Text from: The Sacred Books and Early literature of the East, volume IV // Medieval Hebrew. The Midrash. The Kabbakah. In Translations by dr. W. Wynn Westcott, D. P. H., Magus of the Rosicrucian Society; S. L. Mathers, M. A.; Very Rev. Herman Adler, Ll. D., President of Jews College; Adolf Neubauer, Ph. D., Reader of Rabbinical Literature, Oxford University; Rev. Samuel Rapaport, Rabbi of Cape Colony; dr. Michael Friedlander, Ph. D.; and other authorities on Hebraic and Kabbalistic lore. With a Brief Bibliography by Adolph S. Oko, Librarian of Hebrew Union College. With an Historical Survey and Descriptions by prof. Charles F. Horne, Ph. D. Parke, Austin, and Lipscomb, Inc. New-YorkLondon, 1917, pp. 7114.
Wisdom is granted by God to him who already possesses knowledge, not to the ignorant.
The Bible, or written law, contains unexplained passages and hidden sentences, which can not be fully understood without the help of the oral law.
AMONG the thousand odds and ends of wisdom and fantasy stored up for us within the Midrash is the statement that all of the Jewish law would have been written out for the people, as was the Torah, or Five Bible Books of Moses, only "God saw that the Torah would eventually be translated into Greek, and published as though it were the law entrusted to Greeks," meaning Gentiles. Hence the Talmud and Midrash, "the oral law, the key to and interpreter of the written law, being entrusted to Israelites only, the Jews alone have the whole of God's word with the interpretation in full."
This will make clear, at least from the Hebrew viewpoint, the value of the Midrash. It is the last and final word given as "explanation" of the Holy Scriptures. Some Midrashim, or explanations of the Bible, have of course always existed among the Hebrews. The Talmud, as pointed out in the preceding volume, consists of such early explanations as were accepted as authoritative and incorporated in the Jewish faith before A.D. 500. During the Middle Ages a large number of such Midrashim were written. Most of these deal with some particular book of the Bible. A studious rabbi would resolve to write a Midrash upon Genesis or upon Exodus and would collect all he had learned upon the theme from earlier teachers. Some studious successor would copy this book and enlarge it, adding a few points culled from another Midrash. Sometimes the new work became known by the reviser's name, sometimes it retained that of the earlier writer. In that way we have often several very different forms of a Midrash, all going under the same name.
Through this medley of books built upon books we have no clear guide, no lines of separation; and gradually the whole mass of repeated traditions, legends, explanations, layer piled upon layer, has come to be known collectively as the Midrash. The present Midrash, therefore, is a loose collection of commentaries, said to be founded on traditions as old as the Bible and Talmud. Some of its books are reputed to have originated with noted rabbis of the third and fourth centuries. But we can not trace any of its known books of to-day back to such a high antiquity, and where one still retains some antique writer's name we can be sure that it has been changed and changed and changed again, until very little of the reputed author's work remains.
Perhaps the oldest of the surviving Midrashim is that known as the Mekilta; but the Mekilta is almost wholly a textual commentary. That is, it confines itself to explaining the exact shades of grammar and meaning in the Bible text. As Christian scholars wholly reject these elaborate textual commentaries, modern readers will find far more interest in the oldest Midrash, which, going beyond mere definition of the text, illustrates its points with examples and thus recalls some vision of the past. This still vivid and living Midrash is the Tanhuma. It is so called because its origin is attributed to a learned Palestinian rabbi, Tanhuma, who lived in the fourth century; but our present Midrash Tanhuma can not have been composed before the seventh century. It is still, of course, chiefly concerned with grammar and text, so that only the essence of its more living spirit is given here.
After this we print, in the same concentrated form, the living items or bits of still interesting information gleaned from the most celebrated of the later Midrashim. These are the "Rabba," or a collection of commentaries on ten of the most sacred of the Biblical books, more especially on the five books of Moses. Among these the Genesis Rabba, which is known as the Bereshith, is regarded as particularly venerable, and sacred.
No part of the Rabba, however, seems likely to have been written before the ninth century, and most of it is of about the twelfth century. Only, when we speak of such comparatively recent dates, we must again remind the reader that Hebrew lore regards the time of the writing down of our present Midrash as unimportant, since its writers are trusted to have preserved only genuine traditions, each reaching back to the event of which it tells or the authority whom it quotes.
In illustration of what is still being done by modern Hebrew scholars with the mass of the Midrash, we close our section on its books with the story of the king of demons, Ashmedai. This has been put together by a modern rabbi, who, going carefully through the Midrash, collected all its references to Ashmedai and so built up the life-story of the demon-king.
The Torah is full of holy fire; it was written with a black fire upon a white fire.
The Torah has meekness as its footgear, and the fear of God as its crown. Hence Moses was the proper person through whose hands it should be delivered; he was meek, and with the fear of the Lord he was crowned.
You can not expect to occupy yourself with the study of the Torah in the future world and receive the reward for so doing in this world; you are meant to make the Torah your own in this life, and to look for reward in the life to come.
Cain's offering consisted of the seed of flax, and that of Abel of the fatlings of his sheep. This is probably the reason why the wearing of a garment of various materials, as of woolen and linen together, was prohibited.
As one who finishes the building of his house proclaims that day a holiday, and consecrates the building, so God, having finished creation in the six days, proclaimed the seventh day a holy day and sanctified it.
If the fraudulent man and the usurer offer to make restitution, it is not permitted to accept it from them.
The Bible, or written law, contains unexplained passages and hidden sentences, which can not be fully understood without the help of the oral law. Farther, the written law contains generalities, whilst the oral law goes in for explanations in detail, and is consequently much larger in volume. Indeed, as a figure of speech we could apply to it the words in Job (iv. 9), "The measure thereof is longer than the earth and broader than the sea." The knowledge of this oral law can not be expected to be found amongst those who are bent on enjoying earthly life and worldly pleasures; its acquisition requires the relinquishment of all worldliness, riches and pleasures, and requires intellect aided by constant study.
There is no evil that has no remedy, and the remedy for sin is repentance.
Whatever hardships may be imposed upon Jews by the powers that be, they must not rebel against the authorities who impose them, but are to render compliance, except when ordered to disregard the Torah and its injunctions; for that would be tantamount to giving up their God.
He that stole an ox had to restore fivefold, and he that stole a sheep had to give back only fourfold, because by stealing the ox he may have prevented the owner from plowing or doing other agricultural work for the time being.
There is a wall of separation erected between the Shechinah and the following three classes, a wall that can never be razed: The cheat, the robber, and the idle worshiper.
The meaning of the phrase, "God made man in his own image," is that, like his Maker, a man is to be righteous and upright. Do not argue that evil inclination is innate in you; such argument is fallacious; when you are a child you commit no sin; it is when you grow out of infancy that your evil inclination becomes developed. You have the power of resisting the evil inclination if you feel so inclined, even as you are able to convert the bitter elements of certain foods into very palatable eatables.
Hadrian, King of Rome (Edom), having made great conquests, requested his court in Rome to proclaim him God. In answer to this modest request, one of his ministers said, "If your Majesty desires to become God, it will be necessary to quit God's property first, to show your independence of him. He created heaven and earth; get out of these and you can proclaim yourself God." Another counselor replied by asking Hadrian to help him out of a sad position in which he was placed. "I have sent a ship to sea," he said, "with all my possessions on board of her, and she is but a short distance--about three miles from shore--but is struggling against the watery elements, which threaten her total destruction." "Do not trouble," replied the King, "I will send some of my ships well manned, and your craft shall be brought to the haven where she would be." "There is no need for all that," said the counselor satirically; "order but a little favorable wind, and her own crew will manage to bring her safely into port." "And where shall I order the wind from? How have I the power to order the wind?" answered Hadrian angrily. "Has your Majesty not even a little wind at your command?" said the King's adviser mockingly, "and yet you wish to be proclaimed God! "
Hadrian then retired to his own rooms angry and disappointed, and when he told his wife of the controversy he had had with his ministers she remarked that his advisers did not strike on the proper thing which would bring his wish to a happy consummation. "It seems to me," she said mockingly, "that the first thing you must do is to give God back what he has given you and be under no obligation to him." "And what may that be?" inquired the heathen. "The soul, of course," answered his wife. "But," argued the King, "if I give back my soul, I shall not live." "Then," said his wife triumphantly, "that shows that you are but mortal, and can not be God."
The slanderer seems to deny the existence of God. As King David has it, "They say, Our lips are with us, who is Lord over us?" (Ps. xii.)
Let us not lose sight of the lesson that it is meant to convey to us by the expression, "And the Lord came down to see" (Gen. xi.), namely that we are not to judge merely by "hearsay" and to assert anything as having taken place unless we saw it.
Elijah quickened the dead, caused rain to descend, prevented rain from coming down, and brought fire down from heaven; but he did not say "I am God."
When Noah set out to plant the vine, Satan encountered him and asked upon what errand he was bent. "I am going to plant the vine," said Noah. "I will gladly assist you in this good work," said Satan. When the offer of help was accepted Satan brought a sheep and slaughtered it on the plant, then a lion, then a pig, and finally a monkey. He thus explained these symbols to Noah. When a man tastes the first few drops of wine he will be as harmless as a sheep; when he tastes a little more he will become possessed of the courage of a lion and think himself as strong; should he further indulge in the liquid produced by your plant he will become as objectionable as a pig; and by yet further indulgence in it he will become like a monkey.
Because the Torah mulcts the thief in double, and in some cases more than double, the value of what he has stolen, one is not to conclude that he is allowed to steal when in want, with the intention of paying back double and more than double the value.
The promise to Abraham that he should become a great nation was fulfilled when the Israelites became the recipients of God's laws. Moses, on account of their being the possessors of the Torah, styles them "a great nation" (Deut. iv.).
Blessings proceed from Zion (Ps. cxxiv.), the dew is blessed from Zion (Ps. cxxxiii.), so does help come from Zion (Ps. xx.), and salvation (Ps. xiv.). The future blessings of Israel will proceed from Zion (Ps. cxxxiii.), and Zion itself will receive God's blessings.
The comparison in beauty of any woman to Sarah is like comparing monkeys with men.
"This shall not be thine heir, but he that cometh forth out of thy loins shall be thine heir" (Gen. xv. 4). There is a story of a man blessed with learning, wisdom, and riches, who had an only son, to whom he naturally gave the best education, and whom he sent to Jerusalem for the purpose of completing his education. He had all arrangements made for his bodily comforts, and took every care that the young man, who was very promising and on whom he doted, should want for nothing. Shortly after his son's departure, he took to his bed, from which he rose not again.
His death caused immense regret in the place of his residence, for in him the poor had lost a real support, and many a man a wise counselor and adviser. It was felt that the town in general had lost one whom it would be difficult to replace.
The funeral and the days of mourning over, a friend who was known to be the executor of the dead man's last will, and who had duly informed the son by letter of the sad death of his father, proceeded to break the seal of the will and see its contents. To his great astonishment, and no less to the astonishment of every one who learned the nature of its contents, the whole of the dead man's property, personal and otherwise, movable and immovable, after leaving considerable amounts to various charities, was left to his negro slave; there was but a saving clause that his beloved son should have the privilege of choosing one thing, but one only, out of the whole estate.
The son, though duly informed of the details of this strange will, was so immersed in grief at the loss of his father that his mind could not be diverted to anything else; and it was only when his teacher alluded to his father's death and the inheritance which he might expect, and advised him to use it for the same laudable purposes, that the young man informed his beloved master that by his father's will he had been reduced to a beggar. Meanwhile, the negro slave of the departed man, having gone through all the formalities and proved his title, lost no time in taking possession of his dead master's property. He was ready and willing enough to grant the son one thing out of his late father's goods, whenever he should come and claim the object of his choice. The acute rabbi, on reading the will, saw at once the drift of the testator's intention, and told his pupil that he should proceed to his native town and take possession of his property. "But I have no property to take possession of," pleaded the young man, "except one article of my late father's goods." Well then," replied the teacher, unable to conceal a smile, choose your late father's negro slave out of his estate, and with him will go over to you all he possesses, since a slave can own nothing, and all he has belongs to his master. That, indeed, was your father's clever device. He knew that if the will were to state that all was left to you, the negro, being by the force of circumstances in charge of everything that was left, would probably in your absence take for himself and his friends all the valuables on which he could lay his hands; whereas if he knew or thought all belonged to him he would take care of everything that was left. Your wise father knew that the one thing he gave you the power to choose would be no other than his slave, and with him you would become the just and rightful owner of everything."
You can not be too careful about prayer, and you should never omit to pray. Prayer eclipses all other services, and towers above sacrifices; and the sinful man may receive God's grace through prayer.
As one is prohibited from reciting any portion of the Torah by heart, but must read it out of the written scroll, so is he who expounds any portion thereof not allowed to read his exposition from anything written, but must deliver it by word of mouth.
When God's creatures incur punishment, the Merciful One looks for one to plead for the guilty people, to open a way, as it were, as was the case in the time of Jeremiah. (See Jer. v.)
The proverb says, "If you rub shoulders with the anointed you will become anointed." Lot, being associated with Abraham, became hospitable; whilst his character does not indicate inclination to hospitality on his own part.
You must not in any way mislead your fellow men, not even to the extent of asking the price of anything he may have for disposal, so as to make him believe that you are a likely purchaser, whilst you have no intention of purchasing the article.
The righteous are put to more and severer trials than the unrighteous. So the owner of flax will beat out the good flax often and severely, so as to make it purer, but does not treat the inferior article in the same way, lest it fall away into small pieces.
The following tend to make a man prematurely old: Fear, war, trouble from his children, or a shrew of a wife.
As there is a regularity in the position of the sun daily three times: in the morning he is in the east, at noon between the east and west, and in the evening in the west, so must there be an inflexible regularity with every Jew in reciting his prayers three times daily, morning, afternoon, and evening.
A widower with unmarried sons is advised to see his sons married before he marries again.
Adrianus (Hadrian), discussing with Rabbi Joshua, the innumerable adversaries that the Israelites had to encounter, said, "Great is the sheep that can withstand seventy wolves." Rabbi Joshua replied, "Greatest is the shepherd who enables the sheep to outlive the constant attacks of the wolves."
There is merit and even dignity in handicraft.
Do not say, I need not work for my living, but cast my hope ion God who supports all living creatures. You must work for a livelihood, and look up to God to bless the work of your hands. Jacob, in alluding to the delivery from Laban's house, says, "God hath seen the labor of my hands" (Gen. xxxi.).
A homely domesticated wife is like the altar in the temple; and she is even an atonement as the altar was.
Isaiah committed sin by saying, "In the midst of a people of unclean lips do I dwell" (Isa. vi.). For this, the slander which is compared to fire, he was punished with fire, with the live coal taken from the altar (Isa. vi.).
However adverse one's opinion may be of any one placed in a high position, he is bound to pay him the respect due to his position. Rabbi Judah Hannasi, when writing to Antoninus, invariably used the phrase, "Judah, thy servant, sends greeting."
A modest woman is worthy of being the wife of a high priest, for she is like an altar in her home.
God wishes man to ask forgiveness, and not to see him in his guilt.
So exceedingly handsome was Joseph that when the friends of Potiphar's wife visited her, and the hostess proffered them fruit, the Egyptian women cut their fingers instead of the fruit, as they could not take their eyes off the wonderfully handsome Hebrew slave; and they sympathized with their friend when he scorned her advances.
Give me the admonition of the old in preference to the flattery of the young.
When Moses said to the people, "After the Lord your God shall ye walk" (Deut. xiii.), they took alarm at the formidable, or rather impossible, task imposed upon them. "How," said they, "is it possible for man to walk after God, who hath his way in the storm and in the whirlwind, and the clouds are the dust of his feet" (Nahum i.), "whose way is in the sea and his path in the great waters" 2 (Ps. lxxvii.) . Moses explained to them that to walk after God meant to imitate humbly his attributes of mercy and compassion by clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and comforting the mourner.
A fatality seems to have been attached to Shechem in connection with Israel's sorrows. The capture of Dinah took place at Shechem. Joseph was sold there into slavery. David's kingdom was split in Shechem; and the advent of Jeroboam also took place in Shechem.
O woman, what mischief thou causest! Even the worshiping of idols did not cause such trouble and loss of life as a woman caused. The making and worshiping of the golden calf caused the loss of three thousand men (Exod. xxxii.) but through a woman at Shittim twenty-four thousand were the victims.
Good men lift up their eyes and look one straight in the face; bad, wicked men drop their eyes.
"Should not a man pray every hour?" asked Antoninus of his friend Rabbi Judah Hannasi. He demurred on receiving a reply in the negative. After a while the Rabbi called on Antoninus, and was as careful as always to address him with considerable deference.
After about an hour he came again, and addressed him again carefully with all the titles he was wont to use, and so the Rabbi repeated his visits and expressions of homage about every hour during the day. When, at last Antoninus told his friend that he felt himself slighted instead of honored by the frequency of the visits, and the expressions of homage with which Rabbi Judah meant to honor him, "Therein," the sage said, "lies my reason for telling you that man was not to address the throne of mercy every hour as you contended, since such frequency savors of contempt."
There is a most remarkable identity between the occurrences in the life of Joseph and those in the history of Zion and Jerusalem, and a remarkable similarity in the phrases employed in describing the respective events of each, whether in their adversity or in their prosperity. We read: "Israel loved Joseph" (Gen. xxxvii.), "The Lord loveth the gates of Zion" (Ps. lxxxvii.). Joseph's brethren hated him; "My heritage is unto me as a lion in the forest, it crieth out against me, therefore I hate it" (Jer. xii.). Joseph speaks of making sheaves; there are sheaves in connection with Zion (Ps. cxxvi.). Joseph dreamed: "When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion we were like them that dream" (Ps. cxxvi.). Joseph was asked, "Wilt thou rule over us?" "Say unto Zion thy God ruleth" (Isa. Iii.). Joseph was asked whether his father and brothers would prostrate them selves before him. "They shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth" (Isa. xlix.). Joseph's brethren were jealous;" Thus said the Lord of Hosts, I was jealous for Zion with great jealousy" (Zech. viii.). Joseph went to inquire about the peace of his brothers; Zion was to seek the peace of the city where she is captive (Jer. xxix.). Joseph's brethren saw him from the distance; the same is said about Zion (Ezek. xxiii.). Joseph's brothers contemplated his destruction; so the nations contemplated the destruction of Zion (Ps. lxxxiii.). Joseph was stripped of his coat of many colors; concerning Zion, the prophet says, "They shall strip thee of thy clothes" (Ezek. xvi.). Joseph was put into a pit; "They have put me alive into the dungeon" (Lam. iii.). The pit into which Joseph was put contained no water. In connection with Zion, Jeremiah was put into a pit where there was no water (Jer. xxxviii.). Joseph's brothers sat down to their meal; "We have given the hand to Egyptians and to Assyrians to be satisfied with bread" (Lam. v.). Joseph was pulled up from the pit; Jeremiah, who in connection with his prophecy about Zion was put into a dungeon--as stated above--was drawn up from the dungeon (Jer. xxxviii.). Lamentations were raised about Joseph; "And in that day did the Lord call for weeping and mourning" (Isa. xxii.). In the case of Joseph consolation was rejected. "Labor not to comfort me" (Isa. xxii.). Joseph was sold; "the children of Judah and of Jerusalem have you sold unto the Grecians" (Joel iv.). Joseph is described as handsome; "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion" (Ps. xlviii.). Joseph was the greatest in his master's house; the glory of the latter house shall be greater than the former (Hag. ii.). The Lord was with Joseph; "Now mine eyes shall be open and mine ears attent unto the prayers that are made in this place"' (2 Chron. vii.). Grace and loving kindness were shown to Joseph; concerning Zion God says, "I remember the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals" (Jer. ii.). Joseph was rendered presentable by changing his clothes, etc.; "When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion" (Isa. iv.). The throne of Pharaoh was above Joseph; "At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord" (Jer. iii.). Joseph was clothed, in grand garments; "Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion, put on thy beautiful garments" (Isa. Iii.). Joseph was met by an angel; "Behold I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way" (Mal. iii.).
There is a tendency with every man to become humble when near his death.
It matters not where the body is buried; the spirit goes whither it is destined.
Jacob's objection to being buried in Egypt was due to the fact that the Egyptians practised witchcraft by means of dead bodies, and he would not have his body utilized for such abominable practises.
There is no death to the righteous.
The righteous bless their offspring before they depart hence.
David was descended from Judah.
"Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together"--or in unity (Ps. cxxxiii.). "O that thou wert as my brother" (Songs viii.). There are brothers and brothers. Cain and Abel were brothers, but the former slew the latter. Ishmael and Isaac were brothers, but there was no love lost between them. Jacob and Esau had no brotherly love for one another, nor did Joseph and his brothers show much love between them. David and Solomon had in their minds Moses and Aaron as typical brothers. One of the reasons why Moses so persistently hesitated to be the messenger to Pharaoh was his consideration for his brother Aaron, who was older and more eloquent than he, so that he hesitated to usurp what he considered should be Aaron's function. God, who knows the innermost thoughts of man, knew the real motive of Moses's refusal to accept the mission. Therefore we find God telling Moses, "Behold Aaron the Levite, thy brother, I know that he can speak well, and also behold he cometh forth to meet thee, and when he seeth thee he will be glad in his heart" (Exod. iv.). And as Aaron's delight at his younger brother's elevation was so great--for the phrase "glad in his heart" conveys his great delight--he was rewarded in that the Urim and Thummim were on his heart (Exod. xxviii.). When Aaron met his brother in the mount of God he kissed him (Exod. iv.).
The staff of Moses had the initials of the names of the ten plagues written on it, in order that Moses should know in which order they were consecutively to be brought on Pharaoh and the Egyptians.
When we are told that Pharaoh took six hundred chosen chariots with which to pursue the Israelites, we are naturally met with the question whence he got those six hundred chosen chariots. He could not have obtained them from his people the Egyptians, for we find that "all the cattle of the Egyptians died" (Exod. ix.). They could not have been his own, for his own cattle also perished (Exod. ix.). Nor did the Israelites supply them, since they left with all their cattle; there was not a hoof to be left.
The explanation is found in the fact that those who feared the word of the Lord among the servants of Pharaoh made their cattle flee into the house when the hail was predicted (Exod. ix.), and these "fearers of the word of the Lord" among the Egyptians supplied Pharaoh with their animals for the purpose of pursuing the Israelites. By the character of those among the Egyptians who "feared the word of the Lord" that of the nation can be judged.
"Fear not, thou worm Jacob," says the prophet (Isa. xli.). Why was Israel compared to a worm? As the insignificant worm is able to destroy a big cedar with no other weapon than its small weak mouth, even so is Israel able to prevail against his great persecutors with no other weapon but the prayers emanating from troubled hearts and uttered with the mouth.
How great is faith! It secures happiness and salvation. Abraham's faith was accounted to him as righteousness. It was the faith which the Israelites had that redeemed them from Egypt (Exod. iv. 31). Their faith on the bank of the Red Sea carried them over that sea and brought them to the land of promise. The Lord keepeth the faithful (Ps. xxxi.). The righteous liveth by his faith (Habak. ii.). The last redemption of Israel will only be effected through faith. See how King David values faith (Ps. cv.). Concerning faith, David says, "This is the gate of the Lord, the righteous shall enter therein."
The lifting up of Moses's hands did not defeat Amalek, nor did the copper serpent stay the biting of the burning serpents. It was the directing by these of the hearts of the Israelites, with their prayers heavenward, that defeated Amalek and caused the fiery serpents to cease.
If you have acquired knowledge, do not simultaneously acquire a haughty spirit on account of your knowledge; and if you intend to expound God's word, recite to yourself twice or thrice what you intend saying. Even so great a man as Rabbi Akiba, when once called upon in the assembly to get up and preach, declined to do so, on the ground that he never preached unless he rehearsed his intended speech twice or thrice to himself.
Whilst man is not to seek public notoriety and distinction, he is not to err on the side of modesty and seclusion, and refuse to give his services in communal matters. Rabbi Asy, when approaching death, was visited by his nephew, who found the patient very depressed. "Death," said his nephew, "should not in your case be attended with feelings of alarm. Think what you leave behind you, the learning you have acquired and imparted to an army of students, the charity you have practised, and the kindly acts you have done; is there any good that it was in your power to do that you have left undone? And you have been so modest withal; you have always eschewed putting yourself forward or seeking notoriety, and have not mixed in disputes and in communal matters."
"This," replied the good man, "even if all the good you said about me were quite correct, this alone would be sufficient cause for my depression, for I might perhaps have been able to render some service, had I not kept to myself but taken upon me the burden of communal affairs."
With idol-worshipers it is the habit to treat their gods according to the circumstances in which they find themselves, which they attribute to the actions of their gods. If their condition is favorable, they pay tribute to their god. "Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag, because by them their portion is fat and their meat plenteous," says the prophet (Habak. i.). If, on the other hand, adversities overtake them, they vent their anger on their gods. "And it shall come to pass," the prophet tells us, "that when they shall be hungry they shall fret themselves and curse their king and their god" (Isa. viii.).
Not so shall you do, my people, whose destiny is shaped out by the Creator of heaven and earth. Whatever befalls you, give thanks and praise unto your God. Are you in prosperity? do not forget the Giver; do not say in your heart, "My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth," but like David say, "I will lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of my God." If adversity overtakes you, if sorrow and trouble overtake you in the midst of the smooth current of your affairs, take up David's words again and say, "I found trouble and sorrow, then I called upon the name of my God."
The altar of God was to prolong man's life, and iron is a metal which can destroy man's life; therefore it was forbidden to use iron in the erection of the altar.
Slight no man. Every man was created in God's image.
