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Ancient Jewish Proverbs, by Abraham Cohen, , at sacred-texts.com
100. Falsehood is common, truth uncommon (Shab. 104a; D. 641).
Cf. no. 78. The Rabbis say, "The punishment of a liar is that he is not believed even when he tells the truth" (Sanh. 89b).
*101. He who gives vent to his wrath destroys his house (Sanh. 102b; D. 225).
Other sayings in Hebrew are: "The wrathful man is left with his wrath only, but the good man is permitted to taste of the fruit of his deeds" (Kid. 40b f; D. 608); "The wrathful man is subject to all kinds of tortures" (Ned. 22a); "The bad-tempered man is regardless even of the Divine Presence" (ibid. 22b); "There are three classes of people whose life is scarcely life—viz. the (too sensitively) compassionate, the irritable, and the melancholic" (Pes. 113b); "When a man gives vent to his wrath, if he is wise his wisdom leaves him, and if a prophet his prophetic gift departs" (ibid. 66b); "By three things
is a man recognisable: by his pocket [kīs], his cup [kōs], and his temper [ka‘as]" (Erub. 65b). Cf. also the English proverb "A hasty man never wanteth woe."
102. Strife is like the aperture of a leakage; as [the aperture] widens so [the stream of water] increases (Sanh. 7a; D. 241).
Cf. "He who sows discord will reap regret" (Ibn Gabirol, no. 616); "Beware of enmity, however insignificant; for the smallest insect has often caused the death of the greatest man" (no. 618).
103. [Strife] is like the plank in a bridge; the longer it exists the firmer it becomes (Sanh. 7a).
Same as preceding.
104. When the kettle boils over, it overflows its own sides (Eccles. R. to vii. 9; D. 242).
The wrathful man only harms himself.
105. Whoever expectorates upwards, it falls on his face (Eccles. R. to vii. 9; D. 366).
Parallel to the preceding.
*106. A Zuz for provisions is not found, for hanging it is found (Ḥag. 5a; D. 272).
This is the literal translation of the words, but its sense is obscure and variously explained. The context speaks of helping the distressed before it is too late, and therefore Streane's rendering, "Money for corn standing in the field is not found, for corn hanging up it is found" [Ḥagiga, p. 21], seems
unsuitable. Dukes paraphrases: "One cannot find anybody to advance money when a bargain chances his way, but always a purchaser when he has to sell at a loss." The simplest and most probable explanation is that of Jastrow: "A Zuz for provision is not on hand, but for saving from hanging it is," i.e. charity often waits for extreme distress. Cf. "When a dog is drowning every one offers him a drink." To the same effect the Rabbis declare: "Greater is he who lends [in time] than he who performs an act of charity" (Shab. 63a). So the English proverb: "He giveth twice that giveth in a trice."
*107. The camel went to seek horns, and the ears which it possessed were cut off (Sanh. 106a; D. 198).
Through wanting too much one often loses what he has. Cf. the saying of a Rabbi: "He, who sets longing eyes on what is not his, fails to obtain it, and is also deprived of what he has got" (Sot. 9a; D. 382). Parallel to English "To go for wool and return shorn."
*108. In Media a camel dances on a Kab (Jeb. 45a; D. 199).
All sorts of extravagant and improbable stories are related of distant countries. Cf. the saying "Africa ever produces something
new." Dukes quotes a later Jewish saying: "He who wishes to lie should take care that the testimony is afar off." (On the Kab see no. 21.)
109. Bad servants ask for advice after the deed is done (B. B. 4a; D. 547).
Similarly "After death the doctor."
110. Stripped naked but wearing shoes (Sot. 8b; Keth. 65b; D. 632).
It is as absurd for any one to be shabbily dressed and at the same time bedecked with ornaments as it would be to wear shoes and nothing else. The moral application is: An outward show of virtue when the character is obviously vicious is worse than being a thoroughly corrupt person. The Talmud exhorts a man to make his interior harmonise with his exterior (Ber. 28a).
