The Talmud: Selections, by H. Polano, , at sacred-texts.com
Rabbi Judah, Rabbi Joseh, and Rabbi Simon were conversing one day, when Judah ben Gerim entered the apartment and sat down with the three. Rabbi Judah was speaking in a complimentary strain of the Gentiles (Romans). "See," said he, "how they have improved their cities, how beautiful they have made them, and how much they have done for the comfort and convenience of the citizens; bath-houses, bridges, fine broad streets, surely much credit is due them."
"Nay," answered Rabbi Simon, "all that they have done has been from a selfish motive. The bridges bring them in a revenue, for all who use them are taxed; the bath-houses are for their personal adornment--‘tis all selfishness, not patriotism."
Judah ben Gerim repeated these remarks to his friends, and finally they reached the ears of the emperor. He would not allow them to pass unnoticed. He ordered that Judah, who had spoken well of the nation, should be advanced in honour; that Joseh, who had remained silent instead of seconding the assertions, should be banished to Zipore; and that Simon, who had disputed the compliment, should be put to death.
The latter with his son fled and concealed himself in the college when this at became known to him. For some
time he remained there comparatively safe, his wife bringing his meals daily. But when the officers were directed to make diligent search he became afraid, lest through the indiscretion of his wife his place of concealment might be discovered.
"The mind of woman is weak and unsteady," said he, "perhaps they may question and confuse her, and thus may death come upon me."
So leaving the city, Simon and his son took refuge in a lonely cave. Near its mouth some fruit trees grew, supplying them with food, and a spring of pure water bubbled from rocks in the immediate vicinity. For thirteen years Rabbi Simon lived here, until the emperor died and his decrees were repealed. He then returned to the city.
When Rabbi Phineas, his son-in-law, heard of his return, he called upon him at once, and noticing an apparent neglect in the mental and physical condition of his relative, he exclaimed, "Woe, woe! that I meet thee in so sad a condition!"
But Rabbi Simon answered:
"Not so; happy is it that thou findest me in this condition, for thou findest me no less righteous than before. God has preserved me, and my faith in Him, and thus hereafter shall I explain the verse of Scripture, 'And Jacob came perfect.' Perfect in his physical condition, perfect in his temporal condition, and perfect in his knowledge of God."
Antoninus, in conversing with Rabbi Judah, said to him:
"In the future world, when the soul comes before the Almighty Creator for judgment, may it not find a plea of excuse for worldly wickedness in saying, 'Lo, the sin is the body's; I am now free from the body; the sins were not mine?'"
Rabbi Judah answered, "Let me relate to thee a parable. A king had an orchard of fine figs, which he prized most highly. That the fruit might not be stolen or abused, he paced two watchers in the orchard, and that they themselves might not he tempted to partake of the fruit, he chose one of them a blind man, and the other one lame. But lo, when they were in the orchard, the lame man said to his companion, 'I see very fine figs; they are luscious and tempting; carry me to the tree, that we may both partake of them."
"So the blind man carried the lame man, and they ate of the figs.
"When the king entered the orchard he noticed at once that his finest figs were missing, and he asked the watchers what had become of them.
"The blind man answered:
'I know not. I could not steal them; I am blind; I cannot even see them.'
"And the lame man answered:
"'Neither could I steal them; I could not approach the tree.'
"But the king was wise, and he answered:
'Lo, the blind carried the lame,' and he punished them accordingly.
"So is it with us. The world is the orchard in which the Eternal King has placed us, to keep watch and ward, to till its soil and care for its fruit. But the soul and body are the man; if one violates the precepts so does the other, and after death the soul may not say, 'It is the fault of the body to which I was tied that I committed sins;' no, God will do as did the owner of the orchard, as it is written:
'He shall call from the heaven above, and to the earth to judge his people' (Psalms).
"He shall call from the 'heaven above,' which is the soul, and to the 'earth below,' which is the body, mixing with the dust from whence it sprung."
A heathen said to Rabbi Joshua, "Thou believest that God knows the future?"
"Yes," replied the Rabbi.
"Then," said the questioner, "wherefore is it written, 'The Lord said, I will destroy everything which I have made, because it repenteth me that I have made them?' Did not the Lord foresee that man would become corrupt?"
Then said Rabbi Joshua, "Hast thou children?"
"Yes," was the answer.