Onkeles, the nephew of Hadrian--his sister's son--being anxious to embrace Judaism, yet being afraid of his uncle, told him that he wished to embark on a certain enterprise. When Hadrian offered him some money he refused to accept it, but said he wanted his uncle's advice, as he was inexperienced in the ways of the world. "Purchase goods," replied his uncle, "which do not, at present, command a high price, and are not favorites in the market, but for which there is reason to believe a demand at higher prices will eventually arise." Onkeles betook himself to Palestine, and gave himself up to study. After a time Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua recognized in him the face of a student; they took him in hand, solved all the difficult problems he put before them, and generally befriended him. On his return home he again visited his uncle Hadrian, who, noticing that his nephew did not look as well as was his wont, inquired whether he had met with any monetary reverses in his new enterprise, or had been injured in any way. "I have met with no monetary losses," said Onkeles, "and as your nephew I am not likely to be hurt by any one." Being further pressed for the reason of his poor looks, Onkeles told his uncle they were due to his excessive studies and to the fact that he had undergone circumcision. "And who told you to do such a thing as to undergo circumcision?" demanded Hadrian. "I acted on your advice," replied Onkeles. "I have acquired a thing that stands at a low price just now, but will eventually rise in value. I found no nation in such low esteem and so sure to rise in value as Israel. For thus said the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth, to a servant of rulers, kings shall see and arise and princes also shall worship, because of the Lord that is faithful and the Holy One of Israel, he shall choose them" (Isa. xlix.). One of Hadrian's counselors advised his master to visit his nephew's misdeed with death, for which advice the adviser received such a sharp rebuke from Hadrian that he committed suicide. Hadrian, after the death of his minister, further discussed with his nephew the matter of his conversion, and again asked for the reason of circumcision. Onkeles asked his uncle whether he had ever bestowed any distinction on any of his army who were not willing and ready to fight for his Majesty and for the country at the risk of life. "Neither could I be received into the fold of those to whom God has given his behests and statutes without having the seal of those great statutes put on me even at the risk of my life."
Whilst the Torah teaches peace and good-will to one's fellow man, it likewise teaches the necessity of standing up against evil deeds and even rebuking the evil-doer. Moreover, though all reverence and deference are due to one's teacher, yet in the matter of censurable conduct it becomes the pupil's duty to protest against it. Bad conduct is contaminating. One is apt to fall into the same error if one sees any evil act and does not lift up one's voice to protest against it.
He who rebukes his fellow man with a sincere desire to make him better comes within the inner walls of the heavenly pavilion.
You are not permitted to select injunctions of the Torah which you consent to observe, and reject others for the observance of which you can find no reason. In accepting God's word one is bound to implicit obedience to it.
The rich should ever bear in mind that his wealth may merely have been deposited with him to be a steward over it, or to test what use he will make of his possessions. Not less should the poor remember that his trials may have been sent as a test of his fortitude.
Poverty outweighs all other sorrows.
"If you have taken a pledge from the poor," says God to the rich, "do not say he is your debtor and you are therefore justified in retaining his garment. Remember you are my debtor, your life is in my hand. I return you all your senses and all your faculties after your sleep every day."
Jewish litigants are to bring their disputes for adjustment before a Jewish court, and not to have recourse to outside tribunals.
Although witnesses have always to give their evidence standing, yet an exception may be made in the case of a distinguished (learned) man, who may be allowed to sit whilst giving evidence. Should he consider it beneath his dignity to give evidence at all, he may be exempted. This only applies to any suit regarding money matters (civil cases), but in criminal matters he is not to be exempted.
God's works accommodate one another without asking any interest. The day accommodates the night, and the night the day (according to season). The moon borrows from the stars, and the stars from the moon. The higher wisdom borrows from the simple or common sense; kindness borrows from charity, the heavens from the earth, and the earth from the heavens. The Torah borrows from righteousness, and righteousness from the Torah; all without charging any interest. Is man, and man only, not to extend a helping hand to his fellow man without exacting usury for a kind act?
Regarding the giving of alms, judgment and discretion should be exercised. Obviously, poor relatives have a prior claim to any other, and the poor of your town claim priority over those of another town.
"He who hath pity on the poor lendeth unto the Lord," says Solomon (Prov. xix.). It is surely good enough for you, O man, to be God's creditor. Not that he will return to you exactly the coin you give to the poor; he will look even further into your deed. The poor man was perhaps famishing, and your timely help may have rescued him from an untimely death; God, whose creditor you have become when you helped the helpless, will rescue you and yours from danger when it is near.
He who by usury and ill-gotten gain increaseth his substance, it shall be taken from him by him who pities the poor (Prov. xxviii.). When a non-Jew wants to borrow of you, you will perhaps say that since you are not permitted to take usury from your own compatriot you may take it from a non-Jew. Be assured that such ill-gotten gain will be taken from you; probably by the authorities, to erect baths or other sanitary buildings for the poor or the stranger.
Why, asked Turnus Rufus, a heathen King, of Rabbi Akiba, have we incurred the hatred of your God so that He says, "I hate Esau"? (Mal. iii.). The Rabbi said he would reply to the question the next day. On his making his appearance the following day, the King, thinking that Rabbi Akiba had postponed the answer the day before in order to invent meanwhile some lame explanation, said to the sage satirically, "Well, Akiba, what have you dreamt during the night?" Rabbi Akiba, taking the very question as the text for his reply, said, "I dreamed I became possessed of two dogs which I named Rufus and Rufina" (the names of the questioner and his wife).
The King, in a great fury, asked Rabbi Akiba how he dared offer him and his queen so gross an insult as to name his dogs by their names. "Wherefore this indignation?" returned R. Akiba calmly; "you and yours are God's creatures, so are dogs God's creatures; you eat and drink, produce your species, live, decay, and die; all this is also the case with dogs. Yet what umbrage you take because they bear the same name as you! Consider then that God stretched forth the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, is the Creator, Governor, and Ruler of all animate and inanimate things; yet you make an idol of wood and stone, worship it and call it by the name of God. Should you not then incur his hatred?"
A distinguished scholar was on a voyage at sea, and on board the same ship were some merchants with their goods. In the course of conversation they asked the scholar what was the nature of his goods. "My goods," he replied, "are invaluable." Knowing, however, that there was no cargo of his on board the ship, they ridiculed his assertion. After sailing some distance from shore the ship was overtaken by pirates, who robbed the ship of its cargo and took the very clothes the passengers were wearing, so far as they were of any value. Passengers and crew were only too thankful to escape with their lives and to clothe themselves with the rags which the pirates rejected. The scholar, as he did not wear any valuable clothes, was spared by the pirates as not being worth robbing, and landed at a small town, together with his fellow passengers, who made a sorry sight in the rags that served them as clothes. The learned man, whose reputation had gone before him, was asked and consented to deliver lectures on various scientific subjects, which he handled in a masterly fashion. The lectures excited great interest, and attracted large audiences from all the neighboring towns, with the result that the man not only found his lectures remunerative from a pecuniary point of view, but soon won the friendship of the leading men of the place, where he settled down and became an influential member of the community. Fate did not smile quite so kindly on his former fellow passengers, who, having unfortunately lost all their possessions, having no trade or profession, and being clothed in rags, found it impossible to get employment. Seeing the great position the professor held in the town, they called upon him and solicited the favor of his influence on their behalf.
This he unhesitatingly and ungrudgingly gave them; he procured employment for them, and reminded them how perfectly justified he was in styling his goods invaluable.
On several occasions the Israelites were numbered, a census taken. For as the owner of a flock of sheep is anxious to know how many he possesses, when anything untoward happens, when a wolf has been in their midst, he is again anxious to ascertain what loss has been sustained by the mishap. Thus Moses had the people numbered to see what loss there was after their punishment for making the golden calf.
Poor ignorant man, you want to find out God's ways; explain first the phenomenon of your own eye; it consists of white and black, and according to all reason the white should supply light, but in reality the little spot in the center of your eye is the lens to give you sight.
A man however so learned should not preach if his preaching is not agreeable to his audience.
A public teacher (preacher) must not only be thoroughly conversant with the twenty-four books of the Bible, but must be known to his flock as modest and distinguished for his virtues.
Moses, in spite of his being the mediator between God and his people in promulgating God's behests to them, and knowing God's intention of giving his law to his people Israel, in spite of all his varied and most wonderful qualities, and his having been in the mountain forty days and forty nights, during which he ate no bread and drank no water, in spite of all this, he is only looked upon as an earthly, a mortal being, the greatest of men, but only a mortal man.
There were forty thousand of the mixed multitude, who forced themselves on the Israelites at the Exodus and came out with them from Egypt. Among them were the two great Egyptian magicians of Pharaoh who imitated Moses's miracles before Pharaoh. Their names were Junus and Jumburius.
The living always have to arrange for the dead, such as bringing them to their resting-place, etc., but the dead are not called upon to provide anything for the living; yet behold, when any serious trouble or threats overtook the Israelites, though there were many righteous men in the camp, Moses, in his intercession had no recourse to them) but fell back upon those who had long since departed. "Remember," he prayed, "thy servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." Solomon alluded to this when he said, "Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living, which are yet alive" (Eccles. iv.).
The "Mishna" would have been incorporated with the written Torah, but God saw that the Torah would eventually be translated into Greek and published as though it were the code entrusted to Greeks. Had the Mishna been together with the written law, the nations would have claimed to be the custodians of the whole of God's word. But the oral law, the key to and interpreter of the written law, being entrusted to Israelites only (which could not have been done had it been written) the Jews alone have the whole of God's word with the interpretation in full.
Wisdom is granted by God to him who already possesses knowledge, not to the ignorant. A certain matron was arguing with Rabbi José ben Chlafta on this point of God giving wisdom to men of understanding. This, she thought, was paradoxical, as it would be more proper if God granted wisdom to simpletons, who are more in want of it than wise men.
Rabbi José put a simple question to her. "If two men," he asked, "were to appear before you, one wealthy and the other poor, each asking you for a loan of money, whom would you be more inclined to trust?" "Surely the one possessed of wealth," she replied. "God in his dispensation," said Rabbi José, "giveth wisdom to the man of understanding, who possesses and knows the value of it, and will make profitable use of the augmentation: like a man whom you would prefer to trust with your money, knowing that he has facilities to employ profitably what you lend him; whereas the fool entrusted with wisdom would abuse the precious gift and convert it into folly, like the poor man whom you would not care to trust, lest the money should be lost through his inability to employ it profitably."
Rabbi Eliezer ben José stated that he saw in Rome the mercy-seat of the temple. There was a bloodstain on it. On inquiry he was told that it was a stain from the blood which the high priest sprinkled thereon on the Day of Atonement.
The Torah was given in the wilderness, and, like the wilderness, it is free and open to all comers without formalities or introductions: all that wish to do so can enter into it.
The boards for the Mishkan were made from shittim-wood, from a tree that does not bear fruit; thereby man is taught the virtue of economy: he should not waste anything of greater value when the same can be obtained by using articles of lesser value. Even the Mishkan was not to be made out of fruit-trees, since it could be made equally as effective out of trees bearing no fruit.
It is but right and proper that one should be right in the sight of God, but it is also desirable so to act as to be just and right in the eyes of man.
Slander no one, whether thy brother or not thy brother, whether a Jew or not a Jew.
In connection with the poor man's sacrifice, that of a handful of flour, and not in connection with the rich man's sacrifices (of bulls and rams) do we find the expression "and if any soul." God looked upon the poor man's offering of a handful of flour as though he had offered his life.
The righteous stand on a higher level than angels.
Those who aim at greatness do not always get it. Moses fled from it, but it was forced upon him.
God consulted the Torah when about to create man, but the Torah was dubious about calling man into existence, for since his days would be so short and his ways so perverted he would require much forbearance. God's reply was, "By thee (Torah) I declare myself as a God merciful, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and in truth."
"Swear not at all, not even to the truth."
Future bliss can neither be imagined, explained, nor described. We know nothing of its nature, form, greatness, or beauty, its quantity or quality. This much one should know, the phrase, "the world to come," does not imply that it is a world yet to be called into existence; it exists already, but the phrase is employed to describe the life into which those who are in the present stage of existence will be transposed when they throw off this mortal coil.
The leper, the blind, the abject poor, and those who have no progeny are as though dead.
Rabbi Judah Hannasi, arriving at a place called Semunia, was entreated by the community to select a rabbi for them. He sent them Rabbi Levi ben Sissyas, a learned and able man. Not long afterward the newly appointed Rabbi came to R. Judah Hannasi, the donor of his living, and whilst thanking him for the appointment expressed the fear that his position was not tenable. On being questioned for his reasons he answered that Scriptural passages were submitted to him for solution by his congregants which it was above his capability to solve. Among others he mentioned the passage, I will show thee that which is written, and which is true (Dan. x.). Hence they argue that there must be something written and which is not true. Rabbi Judah Hannasi then explained: "Man," he said, "incurs retribution if he leaves matters as they are, and does nothing to avert the punishment decreed upon him. In this case what is written is true: his punishment will overtake him. But on the other hand, if he reflects and thinks over his evil ways, becomes contrite, repents and asks his merciful Father for forgiveness, and the deserved punishment is held back, in this instance what is written is not true."
By this hypothesis you are to reconcile some seemingly contradictory passages in Scripture, such as in 1 Sam. (ii. 25), where in connection with Eli's sons we have it that they harkened not unto the voice of their father because the Lord wanted to slay them. But, through the prophet, God sends us a message, "As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked" (Ezek. xxxiii.). The answer is that there are sinners and sinners, those who do and those who do not repent.
Two sheep and two-tenth parts of flour were demanded as an offering, whereas of wine only the smallest possible quantity was to be offered. This was a hint that wine is always to be used sparingly, as indulgence in it leads to mischief.
The guardian angels are always near God's throne, but the accusing ones are kept at a distance.
Have no undue compassion for tyrants, and you will not become a tyrant over those who deserve compassion.
As an example of good manners and the virtue of considering the feelings of others, a story is related of a distinguished man who invited friends to his son's marriage. During the feast the bridegroom himself went to the cellar to fetch some very old and costly wine for the guests, when he was fatally bitten by a snake which was hidden under the casks. When the host learned the shocking news of his son's death he refrained from disturbing his guests' enjoyment, and when the feast was over and prayers after meat were about to be pronounced, he told the assembly that there would be burial-prayers for his son, who had met his death by the bite of a snake.
At Sinai the women received and accepted the Decalogue before the men.
Palestine is destined to be the center of the globe.
Before man had yet made his appearance on earth, the angels sanctified God's name and sang hymns before him in anticipation of man's advent. The words they used for their hymns were, "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting." When Adam made his appearance they asked, "Is this the human creature in anticipation of whose advent we sang hymns?" They were told that this was not the one, as he would prove to be dishonest. At Noah's birth the angels exclaimed, "This time we behold the man." "No," they were told, this one will be given to "drinking." Nor did they guess well when they suggested Abraham was the right man when he made his appearance, for his progeny was Ishmael. Again they were undeceived when they hit upon Isaac as the man for whose coming they had sung hymns, for did he not beget Esau whom God hated? At the appearance of Jacob they again ventured a guess, and this time God said to them, "You have fixed on the right man. He shall be named Israel, and his descendants shall be called by his name." Hence God said to Moses, "Tell the children of Israel that they were sanctified before they were called into existence, and must therefore remain holy, even as their God is holy." So a king when bringing his newly married bride into his palace might say to her: "You are now united to me. I am king, therefore be you henceforth queen."
"When you come into the land you shall plant all manner of trees for food" (Lev. xix.). Although you will find "the land filled with all good things," yet you are not to abstain from labor, especially agriculture; you are to occupy yourselves in these pursuits. Even the old who have no reasonable expectation of eating of the fruits of their labor shall participate in the work of cultivating the ground.
The caution which King Solomon utters, "Rob not the poor" (Prov. xxii.), would seem superfluous. Who is likely to rob a poor man who has nothing to be robbed of? But his words go further than they seem to go at first sight. They mean that if you are in the habit of apportioning some of your substance to the poor it should not enter your mind to discontinue doing so. If you are tempted to say, why should I give my substance to others, remember that by your discontinuance you are robbing the poor. He and you are mine, and I may reverse the condition of things.
Regarding the ceremony of the red heifer (Numb. xix.), Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai explained to his pupils that its ashes could not render any unclean person clean. But as this is a statute of the Torah, we must inquire for no reason. If we refused to do anything that God commands without a definite reason, we should no longer be paying him simple obedience.
In addition, he continued, supposing one of the children of the king's servants had soiled the king's palace, the mother would naturally be fetched and asked to wash out the stain which her child had made. So the mother of the calf with which the Israelites polluted God's world is called into requisition to purify the pollution made by her offspring.
Apart from the essential qualifications for the office of high priest, he had also to be handsome, healthy, in a good financial position, a man of mature judgment, and of advanced age. When he was poor, but otherwise qualified, he was placed in a position beyond want. One Pinchus, "the stone-cutter," being in every respect eminently fitted for the office of high priest except that he was poor, the priests amongst themselves contributed enough to make him actually a man of affluence.
Out of certain classes of things God has chosen one. Of days, the seventh was chosen and sanctified. Of years, too, the seventh was chosen as the Sabbatical year; and out of seven Sabbatical years one was selected as the Jubilee. Of countries, God made choice of Palestine. Of the heavens, the Aroboth was chosen for God's throne. Of nations, Israel was the choice, and of the tribes of Israel, that of Levi.
God blessed Adam, Noah, and Abraham, but he endowed Abraham with the power of blessing which the Lord will indorse.
During the twenty-six generations that passed from the creation to the giving of the Torah, the world was upheld by God's loving-kindness, which was, so to speak, the pivot upon which the world existed. When the Torah was given to and accepted by Israel, an additional support was given to the world upon which it could stand, and yet it was only like a bench standing upon two feet, not very well supported. With the erection of the Mishkan the world received a substantial support. So a stool which only stood upon two legs receives a third, and is rendered firm.
At the Exodus a compact was made with the Israelites, by which they undertook to erect the Mishkan for the Shechinah to dwell amongst them, and this is indicated in the 29th chapter of Exodus, "And they shall know that I am the Lord their God that brought them forth out of the land of Egypt that I may dwell among them."
In order not to cause jealousy as to who should be the seventy elders, Moses cast lots by taking seventy-two slips representing six of each tribe, writing the word "elder" on seventy of the slips and leaving the two odd ones blank. Seventy-two men then drew out each of them a slip, and those who drew blanks had to give up their claims.
The harp upon which the Levites played had seven strings.
God's behests were to be the guiding principle of the Israelite in all his doings throughout his earthly career. Plowing, sowing, reaping, threshing: these have all their laws by which he is to conduct them. In the making of dough, in killing meat, in the fruit of his trees, he has his laws, also about the hair of his head, his apparel, the building of his house, and the burying of his dead.
Orientals have some commendable habits. When they kiss they kiss the hand, not the mouth. They do not handle meat with their hands, but use knives. When they have to consider any important public matter, they assemble in the open outside the town.
The "Shekel," when mentioned in the Pentateuch, means one "sela"; in the Prophets it amounts to five and twenty "selaim"; but those mentioned in the Holy Writings (Hagiographa) are one hundred "selaim." There is an exception in the case of the "shekolim" which Ephron the Hittite asked of Abraham for the "cave of Machpelah": they also were one hundred "selaim" each.
Midian and Moab were enemies from time immemorial; but for the purpose of injuring the Israelites they overlooked their long-standing enmity: just as two dogs will very quickly desist from fighting if they see a wolf approaching, and will unite their strength against the advancing enemy. Balaam's services were so anxiously sought after because the Israelites and their leader, Moses, were known to have immense power with their mouth (prayer); therefore they wanted one who also had great power with his eloquence.
When man confesses and says, "O God, I have sinned," the very messenger sent to punish him for that sin has his power paralyzed and his hand stayed.
To entice a man to sin is tantamount to taking his life.
If Moses had been a selfish man and had only considered himself and his own interest he would have delayed to avenge the Israelites on the Midianites as long as possible, because the duration of his earthly life was fixed for the time when he should have brought about vengeance on Midian (Numb. xxxi.). But like a faithful shepherd, unselfish and self-sacrificing as he was, he strove to consummate all his work without regarding his own life or his own interest, and as soon as that part of his duty was ripe for performance, and when it was to the advantage of his flock he set himself to do the work, knowing well that when that work was finished his earthly career was finished.
"Ye shall keep my statutes and my judgments, which if a man do he shall live in them" (Lev. xviii.): live in them, says God, but not die by them.
God gave the Torah to Israel, but all nations are to benefit by it.
Jews are under an oath not to reveal the time of redemption (those who may know it), not to prolong its consummation by their unrighteousness, and not to rebel against the ruling power.
Moses was born and died on the same day of the mouth, namely, the seventh day of Adar.
Moses prayed to God to show him his glory, and in compliance with that prayer God says, "I will pass all my goodness before thee" (Exod. xxxiii.). Because God's goodness is God's glory; mercy and goodness are the brightest jewels in God's crown.
Death is designed for man from time immemorial. When the hour of man's departure hence arrives, nothing will save him from it. If he had the wings of an eagle and could soar high up above the earth, he would, of his own accord, come down to meet his fate.--Death is a new gate for the righteous to enter in.
Do not weigh, as it were in scales, the importance or the insignificance of your acts, as long as they are acts of righteousness; and do not speculate and say, "I will not do this or that because it is only a small or light act in the scale of God's commandments; I will therefore rather perform a more important act, and my reward will be correspondingly greater." For this reason God hath concealed the nature of the reward for carrying out his statutes. A certain king hired workmen to cultivate his garden, but did not tell them what the reward would be for raising each kind of fruit or plant, for if he had done so the workmen would one and all have endeavored to produce the fruit for which the highest wage was promised, and the other products would have been neglected. Yet there are two commandments, one apparently of slight and the other of great importance, for which precisely the same reward is promised. (1) That of sending away the dam and retaining its young, for the carrying out of which well-being and long life are promised (Deut. xxii.); and (2) the honoring of parents, for which the same reward is assured. This tends to indorse what we maintain, that it is not for m an to define the smallness or greatness of a godly act, or the nature and quality of the rewards. It is sufficient to know that the doing of God's will carries with it reward for faith and for doing it simply because we are told to do so.
Let not the Israelites be haughty and say that they, only are the people who possess and live up to the commandments of God, for other nations, though not the recipients of God's laws, also have the commandments of the Lord as their life's guide, and glorify his name.
No affliction overtakes man without his having first some foreboding or warning of its coming.
No evil-doer can plead ignorance; for the two ways, the good and the evil, are so distinctly marked that it is impossible to mistake the one for the other. Moses was like the old watchman who sat on the high road where two paths, a stony and a smooth one, met, and constantly warned wayfarers which one to take.
God will eventually reveal his glory to all mankind as unmistakably as though he had placed his throne in the center of the heavens, and then moved it from one extreme end to the other, so that everybody should see and know it.
No one can imagine the reward of him who accepts all his sorrows and reverses with religious resignation.
Rabbi Akiba, in defiance of the mandate of the Grecian authorities, who prohibited the study of the Torah, was found by his friend, Prysus ben Judah, with a host of disciples, diligently pursuing his wonted research. "Knowest thou not," asked his friend, "the great danger thou art facing by thus defying the authorities? Take my advice and desist from thy studies."
"Your advice," returned Rabbi Akiba, "seems to me like the advice of the fox who, on seeing fishes swimming in a river here and there, told them to come out, and he would show them a resting-place in the rocks. 'Are you the wise one amongst the beasts of the field?' retorted the fishes. 'If in our own element we can find no rest and safety, how much worse will it be with us when we are out of it?' With us Jews the Torah is our very life (Prov. iv.). In pursuing its study I may incur the risk of losing my earthly life; in relinquishing it I face the certainty of moral and spiritual death."
The heart and mind of the priest when conducting divine service was not to be diverted by anything else; his whole heart and mind was to be concentrated upon the service.
It is not too much to say that discretion should be exercised regarding the names one gives to his children. There are instances in which a name implying evil qualities has been given to a child, and the child, when grown up into manhood, has exemplified by his life the meaning of his name.
Hope is held out here for man for everything. If he is in abject poverty, he may become rich; if he is sickly, it is not beyond the range of possibility for him to become robust; if he is captive, he may regain his liberty. Death is the only thing which man can not hope to escape. But let man take comfort in the thought that even so great a man as Moses, who spoke with God f ace to face, the head of all prophets, the greatest of men, did not escape death.
It is forbidden to inquire what existed before creation, as Moses distinctly tells us (Deut. iv. 32): "Ask now of the days that are past which were before thee, since the day God created man upon earth." Thus the scope of inquiry is limited to the time since the Creation.
The unity of God is at once set before us in the history of creation, where we are told he, not they, created.
The Torah was to God, when he created the world, what the plan is to an architect when he erects a building.
The aleph, being the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, demurred at her place being usurped by the letter beth, which is second to her, at the creation; the history of which commences with the latter, instead of with the former. She was, however, quite satisfied when told that, in the history of giving the Decalogue, she would be placed at the beginning, for the world has only been created on account of the Torah, which, indeed, existed anterior to creation; and had the Creator not foreseen that Israel would consent to receive and diffuse the Torah, creation would not have taken place.
There is a difference of opinion as to the day on which angels were created; one authority decides for the second day, on the ground that they are mentioned in connection with water (Ps. civ. 3, 4), which was created on that day; while another, arguing from the fact that they are said to fly (Isa. vi.), assigns their creation to the fifth day, on which all other flying things were created. But all authorities are agreed that they did not exist on the first day of creation, so that skeptics can not say that they were helpers in the work of creation.
The title of an earthly king precedes his name, for instance,
Emperor Augustus, etc. Not so was the will of the King of kings; He is only known as God after creating heaven and earth. Thus it is not said, "God created," but "In the beginning created God heavens and earth"; He is not mentioned as God before he created.
Even the new heavens and earth, spoken of by the Prophet Isaiah (lxv. 17), were created in the six days of creation.
When any divergence is found in the Scriptures it must not be thought that it is by mere accident, for it is done advisedly. Thus, for instance, we invariably find Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; but once, as an exception, Jacob is mentioned before the other patriarchs (Lev. xxvi. 42). Again, whilst Moses has always precedence over Aaron, in one instance we find Aaron's name placed before that of Moses (Exod. vi. 26). This is also the case with Joshua and Caleb; whilst the former normally precedes the name of Caleb, there is one exception (Numb. xiv. 30).
This is to show us that these men were equally beloved by God. The same is the case with the love and honor due to parents; whilst the father is as a rule mentioned first in this connection, once (in Lev. xix. 3) the mother is mentioned before the father. This is also intended to indicate that children owe the same love and honor to the mother as to the father.
The man that gloats over another man's disgrace and thinks himself raised in dignity by it, is unworthy of future bliss.
Light is mentioned five times in the opening chapter of the Bible. This points to the five books of Moses. "God said, let there be light," refers to the book of Genesis, which enlightens us as to how creation was carried out. The words, "And there was light," bear reference to the book of Exodus, which contains the history of the transition of Israel from darkness to light. "And God saw the light that it was good": this alludes to the book of Leviticus, which contains numerous statutes. "And God divided between the light and between the darkness": this refers to the book of Numbers, divided as that book is between the history of those who came out of Egypt and that of those who were on their way to possess the promised land. "And God called the light day": this bears reference to the book of Deuteronomy, which is not only a rehearsal of the four earlier books, but contains Moses's eloquent dying charge to Israel and many laws not mentioned in the preceding books.
