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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sotah

Folio 12a

There is also evidence for this, since it is written, [And Caleb the son of Jephunneh] the Kenizzite.1  Conclude, therefore, that Azubah is identical with Miriam; and why was her name called Azubah? Because all men forsook her ['azabuhah] at first.2  'Begat!'3  But he was married to her! — R. Johanan said: Whoever marries a woman for the name of heaven,4  the text ascribes it to him as though he had begotten her. 'Jerioth' — [she was so named] because her face was like curtains.5  'And these were her sons' — read not baneha [her sons] but boneha [her builders].6  'Jesher' [he was so called] because he set himself right [yishsher].7  'Shobab' — [he was so called] because he turned his inclination aside [shibbeb].8  'And Ardon' — [he was so called] because he disciplined [radah] his inclination. Others say: Because his face was like a rose [wered].

And Ashhur the father of Tekoa had two wives, Helah and Naarah.9  Ashhur is identical with Caleb; and why was his name called Ashhur? Because his face was blackened [hushheru] through his fasts.10  'The father'- he became a father to her.11  'Tekoa'- he fixed [taka'] his heart on his Father in heaven.12  'Had two wives' — [this means] Miriam became like two wives. 'Helah and Naarah' — she was not both Helah and Naarah, but at first she was Helah [an invalid] and finally Naarah [a young girl].13  And the sons of Helah were Zereth, Zohar and Ethnan.14  'Zereth' — [Miriam was so called] — because she became the rival [zarah] of her contemporaries [in beauty]. 'Zohar' — because her face was [beautiful] like the noon [zoharayim]. 'Ethnan' — because whoever saw her took a present ['ethnan] to his wife.15

And Pharaoh charged all his people.16  R. Jose son of R. Hanina said: He imposed the same decree upon his own people.17  R. Jose son of R. Hanina also said: He made three decrees: first, 'if it be a son, then ye shall kill him'; then 'every son that is born ye shall cast into the river'; and finally he imposed the same decree upon his own people.

And there went a man of the house of Levi.18  Where did he go? R. Judah b. Zebina said that he went in the counsel of his daughter. A Tanna taught: Amram was the greatest man of his generation; when he saw that the wicked Pharaoh had decreed 'Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river', he said: In vain do we labour. He arose and divorced his wife.19  All [the Israelites] thereupon arose and divorced their wives. His daughter said to him, 'Father, thy decree is more severe than Pharaoh's; because Pharaoh decreed only against the males whereas thou hast decreed against the males and females. Pharaoh only decreed concerning this world whereas thou hast decreed concerning this world and the World to Come.20  In the case of the wicked Pharaoh there is a doubt whether his decree will be fulfilled or not, whereas in thy case, though thou art righteous, it is certain that thy decree will be fulfilled, as it is said: Thou shalt also decree a thing, and it shall be established unto thee!21  He arose and took his wife back; and they all arose and took their wives back.

And took to wife18  — it should have read 'and took back'!22  R. Judah b. Zebina said: — He acted towards her as though it had been the first marriage; he seated her in a palanquin, Aaron and Miriam danced before her, and the Ministering Angels proclaimed, A joyful mother of children.23

A daughter of Levi.18  How is this possible! She was one hundred and thirty years old, and he calls her 'a daughter'! (For R. Hama b. Hanina said: This24  refers to Jochebed whose conception occurred during the journey [to Egypt] and her birth between the walls;25  as it is said: Who was born to Levi in Egypt26  — her birth occurred in Egypt but her conception did not occur there.)27  — Rab Judah said: [She is called 'a daughter'] because the signs of maidenhood were reborn in her.28

And the woman conceived and bare a son.29  But she had already been pregnant three months!30  — R. Judah b. Zebina said: It compares the bearing of the child to its conception; as the conception was painless so was the bearing painless. Hence [it is learnt] that righteous women were not included in the decree upon Eve.31

And when she saw him that he was good.29  It has been taught: R. Meir says: His name was Tob [good]; R. Judah says: His name was Tobiah; R. Nehemiah says: [She foresaw that he would be] worthy of the prophetic gift; others say: He was born circumcised; and the Sages declare, At the time when Moses was born, the whole house was filled with light — it is written here, And when she saw him that he was good, and elsewhere it is written: And God saw the light that it was good.32

She hid him three months.29  [She was able to do this] because the Egyptians only counted [the period of her pregnancy] from the time that she was restored [to youth], but she was then already pregnant three months.

And when she could not longer hide him33  — why? She should have gone on hiding him! — But whenever the Egyptians were informed that a child was born, they would take other children there so that it should hear them [crying] and cry with them; as it is written: Take us the foxes, the little foxes etc.34

She took for him an ark of bulrushes33  — why just bulrushes? R. Eleazar said: Hence [it is learnt] that to the righteous their money is dearer than their body;35  and why so? — That they should not stretch out their hand to robbery.36  R. Samuel b. Nahmani says: [She selected them] because they are a soft material which can withstand both soft and hard materials.37

And daubed it with slime and with pitch38  — A Tanna taught: The slime was inside and the pitch outside so that that righteous child should not smell the bad odour.

