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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Sotah

Folio 35a

and they went and came.1  R. Johanan said in the name of R. Simeon b. Yohai, It compares the going to the coming back; as the coming back was with an evil design, so the going was with an evil design.2  And they told him and said: We came etc.,3  and it continues, Howbeit the people are strong.4  R. Johanan said5  in the name of R. Meir, Any piece of slander, which has not some truth in the beginning, will not endure in the end.6

And Caleb stilled [wa-yahas] the people concerning Moses7  — Rabbah said, [It means] that he won them over [hissithan] with words. When Joshua began to address them, they said to him, 'Would this person with the lopped-off head8  speak to us!' [Caleb] said [to himself], If I address them [in the same strain as Joshua], they will answer me in like manner and silence me; so he said to them, 'Is it this alone that Amram's son has done to us!'9  They thought that he was speaking to censure Moses, so they were silent. Then he said to them, 'He brought us out of Egypt, divided the Red Sea for us and fed us with manna. If he were to tell us, Prepare ladders and ascend to heaven, should we not obey him! Let us go up at once and possess it etc.'10

But the men that went up with him said: We will not be able etc.11  R. Hanina b. Papa said: A grievous statement did they make at that moment, viz. For they are stronger than we — read not than we but than He;12  as it were even the master of the house cannot remove his furniture from there.13

It is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof.14  Raba expounded: The Holy One, blessed be He, said: I intended this for good15  but they thought it in a bad sense. I intended this for good, because wherever [the spies] came, the chief [of the inhabitants] died, so that they should be occupied [with his burial] and not inquire about them.16  (Others say that Job died then and the whole world was occupied with mourning for him.) But they thought it in a bad sense: It is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof.17

And we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.18  R. Mesharsheya said: The spies were liars. As regards 'we were in our own sight as grasshoppers', very well; but how could they know that 'so we were in their sight'? But it is not so;19  for when [the inhabitants] held their funeral-meal20  they ate it beneath cedar trees, and when [the spies] saw them they climbed the trees and sat there. Then they heard them say: 'We see men like grasshoppers in the trees'.

And all the congregation lifted up their voice and wept.21  Rabbah said in the name of R. Johanan: That day was the ninth of Ab;22  and the Holy One, blessed be He, said: They are now weeping for nothing, but I will fix [this day] for them as an occasion of weeping for generations.

But all the congregation bade them stone them with stones,23  and it continues, And the glory of the Lord appeared in the tent of meeting. R. Hiyya b. Abba said: It teaches that they took stones and hurled them against Him Who is above.24

Even those men that did bring up an evil report of the land died by the plague.25  R. Simeon b. Lakish said: They died an unnatural death.26  R. Hanina b. Papa said: R. Shila of Kefar Temarthah expounded; It27  teaches that their tongue was elongated and reached down to their navel, and worms issued from their tongue and penetrated their navel and from their navel they penetrated their tongue. R. Nahman b. Isaac said: They died of croup.28

When29  the last of the Israelites ascended from the Jordan, the waters returned to their place; as it is said: And it came to pass, when the priests that bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord were come up out of the midst of the Jordan, and the soles of the priests' feet were lifted up unto the dry ground, that the waters of Jordan returned unto their place, and went over all its banks, as aforetime.30  Consequently the ark and its bearers and the priests were on one side [of the Jordan] and the Israelites on the other!31  The ark carried its bearers and passed over [the river]; as it is said: And it came to pass, when all the people were clean passed over, that the ark of the Lord passed over, and the priests, in the presence of the people.32  On that account was Uzza punished, as it is said: And when they came unto the threshing-floor of Chidon, Uzza put forth his hand to hold the ark.33  The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, 'Uzza, [the ark] carried its bearers; must it not all the more [be able to carry] itself!'

And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error [shal] etc.34  R. Johanan and R. Eleazar [differ on the interpretation of the word 'shal']. One said [that it means] on account of the act of error [shalu];35  the other said [that it means] he relieved himself in its presence.36

And there he died by37  the ark of God. R. Johanan said: Uzzah entered the World to Come, as it is stated 'with the ark of God' — as the ark endures for ever, so Uzzah entered the World to Come.

