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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sanhedrin

Folio 105a

who is descended from Judah; 'Moab is my washpot,' to Gehazi, who was smitten on account of matters connected with bathing; 'over Edom will I cast out my shoe'1  — to Doeg the Edomite;2  'Philistia, triumph thou because of me,' The ministering Angels exclaimed before the Holy One, blessed be He, 'Sovereign of the Universe! If David comes, who slew the Philistine and gave possession of Gath to thy children. [and complains at Thy giving a share in the world to come to Doeg and Ahitophel], what wilt thou do with him?' He replied, 'It is My duty to make them friends with each other.'3

Why is this people of Jerusalem slidden back by a perpetual backsliding?4  Rab said: The Kenesseth Yisrael5  gave the prophet a victorious answer.6  [For] the prophet said to Israel. 'Return and repent: your fathers who sinned — where are they?' They replied, 'And your prophets who did not sin — where are they? As it is written. Your fathers, where are they? — and the prophets, do they live for ever!'7  He answered them, 'Yet [your fathers] repented and admitted [the justice of their punishment],8  as it is written, But my words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets, did they not take hold of your fathers? and they returned and said, Like as the Lord of Hosts thought to do unto us, according to our ways, and according to our doings, so hath he dealt with us.'9

Samuel said: Ten men came and sat down before him [sc. the prophet]. Said he to them, 'Return and repent.' They answered, 'If a master sells his slave, or a husband divorces his wife, — has one a claim upon the other?'10  Thereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, said to the prophet, 'Go and say to them, Thus saith the Lord, Where is the bill of your mother's divorcement, whom I have put away? or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away.'11  This agrees with Resh Lakish, who said: Why does Scripture write, David my servant, Nebuchadnezzar my servant?12  Because it was revealed and known to Him who spoke, and the world was created13  that Israel would argue thus: therefore the Holy One, blessed be He, forestalled [them] by calling him His servant, and when a servant acquires property — to whom does the servant belong, and to whom the property?14

And that which cometh into your mind shall not be at all, that ye say, We will be as the heathen, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone. As I live, saith the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out, will I rule over you.15


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    said: Even with such fury let the Merciful rage against us, but that He redeem us.

For he doth chastise him to discretion, and his God doth teach him.16  Rabbah b. Bar Hana said: The prophet urged Israel, 'Return and repent.' They replied, 'We cannot: the Tempter17  rules over us. He said to them, 'Curb your [evil] desires.' They replied, 'Let His God teach us.'18

FOUR COMMONERS, VIZ., BALAAM, DOEG, AHITOPHEL, AND GEHAZI. Belo'-am [denotes without the people].19  Another explanation: Balaam denotes that he corrupted a people.20  The son of Beor [denotes] that he committed bestiality.21  A Tanna taught: Beor, Cushan-rishathaim and Laban the Syrian are identical; Beor denotes that he committed bestiality; Cushan-rishathaim, that he perpetrated two evils upon Israel: one in the days of Jacob,22  and the other in the days of the Judges.23  But what was his real name? Laban the Syrian.

Scripture writes, the son of Beor;24  [but also] his son [was] Beor.25  R. Johanan said: His father [Beor] was as his son in the matter of prophecy.26

Now only Balaam will not enter [the future world], but other [heathens] will enter.27  On whose authority is the Mishnah [taught]? — On R. Joshua's. For it has been taught: R. Eliezer said, The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God:28  The


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    wicked shall be turned into hell — this refers to transgressors among Israel; and all the nations that forget God — to transgressors among the heathen.29  This is R. Eliezer's view. But R. Joshua said to him: Is it stated, and [those] among all the nations?30  Surely all the nations that forget God is written! But [interpret thus:] The wicked shall be turned into hell, and who are they? — all the nations that forget God.31  Now, that wicked man [Balaam] too gave a sign for himself [that he would not enter the future world by saying, Let me die the death of the righteous32  — meaning, If I die the death of the righteous [i.e., a natural death], my last end will be like his;33  but if not [i.e., if I die a violent death], then behold I go unto my people.34

And the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed.35  A Tanna taught: There was never peace between Midian and Moab. The matter may be compared to two dogs in one kernel which were always enraged at each other. Then a wolf attacked one, whereupon the other said, If I do not help him, he will kill him to-day, and attack me to-morrow; so they both went and killed the wolf. R. Papa observed: Thus people say, 'The weasel and cat [when at peace with each other] had a feast on the fat of the luckless.'

