Previous Folio / Baba Mezi'a Contents / Tractate List / Navigate Site

Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Baba Mezi'a

Baba Mezi'a 84a

[One day] Elijah met him and remonstrated with him: 'How long will you deliver the people of our God to execution!' — 'What can I do', he replied, 'it is the royal decree.' 'Your father fled to Asia,'1  he retorted, 'do you flee to Laodicea!'

When R. Ishmael son of R. Jose and R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon met, one could pass through with a yoke of oxen under them and not touch them.2  Said a certain [Roman] matron to them, 'Your children are not yours!' They replied, 'Theirs [sc. our wives'] is greater than ours.' '[But this proves my allegation] all the more!' [She observed]. Some say, they answered thus: 'For as a man is, so is his strength.'3  Others say, they answered her thus: 'Love suppresses the flesh.' But why should they have answered her at all; is it not written, Answer not a fool according to his folly?4  — To permit no stigma upon their children.

R. Johanan said: The waist of R. Ishmael son of R. Jose was as a bottle of nine kabs capacity. R. papa said: R. Johanan's waist was as a bottle containing five kabs; others say, three kabs. That of R. papa himself was as [large as] the wicker-work baskets of Harpania.5

R. Johanan said: I am the only one remaining of Jerusalem's men of outstanding beauty. He who desires to see R. Johanan's beauty, let him take a silver goblet as it emerges from the crucible,6  fill it with the seeds of red pomegranate, encircle its brim with a chaplet of red roses, and set it between the sun and the shade: its lustrous glow is akin to R. Johanan's beauty.

But that is not so; for did not a Master say: R. Kahana's beauty is a reflection of R. Abbahu's; R. Abbahu's is a reflection of our Father Jacob's; our Father Jacob's was a reflection of Adam's; whereas R. Johanan is omitted! — R. Johanan is different, because he lacked a beard.7

R. Johanan used to go and sit at the gates of the mikweh.8  'When the daughters of Israel ascend from the bath',said he, 'let them look upon9  me, that they may bear sons as beautiful and as learned as I.' Said the Rabbis to him: 'Do you not fear an evil eye?' — 'I am of the seed of Joseph', he replied, 'against whom an evil eye is powerless.' For it is written, Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well:10  whereon R. Abbahu observed: Render not [by a well] but, 'above the power of the eye.'11  R. Jose son of R. Hanina deduced it from the following: and let them multiply abundantly like fish in the midst of the earth:12  just as fish in the seas are covered by water and the eye has no power over them, so also are the seed of Joseph — the eye has no power over them.

One day R. Johanan was bathing in the Jordan, when Resh Lakish saw him and leapt into the Jordan after him. Said he [R. Johanan] to him, 'Your strength should be for the Torah.'13  — 'Your beauty,' he replied, 'should be for women.' 'If you will repent,' said he, 'I will give you my sister [in marriage], who is more beautiful than I.' He undertook [to repent]; then he wished to return and collect his weapons, but could not.14  Subsequently, [R. Johanan] taught him Bible and Mishnah, and made him into a great man. Now, one day there was a dispute in the schoolhouse [with respect to the following. Viz.,] a sword, knife, dagger, spear, hand-saw and a scythe — at what stage [of their manufacture] can they become unclean? When their manufacture is finished.15  And when is their manufacture finished? — R. Johanan ruled: When they are tempered in a furnace. Resh Lakish maintained: When they have been furbished in water. Said he to him: 'A robber understands his trade.'16  Said he to him, 'And wherewith have you benefited me: there [as a robber] I was called Master, and here I am called Master.'17  'By bringing you under the wings of the Shechinah,' he retorted. R. Johanan therefore felt himself deeply hurt,18  [as a result of which] Resh Lakish fell ill. His sister [sc. R. Johanan's, the wife of Resh Lakish] came and wept before him: 'Forgive him19  for the sake of my son,' she pleaded. He replied: 'Leave thy fatherless children. I will preserve them alive.'20  'For the sake of my widowhood then!' 'And let thy widows trust in me,'21  he assured her. Resh Lakish died, and R. Johanan was plunged into deep grief. Said the Rabbis, 'Who shall go to ease his mind? Let R. Eleazar b. Pedath go, whose disquisitions are very subtle.' So he went and sat before him; and on every dictum uttered by R. Johanan he observed: 'There is a Baraitha which Supports you.' 'Are you as the son of Lakisha?'22  he complained: 'when I stated a law, the son of Lakisha used to raise twenty-four objections, to which I gave twenty-four answers, which consequently led to a fuller comprehension of the law; whilst you say, "A Baraitha has been taught which supports you:" do I not know myself that my dicta are right?' Thus he went on rending his garments and weeping, 'Where are you, O son of Lakisha, where are you, O son of Lakisha;' and he cried thus until his mind was turned. Thereupon the Rabbis prayed for him, and he died.

