Previous Folio / Sotah Directory / Tractate List / Navigate Site

Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sotah

Folio 34a

When the feet of the priests were dipped in the water, the water flowed backward; as it is said: And when they that bore the ark were come unto the Jordan … that the waters which came down from above stood and rose up in one heap.1  What was the height of the water? Twelve mil by twelve mil in accordance with the dimensions of the camp of Israel.2  Such is the statement of R. Judah; and R. Eleazar b. Simeon said to him, According to your explanation, which is swifter, man or water? Surely water is swifter; therefore the water must have returned and drowned them!3  It rather teaches that the waters were heaped up like stacks to a height of more than three hundred mil, until all the kings of the East and West saw them; as it is said: And it came to pass, when all the kings of the Amorites, which were beyond Jordan westward, and all the kings of the Canaanites, which were by the sea, heard how that the Lord had dried up the waters of Jordan from before the children of Israel until they were passed over, that their heart melted, neither was there spirit in them any more, because of the children of Israel.4  And also Rahab the harlot said to Joshua's messengers, For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea etc.;5  and it continues, And as soon as we heard it, our hearts did melt neither did there remain any more etc.6

While they were still in the Jordan, Joshua said to them, Know why you are crossing the Jordan; it is on condition that you disinherit the inhabitants of the land from before you; as it said: Then ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you etc.7  If you do this, well and good; otherwise the water will return and drown you [othekem].8  — What means 'othekem'? Me and you. While they were still in the Jordan, Joshua said to them, Take you up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel etc.;9  and it continues, That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask in time to come, saying: What mean ye by these stones? etc.10  It was to be a monument for the children that their fathers had crossed the Jordan. While they were still in the Jordan, Joshua said to them. Take you hence out of the midst of the Jordan, out of the place where the priests' feet stood firm, twelve stones, and carry them over with you, and lay them down in the lodging place, where ye shall lodge this night etc.11  It is possible [to think that they were to deposit them] in any lodging place; therefore there is a text to state, 'Where ye shall lodge this night'.

R. Judah12  said: Abba Halafta, R. Eliezer b. Mathia and Hananiah b. Hakinai stood upon those stones and estimated that each was equal to about forty se'ah.13  There is a tradition that the weight which a man can raise upon his shoulder is a third of the weight he can carry;14  so from this you may calculate what was the weight of the cluster of grapes,15  as it is said: And they bare it upon a staff between two.16  From the fact that it is stated upon a staff do I not know that it [was carried] between two? Why, then, is there a text to state 'between two'? [It means] on two staffs. R. Isaac said: [It means] a series of balancing poles.17  How was it? Eight [spies] carried the grape-cluster,18  one carried a pomegranate, one carried a fig, and Joshua and Caleb did not carry anything. If you wish I can say [that they did not carry anything] because they were the most distinguished of them,19  or alternatively that they did not have a share in the plan.20

R. Ammi and R. Isaac the smith differ in opinion. One said: According to the statement of R. Judah,21

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Josh. III, 15f.
  2. supra p. 71. So that as soon as the last Israelite had crossed over, the waters returned.
  3. If the water rose to twelve mil only to subside again, they would not have been able to traverse a sufficient distance to escape the returning water.
  4. Josh. V, 1.
  5. Ibid. II, 10.
  6. Ibid. 11.
  7. Num. XXXIII. 52.
  8. This is an unusual Hebrew form, and is taken as a combination of othi, 'me' and ethkem 'you'.
  9. Josh. IV, 5.
  10. Ibid. 6.
  11. Josh. IV, 3.
  12. The reading should be: R. Jose.
  13. The se'ah was a measure of capacity; so what is here meant is a weight equal to that of forty se'ah of wheat.
  14. When others help to set it upon his shoulder. Consequently the weight of each was 120 se'ah.
  15. Carried by the spies.
  16. Num. XIII, 23.
  17. For four couples of carriers.
  18. [The weight of which would have been on this calculation 960 se'ahs, that is 8 times 120.]
  19. And so it was beneath their dignity.
  20. The bringing of the fruit was part of the plan to discourage the community. They would judge from its size what must be the stature of the inhabitants.
  21. That the water was twelve mil in height.

Sotah 34b

they crossed over in the formation of their encampment, and according to the statement of R. Eleazar b. Simeon1  they crossed over in single file.2  The other said: According to the statement of both teachers they crossed over in the formation of their encampment. One teacher was of the opinion that man was swifter, and the other that water was swifter.3

Send for thee men4  — Resh Lakish said: ['For thee' means] from thine own mind;5  because does anybody choose a bad position for himself?6  That is what is written: And the thing pleased me well7  — Resh Lakish said: It pleased me [Moses] well but not the All-Present.

