13.
  4. II Sam. l.c.
  5. Ibid. XIV, 27.
  6. II Sam. 30.
  7. So how does the principle of measure for measure apply?
  8. The reward for a good deed exceeds the actual merit of an action and is not merely a quid pro quo as with a wrong deed.
  9. Ex. II, 4.
  10. I Sam. III, 10.
  11. Prov. VII, 4. Wisdom is an emanation from God.
  12. Jer. XXXI, 3.
  13. I Sam. II, 3.
  14. Deut. X, 12.
  15. Amos III, 7.
  16. Judg. VI, 24. The Hebrew word 'it' is the same as 'to him'.
  17. Ex. I, 8.
  18. Ex. 9.
  19. Ibid. VII, 29.
  20. Ibid. I, 10. The Hebrew is literally with him.
  21. Isa. LXVI, 15.
  22. Ibid. 16.
  23. Ibid. Some edd. quote as the proof text: With his sword drawn in his hand (Num. XXII, 23).
  24. Isa. LIV, 9.
  25. Ex. XIV, 27. So the Hebrew literally.
  26. Ibid. XVIII, II. The verb 'they dealt proudly' resembles in form another with the meaning 'they cooked' [H].
  27. Gen. XXV, 29.
  28. To destroy Israel through the decree: Every son that is born ye shall cast in the river, Ex. I, 22.
  29. Various opinions are expressed in the Talmud regarding the age in which he lived. According to one view he was born in the year that Jacob settled in Egypt and died at the time of the Exodus, v. B.B. 15a-b.
  30. In the Temple where the Sanhedrin met.
  31. I Chron. II, 55. The various names are understood in the sense that they were eminent scholars.
  32. Judg. I, 16; v. Sanh. (Sonc. ed.) p. 722.
  33. Ex. I, 10.
  34. I.e., we will be driven out of the land.
  35. Ibid. 11, the text is literally him.
  36. Viz., bricks, referring to the brick-mould which Pharaoh had to wear.
  37. He had to carry the brick-mould as the pattern for the Israelites to work upon.
  38. Led to the destruction of the Egyptians.
  39. When they were spoiled by the Israelites before the Exodus.
  40. [According to this dictum the interpretation 'memaskenoth' is general in its application and has no particular reference to the Egyptians. Some edd. accordingly omit the last sentence.]
  41. They agreed that only one store city was built.
  42. Ex. 12. So the Hebrew literally.
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Sotah 11b

with rigour [parek].1  R. Eleazar said: [It means] with a tender mouth [peh rak];2  R. Samuel b. Nahmani said: [It means] with rigorous work [perikah]. And they made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and in brick etc. Raba said: At first it was in mortar and in brick; but finally it was in all manner of service in the field. All their service wherein they made them serve with rigour.3  R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in the name of R. Jonathan: They changed men's work for the women and the women's work for the men; and even he who explained [parek] above as meaning 'with tender mouth' admits that here it means 'with rigorous work'.

R. Awira expounded: As the reward for the righteous women who lived in that generation were the Israelites delivered from Egypt. When they went to draw water, the Holy One, blessed be He, arranged that small fishes should enter their pitchers, which they drew up half full of water and half full of fishes. They then set two pots on the fire, one for hot water and the other for the fish, which they carried to their husbands in the field, and washed, anointed, fed, gave them to drink and had intercourse with them among the sheepfolds, as it is said: When ye lie among the sheepfolds etc.4  As the reward for 'When ye lie among the sheepfolds', the Israelites merited the spoliation of the Egyptians, as it is said: As the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her pinions with yellow gold.5  After the women had conceived they returned to their homes; and when the time of childbirth arrived, they went and were delivered in the field beneath the apple-tree, as it is said: Under the apple-tree I caused thee to come forth [from thy mother's womb] etc.6  The Holy One, blessed be He, sent down someone from the high heavens who washed and straightened the limbs [of the babes] in the same manner that a midwife straightens the limbs of a child; as it is said: And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to cleanse thee.7  He also provided for them two cakes, one of oil and one of honey, as it is said: And He made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil etc.8  When the Egyptians noticed them, they went to kill them; but a miracle occurred on their behalf so that they were swallowed in the ground, and [the Egyptians] brought oxen and ploughed over them, as it is said: The ploughers ploughed upon my back.9  After they had departed, [the Israelite women with their babes] broke through [the earth] and came forth like the herbage of the field, as it is said: I caused thee to multiply as the bud of the field;10  and when [the babes] had grown up, they came in flocks to their homes, as it is said: And thou didst increase and wax great and didst come with ornaments11  — read not with ornaments [ba'adi 'adayim] but in flocks [be'edre 'adarim]. At the time the Holy One, blessed be He, revealed Himself by the Red Sea, they recognised Him first, as it is said: This is my God and I will praise Him.12

And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives etc.13  Rab and Samuel [differ in their interpretation]; one said they were mother and daughter, and the other said they were daughter-in-law and mother-in-law. According to him who declared they were mother and daughter, they were Jochebed and Miriam; and according to him who declared they were daughter-in-law and mother-in-law, they were Jochebed and Elisheba.14  There is a teaching in agreement with him who said they were mother and daughter; for it has been taught: 'Shiphrah'15  is Jochebed; and why was her name called Shiphrah? Because she straightened [meshappereth] the limbs of the babe. Another explanation of Shiphrah is that the Israelites were fruitful [sheparu] and multiplied in her days. 'Pu'ah' is Miriam; and why was her name called Puah? Because she cried out [po'ah] to the child16  and brought it forth. Another explanation of Pu'ah is that she used to cry out through the Holy Spirit17  and say: 'My mother will bear a son who will be the saviour of Israel'.