And the princes of Moab abode with Balaam.36  But whither had the princes of Midian gone? — As soon as he said to them, Lodge here this night, and I will bring you word again, [as the Lord shall speak unto me],37  they reasoned, Does any father hate his son!38  R. Nahman said: Impudence, even against Heaven, is of avail: at first it is written, Thou shalt not go with them,'39  yet subsequently it is said, Rise up and go with them.40  R. Shesheth said: Impudence is sovereignty without a crown,41  for it is written, And I am this day weak,


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    though anointed king, and these men the sons of Zeruiah be too hard for me.42

R. Johanan said: Balaam limped on one foot, as it is written, And he walked haltingly.43  Samson was lame in both feet, as it is written, [Dan shall be a serpent by the way,] an adder in the path that biteth the horse's heels.44  Balaam was blind in one eye, as it is said, [and the man] whose eye is open …45  He practised enchantment by means of his membrum. For here it is written, falling, but having his eyes open; whilst elsewhere is written, And Haman was fallen on the bed whereon Esther was.46

It was stated, Mar Zutra said: He practised enchantment by means of his membrum. Mar the son of Rabina said: He committed bestiality with his ass. The view that he practised enchantment by means of his membrum is as was stated. The view that he committed bestiality with his ass [is because] here it is written, He bowed,47  he lay down as a lion and as a great lion;48  whilst elsewhere it is written, At her feet

