The Talmud: Selections, by H. Polano, , at sacred-texts.com
Bless God for the good as well as for the evil. When you hear of a death say, "Blessed is the righteous Judge."
Prayer is Israel's only weapon, a weapon inherited from its fathers, a weapon proved in a thousand battles. Even when the gates of prayer are shut in heaven, those of tears are open.
We read (Ex. 17: 11) that in the contest with Amalek, when Moses lifted up his arms Israel prevailed. Did Moses's hands affect the war, to make it or to break it? No; but while the ones of Israel look upward with humble heart to the Great Father in Heaven, no evil can prevail against them.
"And Moses made a serpent of brass and put it upon a pole; and it came to pass that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass he lived" (Numb. 21: 9).
Had the brazen serpent the power of killing or of giving
life? No; but while Israel looks upward to the Great Father in Heaven, He will grant life.
"Has God pleasure in the meat and blood of sacrifices?" ask the prophets.
No. He has not so much ordained as permitted them. "It is for yourselves," He says; "not for me, that ye offer."
A king had a son whom he daily discovered carousing with dissolute companions, eating and drinking.
"Eat at my table," said the king; "eat and drink, my son, even as pleaseth thee; but let it be at my table, and not with dissolute companions."
The people loved sacrificing, and they made offerings to strange gods; therefore, God said to them: "If ye will sacrifice, bring your offerings at least to me."
Scripture ordains that the Hebrew slave who loves his bondage shall have his ears pierced against the doorpost. Why?
Because that ear heard from Sinai's heights these words: "They are my servants; they shall not be sold as bondsmen." My servants, and not my servant's servants; therefore, pierce the ear of the one who loves his bondage and rejects the freedom offered him.
He who sacrifices a whole offering shall be rewarded for a whole offering; he who offers a burnt-offering shall have the reward of a burnt-offering; but he who offers humility to God and man shall receive as great a reward as though he had offered all the sacrifices in the world.
The God of Abraham will help the one who appoints a certain place to pray to the Lord.
Rabbi Henah said, "When such a man dies they will say of him, 'A pious man, a meek man, hath died; he followed the example of our father Abraham'"
How do we know that Abraham appointed a certain place to pray?
"Abraham rose early in the morning and went to the place where he stood before the Lord."
Rabbi Chelboh said, "We should not hurry when we leave a place of worship."
"This," said Abayyeh, "is in reference to leaving a place of worship; but we should certainly hasten on our way thither, as it is written, 'Let us know and hasten to serve the Lord.'"
Rabbi Zabid said, "When I used to see the Rabbis hurrying to a lecture in their desire to obtain good seats, I thought to myself, 'they are violating the Sabbath.' When, however, I heard Rabbi Tarphon say, 'One should always hasten to perform a commandment even on the Sabbath,' as it is written, 'They shall follow after the Lord when He roareth like a lion,' I hurried also, in order to be early in attendance."
That place wherein we can best pray to God is His house; as it is written:
"To listen to the praises and prayers which Thy servant prays before Thee." Alluding to the service in the house of God.
Said Rabin, the son of Ada, "Whence do we derive the tradition, that when ten men are praying in the house of God the Divine Presence rests among them?
"It is written, 'God stands in the assembly of the mighty.' That an assembly or congregation consists of not less than ten, we learn from God's words to Moses in regard to the spies who were sent out to view the land of Canaan. 'How long,' said he, 'shall indulgence be given to this evil congregation?' Now the spies numbered twelve men; but Joshua and Caleb being true and
faithful, there remained but ten to form the 'evil congregation.'"
"Whence do we derive the tradition that when even one studies the law, the Divine Presence rests with him?"
"It is written, 'In every place where I shall permit my name to be mentioned, I will come unto thee and I will bless thee.'"
Four Biblical characters offered up their prayers in a careless, unthinking manner; three of them God prospered; the other met with sorrow. They were, Eleazer, the servant of Abraham; Caleb, the son of Ye Phunneh; Saul, the son of Kish; and Jephtah the Giladite.
Eleazer prayed, "Let it come to pass that the maiden to whom I shall say, 'Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink;' and she shall say, 'Drink, and to thy camels also will I give drink;' shall be the one Thou hast appointed for Thy servant Isaac."
Suppose a slave had appeared and answered all the requirement which Eleazer proposed, would Abraham and Isaac have been satisfied? But God prospered his mission, and "Rebecca came out."
Caleb said, "He that will smite Kiryath-sepher, and capture it, to whom will I give ’Achsah, my daughter, for wife" (Judges I: 12).
Would he have given his daughter to a slave or a heathen?
But God prospered him, and "Othniel, the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother, conquered it, and he gave him ’Achsah, his daughter, for wife."
Saul said, "And it shall be that the man who killeth him (Goliath) will the king enrich with great riches, and his daughter will he give him" (1 Samuel 17).
He ran the same risk as Caleb, and God was good to him also; and David, the son of Jesse, accomplished that for which he had prayed.
Jephtah expressed himself thus: "If thou wilt indeed deliver the children of Amon into my hand, then shall it be that whatsoever cometh forth out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the children of Amon, shall belong to the Lord, and I will offer it up for a burnt-offering" (Judges 11: 31).
Supposing an ass, or a dog, or a cat, had first met him upon his return, would he have sacrificed it for a burnt-offering? God did not prosper this risk, and the Bible says, "And Jephtah came to Mizpah unto his house, and behold his daughter came out to meet him."
Said Rabbi Simon ben Jochai, "The requests of three persons were granted before they had finished their prayers--Eleazer, Moses, and Solomon.
"In regard to Eleazer we learn, 'And before he had yet finished speaking that, behold Rebecca came out.'
"In regard to Moses, we find, 'And it came to pass when he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground that was under them was cloven asunder, and the earth opened her mouth and swallowed them.'" (Korach and his company.)
"In regard to Solomon, we find, 'And just when Solomon had made an end of praying, a fire came down," &c.