111. Let the land become impoverished but not its owner (B. M. 104b; D. 347).
People are short-sighted and look only for immediate profit without thinking of possible disadvantages in the future. The proverb is based on the policy of impairing the fruit-growing qualities of the soil through overproduction, rather than that its owner should suffer for the time being through the smallness of the crop.
*112. Hang the heart of a palm-tree around a sow, and it will act as usual (Ber. 43b; D. 657).
The heart of a palm-tree was considered a rare dainty, but the pig, not appreciating its value, will trample it in filth. Cf. "The sow loves bran better than roses." The general meaning is: It is difficult to wean a person from long-acquired habits. A Rabbi beautifully declares: "Sinful habits are first as fine as a spider's web, but become finally as tough as cart-ropes" (Suc. 52a).
113. Should the peasant become king, the scrip does not leave his neck (Meg. 7b; D. 44).
Similar to preceding. Cf. "Apes are apes though clothed in scarlet," and no. 91 above.
114. Throw a stick into the air and it will fall on its end (Gen. R. ch. liii. § 15; D. 275).
Old habits cling fast and are not easily broken.
115. Thou hast beaten with a stick; and as thou hast beaten shalt thou be beaten (Num. R. ch. xviii. § 18; Ds. 23).
"Measure for measure." In Hebrew we find likewise: "In the measure in which a man measures is he measured" (Sot. 8b: D. 162) and "In the pot in which they cooked shall they be cooked" (ibid. 11a; D. 169). Cf. also: "Hillel once saw a skull floating on the surface of the water. He said to it, "Because thou drownedst others, they have drowned thee, and at the last they that drowned thee shall themselves be drowned" (Aboth ii. 7).
116. The heart and the eye are the two agents of sin (j. Ber. i. 5; D. 430).
Also found in Hebrew, Num. R. ch. xvii. § 6.
117. If he gains, he gains a piece of coal; if he loses, he loses a pearl (j. Terum. viii. 5; Da. appendix no. 1).
Proverbial of a man who sets out on a venture where the prize is trifling but the risk very great.
*118. When the ox falls, they sharpen their knives (Shab. 32a; Lam. R. to i. 7).
Cf. "When the tree is fallen, all go with their hatchets."
*119. When the ox falls, its slayers are many (Lam. R. to i. 7; D. 532).
Palestinian proverb. Cf. "He that's down, down with him!"
120. The ass came and kicked away the lamp (Shah. 116b; D. 134).
The judge of a certain lawsuit was presented with a golden lamp by the one litigant and with a Libyan ass (which was very highly prized) by the other. The verdict went in favour of the latter, and thus the proverb is a warning against bribery because there is always the danger of being outbid. It is also said of bribery: "A judge who accepts a gift, even if he be otherwise perfectly righteous, will not terminate his
existence before he has become demented" (Keth. 105b); "A judge who does not decide according to the truth causeth the Divine Presence to depart from Israel" (Sanh. 7a); "A judge should always imagine that a sword is placed across his thighs and Gehenna yawns beneath him " (ibid.).
121. From peddlers news, from rags vermin (Ber. 51b; D. 502).
Dukes compares, "From garments cometh a moth, and from women wickedness"(Ecclus. xlii. 13).
*122. Before even the dying person has expired, his executor bestirs himself (B. B. 91a; D. 551).
It is possible to be too cautious, and there is such a thing as indecent haste.
*123. From one house to another a shirt; from one land to another a life (Gen. R. ch. xxxix. § 11; D. 474).
He who removes from one house to another in the same town does so at a personal loss even if it be only the worth of a shirt; but to remove to another land involves sufficient worry and trouble to kill a person. Cf. "Three removals are as bad as a fire," i.e. the household goods are completely ruined.
*124. The third tongue slays three: the speaker, the spoken to, and the spoken of (Erach. 15b; D. 461).
Palestinian proverb. By "the third
tongue" is meant slander, a phrase used often in the Targum, the Aramaic Version of the Bible, and also in Syriac. Slander is a vice most fiercely denounced in the Rabbinic literature. Some of the things said about the slanderer are: "He magnifies his iniquity as far as Heaven," "He is worthy of stoning," "The Holy One says, I and he cannot dwell together in the earth" (ibid.); "The retailer of slander and also the receiver of it deserve to be cast to the dogs" (Pes. 118a).
