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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Baba Mezi'a

Baba Mezi'a 85a

the Bene Bathyra, and Jonathan, the son of Saul. 'R. Simeon b. Gamaliel,'1  as has been said, 'The Bene Bathyra,' as a Master said: They placed him at the head and appointed him Nasi2  over them.3  'Jonathan, the son of Saul,' for he said to David, And thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee.4  But how does this prove it: perhaps Jonathan the son of Saul [spoke thus] because he saw that the people were flocking to David? The Bene Bathyra too, because they saw that Hillel was their superior [in learning]? But R. Simeon b. Gamaliel was certainly very modest.5

Rabbi observed: Suffering is precious.6  Thereupon he undertook [to suffer likewise] for thirteen years, six through stones in the kidneys7  and seven through scurvy: others reverse it. Rabbi's house-steward was wealthier than King Shapur.8  When he placed fodder for the beasts, their cries could be heard for three miles, and he aimed at casting it [before them] just then when Rabbi entered his privy closet, yet even so, his voice [lifted in pain] was louder than theirs, and was heard [even] by sea-farers. Nevertheless, the sufferings of R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon were superior [in virtue] to those of Rabbi. For whereas those of R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon came to him through love, and departed in love,9  those of Rabbi came to him through a certain incident, and departed likewise.

'They came to him through a certain incident.' What is it? — A calf was being taken to the slaughter, when it broke away, hid his head under Rabbi's skirts, and lowed [in terror]. 'Go', said he, 'for this wast thou created.' Thereupon they said [in Heaven], 'Since he has no pity, let us bring suffering upon him.'

'And departed likewise.' How so? — One day Rabbi's maidservant was sweeping the house; [seeing] some young weasels lying there, she made to sweep them away. 'Let them be,' said he to her; 'It is written, and his tender mercies are over all his works.'10  Said they [in Heaven], 'Since he is compassionate, let us be compassionate to him.'

During all the years that R. Eleazar suffered, no man died prematurely. During all those of Rabbi the world needed no rain;11  for Rabbah son of R. Shilah said: The day of rain is as hard [to bear]12  as the day of judgment. And Amemar said: But that it is necessary to the world, the Rabbis would have prayed that it might cease to be. Nevertheless,13  when a radish was pulled out of its bed, there remained a cavity full of water.

Rabbi chanced to visit the town of R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon.14  'Did that righteous man leave a son?' he inquired. 'Yes,' they replied; 'and every harlot whose hire is two [zuz], hires him for eight.'15  So he had him brought [before him], ordained him a Rabbi,16  and entrusted him to R. Simeon b. Issi b. Lakonia, his mother's brother [to be educated]. Every day he would say, 'I am going to my town; to which he [his instructor] replied, 'They have made you a Sage, spread over you a gold trimmed cloak [at the ceremony of ordination] and designated you "Rabbi", and yet you say, I am going back to my town!' Said he, 'I swear that this [my desire] has been abandoned.' When he became a great [scholar], he went and sat in Rabbi's academy. On hearing his voice, he [Rabbi] observed: 'This voice is similar to that of R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon.' 'He is his son,' they [his disciples] told him. Thereupon he applied to him the verse, The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.17  [Thus:] 'The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life' — this refers to R. Jose, the son of R. Eleazar, the son of R. Simeon;18  'And he that winneth souls is wise' — to R. Simeon b. Issi b. Lakonia. When he died, he was carried to his father's burial vault, which was encompassed by a snake. 'O snake, O snake,' they adjured it, 'open thy mouth and let the son enter to his father;' but it would not uncoil for them. Now, the people thought that one was greater than the other,19  but there issued a Heavenly Voice, proclaiming: 'It is not because one is greater than the other, but because one underwent the suffering of the cave, and the other did not.'20

Rabbi chanced to visit the town of R. Tarfon. Said he to them: 'Has that righteous man, who used to swear by the life of his children,21  left a son?' They replied: 'He has left no son, but a daughter's son remains, and every harlot who is hired for two [zuz] hires him for eight.' So he had him brought before him and said to him: 'Should you repent, I will give you my daughter.' He repented. Some say, he married her [Rabbi's daughter] and divorced her; others, that he did not marry her at all, lest it be said that his repentance was on her account. And why did he [Rabbi] take such [extreme] measures? — Because, [as] Rab Judah said in Rab's name — others Say, R. Hiyya b. Abba said in R. Johanan's name — others say, R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in R. Jonathan's name: He who teaches Torah to his neighbour's son will be privileged to sit in the Heavenly Academy, for it is written, If thou [sc. Jeremiah] wilt cause [Israel] to repent, then will I bring thee again, and thou shalt stand before me.22  And he who teaches Torah to the son of an 'am ha-arez,23  even if the Holy One, blessed be He, makes a decree, He annuls it for his sake, as it is written, and if thou shalt take forth the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as my mouth.24