And David was angry, because the Lord had broken forth upon Uzzah.38  R. Eleazar said: His face was changed [so that it became in colour] like a cake baked upon the coals [hararah]. Are we to infer from this that wherever wa-yihar occurs it has this meaning? — In other passages the word 'af [anger] is added but here it is not added.

Raba expounded: Why was David punished?39  Because he called words of Torah 'songs', as it is said: Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.40  The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, 'Words of Torah, of which it is written: Wilt thou set thine eyes upon it? It is gone,41  thou recitest as songs! I will cause thee to stumble in a matter which even school-children know.' For it is written: But unto the sons of Kohath he gave none, because the service of the sanctuary etc.;42  and yet [David] brought it in a waggon.

And he smote of the men of Beth-Shemesh, because they looked into the ark.43  God smote them because they looked into the ark! R. Abbahu and R. Eleazar [differ in their interpretation]; one said that they went on reaping while they prostrated themselves [before the ark];44  the other said that they also used this [disrespectful] language to it,

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Num. XIII, 25f.
  2. They planned at the outset to bring back a discouraging report.
  3. Ibid. 27.
  4. Ibid. 28.
  5. The Gemara inserts here: mnemonic — truth, alone, interment. These are keywords to assist in remembering the sequence of the passages treated.
  6. On that account the report opened with a true description of the land's fertility.
  7. Ibid. 30. I.e., he silenced them to hear something about Moses. E.V. 'before'.
  8. An allusion to the fact that he was childless. What interest could he have in the conquest since he had no children to possess the land! (Rashi).
  9. He chose his words that the people should imagine he was against Moses, and so they would listen to him. 'Alone' in this sentence is the key-word of the mnemonic.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid. 31.
  12. [ [H] instead of [H] a difference of pronounciation in the Babylonian Masora, in order to distinguish between the 1st. masc. plur and 3rd. sing, (v. Ges. K. 1910 para. m, n. 1), and cf. Ibn Ezra on Ex. I, 9.]
  13. Even God is powerless against them.
  14. Num. XIII, 32.
  15. Viz., that many Canaanites die there. Hence the word 'interment' in the mnemonic.
  16. This is how the spies were able to return unmolested.
  17. This fate would befall the Israelites if they settled there.
  18. Ibid. 33.
  19. The spies did not lie in this matter.
  20. After burying the dead, as mentioned above.
  21. Ibid. XIV, 1.
  22. Fifth month. On that date the two Temples were destroyed, and the day is observed as a fast.
  23. Ibid. 10.
  24. The word 'them' includes God,
  25. Num. XIV, 37.
  26. That is the meaning of 'by the plague'.
  27. The definite article in 'the plague' shows that it was not an ordinary epidemic.
  28. It was regarded as the severest form death could take (Ber. 8a) and was the fate of the slanderer (Shab. 33b).
  29. After this long digression there is resumed the narrative of the crossing of the Jordan.
  30. Josh. IV, 18.
  31. The text is understood in the same sense that the priests who carried the ark dipped their feet in the Jordan and the waters remained parted so long as the feet were kept there. When the Israelites had crossed, the priests lifted their feet out of the water, stepping back upon the bank. They were consequently on the other side; so how did they get over?
  32. Ibid. 11. Note that the ark 'passed over', and was not carried over.
  33. I Chron. XIII, 9.
  34. II Sam. VI, 7.
  35. [ [H] error, neglect, cf. Ezra IV, 12.]
  36. Shal is connected with the root nashal 'to drop off.
  37. Lit., 'with'.
  38. II Sam. VI, 8. 'Angry' is 'wa-yihar' lit., 'be kindled'. The explanation is intended to avoid the thought that David was angered against God.
  39. That Uzzah died through him.
  40. Ps. CXIX, 54. When he fled from his enemies, he entertained himself by treating Scriptural passages as songs. He thus made a profane use of them.
  41. Prov. XXIII, 5 — i.e., the Torah is beyond human understanding.
  42. Num. VII, 9. The ark had to be carried upon the shoulders of the Levites.
  43. I Sam. VI, 19.
  44. [The phrase [H] is taken to signify 'they gazed at the ark' with unbecoming interest, v. Driver, S.R., Samuel, a.l.]