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. [H] (E.V. 'my shoe') is connected with root meaning 'to lock' and the phrase is taken to denote, 'I will lock him up in Paradise.'
  2. V. p., 640. n. 5.
  3. [H] hithro'a'i (E.V. 'triumph thou') is thus derived from [H], and translated 'make thyself a friend'. It may be observed that it is not taught here that they actually have a portion in the world to come as a right, but that they will nevertheless enter therein, God bearing their iniquities to make this possible (v. n. 1). This is in accordance with the general attitude of Judaism that punishment is not everlasting. Cf. M. Joseph. Judaism as Creed and Life, pp. 146-147.
  4. Heb. meshubah nizzahath, [H] Jer. VIII, 5.
  5. The Community of Israel.
  6. [H], teshubah nizzahath, with which [H] is connected.
  7. Zech. I, 5. The verse is treated as a dialogue between the prophets and the people.
  8. [The passage is difficult. It is best to adopt the reading of several editions of MSS. deleting 'He answered them,' viz., 'Yet they (i.e., the people) repented and admitted.' The people, that is to say, despite their victorious rejoinder, did not press this advantage home but moved by the words of Jeremiah, why is this people etc., repented and confessed their guilt.]
  9. Ibid. 6.
  10. 'God having sold us to Nebuchadnezzar, He has no further claim upon us, and we have no cause to repent.' This, in Samuel's view, was the victorious answer.
  11. Isa. L, 1. This vitiated the premises of their argument.
  12. The latter in Jer. XLIII, 20: why was Nebuchadnezzar honoured with such an exalted title, whereby he was made equal to David?
  13. This phrase has become liturgical; v. p. 519.
  14. I.e., even if God had sold them to Nebuchadnezzar, they were still God's.
  15. Ezek. XX, 32f.
  16. Isa. XXVIII, 26. (E.V. For his God doth instruct him to discretion and doth teach him.)
  17. The Evil inclination, the yezer hara'.
  18. I.e., 'Let God, who is master even over the Tempter, teach us to curb our desires.' This was in Rabbah b. Bar Hana's view' the 'victorious answer' (Rashi).
  19. [H] Belo'am, i.e., he has no portion in the future world together with other people.
  20. [H] balah'am, (or [H] bala'-'am, 'he devoured the people,' Aruch). Both meanings are a play of words on his name. The reference is to Israel, as explained further on.
  21. Lit., 'had connection with an animal'. Heb. be'ir [H].
  22. When he pursued him, wishing to destroy him (Gen. XXVI, 23 et seq.).
  23. Judges III, 8; Therefore the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of Cushon-rishathaim, king of Mesopotamia. Rish'athaim is taken as dual of Rish'ah, [H] 'evil'.
  24. Num. XXII, 5.
  25. Ibid. XXIV, 3: so [H] may be translated.
  26. I.e., he was a greater prophet than his father.
  27. This follows as a corollary to the Mishnah.
  28. Ps. IX, 17.
  29. [Heathens, however, who do nor forget God will share the bliss of eternal life.]
  30. Which would denote only some of them.
  31. [Yad Ramah preserves a more preferable reading: 'this refers to the heathen. This is R. Eliezer's view. But R. Joshua said to him: Is it stated, and all nations, surely all nations etc. i.e., without a waw copulative, and hence in apposition to the first clause.]
  32. Num. XXIII, 20.
  33. I.e., 'I will enter the world to come.'
  34. Ibid. XXIV, 14; i.e., into the Gehenna.
  35. Ibid. XXII, 7.
  36. Ibid. 8.
  37. Ibid.
  38. They knew that it was useless to wait.
  39. Ibid. 12.
  40. Ibid. 20. [His insistence wrested from God His consent for him to go.]
  41. I.e., it wields great power, and lacks nothing but a crown.
  42. II Sam. III, 39. Thus their boldness and impudence outweighed sovereignty.
  43. Num. XXIII, 3.
  44. Gen. XLIX, 17. According to tradition, this was a prophecy of Samson; 'An adder in the path' is taken to mean that he would have to slither along like an adder, being lame in both feet.
  45. Num. XXIV, 3. Since 'eye' is in the singular, it follows that only one eye was open, the other being sightless.
  46. Est. VII, 8.
  47. E.V. 'he couched'.
  48. Num. XXIV, 9.

Sanhedrin 105b

he bowed, he fell.1

And knoweth the mind2  of the most High.3  Now, seeing that he did not even know the mind of his ass, could he know the mind of the most High! What [is this about] the mind of his ass? — For they [the elders] said to him, 'Why didst thou not ride upon thy horse?' He replied. 'I have put it [to graze] in the dewy pastures. But the ass said to him, 'Am I not thine ass?'4  — 'Merely for carrying loads',


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    [he replied]. 'Upon which thou hast ridden.' — 'That was only by chance.' 'Ever since I was thine until this day,' [she added]. 'Moreover, I serve thee as a companion by night.' Here is written, Was I ever wont to do so unto thee;5  whilst elsewhere it is written, And let her be his companion.6   What then is meant by knowing the mind of the most High? — He knew how to gauge the exact moment when the Holy One, blessed be He, is angry; and that was what the prophet said to Israel: O thy people, remember now what Balak king of Moab consulted, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him from Shittim unto Gilgal, that ye may know the righteousness of the Lord.7  What is meant by that ye may know the righteousness of the Lord? — The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel: Know now how many acts of charity I performed for you in that I did not become angry all that time, in the days of Balaam the Wicked; for had I waxed angry during that time none would have remained or been spared of Israel's enemies.8  And thus Balaam said to Balak, How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I rage, when the Lord hath not raged?9  This teaches that for the whole of that time the Lord had not been wroth.10  [But normally] God is angry every day.11  And how long does His anger last? — A moment, as it is written, For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life etc.12  Or, if you like, deduce it from this verse, Come, my people, enter into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast.13  Now, when is He angry? — In the first three hours [of the day], when the comb of the cock is white. But at all times it is white! — At all other times it has red streaks, but at that moment [of God's anger] there are no red streaks in it.