And she put the child therein and laid it in the reeds [suf]38  — R. Eleazar said: In the Red [suf] Sea; R. Samuel b. Nahmani said:

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Josh. XIV, 6, and not the son of Kenaz.
  2. She was an invalid so that nobody would marry her.
  3. The Hebrew text could be translated: and Caleb begat Azubah.
  4. From a pious motive, as in this case where through illness Miriam remained unmarried.
  5. She also is identified with Miriam. Through illness her face was pale like the colour of curtains (yeri'oth).
  6. Through them she attained the dignity of motherhood.
  7. Viz., Caleb escaped the error of the other spies.
  8. From following the rest of the spies.
  9. I Chron. IV, 5.
  10. He mortified himself to resist joining the other spies.
  11. To Miriam who, on account of illness, required constant attention.
  12. For will-power not to join in the evil report.
  13. I.e., she recovered and became young in appearance.
  14. I Chron. IV, 7.
  15. His passion was aroused by the sight of Miriam.
  16. Ex. I, 22.
  17. To kill the male children, because the astrologers had warned him that a boy was soon to be born who would overthrow him.
  18. Ex. II, 1.
  19. Since all the male children to be born would be killed, and the primary object of marriage was the procreation of sons.
  20. The drowned babes would live again in the Hereafter; but unborn children are denied that bliss.
  21. Job XXII, 28.
  22. His wife, according to the story just related.
  23. Ps. CXIII, 9.
  24. 'The daughter of Levi'.
  25. I.e., just as the caravan arrived at Egypt.
  26. Num. XXVI, 59. The Torah mentions that the Israelites numbered seventy who came to Egypt, whereas there are only sixty-nine names in the list. Hence this statement about Jochebed.
  27. From that time one hundred and thirty years had elapsed.
  28. Although so old, she became young in form and appearance.
  29. Ex. II, 2.
  30. Viz., before she was restored to youth, as will be explained.
  31. That she would bear children in pain (Gen. III, 16).
  32. Gen. I, 4.
  33. Ex. II, 3.
  34. Cant II, 15.
  35. She selected bulrushes because of their cheapness, although hard wood would have been better for the welfare of the child.
  36. They are frugal in expenditure upon their comforts so as not to be tempted to dishonesty for the gratification of their needs.
  37. Hard wood would be more easily split, whereas bulrushes yield under pressure.
  38. Ex. II, 3.

Sotah 12b

It means reeds, as it is written: The reeds and flags shall wither away.1

And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river.2  R. Johanan said in the name of R. Simeon b. Yohai: It teaches that she went down there to cleanse herself of her father's idols;3  and thus it says: When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion etc.4  And her maidens walked along etc.5  R. Johanan said: The word for 'walk' means nothing else than death; and thus it says: Behold I am going to die.6  And she saw the ark among the reeds.2  When [the maidens] saw that she wished to rescue Moses, they said to her, 'Mistress, it is the custom of the world that when a human king makes a decree, though everybody else does not obey it, at least his children and the members of his household obey it; but thou dost transgress thy father's decree!' Gabriel came and beat them to the ground.

And sent her handmaid to fetch it2  — R. Judah and R. Nehemiah [differ in their interpretation]; one said that the word means 'her hand' and the other said that it means 'her handmaid'. He who said that it means 'her hand' did so because it is written ammathah;7  he who said that it means 'her handmaid' did so because the text has not yadah [her hand]. But according to him who said that it means 'her handmaid', it has just been stated that Gabriel came and beat them to the ground!8  — He left her one, because it is not customary for a king's daughter to be unattended. But according to him who said that it means 'her hand', the text should have been yadah! — It teaches us that [her arm] became lengthened; for a master has said: You find it so9  with the arm of Pharaoh's daughter and similarly with the teeth of the wicked, as it is written: Thou hast broken [shibbarta] the teeth of the wicked,10  and Resh Lakish said: Read not shibbarta but shirbabta [thou has lengthened].11

She opened it and saw the child12  — it should have been 'and saw'. R. Jose b. R. Hanina said: She saw the Shechinah with him.13

And, behold, the boy wept12  — he is called a 'child' and then a 'boy'! — A Tanna taught: He was a child but his voice was like that of a grown boy; such is the view of R. Judah. R. Nehemiah said to him, If so, you have made our master Moses into one possessed of a blemish;14  but it teaches that his mother made for him a canopy [such as is used at the marriage] of boys15  in the ark, saying: 'Perhaps I may not be worthy [to be present at] his marriage-canopy'.