"And the earth was without form and void." There seems to be some reason for the earth's despondency, as though she was aware of her lot beforehand. This may be illustrated by the following parable: A king acquired two servants on precisely the same conditions, but made a distinction in their treatment. Regarding the one, he decreed that she should be fed and maintained at the expense of the king. For the other, he decided that she must maintain herself by her own labor. In the same way, the earth was sad because she saw that the heavens and the earth were equally and at the same time called into being by the same "let there be," or will of God, and yet the heavenly bodies feast on: and are maintained by divine glory; whilst earthly bodies, unless they labor and produce their own sustenance, are not sustained. Or, again, it is as though the king decreed that the one servant should be a constant dweller in his palace, whilst the other should be a fugitive and a wanderer; or gave to the one perpetuity or eternity, and to the other, death. Thus, the earth knowing--as though by inspiration--God's words spoken afterward to Adam (Gen. iii. 17): "Cursed is the ground for thy sake," put on mourning, and thus was "without form and void."
In the words, "And there was evening and there was morning one day," the "one day" referred to is the Day of Atonement--the day of expiation.
There seems to be a covenant made with the waters that whenever the heat is excessive and there is scarcely a breath of air moving on land, there is always some breeze, however slight, on the waters.
God knew beforehand that the world would contain both righteous and wicked men, and there is an allusion to this in the story of creation. "The earth without form," means the wicked, and the words, "and there was light," refers to the righteous.
Other worlds were created and destroyed ere this present one was decided on as a permanent one.
Rain is produced by the condensed effusion of the upper firmament.
"How is it," asked an inquisitive matron of Rabbi José, "that your Scriptures crown every day of creation with the words: 'And God saw that it was good,' but the second day is deprived of this phrase?" The Rabbi sought to satisfy her by pointing out that at the end of the creation it is said: "And God saw all that he had made, and it was exceedingly good," so that the second day shares in this commendation. "But," insisted the matron, "there is still an unequal division, since every day has an additional sixth part of the praise, whilst the second day has only the sixth part without the whole one, which the others have for themselves." The sage then mentioned the opinion of Rabbi Samuel, that the reason for the omission is to be found in the fact that the work begun on the second day was not finished before the following (the third) day; hence we find the expression "it was good" twice on that day.
Three were accused: Adam, Eve, and the Serpent; but four were sentenced, viz., the earth, as well as those three. The earth received her sentence as the element out of which rebellious and fallen man was formed.
The waters of the various seas are apparently the same, but the different taste of the fish coming from the various seas seems to contradict this.
God made a condition with Nature at the creation, that the sea should divide to let the Israelites pass through it at the Exodus, and that Nature should alter her course when emergency should arise.
When iron was found the trees began to tremble, but the iron reassured them: "Let no handle made from you enter into anything made from me, and I shall be powerless to injure you."
The following are God's presents, or free gifts, to the world: The Torah (Exod. xxxi. 18), light (Gen. i. 17), Rain (Lev. xxvi. 4), Peace (Lev. xxvi. 6), Salvation (Ps. xviii. 36), Mercy (Ps. cvi. 46). Some add also the knowledge of navigation.
When creation was all but ended, the world with all its grandeur and splendor stood out in its glorious beauty. There was but one thing wanting to consummate the marvelous work called into existence by the mere "let there be," and that was a creature with thought and understanding able to behold, reflect, and marvel on this great handiwork of God, who now sat on his divine throne surrounded by hosts of angels and seraphim singing hymns before him.
Then God said, "Let us make man in our likeness, and let there be a creature not only the product of earth, but also gifted with heavenly, spiritual elements, which will bestow on him reason, intellect, and understanding." Truth then appeared, falling before God's throne, and in all humility exclaimed: "Deign, O God, to refrain from calling into being a creature who is beset with the vice of lying, who will tread truth under his feet." Peace came forth to support this petition. "Wherefore, O lord, shall this creature appear on earth, a creature so full of strife and contention, to disturb the peace and harmony of thy creation? He will carry the flame of quarrel and ill-will in his trail; he will bring about war and destruction in his eagerness for gain and conquest."
Whilst they were pleading against the creation of man, there was heard, arising from another part of the heavens, the soft voice of Charity: "Sovereign of the universe." the voice exclaimed, in all its mildness, "vouchsafe thou to create a being in thy, likeness, for it will be a noble creature striving to imitate thy attributes by its actions. I see man now in Spirit, that being with God's breath in his nostrils, seeking to perform his great mission, to do his noble work. I see him now in spirit, approaching the humble hut, seeking out those who are distressed and wretched to comfort them, drying the tears of the afflicted and despondent, raising up them that are bowed down in spirit, reaching his helping hand to those who are in need of help, speaking peace to the heart of the widow, and giving shelter to the fatherless. Such a creature can not fail to be a glory to his Maker." The Creator approved of the pleadings of Charity, called man into being, and cast Truth down to the earth to flourish there; as the Psalmist says (Ps. lxxxv. 12): "Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven to abide with man"; and he dignified Truth by making her his own seal.
The sun alone without the moon would have sufficed for all his purpose, but if he were alone the primitive people might have had some plausible excuse for worshiping him. So the moon was added, and there is less reason for deifying either.
The progeny of man is reckoned from his father's and not from his mother's family.
"Let us make man." God may be said to address the spiritual and the material elements thus: "Till now all creatures have been of matter only; now I will create a being who shall consist of both matter and spirit."
"In our form, in our likeness." "Hitherto there was but one such creature; I have now added to him another who was taken from him. They shall both be in our form and likeness; there shall be no man without a woman and no woman without a man, and no man and woman together without God." Thus in the words AISH VASHH ("man and woman") there is the word IH (God).
If they are unworthy the I from the word AISH and the H from VASHH is taken away, and thus IH, God, departs and there are left the words ASH VASH = "fire and fire."
Adam was created with two bodies, one of which was cut away from him and formed Eve.
If man had been created out of spiritual elements only there could be no death for him, in the event of his fall. If, on the other hand, he had been created out of matter only, there could be no future bliss for him. Hence he was formed out of matter and spirit. If he lives the earthly, i.e., the animal life only, he dies like all matter; if he lives a spiritual life he obtains the spiritual future bliss.
Michael and Gabriel acted as "best men" at the nuptials of Adam and Eve. God joined them in wedlock, and pronounced the marriage-benediction on them.
Rabbi Meier wrote a scroll for his own use, on the margin of which he wrote, in connection with the words: "And God saw that it was good." "This means death, which is the passing from life transitory to life everlasting."
God knows our thoughts before they are formed.
There is a limit to everything except to the greatness and depth of the Torah.
After destroying Jerusalem and the temple, plundering all its valuables and doing much what he liked, Titus became intoxicated with his success and indulged in gross blasphemy. "It is all very well," he said, "for the God of the Jews to conquer kings of the desert, but I attacked him in his very palace and prevailed against him." When he was on his return voyage to Rome, with the booty robbed from the temple, a great tempest arose on the sea and threatened him with shipwreck. He again had recourse to blasphemy: "The God of the Jews," said he, "seems to have dominion over the waters; the generation of Noah he destroyed by water, Pharaoh and the Egyptians he drowned in the waters, and over me he had no power until I gave him the chance by using the elements over which he possesses this subtle power." Suddenly a perfect calm set in, the sea became quite smooth, and Titus prosecuted his voyage without let or hindrance. Arrived in Rome with the golden vessels of the temple, he was given a great reception, and a large number of distinguished men went to meet him.
After resting from his fatigue, he appeared again before a distinguished assembly, and was offered wine; but whilst he was partaking of it a microbe, so minute that it was imperceptible, found its way into his glass, and soon began to cause him intense pain in the head. In the course of a short time the insect grew, and with it grew the pain in Titus's head, till it was decided to have recourse to an operation, to open his skull, in order--as the Romans said--to see what the God of the Jews employed as punishment for Titus. An insect of the size of a pigeon and of the weight of nearly two pounds was found in Titus's brain. Rabbi Eleazer, son of Rabbi José, who was then in Rome, saw with his own eyes the insect when taken out of Titus's skull.
Even flies, parasites, and microbes have their purpose to fulfil, and there is nothing superfluous in creation.
The river Sambation casts up stones all the days of the week, but desists from doing so on Sabbath--indeed, on Friday after midday, when it becomes quite calm, as a proof of the day which is really the Sabbath.
Rabbi Judah Hannasi invited his friend Antoninus to dine with him on the Sabbath day, when all the viands were served cold. After a time the Rabbi again had the pleasure of his friend's company at dinner on a week-day, when warm food was served. Antoninus, however, expressed his preference for the food he had enjoyed at his friend's table on the Sabbath, though it was cold. "Ah," said the sage, "there is something missing to-day which we can not procure." "But," replied Antoninus, "surely my means can procure anything?" "No," answered the Rabbi, "your means can not procure the Sabbath; it is the Sabbath that gives the zest to the food."
The merciful Creator did not overlook the wild goat or the coney, but provided for them a refuge and a protecting shelter. It follows that he created all that is necessary for man.
The light, when first created, would have enabled man to see from one corner of the earth to the other; but the wicked men of the generation of Enos, the flood, and the Tower caused that light to be withdrawn from this world, and it is preserved for the righteous in a higher sphere.
The nose is the most important feature in man's face, so much so that there is no legal identification of man, in Jewish law, without the identification of the nose.
All the rivers go into the sea and the sea is not full, because the waters of the sea are again absorbed, and this causes the mist which rises from the earth. When the clouds have absorbed the mist, the moisture becomes condensed, and loses its salty substance before it comes down again on earth in the shape of rain.
The Hebrew word for "forming" is, in connection with the formation of man, spelled exceptionally, with two "Ys," which is not its proper spelling. This is to be taken as a hint that man was formed out of two elements--spirit and matter. This is also manifested in man's life. His material part has need of matter to sustain him, and of the other laws of nature; he grows, flourishes, decays, and dies. But, on the other hand, he resembles spiritual beings by walking upright, by his power of speech and thought, and by being able in some degree to see behind him without need of turning his head round; which facility is given to man alone and not to the lower animals.
The appearance of Adam and Eve, when just formed, was like that of persons of twenty years of age.
Rabbi José ben Chlafta paid a visit of condolence to a man who had lost a dearly beloved son. He met there a man of skeptical ideas, who, observing the Rabbi's silence, asked him whether he had nothing to say to the mourner.
"We," said the good man, "believe in a meeting again hereafter." "Has our friend not sorrow enough," observed the skeptic, "that you must needs add to it by offering him foolish words as comfort? Can a broken pitcher be made whole?" he argued. "Your own Psalmist does not seem to think so when he says (Ps. ii. 8): 'Thou shalt dash them to pieces like a potter's vessel.'" "And yet," answered the Rabbi, "there is even a vessel made by human hands, or rather by blowing, viz., a vessel made from glass, which, when broken, can be made whole again by the same process, by blowing. And if such is the case with anything made by human skill, shall we doubt it where the Great Maker blew into the nostrils his own breath? "
The builder mixes a thick sand with a thinner one in the mortar, by which contrivance the latter becomes very strong and the building more substantial. In creating the first pair, something of this method was adopted. Adam was the strong, and Eve the weaker. This mixture of the weak with the strong is beneficial to the human race.
Man was originally formed with a tail like the lower animals, but this was afterward taken from him out of consideration for him.
God designed man for work--work for his own sustenance; he who does not work shall not eat.
Perhaps in the proper order of things Abraham should have been the first man created, not Adam. God, however, foresaw the fall of the first man, and if Abraham had been the first man and had fallen, there would have been no one after him to restore righteousness to the world; whereas after Adam's fall came Abraham, who established in the world the knowledge of God. As a builder puts the strongest beam in the center of the building, so as to support the structure at both ends, so Abraham was the strong beam carrying the burden of the generations that existed before him and that came after him.
Here in this life we have the Spirit, i.e., the soul, blown into our nostrils; hence it goes from us at death. In futurity the soul, when restored, will be given to us, as it is said in Ezek. xxxvii. 14: a complete gift never to be returned.
The river Euphrates is the chief and choicest of all rivers.
The Greeks, amongst other insults which they heaped on Jews, had a satirical saying: "The Jews should write on the horn of an ox"--alluding to the making of the golden calf--that they are not the portion of the God of Israel.
"Why," asked a matron of Rabbi José, "did God steal a rib from Adam?" "Steal, did you say?" replied the Sage. "If one were to take away from your house an ounce of silver, and give you in return a pound of gold, that would not be stealing from you." "But," persisted his friend, "what need was there for secrecy?" "It was surely better," replied R. José, "to present Eve to Adam when she was quite presentable, and when no traces of the effects of the operation were visible."
That woman exercises more influence over man than he possesses over woman was illustrated by a couple who were famous for their piety, but who were eventually divorced. The man married a woman of questionable habits, and soon copied her conduct and became like his new wife, conspicuous for his evil deeds; whilst the divorced woman married a notorious sinner, and converted him into a pious man.
Woman is formed out of bone. Touch a bone and it emits sound; hence woman's voice is thinner than man's. Again, man is formed from earth, which is comparatively soft and melts when water comes over it; whilst woman, being formed from hard substance, is more stubborn and unbending.
Sleep is a sixtieth portion of death; a dream is the same proportion of prophecy and the Sabbath of the Future bliss.
Dreams, something like prophecy, are the offspring of imaginations and comparisons which we may form whilst awake.
Sleepiness and laziness in a man are the beginning of his misfortune.
Man in celibacy is in sublime ignorance of what is meant by the words "good," "help," "joy," "blessing," "peace," and "expiation of sin." He is, in fact, not entitled to the dignified name of man.
Rabbi José, the Galilean, married his niece--his sister's daughter--who proved an exceedingly bad wife, and took a delight in abusing him in the presence of his pupils, who urged him to divorce her. This he refused to do, pleading that he was not in position to make provision for her maintenance, without which it would not be just to cast her adrift. One day he brought home with him Rabbi Eleazar ben Azaria, to whom, as well as to her husband, she offered a frown as her greeting. Upon inquiry as to what repast there was to place before his guest, Rabbi José received the reply that there was nothing but lentils. His sense of smell, however, told him that there was something more savory, and, looking into the simmering pot on the hob, he found its contents to be stuffed chickens. After a deal of persuasion the woman was prevailed upon to place the tempting morsels before her husband and his guest, Rabbi Eleazar, who, having overheard the answer which the woman first gave her husband, that there was nothing better than lentils, expressed his surprise that chickens were served. In order to screen his wife, Rabbi José made the remark that perhaps a miracle had happened in honor of so distinguished a guest. The true character of the woman, however, reached the ears of Rabbi Eleazar, and he also learned that it was owing to his friend's inability to provide for her maintenance that he was not divorced from her. The means to make provision for her were then soon found, and she was duly divorced from her husband.
Rabbi José had the good fortune to find a very much more desirable helpmate in his second wife, but no such good luck followed his divorced wife. She married the town watchman, who, after a lingering illness, was struck with total blindness, and he employed his wife to guide him through the streets for the purpose of begging. When they arrived at the street in which Rabbi José lived, the woman retraced her steps, but the man, though blind, knew every street, owing to his having been watchman of the town, and demanded his wife's motive for so persistently avoiding a certain street. She eventually had to divulge her reason, and this led to quarrels between the couple; the man saying that his wife deprived him of a source of income by avoiding the very street where he expected to find a decent revenue. The quarrels soon culminated in blows bestowed by the blind man upon his unhappy wife. This scandal made quite a stir in the small town, and did not escape the ears of Rabbi José, whose worldly affairs had vastly improved, and who, in fact, was now a man of affluence, possessing property in the little town. When he became aware of the sad plight his former wife was in, he placed one of his houses at the disposal of herself and her husband, and made them, in addition, a monetary allowance which placed them beyond the reach of want till the last day of their lives.
Woman attains discretion at an earlier age than man.
Woman was not formed from Adam's head, so that she might not be haughty; nor from his eye, so that she might not be too eager to look at everything; nor from his ear, so that she might not hear too keenly and be an eavesdropper; nor from his mouth, so that she might not be a chatterer; nor from his heart, lest she should become jealous; nor yet not from his hand, so that she might not be afflicted with kleptomania; nor from his foot, lest she should have a tendency to run about. She was made from Adam's rib, a hidden, modest part of his body, so that she, too, might be modest, not fond of show, but rather of seclusion. But woman baffles God's design and purpose. She is haughty and walks with outstretched neck (Isa. iii. 16), and wanton eyes (Isa. iii. 6). She is given to eavesdropping (Gen. xviii. 10). She chatters slander (Numb. xii. 11), and is of a jealous disposition (Gen. xx . 1). She is afflicted with kleptomania (Gen. xxxi. 19), and is fond of running about (Gen. xxxiv. 1). In addition to these vices women are gluttonous (Gen. iii. 6), lazy (Gen. xviii. 6), and bad tempered (Gen. xvi. 5).
When the Jews returned from Babylon, their wives had become brown, and almost black, during the years of captivity, and a large number of men divorced their wives. The divorced women probably married black men, which would, to some extent, account for the existence of black Jews.
The higher the position the greater is the fall, and this applies to the serpent, who not only was the chief of all animals, but walked upright like man, and when it fell it sank into the reptile species.
The delight of the Shechinah is to dwell here amongst men. Adam's fall caused it to retire from earth to the first heaven. Cain drove it, by his misdeeds, farther into the second, the generation of Enos farther still, and the generation of the flood again to the fourth. The generation of the Tower, the Sodomites, and the Egyptians of Abraham's time, finally drove the Shechinah into the seventh heaven.
Then arose Abraham, who induced the Divine Glory to descend one degree nearer. So also did Isaac, Jacob, Levi, Kehos, Amram, and Moses, so that the Shechinah was once more brought down to dwell with man.
Like the desire of a woman for her husband is the desire of Satan for men of Cain's stamp.
"Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return." The grave is the only thing which every man has honestly acquired and can honestly claim.
To protect Cain from being killed, a dog was given him, who accompanied him and protected him against all comers.
When Cain went abroad, after killing Abel, he met his father Adam, who expressed his surprise at Cain's life being spared. The son explained that he owed his life to the act of repentance, and to his pleading that his sin was greater than he could bear. Adam thus received a hint of his error in not having fallen back upon repentance instead of putting the blame on Eve. He there and then composed a hymn, now known as the Ninety-second Psalm, which, in the course of time, became lost or forgotten. Moses, however, found it and used it, and it became known as the prayer of Moses, the man of God.
Do not befriend an evil man, and no evil will overtake you.
The evil inclination at first behaves like a guest, but eventually becomes master. He makes not only the open streets, but the palace also, the center of his traffic; whereever he observes a vain or proud person, or any traces of vice in a man, he says, "He is mine."
The evil enticer is as cunning as the famous dogs of Rome, who feign sleep when they see the baker with the basket of bread approaching the palace, and are thus able to snatch the loaves from the incautious carrier. He pretends at first great mildness, the gentleness of a woman, but soon shows the boldness of a strong man; he begs admittance like an outcast, but eventually becomes master of the situation.
"Sin lieth at the door" (Gen. iv. 7). Happy is the man who can rise above the sin that lieth in waiting for him.
Cain was a twin, for with him was born a girl; and Abel was one of three, for with him came two girls.
Three men craved for things of earth, and none of them made a success of his occupation. Cain was a tiller of the ground; we know his sad history. Noah attempted to become a husbandman, and he became a drunkard. Uzziah became a leper (2 Chron. xxvi. 10-20).
In the early time of creation, in the time of Lemech, a medicine was known, the taking of which prevented a woman's conception.
The deluge in the time of Noah was by no means the only flood with which this earth was visited. The first flood did its work of destruction as far as Jaffé, and the one of Noah's days extended to Barbary.
Naamah, daughter of Lemech and sister to Tubalcain, was Noah's wife.
It is an error to think that Cain was stronger than Abel, for the contrary was the case, and in the quarrel that arose Cain would have fared worse had he not appealed to Abel for compassion and then attacked him unawares and killed him..
Alan should look upon the birth of a daughter as a blessing from the Lord.
For seven days the Lord mourned (or deplored) the necessity of destroying his creatures by the deluge.
God will wipe away tears from off all faces (Isa. xxv. 8). This means from the faces of non-Jews as well as Jews.
Rabbi Judah Hannasi was an exceedingly meek man, who always tried to put the virtues of others above his own. He used to say: I am prepared to do anything reasonable that any man may ask me to do. Though the chief of the Rabbis of his time, he rose when he saw Rav Hunna--much his inferior in learning, piety, and position--explaining that he--Rav Hunna--was a scion of the tribe of Judah on his father's side, whereas he himself was only from that of Benjamin, and that only on his mother's side.
Mercy and compassion are the great virtues which bring with them their own rewards, for they are recompensed with mercy and loving-kindness from the mercy-seat of God. There was once a great drought in Palestine, which afflicted its inhabitants long and severely. Rabbi Tanchuma proclaimed a fast-day once, twice, and thrice without propitiating the heavens to send down the much-sought rain. He then assembled the people for prayer.
Before the congregation engaged in prayer the good man intended to address his flock; but a report was brought to him that a certain man had been seen giving a woman some money within the precincts of the House of Assembly, an act which, under all the circumstances, could not but excite suspicion. The Rabbi had the man brought before him and asked him in what relationship he stood with the person to whom he was seen to have given money outside.
"She is my divorced wife," answered the man simply. "And how is it, insisted the Rabbi, "that you are on cordial terms with her and continue to give her money?" "I am on no friendly footing with her; as for giving her money, she is in want, and that is a sufficient reason for my relieving her distress," replied the man. "Her want obscured all other considerations and the peculiarity of our relationship." The Rabbi was much affected by the man's generous nature and kindliness, and preached his sermon on charity and brotherly love, a sermon worthy of the distinguished sage, showing that those virtues stand on an eminently higher level and are more efficacious than fasting and chastising of the body, and asking his audience to imitate "the man in the street," who set them such a good example. The good man then lifted up his heart in prayer, in which the congregation joined, and invoked the throne of mercy on behalf of a people imbued with mercy and compassion. The service was barely brought to a close when copious showers came down to refresh the parched ground and replenish the empty water-tanks, and the people were once more happy.
The very punishments with which God visits his erring children are often turned into blessings. When the deluge was sent on a sinning world all the fountains of the great deep were opened (Gen. vii. 11), but when the deluge ceased not all the fountains were stopped (Gen. viii. 2). Those containing the mineral waters with their healing properties were left open for the great benefit of man.
The difference between the solar and the lunar year is that the former is eleven days longer than the latter.
The period covering the second half of Tishri, the whole of Cheshvon, and the first half of Kislev is the season for sowing. The second half of Kislev, the whole of Tebeth, and first half of Shvat is winter. The second half of Shvat, the whole of Adar, and first half of Nisson is spring. The second half of Nisson, the whole of Iyar, and first half of Sivon is harvest-time, according to climate. The second half of Sivon, the whole of Tammuz, and first half of Ab is summer, and the second half of Ab, the whole of Ellul, and first half of Tishri is autumn.
The wicked make no resistance, but abandon themselves to their evil inclination.
Noah began by being righteous in his generation, but fell back and became a man of earth (Gen. ix. 20). Moses, on the other hand, began his career as an Egyptian (Exod. ii. 19), but developed into a man of God.
By Japhet, Gomer and Magog Africa is meant, and by Tiros Persia.
The sexes of both man and the lower animals were meant to be separated in the ark during the deluge. This is clear from the way in which they entered the ark: first Noah and his three sons went in, and then their wives separately (Gen. vii. 7). But when they came out of the ark after the flood, God commanded Noah, "Go out of the ark, thou and thy wife, thy sons and their wives" (Gen. viii. 16), thus putting the sexes together again. Ham among the human beings, and the dog among the lower animals, disregarded this injunction and did not separate from the opposite sex in the ark. The dog received a certain punishment, and Ham became a black man; just as when a man has the audacity to coin the king's currency in the king's own palace his face is blackened as a punishment and his issue is declared counterfeit.
Artaban sent Rabbi Judah Hannasi as a present a pearl of great value, and when he asked the Rabbi a present of equal value in return, the sage sent him a parchment (Ephesian letters). Artaban thought it unworthy, since his own gift was of such priceless value. Rabbi Judah replied that not only was his present precious above all the possessions of both, but it had immeasurable advantage over the valuable pearl, as care must be taken of the pearl, whilst his amulet would take care of its possessor.
We are not allowed to say any portion of Holy Writ by heart, but must always read it from the Scroll. Thus when Rabbi Meier was once in Asia on Purim, and was unable to find a copy of the book of Esther, he wrote the book out from memory (as he knew it by heart), and then made another copy from which he read to the congregation.
If a man has entertained you only with lentils, do you entertain him with flesh. If one shows you small favors, bestow on him great ones when an opportunity occurs.
There is not an evil which fails to bring benefit to some one.
Terah, the father of Abraham and Haran, was a dealer in images as well as a worshiper of them. Once when he was away he gave Abraham his stock of graven images to sell in his absence. In the course of the day an elderly man came to make a purchase. Abraham asked him his age, and the man gave it as between fifty and sixty years. Abraham taunted him with want of sound sense in calling the work of another man's hand, produced perhaps in a few hours, his god; the man laid the words of Abraham to heart and gave up idol-worship. Again, a woman came with a handful of fine flour to offer to Terah's idols, which were now in charge of Abraham. He took a stick and broke all the images except the largest one, in the hand of which he placed the stick which had worked this wholesale destruction. When his father returned and saw the havoc committed on his "gods" and property he demanded an explanation from his son whom he had left in charge. Abraham mockingly explained that when an offering of fine flour was brought to these divinities they quarreled with one another as to who should be the recipient, when at last the biggest of them, being angry at the altercation, took up a stick to chastise the offenders, and in so doing broke them all up. Terah, so far from being satisfied with this explanation, understood it as a piece of mockery, and when he learned also of the customers whom Abraham had lost him during his management he became very incensed, and drove Abraham out of his house and handed him over to Nimrod. Nimrod suggested to Abraham that, since he had refused to worship his father's idols because of their want of power, he should worship fire, which is very powerful. Abraham pointed out that water has power over fire. "Well," said Nimrod, "let us declare water god." "But," replied Abraham, "the clouds absorb the water; and even they are dispersed by the wind." "Then let us declare the wind our god." "Bear in mind," continued Abraham, "that man is stronger than wind, and can resist it and stand against it."