A sectarian14  lived in the neighbourhood of R. Joshua b. Levi, who used to vex him. One day he took a fowl, tied it to the foot


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    [of his bed]15  and sat down, saying, When that moment comes,16  I will curse him. But when that moment came, he dozed off. This proves, said he, that it is not fitting [to do this], for it is written, Also to punish, is not meet ['good'] for the righteous:17  even of a sectarian, one should not speak thus.18

A Tanna taught in the name of R. Meir: When the sun shines and kings place their crowns upon their heads and adore the sun, immediately [the Almighty] becomes wroth.

And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass.19  A Tanna taught on the authority of R. Simeon b. Eleazar: Love disregards the rule of dignified conduct. [This is deduced] from Abraham, for it is written, And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass.20  Hate likewise disregards the rule of dignified conduct: [this is deduced] from Balaam, for it is written, And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass.

Rab Judah said in Rab's name: One should always occupy himself with Torah and good deeds, though it be not for their own sake,21  for out of good work misapplied in purpose there comes [the desire to do it] for its own sake. For as a reward for the forty-two sacrifices offered up by Balak, he was privileged that Ruth should be his descendant;22 [as]23  R. Jose b. Huna said: Ruth was the daughter of Eglon, the grandson of Balak, king of Moab.

Raba said to Rabbah b. Mari: It is written, [And moreover the king's servants came to bless our lord king David, saying] God make the name of Solomon better than thy name, and make his throne greater than thy throne:24  is it mannerly to speak thus to a king? — He replied: They meant, according to the nature of [thy throne etc.].25  For should you not say thus, [consider:] Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent.26  Now who are the 'women in the tent'? — Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. Is it then meet to say thus? — But it means according to the nature of [their blessedness].27  So here too, it bears the same meaning. Now, this conflicts with R. Jose b. Honi. For R. Jose b. Honi said: Of everyone a man is jealous, except his son and disciple. 'His son' — this is deduced from Solomon.28  'His disciple — [is deduced] if you like, say, from Let a double quantity of thy spirit be upon me;29  or if you like, say, from And he laid his hands upon him, and gave him a charge.30

And the Lord put a thing in the mouth of Balaam.31  R. Eleazar said, An angel;32  R. Jonathan said: a hook.

R. Johanan said: From the blessings of that wicked man you may learn his intentions:33  Thus he wished to curse them that they [the Israelites] should possess no synagogues or school-houses — [this is deduced from] How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob;34  that the Shechinah should not rest upon them — and thy tabernacles, O Israel;35  that their kingdom should not endure — As the valleys are they spread forth;36  that they might have no olive trees and vineyards — as gardens by the river's side; that their odour might not be fragrant — as the trees of lign aloes which the Lord hath planted; that their kings might not be tall — and as cedar trees beside the waters; that they might not have a king the son of a king — 37 He shall pour the water out of his buckets;38  that their kingdom might not rule over other nations — and his seed shall be in many waters; that their kingdom might not be strong — and his king shall be higher than Agag; that their kingdom might not be awe-inspiring — and his kingdom shall be exalted. R. Abba b. Kahana said: All of them reverted to a curse,39  excepting the synagogues and schoolhouses, for it is written, But the Lord thy God turned the curse into a blessing for thee, because the Lord thy God loved thee;40  the curse, but not the curses.41

R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in R. Jonathan's name: What is meant by the verse, Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful?42  Better is the curse wherewith Ahijah the Shilonite cursed Israel than the blessing wherewith the wicked Balaam blessed them. Ahijah the Shilonite cursed Israel by a reed, as it is said, For the Lord shall smite Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water:43  just as a reed grows in well watered soil and its stem