And she had compassion on him and said: Of the Hebrews' children is this.12  How did she know it? — R. Jose b. R. Hanina said: Because she saw that he was circumcised. 'Is this' — R. Johanan said: It teaches that she unwittingly prophesied that 'this' one will fall [into the river] but no other will fall.16  That is what R. Eleazar said: What means the text: And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits and unto the wizards, that chirp and that mutter?17  They foresee and know not what they foresee; they mutter and know not what they mutter. They saw that Israel's saviour would be punished through water; so they arose and decreed, Every son that is born ye shall cast into the river.18  After they had thrown Moses [into the water], they said: 'We do not see that sign any longer';19  they thereupon rescinded their decree. But they knew not that he was to be punished through the water of Meribah.20  That is what R. Hama b. Hanina said: What means the text: These are the waters of Meribah, because they strove?21  These are [the waters] about which Pharaoh's magicians saw and erred; and concerning this Moses said: Six hundred thousand footmen etc.22  Moses said to Israel, 'On my account were all of you delivered [from drowning by the edict of Pharaoh]'.

R. Hanina b. Papa said: That day23  was the twenty-first of Nisan,24  and the Ministering Angels spoke before the Holy One, blessed be He, 'Lord of the Universe! Shall he who will utter a song to Thee by the Red Sea on this day be punished on this day?' R. Aha b. Hanina said: That day was the sixth of Sivan,25  and the Ministering Angels spoke before the Holy One, blessed be He, 'Lord of the Universe! Shall he who will receive the Torah on Mount Sinai on this day be punished on this day?' It is quite right according to him who said that it was the sixth of Sivan, for then it occurred three months [after his birth]; for a master has said: Moses died on the seventh of Adar26  and was born on the seventh of Adar, and from the seventh of Adar to the sixth of Sivan is three months. But according to him who said that it was the twenty-first of Nisan, how could it have been?27  — That year was a leap year;28  the greater part of the first [Adar] and the greater part of the last [Nisan] and a full month in between.29

Then said his sister to Pharaoh's daughter, Shall I go and call thee a nurse of the Hebrew women?30  Why just 'of the Hebrew women'? — It teaches that they handed Moses about to all the Egyptian women but he would not suck. He31  said: Shall a mouth which will speak with the Shechinah suck what is unclean! That is what is written: Whom will He teach knowledge etc.?32  — To whom will He teach knowledge and to whom will He make the message understandable? To them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.

And Pharaoh's daughter said unto her, Go etc.33  R. Eleazar said: It teaches that she went quickly like a young woman.34  R. Samuel b. Nahmani said: [She is called] the maid ['almah] because she made the words secret.35

And Pharaoh's daughter said unto her, Take this child away.36  R. Hama b. Hanina said: She prophesied without knowing what she prophesied — Heliki ['take away'] — behold what is thine [ha sheliki].

And I will give thee thy wages.36  R. Hama b. Hanina said: Not enough that the righteous have their loss restored to them but they also receive their reward in addition.

And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took etc.37  The 'sister of Aaron' and not the sister of Moses! — R. Amram said in the name of Rab, and according to others it was R. Nahman who said in the name of Rab: It teaches that she prophesied while she yet was the sister of Aaron only38

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Isa. XIX, 6.
  2. Ex. II, 5.
  3. Since immersion is part of the ceremony of conversion, it is assumed that she became a proselyte.
  4. Isa. IV, 4.
  5. Ex. II, 5.
  6. Gen. XXV, 32.
  7. The text could be read either as amathah 'her maid' or 'ammathah 'her arm'. The Targum of Onkelos renders by 'her arm'.
  8. Therefore they were all dead; so how could the princess send her handmaid?
  9. [The lengthening of a limb, v. Meg. 15b.]
  10. Ps. III, 8.
  11. [The reference is to Og, King of Bashan, v. Ber. 54b.]
  12. Ex. II, 6. The text is literally: she saw him the child.
  13. The suffix hu (him) is explained as God and the particle eth as 'with' and not the sign of the accusative: she saw Him with the child'.
  14. His voice would be abnormal, and this disqualified a Levite from the Temple-ministry.
  15. [Or. 'canopy of youth', i.e., a bridal canopy.]
  16. Because on that day the decree to drown the males was rescinded.
  17. Isa. VIII, 19.
  18. Ex. I, 22.
  19. Indicating that the peril to Pharaoh was averted by this action.
  20. [And that this was the meaning of the sign they had seen.]
  21. Num. XX. 13.
  22. Ibid. XI, 21. Footmen is in Hebrew ragli which can also mean 'for my sake'.
  23. [On which Moses was cast into the Sea.]
  24. The first month in the Jewish year. It was on that day later on that the Egyptians were drowned.
  25. The third month, the date of the Revelation.
  26. The twelfth month.
  27. The difference between the two dates is only one month and fourteen days.
  28. When a thirteenth month is inserted between Adar and Nisan.
  29. This gives in round figures the three months required.
  30. Ex. II, 7.
  31. Some authorities explain 'He' as referring to God.
  32. Isa. XXVIII, 9.
  33. Ex. II, 8.
  34. The word in the verse 'almah 'maid' is connected with its analogous root in Aramaic which means 'to be vigorous'.
  35. 'Alam means 'to hide'; she did not disclose her relationship to the child.
  36. Ex. II, 9.
  37. Ibid. XV, 20.
  38. Before Moses' birth.