R. Parnak said in R. Johanan's name: He who is himself a scholar, and his son is a scholar, and his son's son too, the Torah will nevermore cease from his seed, as it is written, As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord; My spirit is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever.25  What is meant by 'saith the Lord'? — The Holy one, blessed be He, said, I am surety for thee in this matter. What is the meaning of 'from henceforth and for ever'? — R. Jeremiah said: From henceforth [i.e., after three generations] the Torah seeks its home.26

R. Joseph fasted forty fasts,27  when he was made to read [in his dream], 'They shall not depart out of thy mouth.' He fasted another forty, and was made to read, 'They shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed.' He fasted another forty, and was made to read, 'They shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed.' Henceforth, said he, I have no need [to fast]; the Torah seeks its home.

When R. Zera emigrated to Palestine, he fasted a hundred fasts to forget the Babylonian Gemara, that it should not trouble him.28  He also fasted a hundred times that R. Eleazar might not die in his lifetime, so that the communal cares29  should not fall upon him. And yet another hundred, that the fire of Gehenna might be powerless against him. Every thirty days he used to examine himself [to see if he were fireproof]. He would heat the oven, ascend, and sit therein, but the fire had no power against him. One day, however, the Rabbis cast an [envious] eye upon him, and his legs were singed, whereafter he was called, 'Short and leg-singed.'30

Rab Judah said in Rab's name: What is meant by, Who is the wise man, that may understand this? and who is he to whom the mouth of the Lord hath spoken, that he may declare it, why the land perisheth?31  This question32

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. The father of Rabbi.
  2. The Patriarch, head of Palestinian Jewry.
  3. The story is given in full in Pes. 66a. On one occasion the eve of Passover fell on the Sabbath, and none knew whether the Paschal sacrifice might be offered or not. Thereupon Hillel proved by argument and tradition that it was permissible, upon which the Bene Bathyra, the then heads of Palestinian Jewry, voluntarily resigned their leadership in his favour.
  4. I Sam. XXIII, 17.
  5. I.e., though the action of the other two might be explained away as not due to humility, that of R. Simeon b. Gamaliel could not.
  6. Because he saw that as a reward for the suffering to which R. Eleazar son of R. Simeon had submitted his body remained intact, defying decomposition and decay for many years.
  7. Or, in the bladder, Jast.
  8. V. p. 408, n. 5.
  9. V. supra 84a bottom: he summoned his sufferings, loving them as a means of ennoblement and likewise dismissed them, that he might be free to study.
  10. Ps. CXLV, 9.
  11. Everything growing without rain.
  12. Owing to the inconvenience and discomfort to which people are put.
  13. Though no rain fell.
  14. After his death.
  15. On account of his beauty.
  16. That the honour and the title might turn him to the Torah.
  17. Prov. XI, 30.
  18. I.e., a line of righteous men.
  19. I.e., the father was greater than the son, who was therefore unworthy to he buried with him.
  20. R. Simeon b. Yohai and his son Eleazar were hidden in a cave from the Roman authorities for thirteen years, Shab. 33b.
  21. [He frequently used the oath 'May I bury my children' — e.g. Oh. XVI, 1]
  22. Jer. XV, 19.
  23. V. Glos.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Isa. LIX, 21: thus, once the Torah has been in thy own mouth, thy seed's, and thy seed's seed — i.e., three generations — it shall not depart for ever.
  26. I.e., it becomes hereditary in that family.
  27. That the Torah should always remain with him.
  28. The Palestinian method of study was far simpler than the Babylonian, and R. Zera was anxious that his keen dialectic method acquired in Babylon should not interfere with the clearer course adopted in Palestine. Cf. Sanh. (Sonc. ed.) p. 138, n. 11. [On the term 'Gemara' v. supra p. 206, n. 6. Kaplan, op. cit., pp. 258ff., on the basis of his definition, explains that Gemara texts as recorded by different schools frequently presented variations in substance, style and phraseology to the confusion of the student, and it was for freedom from this handicap that R. Zera prayed when he decided to join the school in Palestine.]
  29. [Of Tiberias, where R. Zera was a communal leader and finally became the head of the School.]
  30. He was of short stature.
  31. Jer. IX, 11.
  32. Lit., 'thing'.