Nimrod, becoming weary of arguing with Abraham, decided to cast him before his god--fire--and challenged Abraham's deliverance by the God of Abraham, but God saved him out of the fiery furnace. Haran, too, was challenged to declare his god, but halted between two opinions, and delayed his answer until he saw the result of Abraham's fate. When he saw the latter saved he declared himself on the side of Abraham's God, thinking that he too, having now become an adherent of that God, would be saved by the same miracle. But since his faith was not real, but depended on a miracle, he perished in the fire, into which, like Abraham, he was cast by Nimrod. This is hinted in the words (Gen. xi. 28): "And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees."
Abraham, Joshua, David, and Mordecai issued their own coinage. The coins of Abraham had the figure of an old man and an old woman on the face of the coin, and those of a youth and a maiden on the obverse, signifying that after Abraham and Sarah had grown old their youth was renewed and they begat a son.
Those which Joshua issued bore the figure of an ox, and on the obverse that of a unicorn, alluding to the words (Deut. xxxiii. 17), "His glory is like the firstling of his bullock, and his horns are like the horns of unicorns"; for Joshua was descended from Joseph, concerning whom those words were uttered. The coins which David issued had a shepherd's staff and satchel on the face, and a tower on the obverse, in allusion to his having been raised to the throne from the sheepcote. Mordecai's coins bore sackcloth and ashes on the face, and a crown of gold on the obverse, these symbols being a multum in parvo of his career.
What has now become a popular expression, viz., "The man in the street," is a phrase used in the Midrash.
The pure of heart are God's friends.
Lot enjoyed four great benefits in accompanying Abraham. He became rich, became the possessor of property, was rescued from 36 kings who pursued him, and was saved with his family at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet Ammon and Moab (Lot's descendants) inflicted four great sorrows upon Abraham's descendants, to whom they owed their very existence. They hired Balaam to curse. Eglon, King of Moab, gathered the children of Ammon and subjected the Israelites to his yoke 18 years. The war which Ammon and Moab waged against Israel, as recorded in 2 Chronicles, and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and all its attending sorrows, are lamented by Jeremiah in the Book of Lamentations. Therefore there came four prophets to prophesy the downfall of these two ungrateful nations, viz., Isaiah (see the 15th chapter of his book), Jeremiah (in his 49th chapter), Ezekiel, who prophesies against Ammon in the 25th chapter of his book, and Zephaniah, who prophesies that the fate of Ammon and Moab will be like that of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Once a man, twice a child.
Nations in Abraham's time desired to proclaim him their prince, their king, and even their god, but he indignantly declined, and took that very opportunity to point out to them that there is but one Great King, one Great God.
Being aware that wine carries misfortune in its trail, as we find, for instance, in the case of Noah and Aaron's sons, one might indulge in the hope of finding a pleasant exception in the wine that Melchizedek brought out to Abraham. But not so, for immediately after this act of mere courtesy Abraham had to face unpleasant tidings when he was told that his offspring would be slaves and afflicted for four hundred years in a land not their own.
Hagar was the daughter of the Pharaoh who captured Sarah, and on restoring her to Abraham he presented Sarah with Hagar as her maid.
If a man calls you an ass, the best way is to take no notice of it; but if you are called so by two or more persons, take the bit into your own mouth.
Do not depart, whether from a great or an insignificant individual, without leave-taking and parting greetings.
If you are in Rome, do as the Romans do. Moses, when he spent forty days and forty nights in heaven, where there is neither eating nor drinking, neither ate nor drank. On the other hand, when the angels visited Abraham, they partook--or pretended to partake--of the meat and drink which were prepared for them.
The names of the Hebrew months, as at present used, and the names of angels, were brought, with them by the Jews on their return from Babylonish captivity.
Angels have no back to their necks, and can not turn their beads round.
One angel can not perform two duties at a time, nor are two angels sent to perform one and the same duty.
The feeble prayer which a sick person can offer himself is infinitely better than all the prayers offered for him by others.
Every one is morally blind until his eyes are opened for him from above.
Man's fatherly compassion does not extend beyond his grandchildren.
Have no compunction to admonish where admonition is called for; it will produce not animosity, but eventually love and peace.
Job was born when the Jews went down to Egypt; he married Dinah, Jacob's daughter, and he died when the Israelites left Egypt.
Job probably never existed, and if he did exist, the events recorded concerning him never took place. The whole narrative is intended as a moral lesson.
Rabbi Meier came to a place where he found a family (a people) remarkable for dying young. They asked him to pray for them, but he advised them to be of a charitable disposition in order to prolong life.
Abraham was the blessed of the Eternal, and he was the blessing of mankind (Gen. xii. 3). Moses was the miracle and miracle-worker of the Israelites, and God was his own miracle (Exod. xiii.-xv.). "And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, 'The Lord my miracle'" (also "the Lord my banner"). David was Israel's shepherd (1 Chron. xi.), and God was David's shepherd (Ps. xxiii.). Jerusalem was the light of the world (Isa. lx.), and God is its light (Isa. Ix.).
When Rebecca left her parents' house they blessed her, and prayed that she might be the mother of millions of people (Gen. xxiv. 60). Yet she was barren till she herself and Isaac supplicated the Lord. Hence we see that it makes a difference who offers prayers.
All the numerous disciples of Rabbi Akiba hastened their own death by their vices of envy and uncharitableness; but his last seven pupils took warning by the fate of their predecessors, and they prospered. These are the seven pupils: Rabbi Meier, R. José, R. Simeon, R. Eleazar ben Chanania, R. Jochanan the Sandal-maker, and R. Eleazar ben Jacob.
Man is in duty bound to look to his son's religious education until he attains the age of thirteen, and then to offer thanks to God for having relieved him of his responsibility.
When pronouncing his blessing upon Jacob, Isaac said, "The voice is Jacob's voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau." Thus Isaac's blessings fixed upon each of his sons what should be his power. Jacob's power and function should be his voice, i.e., prayer, and Esau's might was to be in his hands. So long, then, as Jacob exercises his power or function, that of prayer, he need have no fear of the hands of Esau, of the persecutions of those amongst whom his lot may be cast.
The garments which Esau put on when he went hunting were originally Adam's; they had on them figures of various animals, and bunting was thereby facilitated, as the animals on seeing the garments came running toward the wearer. Nimrod coveted these garments, and resolved to kill Esau in order to possess himself of them. Esau, being aware of his constant danger, says, when selling his birthright to Jacob, "Behold I am on the point to die."
When the pig pauses from his gluttony and lies down to rest he stretches out his foot to show his cloven hoof, and pretends that he belongs to the clean kind of animals.
A person afflicted with total blindness eats more than one blessed with the sense of sight: sight having more of satiating than appetizing effect.
All members of man's body were given him for use, yet over some he has no power of restraint. His eyes sometimes see what he would rather not see, his ears often hear against his will, and his nose smells occasionally what he would rather dispense with.
THE MOSQUE OF ABRAHAM
Italy is a fat land, i.e., a fertile country.
Dreams neither injure nor benefit: they are vain.
Matches are made in heaven.
In three different places of Holy Writ are we told that heaven appoints the wife of a man: in Gen. xxiv. 50, Judges xiv. 4, and in Prov. xix. 14.
Just as two knives are both sharpened by being rubbed one against the other, so scholars improve and increase in knowledge when in touch with one another.
The portion of the temple called the Drawing-court was so called because the people drew thence the Holy Spirit.
Rabbi Meier was asked by a skeptic how he could justify the conduct of Jacob, who, having vowed (Gen. xxviii. 22) to give to God a tithe of all he might bestow upon him, yet, out of the twelve tribes with which he was blessed, consecrated one tribe only to the service of God, which represented only the tithe of ten. The Rabbi replied: "Out of the twelve tribes there were to be deducted the first-born, who were themselves consecrated to God, and no tithe had to be given out of them."
Were it not for the patience and endurance which Rabbi Joshua manifested toward Onkeles, he would have slipped back into his former heathenism.
With the birth of a child a woman escapes blame for household accidents which would otherwise be charged to her. If anything is wasted or broken, there is no longer any inquiry as to who has done this; it is taken for granted that the child did it.
The ten tribes are on the other side of the river Sambation, and the Jews at present scattered over the earth are those of Judah and Benjamin.
The blessings that Isaac bestowed upon Jacob were indorsed from heaven (Gen. xxvii. 28, 29): "God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine. Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother's sons bow down to thee." Micah (v. 6) says, "the remnant of Jacob shall be as the dew from the Lord." (Isaiah xxx. 23.) "Then shall ye sow the ground, and it shall be fat and plenteous." The same prophet (xlix. 23): "And kings shall be thy nursing fathers and their queens thy nursing mothers." And in Deut. xxvi. 19, "And to make thee above all nations."
Frequently does David, in his prayers, use the phrase: "Arise, O God" (in Psalms iii., vii., ix., x., xvii.). We do not find a direct response to this prayer; but when he uses this prayer in connection with oppression of the poor, the answer he receives is, "Now I will arise, saith the Lord" (Ps. xii. 5).
The fact that we awake from sleep is some evidence for the resurrection.
Man in distress pledges himself to good deeds; man in prosperity forgets his good resolutions.
The righteous require no monuments; their lives and their teachings are their monuments.
We are told that Abraham took his wife Sarah, and the souls they had gotten in Haran, and they went forth into the land of Canaan. By this is meant the souls that they had brought away from idolatry and brought to the knowledge of the living God.
Man should be on his guard not to fall in love with his wife's sister.
Before the first captivity of Israel took place (the Egyptian captivity) the ancestor of their last redeemer (Perez) was already born.
Slaves do not, as a rule, bring blessings on their master's house, but Joseph's master's house was blessed because of Joseph. Slaves are not remarkable for being scrupulous, but Joseph gathered in the silver in Egypt for his king. Slaves are not distinguished for their chastity and modesty, but Joseph would not listen to a sinful suggestion.
Potiphar showed the subtlety for which the Egyptians were famous where their own interest was concerned. He boasted to his friends that as a rule a white man has a Cushite, a colored man, for his slave, whilst he, a Cushite, contrived to obtain a youth of the white race for a slave. Hence it became a saying in Egypt, "The slaves sold (i.e., the Ishmaelites who sold Joseph); the slave bought (alluding to Potiphar, Pharaoh's servant); and the freeman has become the slave of both."
A certain matron, discussing Joseph with Rabbi José, maintained that the Biblical version of the incident with Potiphar's wife is not the correct one, but is intended to screen Joseph, whose virtues are vastly exaggerated. Rabbi José replied that Holy Writ is no respecter of persons, and records the history of those of whom it speaks just as it happened, the vices as well as the virtues. He cited Reuben's and Judah's transgressions, which are detailed without any attempt to screen them.
It was obviously to Joseph's advantage that the chief butler--though he did not wish to benefit Joseph--had not mentioned Joseph's name to Pharaoh until all the astrologers had failed to interpret Pharaoh's dream to his satisfaction. Otherwise, if Joseph had been called before them, it might have been thought that they were able to interpret the dream.
In your intercourse with the world it is well to bear in mind that there are thousands of men whose characteristic is lying, and woe to those that trust them.
The heathen stands by his god. (Gen. xli. 1.) The Jewish God stands by his people. (Gen. xxviii. 13.)
A dream toward morning is likely to be fulfilled.
During the twenty-two years that Joseph was separated from his brethren neither he nor they had tasted wine; hence they were somewhat overcome by drinking wine at the banquet to which he invited them in Egypt.
By the law of God even a slave, when his master knocked out his eye or tooth, had to be set free because of the pain he had suffered. Surely it can not be worse with God's own children when they undergo hardship, sorrow, and trouble in this life, their pain will surely purify them from the dross of iniquity, and they will inherit futurity.
Man, when reproached with his misdeeds, becomes confused and confounded. Balaam, when reproached by the humblest of animals and asked, "What have I done unto thee, that thou hast smitten me these three times? Am not I thine ass, upon which thou hast ridden ever since I was thine unto this day? Was I ever wont to do so unto thee?" was constrained to reply "Nay." Joseph, telling his brethren who he was, said, "I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold to Egypt." And his brethren, ten great, proud, and mighty men, could not answer him, for they were confounded in his presence (Gen. xlv. 3). "How then, O man, will it be with me" (so do thou ask thyself), "when I stand before God's tribunal and a record of my conduct, during my life, is placed before me!"
To rebel against the king is to rebel against the King of Kings.
At the approach of the death of Moses the two silver trumpets which he had made for the purpose of calling the people together (Numb. x. 2) were hidden, so that no one else should use them.
A book of pedigrees was found in Jerusalem, wherein it was stated that Hillel was a descendant of King David.
The effects of the blessing bestowed upon Judah by his father are to be seen even at the present time. Jacob said (Gen. xlix. 8), "Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise." If an Israelite describes his race, he says, "I am a Jew, i.e., a Judaite"; he does not describe himself as a Reubenite or a Simeonite.
Slander is compared to an arrow, not to any other handy weapon, such as a sword, etc., because like an arrow it kills at a distance. It can be uttered in Rome and have its baneful effect in Syria.
Amongst a number of great men who all reached the same age are Moses, Hillel, Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai, and Rabbi Akiba. Moses's years were divided into three equal portions, viz., forty years in Pharaoh's palace, forty years in Midian, and forty years as leader of the Israelites in the wilderness.
Rabbi Johanan, too, had his forty years of trade, forty years of study, and forty years of serving his people. Rabbi Akiba was forty years an ignoramus, forty years he gave himself to study, and for forty years he served his community.
King David was a descendant of Miriam.
Jethro, who was originally a priest of Midianite idolatry, renounced his idols, and with them his priestly position. For this he was boycotted and excommunicated by his former compatriots; no one was to perform any work for him or his; or, indeed, to have any intercourse with them. His daughters, who were therefore compelled to look after their father's flock, were persecuted by the shepherds. Moses, from a sense of chivalry, seeing women do the work which generally was done by the stronger sex, and yet being harassed by them, offered the women his assistance.
It would be a serious error to say that Moses murdered the Egyptian. In slaying him he was the executioner of a man who, even by the laws of the Egyptians--who observed what are known as the seven commandments of the sons of Noah, one of which was prohibition of murder--deserved death. According to a tradition, this Egyptian ravished the wife of an Israelite, and to escape accusation by her husband he killed him, and thus incurred death.
He who lifts up his hand in a threatening manner against a fellow man, though he may not actually strike him, is designated a wicked man.
When Pharaoh's daughter indicated to her maidens, who accompanied her to the river, her intention of saving the weeping child (Moses), her maidens expressed their disapproval, arguing that it would be bad enough for any of the king's subjects to disregard his decree, but in the king's own daughter such a want of loyalty would be highly reprehensible. Their arguments--lest they should have the effect desired by them--were cut short by the angel Gabriel, who struck them all down except one, so that the dignity of the princess should not be outraged by not having even one maid to attend on her. Hence, at the opening of the narrative we find maidens attending her, but when she rescued the child she sent her maiden, not maidens.
Moses, before he left Egypt, succeeded in securing for the Israelites the observance of rest on the Sabbath, by pointing out to Pharaoh the necessity--in his own interest--of granting his slaves one day every week freedom from labor, and thereby invigorating them for the renewal of labor after their rest.
In calling his two sons by the names of Gershom and Eliezer, Moses, like Joseph and other righteous men, intended to have the fact of God's help constantly before him. Since his sons would be with him, and he would often address them or call them by name, he would remember his gratitude to God.
Amongst Pharaoh's advisers or counselors were Balaam, Job, and Jethro. Balaam advocated the persecution of the Israelites; as a retribution, he fell by the sword. Job was silent, and would not advise either way, and he had his punishment for this act of unfriendliness. Jethro would not countenance any suggestion of persecution, and was rewarded by having his family raised to greatness (1 Chron. ii.).
"The new king" who arose in Egypt is not to be taken literally, for it was the same Pharaoh who had elevated Joseph. But when the Egyptians suggested the enslaving of the Israelites he protested, pointing out that the people were saved from starvation by an Israelite. This so displeased the Egyptians that they dethroned him; and being for three months deprived of his throne, he at last gave in, and "did not know Joseph," that is, the benefits conferred by him on the land. Thereupon he was reinstated. Hence the expression, "a new king who knew not Joseph": when he pretended to know nothing of Joseph and his benefits, then his kingdom was renewed.
There is more than appears on the surface in the words (Exod. i. 5), "For Joseph was in Egypt." It is intended to convey to us the noble character of this pattern of righteousness; to tell us that all the time he was in Egypt, during all his vicissitudes, whether as a slave or as a ruler, there was no change in his character or in his humility and piety.
"He that spareth his rod hateth his son," as the wise king tells us (Prov. xiii. 24). Yet we are aware that a father would be very indignant with any one who should beat his son. But we have examples before us of the pernicious result of indulging one's son and putting no restraint upon him. The reward of such treatment is not love and affection, but rather estrangement between parent and child, where a timely and judicious chastisement would have averted it. Take the case of Ishmael, of whom it is traditionally said that he did very much in accordance with his own sweet will, that he actually had his own idols brought into Abraham's house when he was but a lad of fifteen years. His father's forbearance had only the effect that Ishmael so indulged in his evil propensities that eventually he was driven out of his, father's house, without provision being made for his maintenance, a thing which can only be accounted for--with a tenderhearted man like Abraham--by the fact that the lad had, by his evil ways, actually incurred his father's hatred. Other instances we have, like Isaac and his son Esau, or David and his son Absalom.
Further, King Solomon adds, "but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes." This may well be applied to God's dealings with his son (Israel). "I have loved you," says God to Israel, and this very love brought affliction with it.
There is no place without God's presence. Even in the bush he was present, and this was the lesson of God's omnipresence that Moses learned when he was called out of the bush.
Moses, when tending Jethro's flock in the wilderness, proved himself a tender shepherd. He was not above carrying a little lamb, becoming footsore in its search for water, on his shoulder back to the flock. God said, "This tender shepherd of man's flock shall be the shepherd of my own flock."
Moses, leading Jethro's flock into the wilderness, was typical of his leading God's flock in the wilderness. Sheltering, feeding, and getting drink for the sheep were the forerunners of his obtaining for Israel the sheltering protection of the pillars of fire and cloud, and a supply of manna, quails, and water in the wilderness.
The burning bush was typical of the indestructibility of Israel. Just as the bush, though continually burning, was not consumed, so would the fire of Egyptian persecution and oppression of other nations be unable to consume Israel.
Moses wanted to know God's name, and God tells him, "I am that I am"; that is to say, "I am called--or to be called--in accordance with my work in this world." When I judge mankind I am Elohim, that being the title or designation for judgment. When I war with the wicked I am known as Zevooth. When I execute judgment for the sins of man I am known as El Shadai, and when I am visiting the world with mercy I am Adonoi, the Eternal.
Moses's assertion, "Behold they will not believe me nor harken unto my voice; for they will say, the Lord hath not appeared unto thee" (Exod. iv. 1), was an ungenerous remark on his part, unworthy of him, as it was prejudging the people adversely. This seems to be borne out by what follows. God asked him what he had in his hand, and the answer was "a rod," an appropriate instrument with which he deserved to be punished for his harshness. Then the rod turned into a serpent, pointing out to him that he had adopted something of the vices of the reptile, which slandered God himself to Adam and Eve (Gen. iii. 5).
There was no false modesty in Moses's hesitation to accept the most important mission, that of delivering the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. Judging from past events he felt that this mission was too vast and too important for him. When God wanted to save one individual--he reasoned--and that individual Lot, he sent one of his angels for the purpose. Even to save Ishmael angels were employed. Measured by that standard, "Who am I, to be the deliverer of this great multitude? "
The matron whom we find so often arguing with Rabbi José observed one day to that sage, "My god is surely greater than yours. When your God appeared to Moses in the bush, Moses merely covered his face, whilst when my god (the serpent) made its appearance he could not stand his ground at all, but had to run away out of fear." "Not so," returned the Rabbi, for in order to be out of the power of your god it sufficed for Moses to step a few paces back, but whither could he have fled from the presence of him who filleth the earth?"
There was a secret sign handed down to the Israelites in Egypt, a legacy left by Jacob, who entrusted it to Joseph, and he again to his brother Asher, who handed it down to his daughter Serach. She was blessed with longevity, and was living when Moses made his appearance before Pharaoh. The tradition was that the one who appeared in Egypt as the messenger of God with the tidings of their redemption would use the word "visiting," that God visited them and saw what was done to them in Egypt. Thus they would know and believe that he was really sent by their God. Hence we find that when Moses used the word "visiting," and not until then, the people believed that the Lord looked upon their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped. (Exod. iv. 31.)
That one should not be wise above what is written is well demonstrated in the life of King Solomon. The Torah says that the king whom the Israelites should set over them should not multiply horses to himself, nor wives, in order that he might not cause the people to return to Egypt, and that his heart might not turn away (Deut. xvii. 16, 17). "Then," argued Solomon, "since the reason for the paucity of wives and horses is given, I am sure that I can stand proof against these; I can multiply horses and wives and shall not turn away and will not cause my people to return to Egypt." Unfortunately he was not proof against the prohibitions, as it is recorded against him (in 1 Kings ii. 1-7). And one can also see the wisdom of the Torah in withholding any reason for many commandments it enjoins.
How beautiful were the simple life and faith of the Patriarchs and their submission to the Divine will. To Abraham God said, "Lift up thine eyes and look from the place where thou art, northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it and to thy seed forever." Yet when he needed a sepulcher for his beloved Sarah he could get none until he bought it from Ephron; but he murmured not. Isaac, too, was told, "Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and will bless thee, and unto thy seed I will give all these countries." But when he dug for water the herdsmen of Gerar disputed with his herdsmen for the water which they found, and he was obliged to seek another place, and do over again the work which had been expended in vain in Gerar. Then again Jacob was told the land upon which he lay should be given to him and to his seed forever, etc. When, however, he wanted to pitch his tent in the city of Shechem in the land of Canaan he had to purchase a "parcel of the field" upon which his tent was spread for a hundred pieces of money. There was no murmuring on the part of these simple and holy men, who knew well that God would carry out his promises to them in his own good time.
There is not a word in Holy Writ without its purpose. In the statement that "Aaron took him Elishaba, the daughter of Aminadab, sister of Nachshon, to wife," the addition of the brother's name is apparently superfluous. But in truth its purpose is to caution the would-be Benedick to inquire of the character and disposition of the brothers of her whom he intends to marry, since most sons take after the character and disposition of their mother's brothers.
When Moses was performing the miracles in Egypt to convince the Egyptians that he was the messenger of God, Pharaoh simply ridiculed him and asked him ironically, "Art thou bringing straw to Eprayne (where there was plenty)? Art thou not aware that the Egyptians are past masters in magic? People usually take their wares to places where they are scarce. Here children of four or five years of age can work this sort of conjuring." And he actually had some children brought out of school, and they and Pharaoh's wife performed similar works to those of Moses. "Is he a wise man," continued Pharaoh, "who carries muria (a sort of salt) to Spain or fish to Acco?" Moses refrained from controversy, but merely replied, "Where there is the market of greenstuff there I take my greenstuff."
When praying on behalf of Pharaoh to remove the plague of hail from him, Moses went out of the town to do so (Exod. ix; 20), because he would not pray in the midst of the idols and abominations that polluted the place and rendered it unfit for prayer to the throne of mercy. He went into the open, pure air of God to pray to God.
Even from such hardened sinners as Pharaoh and the Egyptians God did not withhold the opportunity of mending their ways. Before a plague visited them Moses was charged to warn them of its coming, to-morrow, if they remained obdurate.
Behold God as a pleader as well as an accuser. Whilst he complains of a sinful nation (Isa. i. 4) he pleads "Open ye the gates that a righteous nation may enter" (Isa. xxvi. 2). Again, designating Israel as a people laden with iniquity, he yet condescends to say, "Thy people are all righteous" (Isa. lx. 21). Though declaring them to be children that are corrupted, he calls them "children taught of the Lord" (Isa. liv. 13). Whilst they are "a seed of evil-doers," he says, "their seed shall be known amongst the heathen" (Isa. lxi. 9). Again they are told, "When you make many prayers I will not hear." Yet he assures us (Isa. lxv. 24) "Before they call I will answer." Whilst declaring that our new moons and our feasts his soul hateth, he invites us to come and prostrate ourselves before him on new moons and Sabbaths.
The rite of proclaiming and sanctifying the month at the appearance of the new moon is traced back to the time of the Exodus, when Nisson was placed at the head of the months. The ceremony was of the same importance as are dates in legal documents and in evidence, and the month only began when it had been proclaimed by the representative of the community.
Water, air, and fire were created before the world; the water begat darkness, the fire begat light, the spirit or air begat wisdom, and with these the world is always governed, viz., wind, fire, wisdom, light, darkness, and water.
For the purpose of effecting Israel's redemption God did not disdain to appear in a place where there were images of idols or other impurities.
The kingdom of Greece was a terror to the world, but Mattathias the priest, with faith and not with weapons, boldly met the terror and defeated it.
"Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the woman?" (Song, vi. 10). She is no other than Esther, who, like the morning star, was the light brought to Israel in the dark days of Media. "Clear as the sun and terrible as an army with banners" (Song, vi. 10): these were no other than Mattathias the high priest and his sons, who like an army with their banners stood up against the evil power of Greece, from which every power fled as one flees from the strength of the mid-day sun. Their army and their banners were faith in their God; they were stimulated by the words of the prophet (Joel iv. 6-10), "The children of Judah and the children of Jerusalem have ye sold unto the Grecians . . . Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning-hooks into spears; let the weak say, I am strong."
Certain commandments were given to Israelites exclusively; and these are mostly known by the word likom (to you). The observance of the Passover in the mouth of Nisson (Exod. xii.): Not to make graven images (Lev. xxvi.): To be just in judgment (Hosea v.): Righteousness and charity (Deut. xxiv.): To be merciful and compassionate (Deut. xiii.): Sabbatical years and Jubilees (Lev. xxv.): and various others (Deut. xi.), tithes, concerning the First-born (Deut. xiv.), Sacrifices (Exod. xx.), Fringes (Numb. xv.), Festivals (Lev. xxiii.), Atonement Day, etc. On the other hand there are special gifts, viz.: God's blessings (Lev. xxv. and Numb. vi.), Palestine (Lev. xxv.), the Torah (Prov. iii.), and Light (Isa. Ix.).
The reconstruction of the calendar, as far as the months are concerned, Nisson having taken the place of Tishri, as the head of the months, at the Exodus, was but in proper keeping with things. A king proclaimed the day of the birth of his son as a holiday; the son was taken captive and enslaved, but eventually set free. The day of his freedom was henceforth ordered to be observed as the holiday, instead of the day of his birth. Thus God distinguished the month when. his son, Israel, was set free from thraldom, and crowned it as henceforth the first or head of the months.