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Jose b. Halafta fled to Asia Minor in consequence of his having been ordained by Judah b. Baba (Sanh. 14a) in defiance of the Hadrianic edict.
  2. Their waists were so large that as they stood waist to waist there was room for a yoke of oxen to pass beneath them!
  3. Judges VIII, 21.
  4. Prov. XXVI, 4.
  5. [A rich agricultural town in the Mesene district S. of Babylon, famous for its manufacture of baskets made of fibres of palm leaves. V. Obermeyer, op. cit. p. 200. This humourous and exaggerated description of the figures of these Rabbis has been stated to prevent any stigma being attached to the offspring of people of large contour, Tosaf.]
  6. I.e., immediately it leaves the silversmith's hands, whilst it is still glowing with heat.
  7. Lit., 'facial glory'.
  8. V. Glos.
  9. Lit., 'meet'.
  10. Gen. XLIX, 22.
  11. [H], a play on [H].
  12. Ibid. XLVIII, 16.
  13. I.e., devoted to study.
  14. His mere decision to turn to the study of the Torah had so weakened him that he lacked the strength to don his heavy equipment.
  15. Before that they are not complete articles or utensils, and only such can become unclean.
  16. This was quoted only proverbially, though in later times it was taken literally, and Resh Lakish was held to have been a robber. Actually, he had been a circus attendant, to which his necessitous circumstances had reduced him, and these weapons were used in the course of that calling. (Graetz, Geschichte, IV, 238, n. 6). Weiss, Dor, III, p. 83, n. 2, understands the phrase literally, but translates [H] as 'thief-catcher.' If that be correct, Resh Lakish at one time helped the Roman government, just as R. Eleazar b. R. Simeon and R. Ishmael b. R. Jose had done
  17. Heb. [H] is equally applicable to a captain of a gang and a Rabbi (Rashi).
  18. By the remark of Resh Lakish that he had not benefited him.
  19. Lit., 'do'.
  20. Jer. XLIX, 11.
  21. Ibid.
  22. The full name of Resh Lakish was R. Simeon b. Lakish. Weiss, Dor, II, 71 deduces from the use of Lakisha here that Lakish was not a patronym but the name of a town, [H] meaning 'a citizen of,' i.e., R. Simeon, a townsman of Lakish. But Bacher, Ag. der Pal. Am. I, 340, 1 defends Lakish as a patronym.

Baba Mezi'a 84b

[Reverting to the story of R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon] yet even so,1  R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon's fears were not allayed,2  and so he undertook a penance. Every evening they spread sixty sheets for him, and every morning sixty basins of blood and discharge were removed from under him. In the mornings his wife prepared him sixty kinds of pap,3  which he ate, and then recovered. Yet his wife did not permit him to go to the schoolhouse, lest the Rabbis discomfort him. Every evening he would exhort them,4  'Come, my brethren and familiars!' whilst every morning he exclaimed, 'Depart, because ye disturb my studies!' One day his wife, hearing him, cried out, 'You yourself bring them upon you; you have [already] squandered the money of my father's house!'5  So she left him6  and returned to her paternal home.7  Then there came sixty seamen who presented him with sixty slaves, bearing sixty purses.8  They too prepared sixty kinds of pap for him, which he ate. One day she [his wife] said to her daughter, 'Go and see how your father is faring now.' She went, [and on her arrival] her father said to her, 'Go, tell your mother that our [wealth] is greater than theirs' [sc. of his father-in-law's house]. He then applied to himself the verse, She is like the merchant's ships; she bringeth her food from afar.9  He ate, drank, and recovered, and went to the schoolhouse. Sixty specimens of blood were brought before him, and he declared them all clean. But the Rabbis criticised him, saying, 'Is it possible that there was not [at least] one about which there was some doubt!' He retorted, 'If it be as I [said], let them all be males; if not, let there be one female amongst them.'10  They were all males, and were named 'Eleazar', after him.

It has been taught: Rabbi said: How much procreation did this wicked [state] prevent in Israel.11

