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Ancient Jewish Proverbs, by Abraham Cohen, , at sacred-texts.com
§ 1. Man as a Social Unit
*257. If thou wilt lift the load I will lift it too; but if thou wilt not lift it, I will not (B. K. 92b; D. 40).
One usually desires another to share the risk of an undertaking rather than bear all the responsibility alone. Co-operation and mutual assistance are essential factors in social life. Cf. the case of Deborah and Barak: "If thou wilt go with me, then I will go; but if thou wilt not go with me, I will not go" (Judg. iv. 8).
258. Thy friend hath a friend and thy friend's friend hath a friend (BḄ. 28b, and often; D. 280).
Men are so interrelated that no secret, if communicated to a second person, can be kept for long. For the same reason news spreads quickly. Similarly Ibn Gabirol teaches: "Disclose not that to thy friend which thou wouldst conceal from thine enemy" (no. 315); "The sage was asked,
How keepest thou a secret? He replied, I make my heart its tomb" (no. 318).
259. If the body is taken away, of what use is the head? (Gen. R. ch. c., § 9; D. 70).
The welfare of the upper classes is bound up closely with that of the lower.
260. The head follows the body (Erub. 41a; D. 182).
Similar to the preceding proverb.
*261. Let the grape-clusters offer supplications on behalf of the leaves, since, but for the leaves, the grape-clusters could not exist (Ḥul. 92a; D. 315.)
Even the greatest of men cannot dispense with the services of the lower classes, but are to a large extent dependent upon them. It is consequently their duty to consider the condition of the poor, since it affects them also.
*262. Smite the gods, and the priests will be terrified (Ex. R. ch. ix. § 9; D. 487).
The mob relies upon the leaders; if they fall, the rest are soon scattered.
263. If the house has fallen, woe to the windows (Ex. R. ch. xxvi. § 2; D. 529).
When disaster overtakes a community, its individual members suffer inasmuch as they form an integral part of the whole.
*264. When one band is broken, two are broken (Lev. R. ch. xiv. § 3; D. 130).
The world is a complex unit, so that one
part affects another. The ruin of one man, for instance, usually involves many others besides himself.
*265. In the city my name, out of the city my dress (Shab. 145b; D. 165).
"The coat makes the man." In the place where I dwell my name is sufficient to command respect and recognition for me, but where I am unknown I am judged only by my outward appearance. Cf. "For man looketh on the outward appearance" (1 Sam. xvi. 7), and the Rabbinic exhortation "Look not at the flask but at what it contains" (Aboth. iv. 27).
*266. It is not as thou sayest, but as we say in the learned circles (Jalkut to Psalms § 755; D. 421).
A similar maxim is to be found in Hebrew: "It is not as thou sayest but as thy colleagues say" (Sanh. 19a). The individual opinion is worthless as against the generally accepted opinion of experts.
267. Unhappy the province whose physician suffers from gout and whose chancellor of the exchequer is one-eyed (Lev. R. ch. v. § 6; D. 561).
The welfare of a community depends upon the fitness and efficiency of the governors.
*268. What is in thine heart concerning thy friend is in his heart concerning thee (Sifrē to Deut. i, 27; ed. Friedmann p. 70a; D. 478).
§ 2. Comradeship, Good and Bad
*269. Either friendship or death (Taan. 23a; D. 16).
The saying occurs in connection with the well-known story of the Talmudic Rip van Winkle—Ḥoni Ha-mëaggel ("the circle-drawer"), who fell asleep for seventy years. On waking up he went to his former home, and thence to the house of study where he had once been so famous. But nobody believed him when he disclosed his identity, and he thereupon prayed for death. Ibn Gabirol expresses the same idea thus: "A friendless man is like a left hand without a right hand" (no. 255). Cf. the English proverb, "Who finds himself without friends is like a body without a soul."
*270. Either friends like Job's friends or death (B. B. 16b; D. 43).
Job's friends proved their loyalty by visiting him in the time of his trouble. That is the kind of friendship to seek and cultivate, not the kind described in proverb no. 27. Cf. "He that maketh many friends doeth it to his own destruction: but there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother" (Prov. xviii. 24).