There is a remedy for every sin, viz., prayer and repentance; but there are three grievous sins for which there seems to be no expiation, and these are murder, idolatry, and adultery. If therefore one says to you, "Let us go and murder, and we shall escape punishment," beware of what was said even in the early days of the world's existence, before the Torah was given: "He that sheds man's blood, through man his blood shall be shed." If you are enticed to commit adultery and are perhaps persuaded that you can atone for it, flee from the very thought. The two laws, the one appertaining to the Nazirite and the one concerning a woman suspected of misconduct, are advisedly placed side by side because of their affinity to each other. The Nazirite, for instance, who takes upon himself to abstain from wine, is told that he is not permitted to partake of the very fruit that produces intoxicants, so that the good resolution may not be frustrated, which would probably be the case were he to indulge in the tasting of the grape. Remember that a woman also is mentioned as a fruitful vine, so that a woman's and your own conduct should be like that prescribed for the Nazirite. Do not say, I will guard myself against so great an offense as actual adultery, but there can be no harm in say, kissing, embracing, or caressing and fondling my neighbor's wife. Bear in mind that the Nazirite's resolution not to partake of wine was supplemented by the prohibition of partaking of the fruit that produces wine. "Can a man take fire in his bosom," says the wise king, "and his clothes not be burned? Can one go upon hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So he that goeth to his neighbor's wife; whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent" (Prov. vi.). If again you are persuaded to commit the very grievous sin of idolatry, let these serious words ever be before you: "He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the Eternal only, he shall be utterly destroyed" (Exod. xxii. 20). And not only are we prohibited the worship of a strange god, but all accessories of such worship are forbidden, even for the purpose of medicine, such as using some of the incense for a medicine, or any of the groves for any purpose whatsoever. We are told, "And there shall cleave naught of the cursed thing to thine hand" (Deut. xiii. 17); "Neither shalt thou bring an abomination into thine house, lest thou be a cursed thing like it" (Deut. vii. 26).
There is in heaven an accuser and a defender of man; the name of the former is Semoel and that of the latter Michael.
Onkeles, who became a convert to Judaism, complained to the Rabbis that God's love for converts only went to the extent of giving them bread an d raiment (Deut. x. 18): "You have now joined the house of Israel," replied one rabbi, "and you should bear in mind that Israel (Jacob) asked the lord only to give him bread to eat and raiment to put on, and therefore you might be contented with the promise to give you spontaneously what Israel had to petition for." "More than this," added another of the wise men, "the bread and raiment mentioned are not to be taken in their literal sense only, for since you have entered the folds of God's people you are not precluded from eating the showbread and having for your raiment the, priestly garments."
God may be regarded as saying to would-be proselytes: "Perhaps you may hesitate to come within my fold because I have put a stigma on you by enacting, in connection with the Passover lamb, 'No stranger shall eat thereof.' Inquire, then, of the Gibeonites who were received within the pale of the Israelites by practising fraud and because they feared earthly evil; yet I punished Saul and his household because they did not deal kindly with the Gibeonites (2 Sam. xxi.). If I valued the Gibeonites' conversion, bow much more will I be pleased with those who seek to come under the banner of my law, not out of bodily fear but from motives of the higher life."
When, at the Exodus, Moses was anxious to take up Joseph's bones for interment in Palestine, Serach the daughter of Asher was still living, and she pointed out the spot of Joseph's sepulcher.
Honor the physician so long as you do not require his skill.
David advisedly calls one of his Psalms (Psalm xc.) "A prayer of Moses, the man of God," and another Psalm (Psalm cii.) he names "A prayer of the afflicted," to convey to us the truth that the prayer of the greatest and of the most humble of men, that of the richest and that of the poorest, of the slave and of the master, are equal before God.
Prayers should be said in common, master and man, mistress and maid, rich and poor together, for all are equal before God.
By Isaac's blessings Esau became the possessor of the power of the hand, and he made good use of it. When the Israelites intended passing his country he warned them of his handy sword (Numb. xx.). Not less does Jacob (i.e., Israel) appreciate his power of the voice, i.e., prayer. There will come a time when each will take the full benefit of the power possessed by him. Esau's is predicted in the thirty-fourth chapter of Isaiah, and that of Israel in the thirty-third chapter of Jeremiah.
The approach of Pharaoh on the shores of the Red Sea was worth a hundred fast days and a hundred formal or ordinary prayers. It caused the Israelites to lift up their hearts and eyes in trust and sincerity to their heavenly Father, to whom they prayed and to whom they looked for help.
If your hands are stained by dishonesty, your prayers will be polluted and impure, and an offense to him to whom you direct them. Do not pray at all before you have your hands purified from every dishonest act.
With all their professed faith, in Egypt, there was no real faith in the Israelites until they saw God's wonders on the Red Sea. Prompted by that faith they were enabled to compose and sing the exquisite song of praise.
The song of praise that Israel offered on the Red Sea was pleasing to God as an outburst of real gratitude. There had, indeed, been no such praise offered to God since creation. Adam, formed out of dust and put above all creation, omitted to praise the Creator for the dignity conferred on him. Even Abraham, rescued from the fiery furnace and made conqueror of the kings he pursued, or Isaac when delivered by the message of God from the knife, or Jacob when he resisted the attacking angel, withstood the enmity of Esau and the men of Shechem, not one was prompted to offer hymns to God for his protecting power and deliverance. It was left to the poor enslaved and oppressed Israelites, rescued from thraldom, to sing that exquisite hymn to the glory of their God.
Through their faith the Israelites on the Red Sea became possessed of the Holy Spirit.
Man is the proudest of God's creatures, the eagle is the haughtiest amongst the birds, the ox amongst the cattle, and the lion amongst the beasts of the field. Hence it was the image of these four which Ezekiel saw in his vision on the throne of God.
So persistent were the Israelites in their desire to return to Egypt, that Moses had to use force, after persuasive language had failed, to make them continue their journey. Their arguments were that God's object in bringing them out of Egypt was fivefold: (1) to give them the Egyptians' goods, to which they were entitled as wages for their work; (2) to lead them through the Red Sea; (3) to shelter them with his cloud of glory; (4) to avenge them on the Egyptians; (5) to enable them to sing hymns of praise to him. Now that all of these things were accomplished, the Egyptians drowned, and not sufficient left in Egypt to force them again to slavery, their best step would be, they thought, to return to a country where, free from slavery, they could enjoy life infinitely better than in the wilderness that faced them, where there was no bread and no water, not to mention the fish and the onions of Egypt. But Moses pointed out to them that there was a great debt which they had not yet discharged. "Ye shall serve God upon this mountain" (Exod. iii. 12), which was, in fact, the token beforehand of God's being with Moses and his mission to Pharaoh.
"He made his people go forth like sheep and guided them in the wilderness like a flock" (Ps. lxxviii. 52).--"Like sheep like the sheep of Jethro which Moses led to the wilderness; so he led the Israelites through the wilderness, for as sheep are not brought into the dwelling-house, and there is no fixed fund out of which to maintain them, so was it with Israel; they had no buildings wherein to dwell, they had to pick up their food in the open. Not, however, like sheep destined for slaughter, for they are God's holy flock; he who touches that which is holy unto the Lord incurs guilt, and he who touches Israel, God's first-born, shall offend; evil shall come upon them, says the prophet (Jer. ii.).
That Saturday is the Sabbath proclaimed on Sinai was fully demonstrated to the Israelites in the wilderness. When, contrary to God's ordinance, they went out on that day to gather manna and found none, Moses told them "See,"--he did not say "Know," but See--that God has given you the Sabbath, pointing out to them visibly the Sabbath day.
The observance of the Sabbath proclaimed on Sinai by an Israelite outweighs all other commandments. And from the point of view that the Sabbath was established as a token between God and his people (Exod. xxxi. 13) one is justified in saying that it is not right and proper for a non-Jew to observe that Sabbath; it is the expression of a relation so intimate that the intrusion of a stranger would be resented.
The ways of the Lord are inscrutable; it is vain for mortal man to define bow his work is done. If you wish to find out whence punishments or blessings come, you will be confounded in the attempt. The fire and brimstone brought upon Sodom and Gomorrah came from heaven (Gen. xix.). You may perhaps conclude that punishment only comes thence, but you will then find the beneficial dew coming from heaven (Micah v.). The Egyptians received their plagues from heaven, and the retribution of the Ammonites came down from heaven (Joshua x.); Sisera was fought against from heaven (Judg. v.). On the other hand, goodness and blessings came from heaven (Deut. xxviii.). Bread seems to come from earth only (Ps. civ.), but it comes from heaven also (Exod. xvi.). Water came from earth (Numb. xxi.), and you will find water from heaven (Deut.. xi.).
The same confusion will meet you if you try to find the position or attitude of angels. You may conclude that they fly (Isa. vi. 6), but behold they stand (Isa. vi. 2). You find them sitting (Judg. vi.), and you find them walking, too (Zech. iii.). You conclude, in one instance, that they appear in the figure of a woman (Zech. v.), but they are men (Gen. xviii.), and they are also wind and fire (Ps. civ.).
Because of his love, God did not disdain to do the work proper to a servant for the Israelites in the wilderness. He held a light for them through their wanderings there. He washed them, clothed them, and shod them (Ezek. xvi.). He carried them and watched over them when asleep (Ps. cxxi.).
Every prophecy, afterward uttered by various prophets, was handed over on Sinai at the time of the giving of the Decalogue, but was to be kept unproclaimed until each prophet had received the charge of proclaiming his respective prophecy.
"I am the first and I am the last, and beside me there is no God" (Isa. xliii. 6). I am the first, I have no father; I am the last, I have no brother. Beside me there is no God; I have no son.
Nature was silent and at rest when the Decalogue was proclaimed on Sinai. No animal made a sound, no fowl flew, the very angels kept silent, and desisted from praises before God. The billows of the sea became calm and at rest, and no creature uttered a sound whilst the words were uttered by the living God, saying, "I am the Lord thy God."
When Onkeles intimated to his uncle Hadrian his intention of becoming a convert to Judaism, the uncle ridiculed his nephew's taste for attaching himself to a people of such low estate and so despised. He asked Onkeles to tell him what prompted him in such a folly. Onkeles's reply was, "The Jew, the most insignificant, and may be the most despised amongst men as he now is, knows more about God and the creation than any man amongst the other peoples, and the Torah contains nothing but Truth." The uncle then permitted his nephew to dive into the study of the Torah, but forbade him circumcision, which, however, Onkeles underwent.
Poverty is man's greatest affliction.
Moses offered his life for Israel and for the Torah, therefore these were designated as his. In Isaiah (lxiii. 11) we are told, "Moses and his people," and in Malachi (iii. 4) "Remember the law of Moses my servant."
Rabbis Gamaliel, Joshua, Eleazar ben Azaria, and Akiba were preachers in Rome.
Repentance makes virtues almost of the very vices of the penitent sinner.
Riches, might, and worldly wisdom are not only not always a blessing to their possessors, but may be the very causes of their destruction. Korah and Haman had their fall brought about by their riches. Goliath paid with his life the penalty of his might, and Balaam's wisdom was his destruction.
The poor are styled "God's own."
He who lives by usury in this world shall not live in the world to come.
"Behold I send an angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared," etc. (Exod. xxiii. 20-22). "Up to the time of the grievous sin of the people," says God to Moses, "I myself was leading them (Exod. xii.). By their making and worshiping the golden calf they have forfeited that high privilege and tender care. I will now send you an angel--or messenger--to lead you in the way. Beware not to rebel against him, for my name is in him; he comes by my authority; what he tells you he says in my name." A similar expression is used in connection with Moses himself, when God says (Exod. xix. 9), "Behold, I come unto thee in a thick cloud that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and may believe in thee forever," which obviously does not mean that they should believe in Moses as a deity, but they should believe that he (Moses) speaks as God's messenger.
Further, regarding the words that the angel shall not forgive their sins if they rebel against him, the meaning is that he has no such power as forgiving sin. Moreover, the words may mean, "Thou shalt not change him: not change him for God because he has taken up the leadership in the wilderness, instead of God who led you hitherto, and therefore worship him and pray to him for the forgiveness of sin. I alone forgive iniquity and pass away sin."
When Moses was charged with the erection of the Mishkan he inwardly wondered that God who filleth the worlds above and below should require a residence made for him. But the Lord said to him, "Israel is my flock" (Ezek. xxxiv.), "and I am their shepherd" (Ps. lxxx.): make a hut for the shepherd whither he shall come to tend them.
In giving his Torah to Israel, God is like a king who gives his only daughter in marriage, and makes it a condition with her husband that there shall always be a room kept for him in their house. If we wish to have the Torah, we must have God also. This is the meaning of the words, "Make me a sanctuary that I may dwell therein."
My light, the Torah, says God to man, is in thy hand; but thy light, the soul, is in my hand. Take care of my light, so that I may take care of thy light.
Gold is one of the things for the non-existence of which man would probably be all the better. It was originally called into existence for the service of the Mishkan and of the temple.
God requires but earnest prayer and a penitent heart. Israel was redeemed from Egypt in answer to prayer. Joshua became a conqueror because of his prayer; in the days of the judges help was obtained by prayer; Samuel's help for his people was granted in reply to prayer.
It was but proper that Aaron the holy (Ps. cvi.) should enter the holy place (Exod. xv.) to make atonement before the Most Holy (Lev. xix.) for a holy people (Lev. xix.).
The poor amongst Israel plead before the Lord, saying, "If one of our rich transgresses, he can bring a sacrifice for his accidental sin and it is atoned (Lev. iv. 22); but what are we, who have no means to purchase sacrifices, to do in order to expiate our sins?" In reply they are told to have regard to the words of the Psalmist and the prophets.
The Psalmist says (Ps. xxvi. 6, 7), "I wash my hands in innocency," and lest you should think that he alludes to the bringing of bullocks and goats he hastens to add, "So will I encompass thine altar, that I may cause to be heard the voice of thanksgiving and tell all thy wondrous work."
And the prophet Hosea tells you (Hosea xiv. 3), "Take with you words and return to the Lord." Words, words of earnest prayer, and not sacrifice, do I require.
The tribe of Judah was the élite of the Israelites, that of Dan the plebeian. For the erection of the Mishkan God called for Bezaleel from the tribe of Judah, and commanded that Aholiab, from the tribe of Dan, should be placed with him; they jointly should do the work (Exod. xxxi. 1-6), to demonstrate that all, the one of high estate and the one of low estate, are alike before God.
The tablets of the commandments were called Tablets of Stones, because the punishment for violating the commandments was death by stoning.
Israel is the most arrogant among nations, like the dog amongst the beasts and the cock amongst fowls.
Moses, in pleading for the Israelites against their projected destruction for making the golden calf, had recourse to all sorts of excuses in order to avert the threatened punishment. "When appearing on Mount Sinai and proclaiming thyself as the only God," he pleaded, thou didst say, "I am the Lord thy God," not in the plural, "Your God," so that this ignorant people, just set free from slavery, may perchance have taken this proclamation as strictly applying to me only." The using of this argument seems to have been a fact because, while at the giving of the commandments the singular "thy God," is used, thereafter the words, "Your God," are used. "Moreover," Moses said, "this golden calf may be thy coadjutor, O God. Thou causest the sun to shine: the golden calf will take over some of the workings of nature, and may cause the rain to descend. Thou wilt send down the dew, and the golden calf will cause the herb to grow." Moses received the merited rebuke from God, who said, "Thou also hast become an idolater; is there any power in that idol which the people have made themselves as a god? is it anything but inanimate matter?"
"Why then," Moses said, "shouldst thou be angry with thy people who have made this worthless, powerless thing?" Further Moses argued and pleaded, "Why does thine anger grow against the people whom thou hast brought out from Egypt? They have been slaves of the Egyptians, a people who worshiped animals as their gods; and can it be wondered at that they imitated their masters? A man once got for his son a trade which brought him into contact with a set of men of questionable repute, whose habits he soon adopted. The father became incensed to such an extent that he threatened his son's destruction; but a friend pleaded for the son by pointing out to the father that he, by the force of circumstances, had somewhat contributed to the evil habits of his son, by having put him into a trade which brought him into the company of evil-doers. The Israelites are but like children, prone to adopt the ways and manners of their elders, and if they are now destroyed there will be no chance for them to develop the better and higher life, to redeem the evil they have done, and to live by the law which thou hast proclaimed." Moses prevailed with his prayer. And yet we see distinctly that not until Moses made mention of the Patriarchs was the reply, "And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do to his people," given. Just as a vine, to which Israel is likened (Ps. lxxx. 9), requires dead branches to support and prop the living ones, so Israel requires his departed ancestors' merits for his support. Thus Solomon says (Eccl. ix.), "And I praise the dead which died long ago"; and so Moses, perceiving that his pleadings and prayers of forty days' duration (Deut. ix. 18-25) were left unanswered, made mention of the Patriarchs, and then his prayer was answered. There was yet another reason for Moses's mention of the three Patriarchs in his intercession for the Israelites. "If death," he said, "is total annihilation, and there is now nothing of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, I have no plea for the sinning people; but if they--the Patriarchs--live in another, better and higher sphere, what of the promise made to them to multiply their offspring like the stars of the heavens?" Finally, Moses mentioned that God was prepared to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if there could be found ten righteous men; and he agreed to produce the number demanded to save a sinning community, i.e., Aaron, Eliezer, Ithamar, Phineas, Joshua, Caleb, and himself, but there were still three lacking to make up the Ten. Then Moses inquired of God again whether the righteous who depart from this world live in another world, and he received a reply in the affirmative. "Remember, then," he prayed, "the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who with the seven names mentioned will make up the ten righteous; for whose sake vouchsafe to save thy people."
If thou hast done any meritorious act, do not ask at once for the reward thereof; if yon receive it not, your offspring after you will receive it. What would have become of us if our Patriarchs had asked for and received the reward of their merits whilst they lived?
Moses considered the breaking of the Tablets preferable to delivering them to the people, after they had made the golden calf. He was like a man commissioned by a king to convey the marriage-contract to his future bride, who learns on his way that the would-be bride has rendered herself guilty of a serious indiscretion. He decides--in the woman's own interest--not to proceed further with the nuptial contract, but to tear it up, as she will thus still be unmarried and her guilt less serious than if she were guilty of her misdeed after she had received her marriage-lines.
When God first called Moses, not being then an expert prophet, he was addressed in a voice similar to that of his own father, and he thought that his father had come to him from Egypt. God then told him that it was not his earthly father who called him, but the God of his father.
Then, we find, Moses hid his face, which he did not do when first called by his name; not, in fact, until he heard the words, "I am the God of thy fathers."
It is prohibited to preach out of manuscript. Sermons are to be delivered without the help of any writing before the preacher.
If you want a vine to flourish it should be replanted on another soil. God replanted his vine--Israel--from Egypt to Palestine, and it became famous.
There were two ships: the one left the harbor, and the other entered it. The spectators expressed their joy over the ship that was leaving, but took hardly any notice of the incoming one. Amongst the spectators was a man of sound sense, who pointed out to the crowd that their joy was misplaced, inasmuch as there should be more joy at a ship safely returned from its voyage than for the ship whose fate no one could foretell. This is what King Solomon meant when he said that the day of death is better than the day of one's birth, since no one can foretell the career of the newly born child, whilst if a man goes hence with a good record behind him such death is better than a new birth.
"And they brought earrings, rings, tablets and jewels of gold" (Exod. xxxv. 22). We have here five different articles of gold, in accordance with the law laid down (Exod. xxi.): if one defrauds with a bullock, he shall pay fivefold. They had committed a sin with the gold in making the golden calf, and they brought to the sanctuary the fivefold penalty.
Why was the Mishkan called "the Tabernacle of Testimony" (Exod. xxxviii. 23)? Because it testified to the fact that Israel gained forgiveness and was received again into God's favor. A king had a beloved wife, but she had forfeited his love by her conduct and was sent away; and the public concluded that the couple had parted forever. After a lapse of time the king reinstated his first love, but the populace were still dubious about the reconciliation. When, however, she was seen in the king's palace adorned with all the charms befitting a queen, the happy relations between the king and his consort could no longer be doubted.
So when the Shechinah vouchsafed to dwell in the Mishkan, it was a glorious demonstration that the Lord was reconciled with his people.
A pupil of Rabbi Simeon ben Joshua went abroad and returned with wealth. When the other pupils came to know of it, they too clamored to go abroad. The Rabbi bade them follow him, and he brought them to a valley where he pulled out a quantity of gold coins, saying, "If it is gold you want, here it is; take it. Remember, however, that not every one can have a double reward. Perchance if you have this gold, which may procure you pleasures on earth, you are likely to have no reward hereafter, where the righteous can rely on receiving it."
The great characteristic of Moses--humility--pervades his life throughout. When he was first charged with the mission to Pharaoh his hesitation in accepting the charge was based upon self-abasement. "Who am I," he says, "that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should bring out Israel from Egypt?" Any other man, having been selected by God himself as the fit and proper person to be his own messenger, would surely have been induced to think more of himself; but not so Moses. Coming to the Red Sea, he again retires in his humility, not being bold enough to take the initiative until called upon by the Lord. "And thou lift up thy rod, and stretch out thy hand over the sea and divide it" (Exod. xiv.). At the Tabernacle of the congregation his deep humility again manifests itself; he does not venture to approach until the Lord calls him (Lev. i. 1).
If you are a man of distinction and entitled to a prominent seat at an assembly, seat yourself, nevertheless, two or three seats lower, for it is better to be told "Go up," than to be asked to "go down." Hillel was wont to say, "If I condescend I am exalted, but if I am haughty I am degraded."
Pharaoh's daughter married Caleb.
The Torah sets us an example of refinement of speech. If allusion is made to an offering made by man, it is said (Lev. i. 2), "If any man of you bring an offering," but if anything objectionable needs to be spoken of--such as leprosy--the expression is not "if any one of you shall have leprosy," but "if there shall happen to be a boil in any flesh." Further, when a blessing is pronounced it is given fully and distinctly, "these shall stand up to bless the people" (Deut. xxvii. 12); but when it is necessary to threaten with a curse, the words, "the people," are omitted, and the phrase used is, "they shall curse."
Better for you to have no more than two Zehubim (coins equal to about twenty-five cents) as the means with which to gain a livelihood, than to be a man of large capital and employ it in usury.
If sincere converts to Judaism enter heaven, Antoninus will be at the head of them.
The proverb says, "If you give out your money in usury you will lose what you gain as well as your original capital."
Whom will the Lord bold responsible after death for the unrighteous life on earth? The body as inanimate matter can surely not be affected by anything done to it. The soul has surely a very tangible plea in the fact that all misdeeds were committed by the body whilst alive, for which it (the soul) should not be held responsible. But it is as though the owner of a very valuable garden, being anxious for the preservation of his fruit, employed two men, one blind and the other lame, to watch his orchard.
Said the lame one to the blind one, "Would I could walk! I could feast on the wonderful and enticing fruit which I see all round about me." "I," said the blind man, "am strong enough in my legs, but unfortunately have not the sense of sight, and can not even feast my eyes on the choice fruit of which you tell me. Supposing," suggested he to his lame comrade, "you were to get on my back and pilot me to those wonderful trees which you see, I could with ease carry you there and you could pluck the coveted fruit for both of us." The suggestion was adopted, and the garden was quickly despoiled. When the owner visited his garden he was shocked at the havoc committed on what to him was his most precious possession, and charged the two men with depredation.
Said the blind man, "I surely can not be guilty of the theft of a thing the existence and whereabouts of which I could not even see." "Neither was I able," said the lame watchman, "to lay my hand on any of the fruit, for you know that my legs refuse to carry me a step." The owner of the orchard was, however, able to demonstrate the method employed by the pair in robbing him of his precious fruit, by taking the lame man and putting him on the back of the blind watchman, and making the latter carry the former to the trees. Thus the Psalmist intimates (Ps. l. 4), "He will call to the heavens above and to the earth that he may judge his people": that is to say, he will unite man's heavenly element (the soul) with his earthly element (the body) again, and will fix the responsibility on the reunited whole.
"Your Torah tells you," argued a heathen with one of the Rabbis, "to be guided by the majority. Why then do you decline to adopt the religion of the majority?" "Apart from the fact," replied the sage, "that a large number is no argument in a matter of religion, and my Torah also tells me, 'You shall not go after the multitude to do evil,' I will ask you a question. Have you any children?" "Yes, to my sorrow," replied the questioner, "for they cause me sorrow with their religious views; whenever they come together there is contention between them as to the truth of their respective beliefs." "Try, then," retorted the Rabbi, "to create unity and harmony regarding religion in your own family, rather than waste your efforts in trying to bring me to your views." When the questioner had gone the Rabbi's disciples said to him, "It is well that the heathen left you with the lame argument you gave him; but what have you in reality to say as to the paucity of followers of our religion?"
"Esau's family," answered their teacher, "is spoken of as consisting of so many souls, whilst the seventy members of Jacob's family are described as one soul, because the former had many gods, but the latter had all of them one and the same God. So that even if a majority were an argument in favor of religion, still, though we are apparently smaller in number, we are actually larger if we are not divided in our monotheism."
Great and dignified names which have been given to Israel have also been bestowed on other nations, such as "Congregation," "mighty," "wise," "perfect," and "righteous.
If a man is a witness, whether he has seen or otherwise knows of a thing, if he does not testify he shall bear his iniquity (Lev. v. 1). "You, my people," says God to Israel, "have both seen (Deut. iv. 35) and know (Deut. v. 39) that I am God, and thus you are my proper witnesses (Isa. xliii. 10). If then you will not proclaim me as God to all nations of the earth, you shall bear your iniquity."
A certain ruler there was who, when thieves and the recipients of their stolen goods were brought before him, invariably discharged the former and severely punished the latter.
If you sit in judgment and you find one of the litigants anxious to verify his statement by taking an oath, have suspicion against that individual.
There was a man named Bar Talmion, with whom one deposited a sum of money for safe keeping. When the depositor called for his deposit Bar Talmion said, "Surely I have placed in your own hands the amount you left with me." When they came before Rabbi Assé and his court Bar Talmion was anxious to verify his assertion on oath, and the two litigants, accompanied by the Rabbi, went to the synagogue to have the oath taken there. At the entrance of the sacred edifice Bar Talmion said to the plaintiff, "Just take this stick and hold it for me whilst I take the solemn oath." The stick being unusually heavy excited suspicion, and was broken to see the cause of its remarkable weight, when the coins deposited with the rascal fell out from the hollow made for the purpose of being a receptacle for the money; the perjurer having placed the stick in the hands of the plaintiff, thinking that by this subterfuge he could honestly swear that he had returned the money to the claimant's own hands.