"When a child was born, what didst thou?"
"I made a great rejoicing."
"What cause hadst thou to rejoice? Dost thou not know that they must die?"
"Yes, that is true; but in the time of enjoyment I do not think of the future."
"So was it with God," said Rabbi Joshua. "He knew that men would sin; still that knowledge did not prevent the execution of his beneficent purpose to create them."
One of the emperors said to Rabon Gamliel:
"Your God is a thief, as it is written, 'And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept. And He took a rib from Adam.'"
The Rabbi's daughter said, "Let me answer this aspersion. Last night robbers broke into my room, and stole therefrom a silver vessel: but they left a golden one in its stead."
The emperor replied, "I wish that such thieves would come every night."
Thus was it with Adam; God took a rib from him, but placed a woman instead of it.
Rabbi Joshua, of Saknin, said in the name of Rabbi Levi, "The Lord considered from what part of the man he should form woman; not from the head, lest she should be proud; not from the eyes, lest she should wish to see everything; not from the mouth, lest she might be talkative; nor from the ear, lest she should wish to hear everything; nor from the heart, lest she should be jealous; nor from the hand, lest she should wish to find out everything; nor from the feet, in order that she might not be a wanderer; only from the most hidden place, that is covered even when a man is naked--namely, the rib."
The scholars of Rabbi Simon ben Jochai once asked him:
"Why did not the Lord give to Israel enough manna to suffice them for a year, at one time, instead of meting it out daily?"
The Rabbi replied:
"I will answer ye with a parable. There was once a king who had a son to whom he gave a certain yearly allowance, paying the entire sum for his year's support on one appointed day. It soon happened that this day on which the allowance was due, was the only day in the year when the father saw his son. So the king changed his plan, and gave his son each day his maintenance for that day only, and then the son visited his father with the return of each day's sun.
"So was it with Israel; each father of a family, dependent upon the manna provided each day by God's bounty, for his support and the support of his family, naturally had his mind devoted to the Great Giver and Sustainer of life"
When Rabbi Eleazer was sick his scholars visited him, and said, "Rabbi, teach us the way of life, that we may inherit eternity."
The Rabbi answered, "Give honour to your comrades. Know to whom you pray. Restrain your children from frivolous conversation, and place them among the learned men, in order that they may acquire wisdom. So may you merit life in the future world."
When Rabbi Jochanan was sick his scholars also called upon him. When he beheld them he burst into tears.
"Rabbi!" they exclaimed, "Light of Israel! The chief pillar! Why weep?"
The Rabbi answered, "Were I to be brought before a king of flesh and blood, who is here to-day and to-morrow in the grave; who may be angry with me, but not for ever; who may imprison me, but not for ever; who may kill me, but only for this world; whom I may sometimes bribe; even then I would fear. But now, I am to appear before the King of kings, the Most Holy One, blessed be He, who lives through all eternity. If He is wroth, it is for ever; if He imprisons me, it is for ever; if He slays me, it is for the future world; and I can bribe Him neither with words nor money. Not only this, two paths are before me, one leading to punishment, the other to reward, and I know not which one I must travel. Should I not weep?"
The scholars of Rabbi Johanan, the son of Zakai, asked of their teacher this question:
"Wherefore is it, that according to the law, the punishment of a highwayman is not as severe as the punishment of a sneak thief? According to the Mosaic law, if a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he is required to restore five oxen for the one ox, and four sheep for the
one sheep (Exodus 21: 37); but for the highwayman we find, 'When he hath sinned and is conscious of his guilt, he shall restore that he hath taken violently away; he shall restore it and its principal, and the fifth part thereof he shall add thereto.' Therefore, he who commits a highway robbery pays as punishment one-fifth of the same, while a sneak thief is obliged to return five oxen for one ox, and four sheep for one sheep. Wherefore is this?"
"Because," replied the teacher, "the highway robber treats the servant as the master. He takes away violently in the presence of the servant, the despoiled man, and the master--God. But the sneak thief imagines that God's eye is not upon him; He acts secretly, thinking, as the Psalmist says, 'The Lord doth not see, neither will the God of Jacob regard it' (Ps. 94: 5). Listen to a parable. Two men made a feast. One invited all the inhabitants of the city, and omitted inviting the king. The other invited neither the king nor his subjects. Which one deserves condemnation? Certainly the one who invited the subjects and not the king. The people of the earth are God's subjects. The sneak thief fears their eyes, yet he does not honour the eye of the king, the eye of God, which watches all his actions."