Baba Mezi'a 85b

was put by the Sages, but they could not answer it; by the prophets, but they [too] could not answer it, until the Holy One, blessed be He, Himself resolved as it is written, And the Lord said, Because they have forsaken my law which I set before them.1  Rab Judah said in Rab's name: [That means] that they did not first utter a benediction over the Torah [before studying it].2

R. Hama said: What is meant by, Wisdom resteth in the heart of him that hath understanding; but that which is in the midst of fools is made known?3  'Wisdom resteth in the heart of him that hath understanding' — this refers to a scholar, the son of a scholar; 'but that which is in the midst of fools is made known' — to a scholar, the son of an 'am ha-arez.4  Said 'Ulla: Thus it is proverbial, One stone in a pitcher cries out 'rattle, rattle.'5

R. Jeremiah questioned R. Zera: What is meant by, The small and great are there [sc. the next world]; and the servant is free from his master?6  Do we then not know that 'the small and great are there'? — But [it means that] he who humbles himself for the sake of the Torah in this world is magnified in the next; and he who makes himself a servant to the [study of the] Torah in this world becomes free in the next.

Resh Lakish was marking the burial vaults of the Rabbis.7  But when he came to the grave of R. Hiyya, it was hidden from him,8  whereat he experienced a sense of humiliation. 'Sovereign of the Universe!' he exclaimed, 'did I not debate on the Torah as he did?' Thereupon a Heavenly Voice cried out in reply: 'You did indeed debate on the Torah as he did, but did not spread the Torah as he did.' Whenever R. Hanina and R. Hiyya were in a dispute, R. Hanina said to R. Hiyya: 'Would you dispute with me? If, Heaven forfend! the Torah were forgotten in Israel, I would restore it by my argumentative powers.' To which R. Hiyya rejoined: 'Would you dispute with me, who achieved that the Torah should not be forgotten in Israel? What did I do? I went and sowed flax, made nets [from the flax cords], trapped deers, whose flesh I gave to orphans, and prepared scrolls [from their skins], upon which I wrote the five books [of Moses]. Then I went to a town [which contained no teachers] and taught the five books to five children, and the six orders [of the Talmud] to six children9  And I bade them: "Until I return, teach each other the Pentateuch and the Mishnah;" and thus I preserved the Torah from being forgotten in Israel.'10  This is what Rabbi [meant when he] said, 'How great are the works of Hiyya!' Said R. Ishmael son of R. Jose to him, '[Are they] even [greater] than yours?' 'Yes,' he replied, 'And even than my father's.' 'Heaven forfend!' he rejoined, 'Let not such a thing be [heard] in Israel!'

R. Zera said: Last night R. Jose son of R. Hanina appeared to me [in a dream], and I asked him, 'Near whom art thou seated [in the Heavenly Academy]?' — 'Near R. Johanan.' 'And R. Johanan near whom?' — 'R. Jannai.' 'And R. Jannai?' — 'Near R. Hanina.' 'And R. Hanina?' — 'Near R. Hiyya.' Said I to him, 'And is not R. Johanan [worthy of a seat] near R. Hiyya?' — He replied, 'In the region of fiery sparks and flaming tongues, who will let the smith's son enter?11

R. Habiba said: R. Habiba b. Surmakia told me: I saw one of the Rabbis whom Elijah used to frequent, whose eyes were clear in the morning, but in the evening they looked as though burnt in fire. I questioned him, 'What is the meaning of this?' And he answered me [thus]: 'I requested Elijah to shew me the [departed] Rabbis as they ascend to the Heavenly Academy. He replied: "Thou canst look upon all, excepting the carriage of R. Hiyya: upon it thou shalt not look." "What is their sign?"12 "All are accompanied by angels when they ascend and descend, excepting R. Hiyya's carriage, who ascends and descends of his own accord."13 But unable to control my desire, I gazed upon it, whereat two fiery streams issued forth, smote and blinded me in one eye. The following day I went and prostrated myself upon his grave, crying out, "It is thy Baraitha that I study!"14 and I was healed.'15