Broken things are not admired, but God is pleased with a broken spirit and contrite heart.
God pairs--in marriages--and appoints all destinies.
By the ordinance of sacrifices we are taught lessons of frugality. He who could afford it had to bring a bullock; if a man's means did not reach so far, then a sheep was as well accepted; and if that was beyond his means, a goat was accepted, or a dove if a goat was too costly; and the very poor who could afford neither of these could bring a handful of flour. This very inexpensive sacrifice could be brought in two instalments (Lev. vi.).
All sacrifices, except thank-offerings, will be abolished in future; and even should prayer be abolished, that portion thereof which comes under Praises will not be abolished.
All contention amongst the Israelites ceased when they stood at the foot of Sinai to receive the commandments, and owing to the peace and harmony that existed then amongst them they were fit and qualified to receive God's behests.
Amongst the heavenly bodies and beings there is no envy, jealousy, hatred, or contention; yet it is said (Job xxv. 2), "He maketh peace in his high places." How much more, then, is peace needed amongst God's creatures in this lower sphere.
The creation of peace and good-will amongst men towers above all other of God's commandments. Take, for instance, that beautiful commandment of restoring your enemy's lost cattle. One is not bidden to go and seek them, only if you meet them you are bound to restore them (Exod. xxiii.). Or, again, the injunction regarding a bird's nest; you have not to seek this out, it is only when you happen to meet with one that your duty applies. But with regard to peace and good-will we are distinctly asked to pursue it (Ps. xxxiv.). We are to seek and establish it in our midst, and pursue and found it everywhere else.
The prophet Amos was a stutterer.
Where repentance effects half, prayer is wholly effective.
Without the young there would be no pupils, and without them there would be no scholars; and without them, again, there would be no want of the Torah, without which we would have no place of worship, no place of study; and without these God would not vouchsafe his Shechinah amongst us.
King Solomon was very abstemious till he married Pharaoh's daughter; then he began to indulge in wine rather freely. On his marriage there was a double rejoicing, the one in honor of the temple, and the other to celebrate his (forbidden) marriage. His new wife danced eighty rounds; and Solomon, who kept the keys of the temple under his pillow, overslept himself four hours, and there could consequently be no service in the temple the following morning. His. mother administered to him a sharp rebuke for this, reminding him of his father's great joy when the prophet Nathan foretold the birth of Solomon, and that his great joy was because of the temple which his son was to build for the service of God, which he (Solomon) so shamefully neglected.
Alexander of Macedonia invariably rose when he saw Simeon the Righteous. Some of his ministers expressed their amazement that so proud a king should rise--as they said--for a Jew. His explanation was that when he embarked on a war and had, previous to his starting, seen the image of this holy man he could reckon on victory.
The last Darius was the son of Esther.
God considered all the nations, and found Israel in the wilderness the most fit and proper to be the recipients of his Torah. Likewise Sinai was decided to be the most fitting spot for the purpose. Jerusalem was fixed upon as the best place for the temple, and Palestine as the country for Israel.
A man is not consulted by his parents as to whether he wishes to be brought into this world.
Man is the last in creation and the first in responsibility.
A woman can only conceive either immediately before or a certain number of days after menstruation.
There was a limit to every prophet's inspiration. Beeri, the father of Hosea, only uttered a few words of prophecy, and as they were insufficient to be embodied in a book by themselves they were incorporated within the book of Isaiah, viz., verses 19 and 20 of the 8th chapter of Isaiah.
Man's body should contain an equal portion of water and blood; if the blood increases and preponderates over the water, he becomes afflicted with leprosy.
It is very dangerous to be within four yards of a leper, and of his breath even within a hundred yards.
Ninety-nine out of a hundred evils which overtake man can be traced to his own acts.
If your prayers are earnest, hope for the fulfilment of them. The human tongue is not free, like some other members of the human body, but is confined in the mouth, and, moreover, is constantly in moisture: yet how many burns can it cause with its sharp edge and its fire. How much worse, then, would it have been were that dangerous member of the human body possessed of more facilities.
If speech is silver, then silence is gold.
Sweet is the attainment of the evil inclination at the start, but bitter, very bitter in the end.
Antoninus asked Rabbi Judah Hannasi to pray for him.
"May you be protected against cold," said the wise man. Antoninus demurred, saying, "Oh, an additional coat will do that for me." "Then," exclaimed the Rabbi, "may you be sheltered against heat and drought!" a wish that thoroughly pleased Antoninus.
At the approach of the Israelites to the promised land, the Girgashites offered no resistance, but were ready to vacate their country for the Israelites to take possession of it, in consideration of which compensation was granted them, viz., Africa was given to them, a country in every respect as good as the one they had given up. The Gibeonites formed a peaceful alliance with the Israelites, but thirty-one of the princes and chieftains offered resistance and were conquered.
At first sight it would be difficult to understand why the message concerning leprosy in the land which the Israelites were to take possession of should be couched in language like that of a promise. "When you come into the land of Canaan," says Holy Writ, "I put the plague of leprosy in a house of the land of your possession" (Lev. xiv. 34). But when the Canaanites heard of Israel's approaching their borders they hid their treasures in the secret places of their houses and in the fields; and when they vacated the country in haste their hidden treasures, which they had no time to take up, were left behind. When, therefore, the plague of leprosy was sent, the houses--according to the law of Moses--had to be razed to the ground, and the hidden treasures were discovered and taken possession of by the Israelites.
Joshua sent these tribes due notice of the approach of the Israelites to possess themselves of the land of promise, and offered them the opportunity of either leaving the country with all their movable property or offering resistance, in which event, in case of their defeat, they would forfeit their movables with their immovables.
The prophet Obadiah was an Edomite who embraced the Jewish faith.
God tells man, "Behold, I am pure, my habitation is pure, my ministering angels are pure, and the spark of myself (the soul) deposited with you is pure: take heed that you restore to me that spark in the same state of purity as when it was given to you."
If man with all his knowledge and wisdom were to try his utmost to alter so little of nature or of creation as even to make the wing of the raven white, he would utterly fail in his efforts. Equally would they fail, if all nations of the world were to endeavor to annul one word of the Torah.
Nebuchadrezzar came to Jerusalem and took up his position at the side of Antisachia. The great Sanhedrin went out to him, asking the object of his coming. He demanded to have Jehoiakim delivered to him, or he would lay siege to the city. Jehoiakim pleaded hard against being delivered into the hands of Nebuchadrezzar, but was reminded of his shocking career of iniquity, of the gross and unspeakable misdeeds he was guilty of. He was given up to Nebuchadrezzar, who put him in irons, subjected him to a cruel death, and had the corpse exhibited in a wooden box in the shape of a donkey, throughout Judea. He then set Jechoniah, the son of Jehoiakim, on his father's throne, but when he returned to Babylon his people reproached him for his act of folly in having given the throne to the son of so inveterate an enemy and so notorious a sinner. Nebuchadrezzar then returned to Jerusalem and demanded the delivery of Jechoniah, with which demand the people complied. Before he was given over to Nebuchadrezzar he went with the keys of the temple to the top of his house and threw the keys down, saying that he delivered them up to God, who would appoint a worthier man to take charge of them. He was carried to Babylon, and through the influence of Shealtiel and Nebuchadrezzar's wife (Shemirimith) he was treated with less rigor, and he was even subsequently allowed certain privileges. His son Zerubbabel was born in Babylon, and the kingdom was restored to this good man. Jechoniah died penitent and at peace with his Maker.
If you want to court derision, give your opinion on weighty matters in the presence of your teachers or your superiors.
Do not enter any house without some indication of your coming, such as knocking at the door: even in your own house you should not make your appearance suddenly or unexpectedly; something may be going on there which, however innocent, may cause you annoyance and may lead to a want of peace and harmony in your household.
The 27th Psalm contains the song of the Red Sea.
The high priest, with all his dignity and greatness, was not to enter the sanctuary in golden but in modest linen garments. It would be inconsistent that he who made atonement for the people should be attired in the very material (gold) with which they committed such grievous sin. Another reason for the humble attire was that the high priest was to be impressed and to impress others with humility and not with pride.
There were but eighteen priests ministering in the first temple, but they were skilful servants, and the temple service was kept up for four hundred and ten years. Not so was it, unfortunately, in the second temple, where over eighty priests officiated. With a few honorable exceptions, they were unworthy to serve on the altar of God. Some bought their position with money, and there were others amongst them who did not disdain to use witchcraft.
He who defrauds his fellow man--no matter how small an amount--has it in him to go to the extent of taking life.
A king had a stupid son who was in the habit of eating all sorts of abominations when absent from his father's table. The king ordered that his son should be indulged in his fancy at his (the king's) own table, considering this the best means of weaning his son of his objectionable habit. Thus the Israelites, when in Egypt, got into the habit of offering sacrifices to the Egyptian gods; they were therefore commanded to bring the sacrifices which they used to offer to demons (Lev. xvii. 7) unto the Tabernacle of the Lord.
The present Rome is Edom.
Adultery can be committed with the eyes.
The nineteenth chapter of Leviticus contains the Ten Commandments..
The inhabitants of Canaan had vices similar to those of the Egyptians, as regards witchcraft and immorality. The Israelites,, who had seen nothing but evil practises up to now, would be prone to conclude--seeing the same vicious practises amongst the remaining nations of Canaan--that these practises were common to mankind. Wherefore God tells them (Lev. xviii. 2), "After the doings of the land of Egypt wherein you dwelt shall ye not do, and after the doings of the land of Canaan wherein I bring you shall ye not do." As in Egypt, so will you be in Canaan, a rose amongst thorns.
"Thy camp shall be holy" (Deut. xxiii. 15). By this it is meant that we must be choice in speech.
The Israelites were commanded to plant trees in Canaan when it came into their possession (Lev. xix. 23). Thus they were to occupy themselves in agriculture, and even imitate their God, who, after calling the world into existence, planted trees therein.
Adrianus (Hadrian) was passing on his way to Tiberias when he saw a very old man digging holes preparatory to planting trees. Addressing the old man, he said: "I can understand you having worked in your younger days to provide food for yourself, but you seem to labor in vain at this work. You can surely not expect to eat of the fruits which the trees, that you intend planting, will bring forth?" "I," said the old man, "must nevertheless do my duty as long as I am able to do it." "How old are you?" asked Adrianus. "I am a hundred years old," replied the planter, "and the God who granted me these long years may even vouchsafe me to eat of the fruit of these trees. But in any case I do not grudge the labor on them, and as it pleases the Lord so he may do with me." "Promise me," said Adrianus, "that if you should be alive when these trees bear figs you will apprise me of it." When the trees brought forth their fruit the old man loaded a basket full of figs, and made his way with the fruit to the King's palace. Arrived at the gate he was at first refused admission, but owing partly to his persistence, and partly to his venerable appearance, his wish for an audience was conveyed to the King, who granted it. On being asked his wish, he reminded the King that he was the old man whom his Majesty had observed planting trees, and that he had expressed the wish to be acquainted with the fact if the old man should be alive when the trees bore fruit. "Here," continued the old man, "I have brought a basket full of the figs which I plucked from the trees your Majesty saw me planting." So pleased was Adrianus with the incident that he accepted the fruit from the gray-haired man and ordered the basket, now empty, to be filled with coins.
Slander injures the slanderer, the victim, and the listener, and sad indeed may be its baneful effects. A man, it is related, was affianced to a woman afflicted with this dreadful vice, and in spite of the man's entreaties she could not nor would not give up entirely the vicious practise. One day she told her affianced that his own father had made unbecoming advances to her, and suggested that, in order to satisfy himself of the truth of her statement, he should arrive at the house in the evening unexpectedly, and he would find his father making advances to her. Arriving at the house, he found his father in a kneeling posture before the woman, as he was begging of her, on his knees, to give up her slanderous habits and render herself worthy of being the wife of such a good young man as his beloved son was. The young man, however, remembering what his affianced had repeatedly stated, and seeing his father in a suspicious attitude, considered her story confirmed, and in a moment of rage killed his father. On the affair being investigated it was found that the murdered man was quite innocent. His son was put to death for the murder, and the woman suffered the same penalty, for being the chief cause of the whole tragedy. Thus were three lives sacrificed through a lying and slanderous tongue.
There is a Rabbinical phrase not infrequently met with: "He who wilfully transgresses the enactments of the sages deserves the bite of the serpent." The Midrash explains this peculiar expression as follows: One asks the serpent, "Why are you so fond of hiding under fences?" and its reply is, "Because I broke down the first great fence of the world, the fence that existed between Adam and death." Now the enactments of the sages are "fences," set round about the law of God to guard it, and he who breaks through them deserves to meet with the one hidden under them who was the first to break them.
King Saul's conduct may well be compared to that of the king who decreed that all the cocks of the town should be destroyed, but the following day, having to undertake a journey and wishing to rise early, gave orders to procure him a cock to wake him at an early hour. Saul ordered all witches and wizards to be destroyed, and yet he was anxious to seek out a witch to learn from her the secrets of heaven.
God makes no choice of persecutors, but rather of the persecuted. Abel was the victim of Cain, Abel's offerings were accepted; Noah was persecuted by his contemporaries, Abraham by Nimrod, Isaac by the early Philistines, Jacob by Esau, Joseph by his brothers, Moses by Pharaoh, David by Saul, and Saul himself by the Philistines; and amongst all these the persecuted, and not the persecutors, were chosen by God. This does not apply to man only, but also to the lower animals. The ox is pursued by the lion, the sheep by the wolf, and not the pursuer, but the pursued, is chosen for God's altar.
Heathens were in the habit of taunting the Israelites with making the golden calf, a transgression which they said would never be forgiven them. As a mark, therefore, of having pardoned their sin, God mentioned the ox at the head of sacrifices.
The trumpets used in the temple could be made from the horns of any animal, but might not be made from the horns of a cow, because that animal was connected with Israel's idolatry.
Israel had not to maintain the three leaders with whom God provided them in the wilderness, though it is invariably incumbent on any organized society to have to maintain their officers of State. Here, on the contrary, they were the means of sustaining the people: Moses brought down the manna, Miriam brought up the waters of the wells, and Aaron invoked the clouds of glory.
It can not be doubted that those who instigated the Israelites to make the golden calf were of "the mixed multitude," who fastened themselves on to the Israelites at the Exodus, and there is incontestable evidence of this in the words employed at the end of the pernicious work, for it is said (Exod. xxxii. 4), "These are thy gods." Had the Israelites been the workers of this iniquity, they would have more appropriately said, "This is our god that brought us out," etc.
The number seven seems to be particularly selected and sanctified. Arovoth is the seventh name of heaven, and is especially favored (Ps. lxviii. 5). "Tebel" is the seventh name by which this world is known, and that, too, has special mention (Ps. xcvi. 4). Enoch was in the seventh generation from Adam, and Moses was in the seventh generation from Abraham; David was the seventh son of Jesse, and Asa was the seventh king after Saul. Then the seventh day was sanctified as the Sabbath, the seventh year as the Sabbatical year, and seven Sabbatical years as the Jubilee; and almost the whole of the seventh month is devoted to solemn festivals.
The temple required no light from the outer world, but had to diffuse light to the outer world. The formation of its windows indicated this fact.
There were some beautiful traits in the character of the Israelites in Egypt, by which alone they merited redemption. They did not change their names, such as Rufus instead of Reuben, Leon in lien of Simeon, Listus in place of Joseph, or Alexander for Benjamin. Neither had they changed their language, but they retained the Hebrew tongue. They eschewed slander, and they were very chaste.
"The merciful man," says King Solomon, "doeth good to his own soul, but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh" (Prov. xi. 17). Solomon meant by this the rich who disdain to invite their poor relatives to their festive tables.
The opening words of the 41st Psalm, "Happy is he that considereth the poor," were interpreted by the Rabbis in various ways. It is maintained by one authority that the words fit him whose better propensities prevail over the evil ones; another has it that they allude to him who visits the sick; and yet another refers the words to the: man who not only helps the poor, but considers the best way of really helping them without making them feel the sense of shame which receipt of charity may cause them. Thus Rabbi Jonah, to whose knowledge it came that a person, formerly in affluence had met with reverses, approached the man with the words "I understand you have some expectations, and I shall therefore be glad to advance you some money with which you can make some profitable transactions, and then you can pay me back when you have no longer need for the money." The question of assisting the man having thus been opened in an inoffensive manner, he was only too glad of the proffered help, and was then told that there was no need to repay the money, as it was a gift.
Rabbi Tanchuma, son of R. Cheya, laid. it down as a maxim that it is man's duty, when he becomes aware of any one having come down in the world, to consider the best means of helping him as quickly as possible. He himself would never purchase anything for his household without, at the same time, providing an equal quantity for the poor.
When the poor stand at your door, remember that their Maker stands at their right hand (Ps. cix.), and consider it a high privilege for you to help them.
It is man's duty to keep his body in a state of cleanliness, as well as to keep his soul in a state of purity. Hillel, when going to bathe, used to tell his pupils that he was going to do a godly deed. Once his pupils ventured to ask for an explanation. "Have you not observed," said he to his disciples, "how the caretakers in the theaters and other public places always wash the statues and keep them clean? If then such care is bestowed on inanimate sculptures, the works of man, it must surely be a holy duty scrupulously to clean the handiwork and masterpiece of God."
The works of the wicked are darkness (Isa. xxix. 15), and their retribution is darkness (Ezek. xxxi.): like a pot of earthenware whose cover is of the same material.
The tribe of Levi took no part in the making of the golden calf, and, moreover, punished the offense of the others (Exod. xxxii.). They were therefore set apart for the service of God, and were not to be numbered in common with the rest of the people.
The tribe of Levi then was not to be numbered with the people. A great king had many legions, a census of which was necessary, but amongst them was one legion known as the king's body-guard. His mandate, therefore, was to separate his own body-guard from the ordinary legions and not to count them together, since these were exclusively for the service of the king. Thus the people were counted by themselves (Numb. ii. 33) and the Levites by themselves (Numb. iii. 14).
If the Gentiles would only consider how beneficial the temple of Jerusalem was to them they would have ornamented and guarded it. At the consecration of that temple we find the following prayer offered by King Solomon: "Moreover, a stranger that is not of thy people Israel, but cometh out of a far country for thy name's sake, when he shall come and pray toward this house, bear thou in heaven, thy dwelling-place, and do according to all that the stranger calleth to thee for, that all the people of the earth may know thy name, and fear thee, as do thy people Israel" (1 Kings viii. 41, 42).
Mark, then, that to the Israelites' prayer there is a condition attached for the granting thereof. For the prayer of Solomon proceeds: "Then, hear thou from heaven, thy dwelling-place, and forgive, and render unto every one, according unto all his ways, whose heart thou knowest" (2 Chron. vi. 30).
There is a condition for the fulfilment of the Israelites' prayer, but to the prayer of the stranger or non-Jew no condition is attached, and Solomon prays that the Lord may grant his prayer unconditionally.
Potiphar, frequently observing Joseph moving his lips (in prayer), demanded one day an explanation of this (to him) strange conduct. When told by Joseph that he was praying to his God, he asked him to let him see that God. Joseph invited him outside, and told him to look up at the glaring sun, which, of course, Potiphar was unable to do. "This," said Joseph, "is one of my God's messengers. How can you, then, hope to look at the great Master when you are unable to look at one of his servants?"
The world was like a wilderness before the Exodus and the giving of God's behests on Sinai.
The Israelites were the first to introduce national flags.
Since Israel was consecrated to the service of God and the Divine Glory was to dwell in the Mishkan which they erected, it was but proper that they should have also their banners. Each tribe had to have colors on its banner corresponding to the colors of the precious stones which were on Aaron's breast-plate.
The banner of Reuben was red, and in the center a painted mandrake. That of Simeon was green, and in its center it had the picture of Shechem. That of Levi had a tricolor, one stripe of white, one of black, and one of red, and in the center it carried the picture of the Urim and Tumim. Judah's banner had the color of the sky, and in the center the picture of a lion.
Issachar's banner was blackish, and had in the center the picture of the sun and the moon. Zebulun had a whitish banner, which carried the picture of a ship in the center. Dan's banner had the color of sapphire, and an image of a serpent in its center. Gad's was a mixture of black and white, and carried the picture of a camp. Naphtali's had the peculiar color of a pale reddish wine, and the picture in its center was that of a hind. Asher's banner bore the color of a precious stone, the ornament of a woman, and the picture of an olive-tree in the center. The color of Joseph's banner was of a deep black, and had the following pictures: Egypt, then an ox representing Ephraim, and a unicorn to represent Manasseh. Benjamin's banner had some of the colors of each tribe, i.e., twelve different colors, and the picture of a wolf in the center.
Moses was much perplexed in trying to arrange the positions which the tribes should take up with their banners, as he was anxious to avoid jealousy amongst them. If, thought he, I tell Reuben, for instance, to take his position in the east, he might say the south would suit him better, and so on. But he was spared the ordeal, for the tribes had it clearly arranged at their father's death-bed how they should take up their respective positions when they should go out to bury him.
When Jacob was dying, says Rabbi Chuma, son of Chananiah, he assembled his sons (Gen. xlix.) and charged them to live a godly life and to take upon themselves the kingdom of heaven. Having finished this charge, he made arrangements with them concerning his burial. He would not have any of their children (who had Canaanite mothers) nor any of the Egyptians concern themselves with his funeral, but the sons should prepare everything and follow him to his grave in the manner following: Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun should take up their position on the east; Reuben, Simeon, and Gad on the south; Asher and Naphtali on the north. Joseph should not carry the corpse (therefore his sons were permitted to do so), for he was a king and they must pay him deference. Levi should not carry the coffin, for he was destined to carry the Ark of God and to be separated for holiness. "And," said Jacob, "as I now arrange with you as to your respective positions at my burial, so shall it be arranged when the Lord causes his Shechinah to dwell in the midst of you in your journey with your flags."
Regarding the four winds of heaven, from the east cometh out light for the world; therefore Judah, who represents sovereignty, Issachar the pattern of learning, and Zebulun, who represents navigation and commerce, dwelt with their flags on the east side, and were the leaders in the journey. The west sends forth snow, hail, heat, and cold. From the south come beneficent dew and beneficent rains; and from the north comes darkness. On the south therefore was Reuben, who represents repentance, bringing forth God's mercy and compassion: he was accompanied by Gad, the type of a troop which he shall overcome; and Simeon was in their center, because Simeon requires strength and mercy to be his shelter, and that is obtained by repentance. They--those three mentioned--were second in the journey, showing that repentance is second to the Torah only. When those two parties with their banners were arranged, the Levites came forth carrying the Mishkan. On the west thereof were placed Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh, being able to weather the snow and hail. Dan, the followers of Jeroboam, who darkened Israel with two golden calves which he erected, took his place on the north, and was joined by Asher, who was to bear light to Dan's darkness, and by Naphtali, who was blessed with plenty. These were the last in the journey with the banners.
"Thus shall be thy seed" (Gen. xv. 5), was the blessing of God unto Abraham. A traveler being a long time on his journey without finding any shelter, or any wholesome water, or a shady tree under which to take his rest, all at once beheld, at a short distance, a large tree. On nearing it he found, to his delight, that not only had the tree extensive branches, affording him shade against the scorching sun, but the ground around it was very clean and fit for him to lie down to rest; its fruit was sweet and exceedingly palatable, and near it there flowed a brook of pure wholesome water, of which he partook to his delight. Having appeased his hunger with the delicious fruit, quenched his thirst with the beautiful water, and rested his aching limbs, he now rose to proceed on his journey. Gazing up at the noble tree, he exclaimed, "What shall I bless thee with? That thy branches shall be extensive? Such is already the case. That thy fruit shall be good and the water round about thee sweet and pure? That is already thy portion. I can only bless thee with this, that all the trees planted from thy seed may be as noble in every respect as thou art." Thus God said to Abraham: "I can not bless thee with faith, for that thou already hast, nor with peace, charity, or good-will to man, for these virtues are already thine. 'Thus shall be thy seed' is the only blessing I can bestow on thee."
Israel is compared to sand (Gen. xxii.). Just as sand, if it gets into food, destroys the teeth, so if you touch Israel you will bring down calamity upon you (Jer. ii.). Just as sand going through fire becomes converted from a dull substance to a clear glass, so Israel going through the fire of persecution comes out brighter and clearer. Moreover, other nations are compared to lime (Isa. xxxiii. 12) and Israel to sand. As one can not build with lime unless it is mixed with sand, so the nations can not exist or flourish without Israel in the midst of them.
The Israelites are compared to stars, to dust, and to sand. There was a man who was efficient in three different handicrafts, a goldsmith, a potter, and a glassblower. Those who respected him alluded to him as the goldsmith; those who were indifferent to him called him the glassblower; and those who had contempt for him named him "the potter." Thus Moses, who loved his flock, calls them (Deut. i.) "the stars of heaven"; Hosea, who was indifferent to them, speaks of them as "the sand on the seashore"; and Balaam, who was their enemy, calls them "the dust of Jacob."
The Israelites are declared to be holy unto the Lord (Jer. ii. 3). It is forbidden to touch holiness, therefore those who persecute them will not escape retribution.
Nisson was the most suitable month, neither too hot nor too cold, nor a rainy month; therefore it was selected for the Exodus.
No one under thirty years of age was eligible for the office of priest.
A child born after seven months of pregnancy can live, but not one of eight months.
The Ark was the most precious of all that the Mishkan contained.
People might have had some misconception as to the holiness of incense and the Ark, were they not specially mentioned as very holy.
Though incense is connected with the death of Nadab and Abihu, and with the perishing of Korah and his associates, one must not conclude that its power was only for punishment, for it is mentioned also as having stayed the plague (Numb. xvii.). The holy Ark, too, was the means through which a host of Philistines and the men of Beth-Shemesh were killed; but one must not forget the blessings which it also brought (2 Sam. vi. 11, 12).