On his death-bed he said to his wife, 'I know that the Rabbis are angry with me, and will not properly attend to me. Let me lie in an upper chamber,12  and do you not be afraid of me.' R. Samuel b. Nahmani said: R. Jonathan's mother told me that she was informed by the wife of R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon: 'I kept him lying in that upper chamber not less than eighteen nor more than twenty-two years. Whenever I ascended there, I examined his hair, and [even] if a single hair had fallen out, the blood would well forth. One day, I saw a worm issue from his ear, whereat I was much grieved, but he appeared to me in my dream and told me that it was nothing. ["This has happened," said he,] "because I once heard a scholar insulted and did not protest, as I should have done." Whenever two people came before him [in a lawsuit], they stood near the door, each stated his case, and then a voice issued from that upper chamber, proclaiming, "So-and-so, you are liable; so-and-so, you are free."' Now, one day his wife was quarrelling with a neighbour, when the latter reviled [her, saying,] 'Let her be like her husband, who was not worthy of burial!' Said the Rabbis: 'When things have gone thus far,13  it is certainly not meet.'14  Others say: R. Simeon b. Yohai appeared to them in a dream, and complained: 'I have a pigeon amongst you which you refuse to bring to me.' Then the Rabbis went to attend to him [for burial], but the townspeople of Akabaria15  did not let them; because during all the years R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon slept in his upper chamber no evil beast came to their town. But one day — it was the eve of the Day of Atonement, when they were busily occupied, the Rabbis sent [word] to the townspeople of Biri,16  and they brought up his bier, and carried it to his father's vault, which they found encircled by a serpent. Said they to it, 'O snake, O snake, open thy mouth, and let the son enter to his father.' Thereupon it opened [its mouth] for them. Then Rabbi sent [messengers] to propose [marriage] to his wife. She sent back: 'Shall a utensil, in which holy food has been used, be used for profane purposes!' There [sc. in Palestine] the proverb runs: Where the master hung up his weapons, there the shepherd hung up his wallet. He sent back word, 'Granted that he outstripped me in learning, was he [also] my superior in good deeds?' She returned, 'Yet at least he outstripped you in learning, though I did not know it. But I do know [that he exceeded you] in [virtuous] practice, since he submitted himself to mortification.'

'In learning'. To what is the reference? — When Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel and R. Joshua b. Karhah sat on benches, R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon and Rabbi sat in front of them on the ground,17  raising objections and answering them. Said they, 'We drink their water [i.e., benefit from their learning], yet they sit upon the ground; let seats be placed for them!' Thus were they promoted. But R. Simeon b. Gamaliel protested: 'I have a pigeon amongst you, and ye wish to destroy it!'18  So Rabbi was put down. Thereupon R. Joshua b. Karhah said: 'Shall he, who has a father, live, whilst he who has no father19  die!' So R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon too was put down, whereat he felt hurt saying, 'Ye have made him equal to me!'20  Now, until that day, whenever Rabbi made a statement, R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon supported him. But from then onward, when Rabbi said, 'I have an objection,' R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon retorted, 'If you have such and such an objection, this is your answer; now have you encompassed us with loads of answers in which there is no substance.'21  Rabbi, being thus humiliated, went and complained to his father. 'Let it not grieve you,' he answered, 'for he is a lion, and the son of a lion, whereas you are a lion, the son of a fox.'22  To this Rabbi alluded when he said, Three were humble; viz., my father,

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Notwithstanding that his fat did not putrefy; v. supra 83b.
  2. Lit., 'his mind was not at rest', that he had not ensnared innocent men too.
  3. Made of figs (Rashi).
  4. His pains and sores personified.
  5. By illness.
  6. Lit., 'rebelled'.
  7. The Heb. expression means her father's house after his death.
  8. These seamen had encountered a violent storm at sea, and had prayed to be delivered for the sake of R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon. This gift then was a thanksgiving offering to him (Tosaf.).
  9. Prov. XXXI, 14. 'she' is referred to the Torah; for the sake of his learning, in the merit of which the seamen had been delivered, his 'food' — i.e. wealth — had been brought to him from afar.
  10. I.e., the children of those women whose blood he had declared clean.
  11. R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon having been appointed by the state to track down malefactors, could not come to the school, where, by his wide knowledge of what is clean or unclean he would have permitted many women to their husbands.
  12. Instead of being buried.
  13. I.e., that people know that he is dead yet unburied.
  14. It dishonours him.
  15. Josephus (Wars, II, XX, 6) mentions that he fortified a place of that name in Upper Galilee; it was probably identical with Akhbura, a town to the south of Safed. Neubauer p. 226f.
  16. A neighbouring town. [Either Bira, S.E., or Kfar Bir'im, N.W. of Gush Halab; Klein, Neue Beitrage, p. 39.]
  17. This was the usual way of study, the master sitting on a seat, the disciples on the ground.
  18. He feared that his son's promotion — he was Rabbi's father — would excite the evil eye and react to his injury.
  19. R. Simeon b. Yohai, the father of R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon, was dead.
  20. Whilst he thought himself higher. — This proves the point that he was a greater scholar than Rabbi; v. also further.
  21. I.e., R. Eleazar anticipated all his objections and answered them by shewing that there was no reality in the proposed difficulties and consequently in the answer given, and thus he accused Rabbi of being the cause of many answers which are quite unimportant.
  22. He has a greater scholastic ancestry than you, R. Simeon b. Yohai, his father, having been more learned than I.