125. Should not the whole enter, a half enters (Gen. R. ch. lvi. 4; D. 333).
Referring to slander, which always leaves some lasting impress on the mind of the hearer. Even if he professes to disbelieve it, he thinks to himself "There is no smoke without fire."
*126. It is not enough for him that he squanders his own, but [he also squanders the wealth] of others (Eccles. R. to iv. 6; D. 422).
Said of a borrower. Cf. the following.
*127. He who borrows on interest destroys his own and others' property (Lev. R. ch. iii. § 1; D. 214).
Cf. "Money borrowed is soon sorrowed."
*128. Between the midwife and the travailing woman, the child of the poor perishes (Gen. R. ch. lx. § 3; D. 156).
Cf. "Between the shepherd and the wolf
the lamb is torn asunder" (Tanḥuma, Waēra; D. 154). One often contributes as much to the disaster he is trying to avoid as does his opponent who is scheming to overwhelm him.
*129. She prostitutes herself for apples and distributes them among the sick (Lev. R. ch. iii. § 1; Eccles. R. to iv. 6; D. 193).
Doing evil for a good purpose, on the principle that the end justifies the means. Cf. "Steals the goose and gives the giblets in alms."
*130. He who rents one garden will eat birds; who rents gardens, the birds will eat him (Lev. R. ch. iii. § 1; Eccles. R. to iv. 6; D. 202).
To attempt too much is often to lose all. Cf. also no. 173.
*131. A pot belonging to partners is neither hot nor cold (Erub. 3a; B. B. 24b; D. 588).
Each leaves it to the other to see to a matter, with the result that neither does. "Too many cooks spoil the broth."
132. The shepherd is lame and the sheep in flight; at the door of the fold there are [harsh] words but in the stalls there is the reckoning (Shab. 32a; D. 619).
Retribution comes eventually with full force, even when it seems at first to be only mild.
*133. When the shepherd is angry with his
flock, he appoints a blind [sheep] as leader (B. K. 52a; D. 336).
A saying current in Galilee. The proverb seems to correspond to our "Cutting one's nose to spite one's face."
*134. Seven pits for the good man and one for the evil-doer (Sanh. 7a; D. 621).
It is necessary to amplify the proverb thus: "There are seven pits open for the good man, but he escapes them all, whereas if there be only one for the evil-doer he falls into it." The Biblical parallel is quoted: "For a righteous man falleth seven times and riseth up again: but the wicked are overthrown by calamity" (Prov. xxiv. 16). On the proverbial use of "Seven" see no. 57.
*135. Steal after the thief and thou too hast a taste (Ber. 5b; D. 179).
"The receiver is as bad as the thief."
136. In the hour of distress—a vow; in the hour of release—forgetfulness (Gen. R. ch. lxxxi. § 2; D. 175).
Cf. "Vows made in storms are forgotten in calms," and no. 38 below.
137. A slain lion hast thou slain; ground flour hast thou ground; a burnt house hast thou burnt (Cant. R. to iii. 4; cf. Sanh. 96b; D. 120).
There is nothing of which to boast in what you have done.
138. Art thou a hero? Behold a she-bear before
thee; rise and overpower her (Gen. R. ch. lxxxvii. § 3; D. 36).
The braggart may be called upon to give proof of his prowess.
*139. When the endives are bitter the wine is sour (Lam. R. to iii. 42; D. 58).
Palestinian proverb (see Buber in loc., and not as in the editions). The meaning is well expressed in another Rabbinic maxim: "One transgression draws another in its train" (Aboth iv. 2).
*140. If actions are wicked, they are bad for them who perform them (Lam. R. to iii. 42; D. 57).
Wickedness recoils on to the head of the perpetrator.
141. If our predecessors were angels we are human; if they were human, we are asses (Shek. v. 1; D. 107).
"The good old times." Cf. "Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these?" (Eccles. vii. 10). The same proverb is to be found in Hebrew in Shab. 112b. It is similarly said: "The nail of the former generations is better than the stomach of the later generations" (Jom. 9b; D. 307), and "As the difference between gold and dust so is the difference between our generation and that of our fathers" (j. Git. vi. 7; D. 410).