Hungation ( a heathen sage) called the attention of Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai to a discrepancy in the number of the Levites (Numb. iii.). Moses declares them to be 22,000, but when you count their number separately you find as follows: 7,500, 8,600, and 6,200, making a total of 22,300. "Hence," he said, "it is clear that your Moses was dishonest, or he was ignorant of elementary arithmetic." "God said," he proceeded, "that the first-born who outnumber the Levites (and consequently can not find Levites to redeem them) should redeem themselves by giving each five shekels, and the whole amount received was to be given to Aaron and his sons. In reality there were more than sufficient Levites to redeem the whole of the first-born, and there was no call for the latter to pay their shekels for redemption; but Moses, if he was able to count correctly, purposely gives the number of Levites as less than they actually were, in order that the (presumed) deficiency should cause a certain number of the first-born to pay five shekels each, which were to find their way into the pockets of Moses's brother and nephews."
The reply of R. Jochanan was: "Moses was neither dishonest nor ignorant of elementary arithmetic, but you, though you are able to read, are unable to think or to understand. When he counted the Levites simply to ascertain their number, there certainly were 22,300, but when he ascertained how many there were for the purpose of redeeming or replacing the first-born, 300 out of that number of Levites had to be excluded, inasmuch as they were (in addition to being Levites) also first-born and could not redeem themselves, and could not be counted, in that capacity, as Levites." The answer satisfied Hungation.
He that serves on God's altar must be free from haughtiness and false pride. Eleazar, the son of Aaron, styled "the chief over the chief of the Levites" (Numb. iii. 32), did not disdain to carry a vessel with oil in his right hand, one with incense in his left, and the daily meat-offerings hanging down from his girdle, and he would not allow any one else to carry them for him.
The infliction of stripes, given in the Torah, was not a severe punishment, and was, moreover, given in many instances in lieu of capital punishment, which the delinquent might have deserved besides. When the punishment had been inflicted there was to be no further reproach attached to the punished individual, but he was to be received in the community as a brother (Deut. xxv.).
Pedigrees are reckoned after the father's, not after the mother's side.
Unless one makes marked progress in his study and acquires very considerable knowledge within five years, he had better give up further attempts.
The badger, thahash, mentioned in Exod. xxxv. 23, was a unique creature with one born in its forehead, and it was unknown whether it belonged to the clean animals or the beasts of the field until Moses used its skin for the Mishkan, when it was known to belong to the clean kind of animals. It ceased to exist after its use for the Mishkan.
The word dukan, used for the priestly benediction, has its origin in the word Dux, frequently found in the Midrash, meaning "man of distinction"; and as this service was the function of the Priests--Duche--it took its name from the men performing it.
David in saying (Ps. xxxiii.) "The eyes of the Lord are over those who fear him, who hope for his loving-kindness," alludes to the tribe of Levi, who had no share in the division of the seven nations, and no earthly heritage, but are servants on the altar of God.
The malady of leprosy was incurred by those who were guilty of either adultery, idolatry, murder, profaning God's name, profane language, haughtiness, robbery, lying, perjury, slander, or unduly intruding in another man's sphere.
When the king dies, long live the king. When the wise man dies it is not always an easy matter to replace him.
The nature of the work which the Israelites had to perform in Egypt maimed many of them, but when they stood at the foot of Sinai to receive the Decalogue all were cured; there was not one of them either blind, deaf, lame, or with any other defect.
At the giving of the Ten Commandments the whole house of Israel, without distinction of tribes, were alike willing and ready to take upon themselves the burden of the Law. "All the people together answered and said," etc. (Exod. xix.); but the whole of Israel soon after became unfaithful, and the one tribe only, that of Levi, kept steadfast to God's behests and proved themselves worthy of his service.
God bestowed three virtues on Israelites by which they may always be known. An Israelite is to be compassionate, merciful, and modest.
"God loveth the righteous" (Ps. cxlvi.). This expression has special reference to those of the righteous who are not priests or Levites. Priests and Levites inherit their dignity, and are spoken of as "a house," e.g., "the house of Aaron," or "the house of Levi," but righteousness is not hereditary, there is no "house of righteousness"; it comes spontaneously to good and worthy men.
"The Lord preserveth the strangers." The proselytes who embrace Judaism are kept steadfast in their faith by God himself, and are in every respect like a Jew born. love is granted to Israel (Obad. i.): the same gift is bestowed on them (Deut. x.). Songs are given to Israel (Isa. xli.), and also given to them (Isa. lvi.). Preservation is promised to Israel (Ps. cxxi.), and preservation is promised to them.
Sincere converts to Judaism, who seek shelter under the wings of the Shechinah, and worship only the one Holy God, and Jews of a blameless character, pay by their lives a tribute of honor to God.
When the Gibeonites asked for Joshua's help (Josh. x.) he was disinclined to inconvenience his own people to afford assistance to what he termed "these strangers," but he was reminded that he himself was the offspring of one who was an alien in Egypt, Joshua being a descendant of Joseph.
An Arabian prince complained to Rabbi Akiba against his wife, who, being an Arabian woman, gave birth to a perfectly white child. The Rabbi, who was always anxious to establish good and friendly relations among men, especially among those who should live in peace and in harmony, knowing the beams on the ceiling in the Arabian's house to be dazzling white, mentioned Jacob's contrivance of obtaining speckled sheep, and pointed out that the phenomenon of his child might be due to the extreme whiteness of his ceiling at which the princess gazed.
Of the many that go to sea most return, only a small percentage are lost. Also of those who plunge into the sea of matrimony most are happy, and only a small number are misalliances.
Most of the many misdeeds which man is liable to commit he can to some extent redeem--such as theft, fraud, etc.; but adultery never. The man who seduces another man's wife is beyond redemption.
"Thy camp shall be holy" (Deut. xxiii.). This is Moses's warning against adultery when going to war, as God would remove his presence from their midst if there were adulterers in their camp.
However the Israelites in Egypt may, by reason of their slavery, have gone astray, they kept themselves pure from sexual vice.
It is not judicious to lodge in the same house with any woman--even with wife, daughter, or sister--if the relationship is not known to the people of the place; for the world is slanderously inclined.
He that sanctifies himself here will receive sanctification from on high.
In man's intellect there seems to be four degrees, and thus we find him losing his wits by four several degrees when indulging in strong drink. When a man drinks one-fourth more than is good for him, he loses one-fourth of his intellect; when he indulges in as much again, half of his faculties are for the time paralyzed; after the third cup over and above what is good for him, he begins to speak incoherently, indeed, he knows not what he says; and when he has indulged in the full four parts he is intellectually wrecked.
Where wine goes in, intellect comes out, as well as secrets.
Israel will have her kingdom restored to her.
See what an excess of wine did in the world. Noah came out of the Ark with his three sons, his wife and their wives, who composed the human family of the world; and a fourth of this he cursed in consequence of his indulgence.
Intoxicants lead to fornication.
Wine was given to a criminal sentenced to death, before the execution, to mitigate his sorrow.
"And I have separated you from other nations that you shall be mine" (Lev. xx. 26). The Jew is indeed unique in many respects. In his plowing, sowing, reaping, shearing, and threshing, in his first-fruits and liquids he has laws which teach him charity and unselfishness. And in his very appearance, as to his hair, etc., and in his reckoning of time, in all this he is separated.
There is a different proceeding in picking out the bad from the good, or vice versâ. If one wishes to separate the bad from the good, one usually does it in one attempt; whilst if the good are picked out from the bad one is, as a rule, not satisfied with one attempt, for one is eager to find more and more of the good, and so reverts to seeking out more, in the hope of finding what is worth selecting. Thus the Holy One, blessed be he! in selecting Israel from the heathen, is continually looking forward for more of other nations to be brought under the wings of the Shechinah.
Intemperance of the Ten Tribes was the cause of their captivity.
When the prophets went forth on their mission the Holy Spirit rested upon them, and awed their audience, and inspired them with respect for the prophets.
The laws concerning the Nazirite are placed near the priestly blessings because he who debars himself from partaking of strong drink may look forward for the blessing of grace and peace which the priests pronounce.
It would seem strange that, although God told Abraham, "In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Gen. xii. 8), yet we do not find Abraham blessing his own sons. But in his pure and simple faith Abraham left this to God himself, arguing that one son of his (Ishmael) might perhaps be unworthy of God's blessings. "I am but flesh and blood"--or dust and ashes--as he was wont to say, "and can not decide so weighty a matter; when I am gone hence let the Lord do what seemeth good in his eyes." And after the death of Abraham we find that the Lord blessed his son Isaac (Gen. xxv. 11), and this blessing Isaac bestowed on Jacob, and the latter on his sons.
It is the priest's function to bless the people in the name of the Lord, and the Lord blesses the priests.
Consider the great value of peace. Peace was the reward Abraham received for his faith and righteousness (Gen. xv.). It was all that Jacob prayed for (Gen. xxviii.). The reward of Aaron was a covenant of peace (Mal. ii.); the same was the reward of Phineas (Numb. xxv. 12). The Torah could receive no higher dignity than that all its paths are peace (Prov. iii.). Jerusalem is comforted with peace (Isa. xxxii.). On the other band, when Ammon and Moab incurred retribution they were to be deprived of peace (Deut. xxiii.). When Israel receives the priestly benediction, it is that of peace.
In pronouncing the priestly benediction, the Cohanim are to place themselves before the Ark with the whole congregation fronting them. The blessing can have no effect on any one behind them. The Cohanim are to form their hands in the shape of a window. The first part of the benediction, "The Lord bless and keep thee," refers to childhood, which requires keeping (care). The second portion, "Give thee grace," refers to manhood, to intercourse with the world; and the last part, "Grant thee peace," to declining years.
The truth of the Torah is a weapon to its possessor.
The ninety-first Psalm was composed by Moses.
If any one tells you that there is no such thing as resurrection, refer him to what one of God's servants (Elijah) did (1 Kings xvii.). If one says God does not receive the penitent, show him the case of Manasseh (2 Chron. xxxiii.). If a man asserts that one who is known as a barren woman will never bear children, remind him of Hannah (1 Sam. ii.). If you are told God does not deliver from the waters, cite Moses (Exod. ii.); if that he does not save from fire or wild beasts, mention Daniel (Dan. iii. and vi.); if that he does not heal leprosy, remind him of Naaman.
It is prohibited to add to the canon of the Bible, consisting of twenty-four books.
There were many features in the life of Joseph remarkably similar to those of his father. Jacob's mother was for a time barren; so was Joseph's. Jacob's mother had two sons only; so had Joseph's mother. Jacob's brother sought his life; so did Joseph's brothers. Again, each went from Palestine to a foreign land, each had children born in a foreign country, the fathers-in-law of each were blessed for the sake of their sons-in-law; both Jacob and Joseph went to Egypt; each made his brothers swear to keep the promise made to him; each was embalmed, the bones of each were taken away from Egypt, etc. Hence the Scripture has it, "There are the generations of Jacob," and follows at once with Joseph instead of with Reuben, who was the eldest.
"I have made thee a god to Pharaoh," said the Lord to Moses: a god to Pharaoh, but not a god.
"No man shall see me and live," said God (Exod. xxxiii.). Not in this earthly life, but in the higher life.
God, notwithstanding the various injunctions concerning light (Exod. xxvii., Lev. xxiv. and Numb. xv.), requires no light from man. There is no darkness with him (Ps. cxxxix. and Dan. ii.).
Man's eyes have white and black in them; but the power of sight, the lens supplying light, is the black.
The respect and honor due to one's teacher, and indeed to learned men in general, include the following: not to stand or sit in the place he has temporarily vacated, not to contradict anything he says, not to interrupt him whilst he speaks; to put any question you may have to put to him with marked respect, and to reply to anything he asks of you without frivolity.
Man's eyes and his heart prompt him to sin.
Four sorts of men may be termed wicked men: one who threatens personal violence, one who borrows and refuses to pay, he who is abusive to another and has no remorse when his temper has cooled down, and he who causes strife and ill-feeling among his fellows.
Aaron's staff (Numb. xvii. 23) was the one Judah had (Gen. xxxviii. 18), and this same staff was afterward in possession of every king of Israel until the destruction of the temple, when it was lost; but it will be restored to the hands of King Messiah.
When the Jews in the wilderness were bitten by the serpent, and they confessed their sin, they were at once forgiven. This illustrates the efficacy of repentance, and teaches us, moreover, the wholesome lesson not to tyrannize over one who has offended but expressed regret for it.
So great was King Solomon's wisdom that by merely looking at any one he could tell whether that person had a fatal disease. When he once sent to the king of Egypt for skilful masons to build the temple, Pharaoh selected a number of sick men and sent them to Solomon. When Solomon saw them he detected a fatal disease in every one of them. He supplied the men with shrouds and sent them back to Pharaoh with a letter stating that he concluded that there were no shrouds in Egypt for the men Pharaoh sent, so he had furnished them with the necessary apparel and sent them back. They died shortly after.
If you have not acquired knowledge, what can you claim to be possessed of? If you have knowledge, what do you lack?
He who refuses to accept an apology from one who has offended him is wicked.
Let not the nations of the earth say that God has favored Israel and neglected them, for whatever benefit he bestowed on Israel was given also to other nations. Solomon was a great king of Israel; so was Nebuchadrezzar a great king. David was wealthy; so was Haman. Moses was very great, and so was Balaam. But let us see what use the men of Israel made of their gifts, and how those of the other nations abused their gifts.
Solomon employed his wisdom to build that great temple which was the admiration of mankind, to compose hymns of praise to God, to write books of moral lessons and instruction for the world; Nebuchadrezzar used his gifts for debauchery, revelry, and oppression. David used his wealth to the glory of the Giver; Haman offered his wealth to have a nation destroyed. Moses, the meek and the good, only lived for the good of others, and stood always in the breach between a sinning people and an offended God; Balaam was in feverish haste and anxiety to curse a people without having received the slightest provocation.
Further, all Hebrew prophets were concerned about the welfare of other nations as well as of Israel. Jeremiah bewailed the calamity of Moab (Jer. xlviii.); Ezekiel laments the sorrows of Tyrus (Ezek. xxvii.); and Isaiah is full of grief for the reverses of other nations. God had granted his Holy Spirit to non-Israelites, but they were found wanting.
The angel who stood in the way of Balaam with a sword in his hands could have effected his purpose without a drawn sword. Do we not find that the angel of the Lord slew in one night Sennacherib and his army without any weapon? (Isa. xxxvii.). But he showed Balaam how perverse he was, in that he sought to reverse the order of things. Isaac's blessing to Jacob was that his power should be with his mouth (prayer), and to Esau he gave the power of the sword; whereas now Balaam was going to assume the power of Jacob: so the angel showed him his legal and rightful weapon, the sword; he showed him also the weapon by which he was to lose his life.
In the matter of Zelophehad's daughters, there arises first the question why, out of all the difficult matters that Moses had to decide and adjust, this one should have so perplexed him that he submitted it to God. Again, as soon as he received the judgment which he was to pronounce, we find him praying for the appointment of his successor, whilst he was yet, so to say, in the midst of his work. The fact is that Zelophehad's daughters had, as was the custom) in the first instance put the matter of complaint before the princes of ten, then before those of fifty; and when they hesitated to pronounce judgment it was referred to those of a hundred, who referred them to Moses. Moses, in his meekness, seeing that it had been before the several courts, none of which would give its decision, thought it would be arrogance on his part to consent tacitly to be a higher authority than the several princes who had the matter before them, and so he submitted it to God. Seeing by the decision of the Most High that children, including daughters in the absence of sons, had to inherit their fathers' estates, and knowing that his sons were unqualified for his estate, viz., the leadership of the Israelites, he prayed now for a successor to himself, and the Lord told him that his mantle would fall on Joshua, his faithful disciple.
He who causes his fellow man to sin is worse than he who seeks a man's life. The Egyptians pursued the Israelites with the sword (Exod. xv.), Edom threatened them with the sword (Numb. xx.): yet the Israelites were told not to despise an Egyptian or an Edomite (Deut. xxiii.). But Ammon and Moab, who prompted the Israelites to sin, were excluded from coming into the fold of Israel, even unto the tenth generation (Deut. xxvi.). Further, the Israelites were told, when going out to war, to offer peace first when approaching a town; but not so with the Midianites, whom they were commanded to attack and smite.
Moses declared (Exod. iv.) that he was not a man of words, but observe his eloquence in the book of Deuteronomy; an eloquence acquired since he gained possession of the Torah.
The rebukes which the Israelites received from Moses would seem to have been more appropriately given by Balaam, and Balaam's blessings would, it seems, have been more fittingly uttered by Moses. But the admonition, if it had come from Balaam, would have had no effect upon the Israelites, who would naturally have concluded that they were the result of his animosity. If, again, Moses had spoken those blessings and words of praise, others would have belittled them as emanating from the warm friendship of the warm-hearted Moses. But Moses's rebukes could not have failed to be laid to heart by the Israelites, coming from such a tried friend; and Balaam's blessings could by no means be construed by others as arising from partiality to the chosen people.
The proper qualification of a judge is the possession of the following virtues: he must be an able man, God-fearing, a man of truth, free from covetousness, a wise man, a man of understanding, and known amongst his people. If no such man can be found for the position, then one not the happy possessor of all the qualities enumerated may be chosen.
God has a seal, and his seal is truth.
A community rejecting the leadership of the great and selecting as its leaders insignificant individuals can only be compared to the serpent which decided to creep along tail foremost, in consequence of which it was hurt by thorns, burned by fire, and injured by water; a community should not be led by one man only. Moses himself confessed his inability to lead single-handed.
In futurity the righteous will stand on a higher level than angels.
If sorrows overtake you, receive them with fortitude and resignation.
In reply to his disciples who asked how far honoring of parents should go, Rabbi Eliezer the Great related to them that a man named Douma, whose mother's mind was demented, so that she took a delight in grossly insulting him in public, had invariably only these words to answer her: "Enough, mother." This same man was the possessor of some valuable precious stones, some of which men from Ashkelon came to purchase of him, to replace some which had fallen out and been lost from the priest's breast-plate.
When he looked for the box containing the precious stones, he found that his father lying down in sleep had his feet on the little box. He declined to disturb his father's sleep, and would not bring out the jewels to show to the would-be purchasers. They, thinking that a big price would induce him to part with the stones, and knowing them to suit the purpose for which they wanted them, offered him a much larger price than was their value. Whilst they were arguing the father woke up; and when the men wanted to pay the son the increased price spontaneously offered, he refused to accept more than the original price, on the ground that the increase of the money offered was due to their belief that he would not part with the jewels for the figure they first named, whereas in reality he would not show them the stones because by so doing he would have had to disturb his father, and he wanted no payment for filial duty.
There were several incidents which brought about the redemption from Egypt. (1) There was the Israelites' distress (Exod. ii. 23). (2) They supplicated God, which means repentance on their part. (3) There was the covenant with their fathers, which God remembered. (4) There was God's compassion. (5) The end of their captivity had arrived.
And the same will be the reasons of the last redemption. (1) Because of the sorrow Israel will find himself in; (2) because of repentance; (3) God's mercy; (4) he will remember the covenant of the Patriarchs, etc.
The word "prayer" is a very, wide term, and may mean prayer properly so called, or beseeching, crying, sighing, pleading, supplication, or petition. It can also be applied to adoration, praise, and exaltation. It requires discrimination in its use. Thus we find that Job, the most righteous amongst non-Jewish prophets, had not employed the best phrases in its exercise. The words he used are: "I would order my cause before him and fill my mouth with argument" (Job xxiii. 4).
Contrast this with the manner of prayer adopted by Moses and Isaiah. The former tells his people, "I besought the Lord" (Deut. iii. 23). Isaiah commenced his prayer with the words, "O Lord, be gracious unto us; we have waited for thee" (Isa. xxxiii. 2).
There is no time fixed when one can say he expects his prayer to be answered; we have indeed no claim on God's mercy, and must leave the answering of our prayers to God's own good time. Moses, for instance, was answered after praying for forty days (Deut. ix. 25). Daniel's prayer was heard after twenty days (Dan. x. 3). Jonah was answered after the lapse of three days (Jon. ii.), Elijah in one day (1 Kings xviii. 37). David, on occasions, received answers to his prayers as soon as he prayed (Ps. lxix. 14); and there is an answering to prayer even before the petition is sent up heavenward (Isa. lxv. 24).
Moses could not understand why his craving to enter the land of promise, to lay his bones there, should not be satisfied, since Joseph had his wish granted and had his bones taken up and buried in Palestine. He was supplied with a tangible reason. Joseph, he was told, in all his vicissitudes never denied his race or his country, but, on the contrary, seems to have felt a pride in calling himself a Hebrew; so that it was but fitting that he should have his sepulcher in the land of which he was so proud. With Moses it was different. He posed as an Egyptian--Jethro's daughters mentioned him as an "Egyptian man," and thereby he forfeited his right to have his resting-place in a country which he did not acknowledge.
Consider the immeasurable distance from us of what we know as God's dwelling-place, the heavens; yet how near he is to us when we call upon him.
"What is the meaning," R. Samuel, son of Nachman, was asked, "of David praying to God to hear him in an acceptable time?" "The gates of prayer," replied the Rabbi, "may sometimes be closed, in contradistinction of the gates of repentance, which are never closed."
"There seems to be more than one Creator," said a skeptic to Rabbi Samuel. "Is it not written 'in the beginning Elohim (the plural) created heaven and earth'? Further, 'Let us make man in our likeness.'" "Do you find it said," returned the sage, "they created, or are we told they saw or they said, or that man was formed in their image? In each instance you find the singular, and the 'Elohim' is applied to him in whom is combined all power and all might."
People are prone to imitate their superiors and their teachers, hence the great and serious responsibility of religious teachers as to their conduct. There can be no greater injury to religion than that its teachers should disregard its teachings.
"I have created some things in pairs," says God, "such as heaven and earth, the sun and the moon, Adam and Eve, male and female in all animals, this life and the future life; but I am One." He that proclaims the absolute unity of God proclaims the kingdom of heaven.
In vain have you acquired knowledge if you do not impart knowledge to others.
God filleth the world, and the human soul filleth the human body. God supports the world, and the soul supports the body. God is unique in the world, the soul is unique in the body. God neither sleepeth nor slumbereth; the soul neither sleepeth nor slumbereth. God is pure, the soul is pure. God seeth and can not be seen; the soul seeth and can not be seen. Let the soul, which so far possesses the attributes of the Lord, praise and worship the Lord.
Let no man be deterred from repenting by knowing the great depth of his sin. Let him bear in mind that he does not come to a stranger but to his heavenly Father.
When the Rabbis Eliazar, Joshua, and Gamaliel lived in Rome, a mandate went forth that no Jew should be suffered to live after the lapse of thirty days after the decree. Amongst the ministers of State was one devotedly attached to the Jews and Judaism (in secret). He informed Rabbi Gamaliel of the decision before it was made public, at the same time telling the Rabbi of his confidence that the great God of Israel would frustrate this evil decree. Returning home from his private interview with Rabbi Gamaliel, he informed his wife (who also was devoted to Jews and Judaism) of the decision arrived at concerning the destruction of the Jews, which was to be carried out in a few days. As there was no other way out of the difficulty she advised her husband to commit suicide by means of poison, which, at that time, it was the practise of the Romans to carry in the hollow of their signet-rings for use in case of emergency. This advice was based on the fact that among the Romans, when the fixed time for the carrying out of a decree had elapsed, the decree was no longer in force; and as it was also customary to observe thirty days of mourning for the death of any statesman, during which time no steps could be taken for the carrying out of a newly enacted law, the law would, through the death of the statesman and the subsequent mourning, become, at all events for a time, inoperative, if not entirely obsolete. This advice the statesman followed: he sucked out the poison concealed in the hollow of his ring, thirty days of mourning were proclaimed and observed, the decree lapsed and was not enacted. On further inquiry by the Rabbis it was found that the late statesman had secretly undergone circumcision and had been (in secret) a devout convert to Judaism.
The phrase which we have in our ritual, "Blessed be his name, whose glorious kingdom is forever and ever," Moses brought down from heaven, where he heard these words from the angels when worshiping the Lord. We therefore utter this praise silently, being unworthy to use the praise which angels employ in their worship of God. On the Day of Atonement, however, when we shut the door to the outer world, when we strive after holiness, when indeed it is with us a day on which we are meant to be one with God, then we are like angels, and we are permitted to proclaim these words aloud.
Marriage conventions and agreements are not to be arranged without the consent of both parties to the contract, and the man is to pay the costs.
Sabbath observance outweighs all other commandments.
As patterns of honesty we have Rabbi Pinchas ben Joeer and Rabbi Simeon ben Shotoch. With the former, when he lived in a certain town in the north, two men deposited two bushels of barley and left the place. As they did not return for some time, and he feared that the barley would spoil, he used it for sowing, sold all the crops that grew from it, and put away the proceeds of the sale. When the men returned, after a considerable time, he handed them quite a little fortune, the proceeds of the grain they had left with him. R. Simeon ben Shotoch bought a camel of an Ishmaelite. It was the custom of the Ishmaelites to hang a strap studded with precious stones round the necks of their camels, and in this instance the Ishmaelite forgot to remove the strap before handing over the camel to the purchaser.
When his pupils saw the trinkets on the camel's neck, they greatly rejoiced at their master's good fortune, of which he did not seem to be aware. They received a deserved rebuke from the good man, who said, "I bought the camel and not the jewels; they belong to the Ishmaelite, and to him they shall be restored."
The Torah and righteousness are held in the right hand of the Lord. "From his right hand went a fiery law for them" (Deut. xxxiii. 2). "Thy right hand is full of righteousness" (Ps. xlviii. 11).
Having clamored for a king, the Jews learned to their cost the great advantage of theocracy. Saul caused many of them to fall by the sword of the Philistines (1 Sam. iv.). Through David's act many of them perished by the plague (2 Sam. xxiv). Ahab caused drought to visit them (1 Kings xvii.). Zedekiah brought about the destruction of the temple. When they saw the baneful effects of human administration, they supplicated for God's reign as before (Isa. xxxiii.), and the Lord promised to be again their king (Zech. xiv.).
Justice is one of the supports of God's throne.
When no justice is done here below, it will be executed from above.
To do justice and righteousness is more acceptable to God than sacrifices (Prov. xxi. 3). Sacrifices were in vogue only while the temple was in existence, but justice and righteousness must exist with and without the temple. Sacrifices atoned only for sins committed in error, not for presumptuous sin: justice and righteousness atone for all sins.
All men alike, both those who know the living God and those who know him not, lose their lives, one may say, when they sleep; but God in his goodness restores their lives to all alike.
When Nathan the prophet brought to David the message that he was not to build God's house, he prayed for his own speedy death, so that the building of God's house might be expedited, but God said that he should live out his allotted time (2 Sam. vii.), because righteousness and justice, which David practised, were more acceptable to God than the building of the temple and the offering of sacrifices.