That they search the land for us8  — R. Hiyya b. Abba said: The spies aimed at nothing else than discrediting the land of Israel. Here it is written: That they may search [we-yahperu] the land for us, and elsewhere it is written: Then the moon shall be confounded [we-haferah] and the sun ashamed etc.9

And these were their names: of the tribe of Reuben, Shammua the son of Zaccur.10  R. Isaac said: It is a tradition in our possession from our forefathers that the spies were named after their actions, but only with one has it survived with us: Sethur the son of Michael.11  [He was named] Sethur because he undermined [sathar] the works of the Holy One, blessed be He; and Michael [was so named] because he suggested that God [el] was weak [mak].12  R. Johanan said: We can also explain [the name] Nahbi the son of Vophsi.13  [He was named] Nahbi because he hid [hikbi] the words14  of the Holy One, blessed be He; and Vophsi [was so named] because he stepped over [pasa'] the attributes15  of the Holy One, blessed be He.

And they went up by the South and he came unto Hebron16  — it should have read 'and they came'! — Raba said: It teaches that Caleb held aloof from the plan of the spies and went and prostrated himself upon the graves of the patriarchs, saying to them, 'My fathers, pray on my behalf that I may be delivered from the plan of the spies'. (As for Joshua, Moses had already prayed on his behalf; as it is said: And Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun Joshua,17  [meaning], May Jah save thee [yoshi'aka] from the plan of the spies.) That is the intention of what is written: But My servant Caleb, because he had another spirit with him.18

And there were Ahiman, Sheshai and Talmai19  — Ahiman [was so named because he was] the strongest [meyuman] of them; Sheshai because he made the earth like pits [shehithoth];20  Talmai because he made the earth like furrows [telamim]. Another explanation:21  Ahiman built 'Anath, Sheshai built Alash, and Talmai built Telbesh.22  The children of Anak — [they are so called] because they wore the sun as a necklace [ma'anikin] owing to their stature.

Now Hebron was built seven years19  — what means 'was built'? If I say that it means actually built, is it possible that a man constructs a house for his younger son before his elder son; as it is written: And the sons of Ham: Cush and Mizraim?23  But [the intention is], it was seven times more productive than Zoan. There is no worse stony ground in all the land of Israel than Hebron, and that is why they bury the dead there; and there is none among all the countries superior to the land of Egypt, as it is said: Like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt;24  and there is no place superior to Zoan In all the land Egypt, as it is written: For his princes are at Zoan.25  Nevertheless Hebron was seven times more productive than Zoan. But was Hebron stony ground; behold it is written: And it came to pass at the end of forty years, that Absalom said unto the king, I pray thee, let me go [and pay my vow … in Hebron];26  and R. Iwya — another version is, Rabbah b. Bar Hanan-said: He went to fetch lambs from Hebron; and there is also a teaching: [The best] rams are from Moab and lambs from Hebron! — From that very fact [it is proved that the land was stony]; because the soil is thin it produces pastures27  and the cattle grow fat there.

And they returned from spying out the land …

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. That the height was over three hundred mil.
  2. The time of crossing was much longer; consequently the heap of water had to be of greater height.
  3. For that reason they suggest different heights for the water to enable the people to escape.
  4. Num. XIII, 2. So the Hebrew literally.
  5. I.e., the plan did not emanate from God but from Moses.
  6. Would God have sanctioned a plan which He knew was to end in disaster?
  7. Deut. I, 23.
  8. Ibid. 22. The word for search is here given the meaning 'confound'.
  9. Isa. XXIV, 23.
  10. Num. XIII, 4.
  11. Ibid. 13.
  12. Lit., 'he made himself to be weak' — a reverential avoidance of a disparaging reference to God. He was the man who said: 'Even the master of the house cannot remove his furniture from there' (infra 35a).
  13. Ibid. 14.
  14. Did not truthfully report them.
  15. He misrepresented them.
  16. Ibid. 22. So the Heb. literally.
  17. Num. XIII, 16.
  18. Ibid. XIV, 24. It continues: I will bring him into the land whereinto he went, viz. Hebron. V. Josh. XIV, 14.
  19. Num. XIII, 22.
  20. Through his heavy tread.
  21. These words should be deleted, and do not occur in the parallel passage Yoma 10a.
  22. [Identified by Obermeyer (op. cit. pp. 102-3) with 'Anah, Alusa and Telbeth, three fortified island-towns on the Northern Euphrates.]
  23. Gen. X, 6. Canaan was the youngest of his sons and Mizraim the second.
  24. Ibid. XIII, 10.
  25. Isa. XXX, 4.
  26. II Sam. XV, 7.
  27. It does not yield any other produce.