*142. All flatter a king (Num. R. ch. x. § 4; D. 340).
*143. He who hangs up his provision-basket hangs up his sustenance (Pes. 111b; D. 656).
An obscure proverb. Dukes quotes from the ‘Aruch (Talmudical Lexicon) that there existed a superstition in ancient times that it was unlucky to hang up the basket which was used for storing provisions. In his Zur rabbinischen Spruchkunde, no. 173, he offers another explanation: viz., one who asks too much of Providence endangers himself. By hanging up your provision-basket and waiting for something to turn up you run the risk of starvation. Cf. "One must not rely on miracles" (Pes. 64b).
144. I am thy cook and thou permittest me not to partake of thy dishes (Lev. R. ch. xxviii. § 3; D. 477).
Applied to people who are ungrateful to those who have benefited them.
145. False witnesses are despicable to their hirers (Sanh. 29a; D. 538).
Elsewhere it is said "A false witness is worthy of being cast to the dogs" (Pes. 118a).
146. A proud man is unacceptable even to his own household (B. B. 98a; D. 237).
Cf. no. 46. Other sayings are: "The proud man is possessed of a blemish" (Meg. 29a; D. 236); "The son of David (the
Messiah) will not come till the arrogant are consumed from Israel" (Sanh. 98a). It was a favourite maxim of the great Hillel, "My lowliness is my exaltation and my exaltation is my lowliness" (Lev. R. ch. i. § 5). Another Rabbi exhorts us, "Be exceedingly humble of spirit, since the hope of man is but worms" (Aboth. iv. 4). And Ibn Gabirol says, "What is pride? It is a folly which they who possess it cannot throw off" (op. cit. no. 626).
147. When priests rob, who would swear by their gods or sacrifice to them? (Gen. R. ch. xxvi. § 5; D. 343).
The wrong done by eminent men lowers the cause which they represent.
*148. A stater in a flask cries Clink, clink (B. M. 85b; D. 112).
The single coin in the flask is more audible than a large number of coins. Cf. "Empty vessels make the most noise." For "stater" see no. 91.
*149. The ass feels cold even at the solstice of Tammuz (Shab. 53a; D. 291).
I.e. in midsummer, Tammuz being the equivalent of the month of July. The proverb is applied to a blockhead, into whom it is impossible to drive any sense. To the same effect is: "To the wise man a nod [is sufficient], but the fool needs a fist" (D. p. 78). Cf. "A fool cannot be impressed, and
the flesh of a corpse does not feel the knife" (Shab. 13b; D. 77).
*150. That man has not eaten bread made from wheat all his days (Gen. R. ch. xv. § 7; D. 412).
Applied to an exceptionally ignorant man. He has never tasted the luxury of knowledge, in the same way as an extremely poor man never tastes such a dainty as bread made from wheat.
151. He ran with ladder and rope but could not learn (Ned. 89b; D. 610).
The figure is of a man who energetically provides himself with a ladder and rope wherewith to pull down the branches of a tree and pick the fruit. Similarly there are men who do all in their power to acquire knowledge, but are unsuccessful. Cf. "Thou hast dived into the mighty waters [for pearls] and hast brought up a potsherd in thy hand" (B. K. 91a; D. 581). Contrast the Rabbinic saying: "If a man says, "I have sought (wisdom) and found it not," do not believe him" (Meg. 6b).
*152. One man weeps without knowing why, another laughs without knowing why; woe to him who knows not to distinguish between the good and the bad! (Sanh. 103a; D. 161).
153. Play the flute to noblemen [and they find it pleasant; play it] to weavers and they will not accept it (Jom. 20b; D. 2).
Fools criticise where sages admire. On the "weaver" see no. 23.
*154. The sorcerer mutters but knows not what he mutters (Sot. 22a; D. 617).
Applicable to people who repeat high-sounding phrases without knowing their meaning.
*155. Hast thou called to thy neighbour and he answered thee not, take a huge wall and throw it at him (B. K. 92b; D. 602).
One has to use strong measures with a fool.
Next: Chapter V: Occupations