271. Approach the perfumer and thou wilt be perfumed (Shebu. 47b; D. 600).
There is a Hebrew proverb to the same effect: "Attach thyself to honourable people and men will bow to thee" (Gen. R. ch. xvi. § 3; D. 243). Cf. "Keep good men company and you shall be of the number."
272. The governor took us [by the hand] and the scent came into the hand (Zeb. 96b; Ds. 15).
Same as preceding.
273. On account of the teacher the pupil has eaten (Jom. 75b).
The honour merited by one person is reflected on others who associate with him.
*274. Carry wood behind the owners of property (B. K. 93a; D. 180).
In the company of wealthy men there is an opportunity of making money. Similar to the English saying, "Live with a singer, if you would learn to sing."
*275. The servant of a king is like a king (Gen. R. ch. xvi. § 3; D. 545).
Parallel to the preceding proverbs. This saying also occurs in Hebrew form in Shebu. 47b.
*276. The degenerate palm goes among the unfruitful reeds (B. K. 92b; D. 488).
"Birds of a feather flock together." The context quotes as Biblical parallels: "Esau went to Ishmael" (Gen. xxviii. 9), "There were gathered vain fellows to Jephthah" (Judg. xi. 3), and also " Every beast loveth
his like and every man loveth his neighbour" (Ecclus. xiii. 15; xxvii. 9). Cf. also "The crow associates with the raven only because they belong to the same species" (Ḥul. 65a; D. 415), "We carry mud to mud, and the fine to what is fine" (j. Kid. iii. 13; D. 484). A later moralist has: "Wouldst know all about a man? Ask who his companion is."
*277. Should there be two dry logs and a fresh one together, the dry logs set the fresh one on fire (Sanh. 93a; D. 664).
Bad company spreads infection. Wicked companions demoralise the good. Cf. "Woe to the wicked, woe to his neighbour" (Suc. 56b).
*278. The pencil splits the stone; a rogue knows his companion (Ab. Zar. 22b; D. 497).
Each rogue fears the other because of bitter experience in the past, in the same way as the stone fears the pencil which marks the place where the chisel is to cut.
*279. [A dog] attaches itself to one because of the piece of meat which is thrown to it (B. M. 71a; Ab. Zar. 22b; D. 235).
Friendship merely for self-interest is to be avoided. Ibn Gabirol declares: "There are three kinds of friends—the friend who will help thee by personal acts and with money, he is faithful; the friend who gets from thee what he needs and would sacrifice
thee for the slightest self-interest, he is faithless; and the friend who only makes an outward show of loving thee and whose desire from thee is greater than thy desire from him—trust not in his love" (no. 263).
*280. The man in whom I trusted lifted up his staff (or, fist) and stood against me (Sanh. 7a; D. 185).
The Talmud quotes the Biblical parallel: "Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me" (Ps. xli. 9).
*281. Do not a favour to a bad man, and no harm will come to thee (Gen. R. ch. xxii. § 8).
Have no dealings at all with the wicked. Cf. "Avoid evil and it will avoid thee."
*282. If thy friend's son die, bear [part of his grief]; if thy friend die, break away [from grief] (Gen. R. ch. xcvi. § 5; D. 495).
Share your friend's sorrows, because he will sympathise with you when you are in distress. But when he is dead, what is the use of grieving? He can no longer be of any service to you. It need scarcely be pointed out that the egoistic spirit of this proverb does not accord with Rabbinic ethics. Contrast the saying "Greater is benevolence than monetary charity since it can be performed towards the dead as well as the living" (Suc. 49b; D. 562).
*283. The large and small measures roll down and reach Sheol; from Sheol they proceed to Tadmor (Palmyra), from Tadmor to Meshan (Mesene), and from Meshan to Harpanya (Hipparenum) (Jeb. 17a; D. 587).
"The large and small measures" indicate instruments of fraud, and thus symbolise the dregs of society. All the lowest and vilest types of humanity flock to the above-mentioned places in Babylon.
Next: Chapter IX: Colloquialisms