The great Rabbi Meier, renowned for his learning and eloquence, was in the habit of holding discourses on Friday evenings previous to divine service. These discourses commanded very large audiences, containing as they did a word in season for all classes of the community. The rich were exhorted to charity and compassion, the poor to hope and courage, employers to mildness and forbearance, and employees to fidelity and obedience. Parents carried away advice as to the training of their children. Teachers were impressed with the necessity of patience and endurance; and pupils were exhorted to obedience and diligence. Wives--for whose benefit especially the discourses were held--were taught the duties which are essential to make husbands and homes happy.
Amongst the women in the audience was one who had the misfortune to have a jealous husband. As soon as the sermon was over she hastened home, only to find the house in darkness and her husband ablaze with wrath, demanding to know where she had been. "As you are aware, my dear husband," the wife replied, "I, like others, appreciate so much the sermons and advice of the good and wise Rabbi, that, when able to do so, I like to hear him, and always feel that I carry away some useful lesson." This little speech only intensified the foolish man's anger. "You shall not step over the threshold of my house," he cried, "without going to your beloved Rabbi and passing your hand over his face, or performing some other foolish act." The poor woman at first looked upon this ridiculous order as a foolish whim which would soon pass. Unfortunately the fool persisted in his folly, and the affair became known in the town, and could hardly have escaped the ears of Rabbi Meier himself. The neighbors prevailed upon the poor woman to comply with her husband's wish. When, however, she appeared with her neighbor before the Rabbi, her courage failed her, but the sage, pleading weak eyesight, a remedy for which it was alleged would be the passing of a hand over the eyes, induced the woman to do this, and then told her to go home and tell her husband of her compliance with his wish. To his pupils, to whom the Rabbi's conduct seemed strange, he explained that the good end of making peace between man and wife had justified this harmless subterfuge, since otherwise there would have been no peace for the poor woman.
Be not spiteful or revengeful, and do not harbor any wrong which you may have suffered at any one's hands. In spite of all the wrongs and sorrows the Egyptians have inflicted on Israel, God does not allow us to abhor an Egyptian.
Slander no one, whether brother or not your brother, a Jew or non-Jew.
The greater your talent the greater your responsibility.
"You are my sons," says God, "when you accept my behests."
Do not pray in the porch of the synagogue, but in the synagogue itself.
Although the study of the Torah is so earnestly demanded, yet it would seem preferable for one to remain in ignorance of it than to acquire knowledge thereof and set its teachings at naught. If a king had two gardeners, one an expert in his craft who raised beautiful trees only to hew them down, and the other less skilled but also less destructive, he would surely punish the former rather than the latter.
God says to Israel, "You are called my children, but you must take my law as your guide of life." It is as though a prince should ask his father to make it known throughout his kingdom that he is the king's son. The father tells him: "Clothe yourself in purple and put on your coronet; then all will know that you are my son."
Joseph's bones, which were brought up from Egypt, were buried by the children of Israel in Shechem (Jos. xxiv. 32) because they sold him in Shechem. (Gen. xxvii.). When, thieves have stolen a cask of wine, the owner might well say to them: You have stolen the wine, the least you can do is to take back the empty cask to the place whence you took it.
The Torah is not in heaven, nor with those who occupy their time in studying the heavenly bodies.
Rabbi Samuel was a great astronomer, but devoted only his spare moments to the study of astronomy.
By saying that the Torah is not in heaven, Moses meant to convey that there is no other Torah to come thence to supersede this Torah, and there is no other man to come and bring another Torah from heaven.
If you are anxious not to forget the subject you study, then it is necessary to pass what you read through your lips, not merely to read the subject up. If you do not utter the words you read you will forget them.
Remember that whatever evil it may be possible to avert or delay, there is no such possibility with death. Death is no respecter of persons; against it there is no appeal, and after it there is no remedy, nor can you suggest a substitute such as your slave, nor can you plead for delay, saying that you are not quite ready to meet it, nor can you create anything to protect you from it.
One of the reasons why Moses called upon heaven and earth as witnesses (Deut. xxxiii.) is that by them the Torah was given (Deut. iv.).
Moses had more than one reason for addressing the heavens and the earth and calling them as witnesses. In the first place it should not be forgotten that Moses, whilst only a man, was a heavenly as well as an earthly man. He was no stranger to heaven, and if he had addressed himself to the earth only he would have been like one who, being made governor of a dominion, should address one part of the country under his charge and ignore the other. But there is a weightier reason, inasmuch as the heavens and the earth will not be indifferent spectators at Israel's redemption, but will sing and shout and break forth in singing (Isa. xliv. 33). Another important point: they were adjuncts at the giving of the Decalogue. Moreover, Israel had been compared to the stars of heaven and to the dust of the earth.
Moses, probably on account of his anxiety lest after his death the Israelites should go astray (Deut. xxxi. 29), prayed for everlasting life on earth. God said he could not gratify his wish, since in order to inherit the bliss of the future life he must give up earthly life.
The name of the angel who exercises in heaven the function of the usher of the court is Achazriel, the one who holds the position of secretary is Zagzuel, the chief of the Satanic ones is Smoel, and those fallen ones who became corrupted on seeing the beautiful daughters of man (Gen. vi. 2) are Uzoh and Azael.
Moses was greater than every one. Adam, the first man created in the image of God, one might be inclined to consider above Moses; but one has to remember how he used his dignified position: one could almost apply to him the words of the Psalmist, "Man that is in honor and understandeth not is like the beasts that perish" (Ps. xlix. 20). Then Noah might perhaps put in a claim, for he was saved by the Lord from the destructive flood. But remember that, though righteous enough to save himself, he could not save his generation of evil-doers; whereas Moses was able by his prayer to save hundreds of thousands of workers of iniquity from destruction. They might be compared to the captains of two sinking ships, one of whom manages to save himself, while the ship and all on it go to the bottom of the sea; whereas the other saves his ship and all on it. Abraham has at first sight, a good claim to tower above Moses, at all events in regard to hospitable disposition; but such is not the case in reality: for what Abraham was able to obtain and bestow in a settled place Moses obtained and supplied to the great multitude in the wilderness. Isaac, on account of his submission to be sacrificed, might perhaps be thought greater than Moses, but not if we bear in mind how willingly Moses offered to be annihilated himself rather than the flock he loved. Even physically Moses was superior, for whilst Isaac became blind in his old age, of Moses, at one hundred and twenty years of age, we are told that his eye was not dim nor his natural forces abated.
But then there is Jacob, who wrestled with an angel and prevailed over him; surely he is greater than Moses. But do not overlook the fact that Jacob contended with the angel where he was a stranger and Jacob was at home, whereas Moses went into the very home of the angels. There was never a man who possessed, like Moses, at one and the same time, such great and good qualities. He was a wise legislator, a great statesman, a skilful leader, a devout patriot, a tender friend, a pious priest, a most brilliant, and at the same time, a very meek, man.
Whether we consider his great meekness, his wisdom, his prudence, his chivalry, his forgiving spirit, his unselfishness, his freedom from envy, his gentleness of disposition, or the sweetness of his nature, he was above every one, and the one man qualified to bless Israel.
Heaven and earth wept at the death of Moses.
After King Solomon had ascended his father's throne, he called all his counselors together one day and addressed them as follows: "As the wise and distinguished men of the people, you can not but recognize that the time has now come when I have to discharge a deferred debt, which has been left to me as a legacy by my illustrious father, King David. It is the building of a temple to the glory and worship of the Most High God, which would gladly have been undertaken by my father were it not for the message he received through Nathan the Prophet that it was not to be he himself, but his son and successor, who should undertake the work.
"I now desire to discharge that holy duty and to erect a structure worthy of its exalted purpose, and consecrate it to Almighty God. The condition of things is propitious; peace rules supreme, there is no lack of ways and means, and Hiram of Tyre has, in fact, already received instructions to fell cedars in Lebanon, and marble and stone are also ready in abundance. But it requires your wise counsel to enable the building to proceed without the use of any iron. It would not be proper to employ an element of destruction in the erection of a structure which is to be dedicated to peace and harmony." At the end of the King's speech, the members of the Court looked at one another in perplexity for a while; then they began:
"Wise King and Ruler! Moses, our teacher of blessed memory, found himself in similar perplexity when he wanted to engrave the names on the Ephod, but the Spirit of God enlightened him, and he soon found the marvelous worm called 'Shomir,' which possesses the wonderful power of cutting by a touch the hardest object known. If, O Glorious King! you succeed in obtaining that wonderful insect, you will have no need of iron or any element of destruction in the erection of the house which you wish to consecrate to the Most High, God, and dedicate as the emblem of peace and harmony."
The King's countenance brightened at this information, and, lifting up his eyes heavenward, he said, "Verily, O God of Israel, thou hast granted wisdom and knowledge to my people Israel! You, my friends, have given me new life and fresh spirit. Now, can you tell me where the wonderful insect is to be found, so that I may have it brought and may utilize its power?" "That, mighty ruler," replied the wise men, "is beyond our ken, and we doubt whether it is within the knowledge of any mortal man. It is supposed that the 'Shomir' has its home in wild and desolate places which have never been traversed by human foot. We are therefore not able to comply with your wish, but if you have the advice of a male and a female demon who traverse those wastes, we doubt not that they will be able to throw more light on this dark mystery."
Solomon then sent to Sichon, the rendezvous of demons, had a male and a female demon brought before him, and addressed them as follows: "It is said of you that you have a knowledge of mysteries which we do not possess. Tell me, therefore, where I could obtain that wonderful insect known as 'Shomir'? "
They replied, "We are aware of the existence of the marvelous 'Shomir,' but are unable to give anything like a near description of its abode; that is only known to our king and great master, Ashmedai. He alone would be able to gratify your wish." "And," said Solomon, "where is the abode of your king and great master?" "His home," was the answer, "is on a high mountain, far, very far, from Jerusalem, in a lovely and beautiful spot. There he has a well filled with cold clear water, covered with a wooden slab, sealed with his seal. Every day he leaves his terrestrial abode and flies heavenward to hear the songs of the angels, who sing praises to the Great God.
"Being refreshed with the heavenly hymns, he searches through the heavens, and casts his eyes on the various spheres within his view, and toward evening he returns to his abode.
Arriving there, he looks carefully at the seal of his well to see that it has not been tampered with, and, finding it all right, he lifts the slab and refreshes himself with the cooling and refreshing liquid.
"More than this, O mighty King, we are not permitted to impart to you concerning our king and master." For a long time King Solomon allowed his eyes to wander about his great room, and at last fixed them on a youth amongst the assembly--a youth of powerful frame and lovely appearance, and with an expression of the most resolute and keenest spirit in his countenance.
"Benaihu, son of Jehoiada," exclaimed the King, "long have I known you as the most courageous in all my legions! See now what a magnificent opportunity there is offered to you to prove the truth of the opinion I have formed of you. Will you venture to bring Ashmedai as a captive to me, and by such heroic deed not only to make yourself a hero amongst your people, but to do a great service to the holy cause of your religion?" "I will venture," cried the youth, "any task your Majesty may honor me with," his eyes shining brightly with delight. "God be with you," said the King; "He knows that we do all this to glorify his name; may he guide you and bless your undertaking." Benaihu left the assembly, and at his orders a chain was given to him upon every link of which was engraved the unspeakable name of God in the Chaldean language. He also ordered for his journey a large quantity of lambs' wool, spades and shovels, and a pipe of the most exquisite wine of the vines of "Bal Hamon," a famous vineyard, the property of King Solomon.
Thus equipped, Benaihu started with a few followers on the perilous expedition. After a long and adventurous journey through the desert, he reached the lovely spot on the mountain which was the home of Ashmedai. On the top of the mountain grew a cluster of lovely palms, on which an eternal summer seemed to rest. At its foot ran a clear brook, teeming with fish of all sorts; on the slope of the mountain could be seen the well of the great Ashmedai, as described by the two demons.
Benaihu mused a long while, then he said to his followers: "My friends, we have now reached our destination, but not our aim. Now let us bear in mind that muscular power is now of no use to us when we have to deal with the master of demons, but God has granted us discernment and understanding, and with these divine gifts it should not be impossible to prevail over the mighty king of the demons. If only we contrive to empty his well of the water and fill it with the wine we have brought with us, then our task is an easy one; but to effect this is a formidable difficulty, because we must not lift the slab and break the seal, or we defeat our purpose."
He then commenced, during Ashmedai's absence, to dig a pit under the well, and connected the two by boring a small tunnel, so that the water from Ashmedai's well ran into the newly made pit, then he stopped up the small tunnel completely with the lambs' wool; then a similar pit was dug above the well, and also connected with Ashmedai's well. The wine was poured in here, and found its way into the well. After this he had every possible trace of the fresh digging removed, and ordered his companions to go away from the place, but he climbed up one of the many palm-trees, and sat there to watch events. When the shadows of the evening lengthened there was a fiery flush through the skies, and there came with it a monstrous creature with black wings, which gradually let itself down to the earth.
Ashmedai, for he it was, looked long on the seal of the well, and finding it untouched, broke it, lifted up the slab, and was about to refresh himself with the contents of the well. When he detected that it contained wine instead of the refreshing liquid which he had husbanded, he turned in disgust from it, exclaiming, "Wine is a mocker, and every intoxicant confuses the senses. No! your flattering sweetness shall not lead me astray; as well would I suffer the tortures of unquenched thirst as have your exquisite taste upon my palate." But after a while Ashmedai could not any longer withstand his craving for some liquid, if only to moisten his lips, and he said to himself, "If I only sip at the accursed stuff it will have no power over me. I will touch of it no more than is sufficient to moisten my burning tongue." He drank at first very sparingly, but it was very, very sweet, and it seemed to give him a brightness and freshness he had never experienced before. "Only a little, a very little more," he said, "not sufficient to overmaster me." But this very little was followed by few more "very littles," till he became quite intoxicated, and fell asleep. This was quite satisfactory to the concealed young hero, who, climbing down from his hiding-place, went cautiously forward until he reached the sleeping demon, over whose neck he threw the chain with the name of God engraved on every link.
Ashmedai slept till the early hours of the morning, when he found himself heavily fettered, scarcely able to turn round on his bed. He looked for heavy manacles, but found only a fragile chain round his neck, which he could not credit with such immense power. He tried his utmost to snap the frail thing, but without success.
He roared terribly, so that the very air was filled with the violent noise. "Oh set me free; who will set me free from this hellish burden?" "No one," came the answer from the hitherto hidden Benaihu; "all your efforts are fruitless; you are fettered, not indeed with iron manacles, only with a chain of softer metals, but that has the name of God engraved on it, and in the name of God you are my captive." Ashmedai, on hearing Benaihu's words, became quiet and resigned to his situation. One of Benaihu's men was ordered to take charge of him, and like a tamed lion he was led forth. Ashmedai's concealed courage exhibited itself now and then on the journey toward Jerusalem. As they passed one day a gigantic palm-tree, he asked for a rest under its shade, and when this was granted, he rubbed himself so violently, against it that it was uprooted. Thereupon he passed a hut, the property of a poor widow, and was about to demolish it, when the woman, seeing the giant about to lean against the frail walls of her home, prevailed upon him to spare her hut.
One day they met a blind man who became entangled amongst some bushes and could not find his way out. Ashmedai took the man by the hand, and led him out of his perplexed situation into the highway. So also they met a man in his cups, who was nearing a precipice into which he was about to fall, when his demoniac majesty hastened to get him out of danger's way and placed him in a safe road. They passed one day through a town where he heard a man calling out to a shoemaker, "Heda, friend, can you make me a pair of boots to last me seven years?" Ashmedai burst out laughing at this. They met also a wedding-party, with music accompanying them. Ashmedai wept. They saw a wizard sitting on a large stone telling a patronizing clientèle their future fate, and again Ashmedai laughed. Benaihu was curious to know the motives of the demon's conduct, but he could not be persuaded to explain himself, and said he reserved the explanation for King Solomon himself. When they arrived in Jerusalem, Benaihu brought his captive triumphantly before Solomon, who was sitting on his throne surrounded by his counselors and elders. At the entrance of Ashmedai they rose from their magnificent divans. Ashmedai, however, in great excitement and anger took a long staff, and marking round himself a space of four yards in circumference, and pointing to King Solomon, exclaimed, "Look at this man, a king of dust and ashes! When he dies, nothing will be his beyond a space of earth the size of which I have just marked out, yet he is not satisfied to have subjected all his neighbors and all the kingdoms as his tributaries, but he must needs try to wrench the scepter from the king of the spirits. Otherwise, why have you, O great King, brought such contempt and dismay upon me?" "Be not angry with me," returned Solomon, "king of spirits, and be assured that conquest is not the object of your captivity. It is a matter appertaining to the glory of my God, who is also your God. Tell me, then, where I can obtain the marvelous 'Shomir,' of which I have need to cleave the marble and stones for the House of God." "If that is the object," returned Ashmedai, pacified and reassured by Solomon's reconciling words, "then I willingly submit to my hard fate, and will also tell you where and how to obtain the much-sought 'Shomir.' The 'Shomir' belongs to the lord over all seas and waters, but he has entrusted it for safe keeping to a mountain-bird in the desert. This bird is to be found in the desert on a very steep, barren hill; there in a cliff it has bored out a hole, and keeps the 'Shomir,' which was created in the evening of the sixth day of creation, before the Sabbath was proclaimed."
The services of the young hero Benaihu were again called into requisition. Solomon addressed the youth with his wonted eloquence, referring to the services he had rendered in the past, and entertaining no doubt of the hero's willingness to render this consummate national service of obtaining the "Shomir," the reward for which his royal master would not bestow niggardly or grudgingly.
Benaihu replied by a profound bow before his Majesty, and left the palace to prepare at once for his hazardous journey. There is no need for details of the hardships the young hero had to encounter on his journey, where there was not a blade of grass, a drop of water, or a shade for shelter from the merciless rays of the scorching sun, nor is it necessary to relate all his adventures, and all the subtle designs adopted to wrest the "Shomir" from its guard. Suffice it to say that the hardships and adventures of our hero were rewarded by success, and the "Shomir" was at last in Jerusalem. Needless to say, there were great joy and festivity in the Holy City, and the work (which lasted seven years) now began in earnest, that of erecting, without iron or any other metal, a structure for the worship of the God of Israel--a structure which was the admiration of the world, and which has never been equaled in majesty and splendor.
Ashmedai, the mighty king of demons, was all these years held captive by Solomon in Jerusalem. He was very desirous to be informed by the chief of the demons concerning the mystic spheres, but during the building of the temple he was too much occupied with the sacred business to be able to spare time for anything else. After the consecration of the holy edifice, Solomon had Ashmedai brought before him, and explained the reason of his prolonged captivity, requesting him at the same time, first of all, to explain to him his inexplicable conduct whilst on the way to Jerusalem. "What, for in stance, prompted you to guide the blind man into safety, when he was entangled in a bush? Surely it could not have been compassion, a virtue to which a demon is a stranger?" Ashmedai replied, "That blind man is a most pious and righteous man, and I heard it proclaimed in the higher spheres that great reward should be his who should render that man a service."
"And why did you lead the drunken man into the road away from the precipice into which he was walking?" "That man," said Ashmedai, "is very wicked, and if he deserves any reward for ever having done anything but evil, he should receive it here on earth." "And what provoked your laughter when you heard a man inquire for boots to last him seven years?" "Simply," said the master of demons, "that the man had but seven days more on earth." "Why did you weep on meeting a bridal party with its music?" "Mighty King of Israel," exclaimed Ashmedai, "this very moment the last shred of flesh is gnawed off the bones of that bridegroom; he died five days after I met the wedding party." "Last of all," demanded Solomon, "what was the cause of your laughter on seeing the wizard with the people who consulted him" "Why should I not laugh when I saw a stupid person who professed to remove the veil of the hidden future, whilst he knew not that under the stone on which he was sitting there was hidden a kingly treasure?"
King Solomon now intimated by a gesture that he wished to be left alone with the king of the demons, and all his counselors, ministers, and high officials surrounding his throne left the palatial room. When the King was alone with Ashmedai he addressed him as follows: "The fact that I carefully excluded all my advisers from hearing what there is between us will have shown you that I have an important matter upon which I crave information from you. I therefore want you, O Ashmedai, whose power is infinitely above mine, because you know what is going on in the higher as well as in the lower spheres, to tell me my own future." Ashmedai betrayed a satirical smile and said, "It is perhaps not to be wondered at that a monarch as wise and mighty on earth as you are, who has acquired almost all the knowledge that it is possible for, a mortal man to possess, should long for knowledge of the supernatural from the region of the unseen; but I must advise you to desist from this ambition: it will not be of any use or pleasure to you." "No," insisted Solomon, "nothing will induce me to abstain from increasing my knowledge, for it is that, and not silver or gold, that I have set my heart upon." "If my advice is to no purpose," said Ashmedai, "I will proceed to open for you the hidden secrets, but it will be necessary to release me from the chain I had put round me when I was made captive, and you will, instead, have to give me the chain that adorns your Majesty's neck, and the ring with the name of God on it, which lies on the table before you."
Solomon did as suggested, took off his chain and put it on Ashmedai's neck, and placed the ring on his hand. Scarcely had the master of the demons closed his hand on the ring handed him by Solomon when a thunder-clap passed through the room which made the whole place vibrate. At the same moment Ashmedai seemed to have grown into a terrible giant, his eyes looked like two great gleaming fires, his arms extended to enormous proportions, and looked as though they would catch hold of the extreme ends of the earth. Solomon trembled at the sight, his heart seemed to stand still from terror, and he was about to call for help; but his whole body was paralyzed, his tongue refused its duty, and in the midst of this he was seized by Ashmedai by arm and neck and thrown into the air, and he became senseless. The men who had quitted the throne-room at King Solomon's bidding were all the time impatiently awaiting the summons back to their King and master, but they remained in the ante-room longer than they ever had to wait, when at last they received the glad tidings, and the monarch summoned them to his presence. They found, on entering the throne-room, King Solomon sitting as usual on his throne. They expressed their surprise at the absence of Ashmedai, whom they had left in the room on retiring, but no answer was vouchsafed to them. The King, however, took up the thread of conversation on the subject upon which he was consulting when they retired from the room. Yet they detected a marked change in the tone of the King's words, which lacked that mildness and gentleness for which the wise Solomon was so renowned.
Some of the ministers ventured to ask his Majesty for the reason of this change, but, instead of a reply, they received a sardonic laugh. It occurred to some of the wise men that this might not be King Solomon, but Ashmedai, the king of demons, who usurped their monarch's position; but who could give expression to that dreadful thought?
King Solomon had been thrown by Ashmedai no less a distance than four hundred miles from Jerusalem. For a long time he lay in the open field, unconscious; as consciousness returned and he opened his eyes, he took in the situation, but happily his wisdom had not failed, amongst his other great qualities, to bestow on him the habit of practising abstinence in the midst of his splendor, and he occasionally used to subject himself to actual hunger, and deprive himself of the necessaries of life, so as to cultivate the habit of wanting things and not having them.
He now made up his mind to face his great calamity in the best way possible, and resolved that, if need were, he would be bent, but not broken totally by it. As a beggar he traversed the land over which he had ruled with such splendor and power, and he was often thrown on the mercy of one of his humblest subjects. Yet in the midst of this great sorrow he proclaimed himself, wherever he came, the great "Koheleth," King of Jerusalem.
No wonder that he was everywhere looked upon as insane! But he struggled hard to make his way to Jerusalem, which he eventually reached, and on his arrival at his metropolis he asked to be brought before the Sanhedrin. He repeated to the Sanhedrin his assertion that he was King Solomon, and related to them all the events that had happened to him. His statement was received by the Sanhedrin, if not with derision, still, with great mistrust and incredulity, and they were about to declare him insane, when one of the Sanhedrin, wiser and bolder than the others, rose and spoke as follows: "Friends and worthy colleagues, whom the Lord has graced with wisdom and understanding, it will not be difficult for you to comprehend that any one afflicted with insanity would not be able to make so coherent a statement as we have now heard, but would wander about in his assertions incoherently from one subject to another. Now, this man who asserts himself to be King Solomon has not spoken one incoherent word, and has given no indication of his insanity, except his assertion in general that he is the great King our master, and that assertion he made coherently enough. Besides this, there is no reason whatever, either in his demeanor, gesture, or speech, to condemn him as insane. Would it be consistent with justice, as shown to us by our Great Lawgiver, to conclude that this man is insane, simply because he claims the throne as his own, without further investigation as to who is the one who now occupies the throne as King Solomon? Moreover, can we overlook the fact that when we left the throne-room there were two individuals, and when we returned one had disappeared, without our being able to comprehend bow that happened? My advice is, that we request Topos, one of King Solomon's many wives, that when the present King pays her a visit, she may notice his feet and then on her report on this you can form your judgment in this matter." The Sanhedrin fell in with this suggestion, and when they appealed to Topos, she reported that the King, her husband, never entered her chamber without a cover over his feet. The Sanhedrin requested her to try and remove the covering from her husband's feet at the next opportunity. Topos did as requested by the Sanhedrin, and reported that, to her amazement and disgust, she found her husband's feet to resemble those of a cock.
The Sanhedrin were now concerned to have Ashmedai stripped of the chain and the ring by which he had subtly obtained the throne from King Solomon. In this they succeeded through a confidential servant of the demon, and these precious and holy things were handed over to the rightful owner, the real King Solomon, who now re-entered upon his glorious throne. The wise King had the chief of the demons brought before him, and exhibited to him the chain and the ring. The demon, amidst a peal of thunder, made his escape from the palace, and was seen no more.
Solomon was again in his former greatness, but was till the end of his days in terror of demons; hence he had sixty of the most valiant men of his army surrounding his bed.
 The Torah means the first five books of the Bible, the Law of Moses.
 It is said in the Talmud that Chebore, King of Persia, laid his Jewish subjects under special tribute, and with the money thus raised he built dwellings and other accommodations for the poor. Hence the expression of the Midrash, "it will be taken from you, probably, by the authorities, to erect baths or other sanitary buildings."
 This word has puzzled all modern readers. It is usually accepted as "badger," but the root has the meaning "to thrust," hence the dolphin, or even the unicorn, has been suggested as the creature intended.
 Demons resemble man in these respects, they eat and drink, are fruitful and multiply, and die. But they also somewhat resemble angels in so far as they have wings, flying to and fro all the world over like angels, and knowing a little of the secrets of the higher spheres--not quite as much as angels, but generally the fate of men is known to them--Talmud. Hence Ashmedai knew the fate of those he met on his way to Jerusalem.
 The Rabbis say that the feet of demons resemble those of a cock.