Elijah used to frequent Rabbi's academy. One day — it was New Moon — he was waiting for him, but he failed to come. Said he to him [the next day]: 'Why didst thou delay?' — He replied: '[I had to wait] until I awoke Abraham, washed his hands, and he prayed and I put him to rest again; likewise to Isaac and Jacob.' 'But why not awake them together?' — 'I feared that they would wax strong in prayer16  and bring the Messiah before his time.' 'And is their like to be found in this world?' he asked. — 'There is R. Hiyya and his sons', he replied. Thereupon Rabbi proclaimed a fast, and R. Hiyya and his sons were bidden to descend [to the reading desk].17  As he [R. Hiyya] exclaimed, 'He causeth the wind to blow', a wind blew; he proceeded, 'he causeth the rain to descend', whereat the rain descended. When he was about to say, 'He quickeneth the dead',18  the universe trembled, [and] in Heaven it was asked, 'Who hath revealed our secret to the world?'19  'Elijah', they replied. Elijah was therefore brought and smitten with sixty flaming lashes; so he went, disguised himself as a fiery bear, entered amongst and scattered them.

Samuel Yarhina'ah20  was Rabbi's physician. Now, Rabbi having contracted an eye disease, Samuel offered to bathe it with a lotion, but he said, 'I cannot bear it.' 'Then I will apply an ointment to it,' he said. 'This too I cannot bear,' he objected. So he placed a phial of chemicals under his pillow, and he was healed.21  Rabbi was most anxious22  to ordain him, but the opportunity was lacking.23  Let it not grieve thee, he said; I have seen the Book of Adam,24  in which is written, 'Samuel Yarhina'ah

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Ibid. 12.
  2. The Ran in Ned. 81a explains that it is assumed that the Torah was studied; for otherwise, the question would easily have been answered by the Sages and Prophets. Yet it was studied not for its own sake but only for the preferment it might give. This is expressed by saying that they recited no benediction before studying it, i.e., it was not in itself dear to them. The selfish motive could be known to none but God.
  3. Prov. XIV, 33.
  4. V. Glos. His scholarship then stands out, and 'is made known'.
  5. But when the Pitcher is filled with stones they have no room for rattling. So also, one scholar in a family of fools achieves fame, whilst a whole family of scholars are taken for granted.
  6. Job III, 19.
  7. That priests should not go there and become defiled, thus transgressing the law through the instrumentality of righteous men.
  8. He could not find its exact spot.
  9. The Talmud is divided into six 'orders', viz.: Seeds, Festivals, Women, Damages, Sacred Objects and Purity.
  10. Scholars dispute whether Rabbi wrote down the Mishnah after compiling it. It is perhaps noteworthy in this connection that, whereas in this story it is stated that R. Hiyya wrote the five books of Moses, nothing is said about his writing the Mishnah for his pupils. [Though possibly these activities of R. Hiyya cover a period before the final compilation of the Mishnah by Rabbi.]
  11. R. Johanan's cognomen was Bar Nappaha, lit., 'the smith's son'.
  12. By which I may distinguish between the carriages of the other Rabbis and R. Hiyya's.
  13. His merit being so great, he is not in need of the angel's assistance.
  14. There were several sets of Baraithas — laws not included by Rabbi in his compilation of the Mishnah — the most important and authentic of which were those by R. Hiyya and R. Oshaia.
  15. Yet the redness of the burning was still perceptible.
  16. If they prayed simultaneously.
  17. In the synagogue of Talmudic times the reading-desk was on a lower level than the rest of the building. On fast days, according to the Midrash Tanhuma on [H], three men led the congregation in prayer, instead of one, as usual.
  18. V. P. B. p. 44.
  19. That R. Hiyya's prayers are so efficacious.
  20. [H], the Lunar Expert or Astronomer. The word is an epithet of Samuel, the Babylonian amora, on account of his great astronomical skill, v. R.H. 20b.
  21. The vapour being sufficiently powerful to penetrate to the eye, though not applied directly.
  22. Lit., 'grieved'.
  23. Possibly he could not assemble the Ordination Board.
  24. [Cf. Gen. V, 1. This is not to be confused with the Apocryphal Book of Adam known in many versions (v. J. E. I, 179f), but a book which God showed to Adam containing the genealogy of the whole human race, and which is the Jewish form of the view prevalent among Babylonians (v. Ginszberg, Legends, VI, p. 82), though this does not mean to imply that there was no Jewish version of the Book of Adam current in the days of Rabbi. Funk, Monumenta, I, p. 324, however, on the basis of Babylonian parallels, where the stars are described as the 'writing of Heaven', renders the statement of Rabbi simply to mean, 'I have seen it written in the stars'.]