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Ancient Jewish Proverbs, by Abraham Cohen, , at sacred-texts.com
VAGARIES OF FORTUNE
226. This world is like pump-wheels whereby the full become empty that the empty shall become full (Lev. R. ch. xxxiv. § 9; D. 246).
Cf. "It is a wheel that revolves in the world" (Shab. 151b; D. 196), "The wheel has revolved" (Jalkut to Ruth § 601), and "The world is a staircase; some are going up and some are coming down."
*227. In the place where the master of the house once hung up his weapons, there the shepherd hangs up his scrip (B. M. 84b; Sanh. 103a; D. 141).
Palestinian proverb. The wheel of fortune revolves constantly, and inferiors usurp the place of their betters.
228. The sow pastures with ten [young ones] and the lamb not even with one (Gen. R. ch. xliv. § 23; D. 288).
Fortune does not always smile on those who deserve it most.
229. They eat and we say Grace (Ber. 44a; D. 81).
We have the work and they the enjoyment. Cf. "One beats the bush and another catches the bird."
*230. Shechem married [Dinah] and Mabgai was circumcised (Mac. 11a; D. 631).
Palestinian proverb based on the incident narrated in Gen. xxxiv. Mabgai is the name of a Samaritan town, and is used here generally of the people living under the rule of Shechem. The thought of the proverb is the same as that of the preceding.
*231. Tobiah sinned and Sigud is beaten (Mac. 11a; cf. Pes. 113b; D. 306).
The Babylonian equivalent of no. 230.
*232. Shilo sinned and Joḥanan is punished (Gen. R. ch. xxv. § 3; D. 630).
Same as preceding.
233. If I had not removed the potsherd for thee, thou wouldst not have discovered the pearl under it (B. M. 17b; Jeb. 92b; Mac. 21b; D. 45).
One is reminded of Samson's words: "If ye had not plowed with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle" (Judg. xiv. 18). Lewin quotes an English proverb, "It's good to pluck flowers in your neighbour's garden." One does the work, the other reaps the reward.
*234. The wine [belongs] to the master, but the credit [goes] to the butler (B. K. 92b; D. 295)."
Credit is not always given where it is rightly due.
235. The common soldiers do the fighting, and the officers claim the victory (Ber. 53b; Nazir 66b; D. 190).
Same as preceding.
*236. When the maker of stocks sits in his stocks, he is paid out of his own work (Pes. 28a; D. 537, p. 218).
(This is the reading in the MSS., saddāā besaddéh, adopted by Jastrow. The editions read saddānā bisedanéh: "When the smith sits at his anvil, he is paid out of his own work," i.e. he often receives blows from the instruments which he himself had fashioned.) The meaning of the proverb is illustrated by the phrase "Hoist with his own petard."
*237. If the arrow-maker is killed by his arrow, he is paid out of his own work (Pes. 28a; D. 195).
Same as preceding.
*238. In the same ladle which the carpenter fashioned will the mustard burn [his mouth] (Pes. 28a; D. 405).
Same as preceding.
*239. Together with the shrub the cabbage is beaten (B. K. 92a; D. 143).
The good suffer together with the bad when a calamity overtakes a community, just as when in pulling up shrubs a cabbage is also sometimes uprooted. On the other hand, it
is pointed out that rain benefits the wicked as well as the righteous (Taan. 7a).
*240. To the fox in his time one has to bow (Meg. 16b; D. 660).
"Every dog has his day."
241. Not the mouse but the hole is the thief (Git 45a; Kid. 56b; Erach. 30a; D. 425).
Circumstances often determine a man's actions. Similarly: "The breach [in the wall] invites the thief" (Suc. 26a; D. 578). Cf. "Opportunity makes the thief." "An open door may tempt a saint."
242. Should [opportunity] fail the thief, he conducts himself like an honest man (Sanh. 22a; D. 297).
A contrast to the preceding proverb.
*243. A woman accustomed to miscarriages is no longer troubled by them (Keth. 62a; D. 219).
Everything, even troubles and misfortunes, is lightened by frequent occurrence. Cf. "Familiarity breeds contempt" and proverb no. 13.
*244. The thief is not put to death after two or three [offences] (Sanh. 7a; D. 135).
Because punishment does not overtake the culprit in the early stage of his career of crime, let him not imagine that he will escape altogether. Cf. "God stays long, but strikes at last."