Rabbi Meir says, "This law teaches us how God regards industry. If a person steals an ox he must return five in its place, because while the animal was in his unlawful possession it could not work for its rightful owner. A lamb, however, does no labour, and is not profitable that way; therefore he is only obliged to replace it fourfold."
Rabbi Nachman dined with his teacher, Rabbi Yitzchak, and, upon departing after the meal, he said, "Teacher, bless me!"
"Listen," replied Rabbi Yitzchak. "A traveller was once journeying through the desert, and when weary, hungry, and thirsty, he happened upon an oasis, where grew a fruitful tree, wide-branched, and at the foot of which there gushed a spring of clear, cool water.
"The stranger ate of the luscious fruit, enjoying and resting in the grateful shade, and quenching his thirst in the sparkling water which bubbled merrily at his feet.
"When about to resume his journey, he addressed the tree and spoke as follows:
"'Oh, gracious tree, with what words can I bless thee, and what good can I wish thee? I cannot wish thee good fruit, for it is already thine; the blessing of water is also thine, and the gracious shade thrown by thy beauteous branches the Eternal has already granted thee, for my good and the good of those who travel by this way. Let me pray to God, then, that all thy offspring may be goodly as thyself.'
"So it is with thee, my pupil. How shall I bless thee? Thou art perfect in the law, eminent in the land, respected, and blessed with means. May God grant that all thy off spring may prove goodly as thyself."
A wise man, say the Rabbis, was Gebiah ben Pesisah. When the children of Canaan accused the Israelites of stealing their land, saying, "The land of Canaan is ours, as it is written, 'The land of Canaan and its boundaries belong to the Canaanites,'" and demanded restitution, Gebiah offered to argue the case before the ruler.
Said Gebiah to the Africans, "Ye bring your proof from the Pentateuch, and by the Pentateuch will I refute it, 'Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren' (Gen. 9: 25). To whom does the property of
a slave belong? To his master. Even though the land belonged to ye, through your servitude it became Israel's." "Answer him," said the ruler.
The accusers asked for three days' time to prepare their reply, but at the end of the three days they had vanished.
Then came the Egyptians, saying, "'God gave the Israelites favour in the eyes of the Egyptians, and they lent them gold and silver.' Now return us the gold and silver which our ancestors lent ye."
Again Gebiah appeared for the sages of Israel.
"Four hundred and thirty years," said he, "did the children of Israel dwell in Egypt. Come, now, pay us the wages of six hundred thousand men who worked for ye foe naught, and we will return the gold and silver."
Then came the children of Ishmael and Ketura, before Alexander of Mukdon, saying, "The land of Canaan is ours, as it is written, 'These are the generations of Ishmael, the son of Abraham;' even as it is written, 'These are the generations of Isaac, the son of Abraham.' One son is equal to the other; come, give us our share."
Again Gebiah appeared as counsel for the sages.
From the Pentateuch, which is your proof, will I confound ye," said he. "Is it not written, 'Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac, but unto the sons of the concubines that Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts.' The man who gives his children their inheritance during his life does not design to give it to them again after his death. To Isaac Abraham left all that he had; to his other children he gave gifts, and sent them away."
Truly a good man, say the Rabbis, was King Munmaz, a descendant of the Hashmonites. During a period of famine
he gave to the poor the contents of his treasury and the treasury of his father.
His relatives upbraided him for his liberality. "What thy father saved," they exclaimed, "thou hast thrown away."
Then answered Munmaz:
"My father laid up treasure here on earth; I gather it in the heavens above. 'The truth comes forth from the earth, but beneficence looks down from heaven.' My father hoarded it where hands might have been stretched forth for it; I have placed it beyond the reach of human hands. 'Thy throne is established in justice and beneficence.' For my father it produced no fruit, but for me it is bringing forth many fold. 'Say to the righteous it is good; the fruit of their labour they may eat.' My father saved money; I saved life. 'The fruit of the righteous is the tree of life. Who saves lives is a wise man.' My father saved for others; I save for myself; my father saved for this world, but I save for the next. 'Thy beneficence will go before thee; the glory of the Lord will gather thee.'