Sotah 35b

'Who embittered thee that thou wast thus embittered,1  and what has come upon thee that thou art now appeased?'

Even He smote of the people seventy men and fifty thousand men.2  R. Abbahu and R. Eleazar [differ in their interpretation]; one said that there were only seventy men [smitten] each of whom was the equal of fifty thousand men, while the other said that there were fifty thousand men [smitten] each of whom was equal to the seventy who constituted the Sanhedrin.

And it was so, that when they that bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling,3  and it is also written, [They sacrificed] seven bullocks and seven rams!4  — R. Papa said in the name of Samuel: [The two passages are reconciled by supposing that] at each pace an ox and a fatling [were offered] and at each six paces seven bullocks and seven rams. R. Hisda said to him, On your theory you filled the whole of the land of Israel with high places! But, said R. Hisda, at each six paces an ox and a fatling [were offered] and at each six sets of six paces seven bullocks and seven rams.

[In one place the name of the threshing-floor] is written Chidon [and in another] Nacon!5  — R. Johanan said: At first [it was called] Chidon and afterwards Nacon.6

In consequence [of what is related in the Scriptures], you must conclude that there were three sets of stones: one which Moses caused to be erected in the land of Moab, as it is said: Beyond Jordan, in the land of Moab, began Moses to declare etc.,7  and elsewhere it states: Thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this law [very plainly],8  and the inference is drawn from the use of the analogous word [that as in the latter passage stones were employed, they were similarly employed in connection with what is narrated in the first passage]. The second set was that which Joshua caused to be erected in the midst of the Jordan, as it is said: And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of Jordan.9  The third set was that which he caused to be erected in Gilgal, as it is said: And those twelve stones which they took.10

Our Rabbis taught: How did the Israelites inscribe the Torah? — R. Judah says: They inscribed it upon the stones, as it is stated: 'Thou shalt write upon the stones all the words of this law etc.' After that they plastered them over with plaster. R. Simeon said to him, According to your explanation, how did the nations of that period learn the Torah!11  — He replied to him, The Holy One, blessed be He, endowed them with exceptional intelligence; and they sent their scribes who peeled off the plaster and carried away [a copy of the inscription]. On that account was the verdict sealed against them [to descend] to the pit of destruction, because it was their duty to learn [Torah] but they failed to do so. R. Simeon says: They inscribed it upon the plaster and wrote below, That they teach you not to do after all [their abominations].12  Hence you learn that if they turn in penitence they would be accepted. Raba b. Shila said: What is R. Simeon's reason? — Because it is written: And the peoples shall be as the burnings of lime13  — i.e., on account of the matter of the plaster.14  And [how does] R. Judah [explain this verse]? — [Their destruction will be] like plaster — as there is no other remedy for plaster except burning, so there is no other remedy for those nations [who cleave to the abominations] except burning. According to whom [is the following teaching] which has been taught: And thou carriest them away captive15  — this is to include Canaanites who reside outside the land [of Israel] so if they turn in penitence they will be accepted.

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. And didst not release thyself from the Philistines.
  2. I Sam. VI, 19. [In M.T. the particle [H] ('and') is missing.]
  3. II Sam. VI, 13.
  4. I Chron. XV, 26.
  5. Cf. II Sam. VI, 6 with I Chron. XIII, 9.
  6. Chidon means 'a spear', an appropriate name for the place where Uzzah lost his life; Nacon means 'established', and alludes to the fact that the ark was established there.
  7. Deut. I, 5. The Hebrew for 'declare' is be'er.
  8. Ibid. XXVII, 8. The Hebrew for 'plainly' is ba'er.
  9. Josh. IV, 9.
  10. Josh. IV, 20.
  11. Since the inscription was covered with plaster.
  12. Deut. XX, 18. The command to destroy was limited to those of the seven nations who resided in Canaan. Those of them who lived outside its borders could survive by giving up their abominable practices.
  13. Isa. XXXIII, 12. The word for 'lime' is the same as for plaster.
  14. The nations will be destroyed because they neglected to pay heed to the teachings inserted on the plaster.
  15. Deut. XXI, 10.