And he said: When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women etc.18  What means 'obnayim'?19  R. Hanan said: He entrusted them with an important sign and told them that when a woman bends to deliver a child, her thighs grow cold like stones ['abanim'].20  Another explains [the word 'obnayim'] in accordance with what is written: Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought his work on the wheels.21  As in the case of a potter, there is a thigh on one side, a thigh on the other side and the wooden block in between, so also with a woman there is a thigh on one side, a thigh on the other side and the child in between.

If it be a son, then ye shall kill him.22  R. Hanina said: He entrusted them with an important sign, viz., if it is a son, his face is turned downward and if a daughter, her face is turned upward.23  But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt spoke to them.24  Instead of alehen ['to them'] we should have had 'lahen'!25  — R. Jose son of R. Hanina said: It teaches that he solicited them for immoral intercourse,26  but they refused to yield.

But saved the men children alive — A Tanna taught: Not only did they not put them to death, but they supplied them with water and food.27  And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Behold the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women etc.28  What means hayoth?29  If it is to say they were actually midwives,30  do you infer that a midwife does not require another midwife to deliver her child! — But [the meaning is] they said to him, This people are compared to an animal [hayyah] — Judah [is called] a lion's whelp;31  of Dan [it is said] Dan shall be a serpent;32  Naphtali [is called] a hind let loose;33  Issachar a strong ass;34  Joseph a firstling bullock;35  Benjamin a wolf that ravineth.36  [Of those sons of Jacob where a comparison with an animal] is written in connection with them, it is written: but [in the instances where such a comparison] is not written, there is the text: What was thy mother? A lioness; she couched among lions etc.37

And it came to pass, because the midwives feared God, that He made them houses.38  Rab and Samuel [differ in their interpretation]; one said they are the priestly and Levitical houses, and the other said they are the royal houses. One who says they are the priestly and Levitical houses: Aaron and Moses; and one who says they are the royal houses: for also David descended from Miriam, as it is written: And Azubah died, and Caleb took unto him Ephrath, which bare him Hur,39  and it is written: Now David was the son of that Ephrathite etc.40

And Caleb the son of Hezron begat children of Azubah his wife and of Jerioth,' and these were her sons: Jesher and Shobab and Ardon.41  'The son of Hezron'? He was the son of Jephunneh!42  — [It means] that he was a son who turned [panah] from the counsel of the spies. Still, he was the son of Kenaz, as it is written: And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, took it!43  — Raba said: He was the stepson of Kenaz.

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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. Ibid. 13.
  2. They induced the Israelites to work by using smooth words to them.
  3. Ibid. 14.
  4. Ps. LXVIII, 14, E.V., 13.
  5. Ps. LXVIII, 14, E.V., 13. The dove is often used by the Rabbis as a symbol of Israel.
  6. Cant. VIII, 5. That is how the verb is interpreted here.
  7. Ezek. XVI, 4. There was no midwife present to cut the navel-string, nor was ordinary water used.
  8. Deut. XXXII, 13.
  9. Ps. CXXIX, 3.
  10. Ezek. XVI, 7.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ex. XV, 2. The word 'this' implies that He had been previously seen; therefore it must have been by the former babes.
  13. Ibid. I, 15.
  14. She was Aaron's wife (Ex. VI, 23).
  15. Ibid. I, 15.
  16. Rashi explains: she uttered soothing words which induced the child to come forth. She blew a charm into the mother's ear and brought forth the child (Jast.).
  17. I.e., the prophetic gift.
  18. Ibid. 16.
  19. This word in the verse is translated birthstool.
  20. By means of this symptom they would be able to detect a mother who tried to conceal a birth.
  21. Jer. XVIII, 3. The word for wheels is 'obnayim'.
  22. Ex. I, 16.
  23. At the time of birth (Nid. 31a).
  24. Ibid. 17.
  25. The latter is the more usual form since no direct speech follows.
  26. The preposition 'el, which occurs in the text, is employed in this sense.
  27. The text does not state, 'they did not kill'; therefore 'saved alive' is so explained.
  28. Ex. I, 19.
  29. The word in this verse translated lively.
  30. That is the significance the word has in Rabbinic Hebrew.
  31. Gen. XLIX, 9.
  32. Ibid. 17.
  33. Ibid. 21.
  34. Ibid. 14.
  35. Deut. XXXIII, 17.
  36. Gen. XLIX, 27.
  37. Ezek. XIX, 2.
  38. Ex. I, 21.
  39. I Chron. II, 19.
  40. I Sam. XVII, 12.
  41. I Chron. II, 18.
  42. V. Num. XIII, 6.
  43. Judg. I, 13.
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