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Judges V, 27. This is taken to refer to sexual intercourse, and hence the first verse quoted is interpreted as referring to this likewise. That is the explanation according to our reading. But the verse he couched, he lay down as a lion, etc. refers not to Balaam but to Israel; this, of course, destroys the whole argument. In consequence the Wilna Gaon deletes this verse. The passage then reads: The view that he had sexual intercourse is deduced from, At her feet he bowed, he fell: just as 'falling' in this verse denotes cohabitation, so also in 'falling, but having his eyes open'. V.D.S. a.l.
  2. E.V. 'knowledge'.
  3. Num. XXIV, 16.
  4. Ibid. XXII, 30; thus affirming that it was his usual wont to ride upon her, not upon a horse.
  5. Ibid. XXII, 30.
  6. I Kings I, 2. In both cases a word from root [H] is used. Thus we see that he did not even know his beast's mind, not being able to anticipate her answers. How then could he claim to know the mind of God?
  7. Micah VI, 5.
  8. A euphemism for Israel; v. p. 622, n. 1, For Balaam's curse pronounced at the very moment of My anger, would have been effective.
  9. Num. XXIII, 8.
  10. I.e., He was never angry during that period.
  11. Ps. VII, 12.
  12. Ibid. XXX, 5.
  13. Isa. XXVI, 20.
  14. Heb. Min, v. Glos.
  15. 'Of his bed' is supplied from Ber. 7a. where this story is repeated. Magical properties were ascribed to the feet of a bed. V. A. Marmorstein in MGWJ. 1927, p. 44 and 1928. p. 391. et seqq., where a number of instances are given both from Talmudic and non-Talmudic literature of the feet of a bed being used in magic. For variants in the whole passage. cf. A.Z. 4a.
  16. When its comb is entirely white.
  17. Prov. XVII, 26.
  18. I.e., one must not curse even a sectarian.
  19. Num. XXII, 21.
  20. Gen. XXII, 3. Though the saddling of an ass is not work becoming for a great man, yet in his love to God and eagerness to carry out his commands, Abraham did it.
  21. V. next note.
  22. Though Balak offered up these sacrifices for a most unworthy purpose — viz. that Balaam might thereby be enabled to curse Israel — he was nevertheless rewarded for it, shewing that it has some merit.
  23. V. Hor. 10b.
  24. I Kings I, 47.
  25. I.e.. God make the name of Solomon illustrions (lit., 'good') even as the nature of thine own, and make his throne great, according to the character of thy throne. [The [H] in [H] is taken as partitive.]
  26. Judges V, 24.
  27. I.e., 'Blessed shall she be, with the blessedness of women in the tent.' [The [H] in [H] is likewise treated as partitive.]
  28. I.e., from the passage under discussion; David's servants were not afraid to wish Solomon a greater name than his own, knowing that he would not be jealous of his own son. He thus translates the verse literally.
  29. II Kings II, 9. Elisha asked this of his master Elijah.
  30. Num. XXVII, 23. This alludes to Moses' giving of his spirit to Joshua.
  31. Ibid. XXIII, 5.
  32. I.e., put an angel at his mouth, to curb his speech.
  33. Every blessing is the reverse of the curse he wished to utter.
  34. Ibid. XXIV, 5.'Tents' is interpreted 'synagogues'. etc.
  35. Ibid. The tabernacle symbolising the Divine Presence.
  36. Ibid. 6; the spreading forth of the valleys symbolising length of time.
  37. I.e., that no king should found a dynasty — a sign of unrest and civil war.
  38. I.e., one king shall be descended from another.
  39. His intention in every case was eventually fulfilled.
  40. Deut. XXIII, 6.
  41. I.e., only one intentioned curse was permanently turned into a blessing, viz.. that concerning synagogues etc., as these were destined never to disappear from Israel.
  42. Prov. XXVII, 6.
  43. I Kings XIV, 15.