245. Are the maid's acts of stubbornness many,
they will [all be dealt with] by one chastisement (Shab. 32a; D. 662).
Similar to preceding. Cf. "Punishment is lame, but it comes."
*246. Through Kamtsa and Bar Kamtsa was the Temple destroyed (Lam. R. to iv. 2; Git. 55b; D. 158).
Small causes lead to great consequences. The story is told that a man of Jerusalem was arranging a banquet and sent an invitation to Kamtsa, one of his friends. Unfortunately it was delivered in error to Bar Kamtsa, his enemy, who accepted it. On discovering the mistake, the host wished to drive him out of the house, and refused the latter's offer to pay for whatever he ate. Thereupon Bar Kamtsa went to the Roman Emperor, and, to revenge the insult, denounced the Jews as traitors. This act ultimately led to the destruction of the Temple. Cf. "Little chips light great fires," "Little strokes fell great oaks."
*247. The ox ran and fell, so they place a horse in its crib (Sanh. 98b; D. 611).
Although in the East horses are highly prized and not used for agricultural work, still in the time of need they too have to be trained to that kind of labour. In the context the proverb is used for a special case. It is applied to Israel, who, having stumbled,
was displaced from his crib (Palestine) and other nations permitted to take possession of it.
*248. Hast hired thyself to him, comb his wool (Jom. 20b; D. 133).
If one has undertaken a duty, he must fulfil even the unpleasant parts which are involved. Wool-combing was usually done by women, and therefore despised by men. See no. 23. Cf. "Money taken, freedom forsaken."
*249. Seven years lasted the pestilence, but not a man died before his year (Jeb. 114b; Sanh. 29a; D. 623).
Everything is predestined and nothing hastens the decree of Providence. The ancient Jews, like all Orientals, were fatalists and firm believers in Predestination. It is, e.g., said "Forty days before the creation of a child a supernatural voice [Bath Kōl] proclaims, "The daughter of so-and-so for so-and-so, the house of so-and-so for so-and-so, the field of so-and-so for so-and-so" (Sot. 2a; cf. Moed K. 18b); "Even the appointment of the overseers of wells [an insignificant office] is ordained from heaven" (B. B. 91b); "No man pricks his finger below, unless it has been decreed above, for it is said (Psalm xxxvii. 23) "A man's goings are established of the Lord" (Ḥul. 7b). Such beliefs were due
mainly to the cultivation of astrology. Thus we read: "Existence, offspring, and sustenance depend not upon personal merit but upon the Mazzāl, i.e. horoscope." (Moed K. 28a); "The Mazzāl makes wise and rich" (Shab. 156a); although some maintained that Israel was not affected by astrological influences (ibid.). But several of the mediæval Rabbis, e.g. Maimonides, repudiated all such notions. Cf. the English proverb, "The fated will happen." On "seven" see no. 57.
250. If the stone falls on the pot, woe to the pot; if the pot falls on the stone, woe to the pot; in either case, woe to the pot (Esth. R. ch. vii. § 10; D. 530.)
The weak always suffers. A proverb in the identical terms is current in Spain, borrowed in all probability from the Jews. Cf. the following Hindu saying: "Whether the knife fall on the melon, or the melon on the knife, the melon suffers."
251. Any piece of coal which does not burn at the [required] time will never burn (j. Maas. Sh. v. 3; j. Bets. ii. 4; j. Ḥag. ii. 3; D. 365).
What does not occur at the moment when it can be of service is useless.
*252. In the place of beauty disfigurement (Shab. 62b; D. 290).
Based on Isaiah iii. 24.
*253. From the camel the ear (Shebu. 11b).
The camel has small ears in comparison with its bulk. For all that, be satisfied if you can get even the ears as your share of the camel.
254. A young pumpkin [now] is better than a full-grown one [later on] (Suc. 56b); Keth. 83b; Temur. 9a; D. 147).
Cf. "Better an egg to-day than a hen to-morrow."
*255. Better one bird tied up than a hundred flying (Eccles. R. to iv. 6; D. 301).
Cf. "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."
*256. A scorpion met a camel [and stung her], and she pushed it aside with her heel. Whereupon [the scorpion] exclaimed, By thy life, I [hope next time] to reach thine head! (Jalkut to Psalms § 764; D. 565).
The camel should have killed the scorpion and saved herself from the possibility of revenge. The disdainful neglect of something deemed at the time insignificant may later on have serious consequences.
Next: Chapter VIII: Social Life