Sacred Texts  Judaism  Index  Previous  Next 

p. 167


ELISHA B. ABUYA used to make it his duty to call at infant schools and endeavour by his idle talk to divert the children's attention from religious instruction and direct them to frivolous matters.--Mid. Song of Songs 1.

Scrupulousness causes cleanliness, which again leads to purity, and purity brings holiness, holiness meekness, and this prompts a fear of sin, a fear of sin begets saintliness, and saintliness brings the Holy Spirit.--Mid. Songs 1.

Moses, Aaron and Miriam died by having their souls drawn out by God's kiss. 1--Mid. Songs 1.

The nations of the world are not justified in thinking that, because Israel is rebellious, God will change them for another nation. It is as though a black maid should expect her master to divorce his wife and marry her, because her mistress's hand had turned black.--Mid. Songs 1.

'I am black but comely' (Songs 1. 5). So says the house of Israel: I am, to my knowledge, black, yet my God considers me comely. I am truly black with my deeds, but I am comely if the acts of my Patriarchs are accounted to me. And in Egypt I was at times black and at times comely. The same may be said about me concerning my position at the Red Sea; there too I was both black and comely. Black, as the Psalmist says: 'Our fathers understood not thy wonders in Egypt, they remembered not the multitude of thy mercies, but provoked at the sea, even the Red Sea' (Ps. 106.). But I was

p. 168

comely at the Red Sea when I said, 'He is my God, and I will prepare Him an habitation' (Exod. 15.).

The same maybe said regarding myself in Marah, when the people murmured against Moses saying, 'What shall we drink?' (Exod. 15.); but we were yet comely when Moses cried unto the Lord, who showed him a tree to sweeten the water for us. Or in Rephidim, when in consequence of our rebellion the place was named Massa and Meriba; yet we may be called even there comely, when Moses built an altar and called it Adonoi Nissi. We were black in Horeb, where the golden calf was made, but are we not comely even there when we say, 'All that the Lord hath said we will do and be obedient'? (Exod. 24.). We were black in the wilderness: 'How oft did they provoke in the wilderness?' (Ps. 78.), and yet I am not devoid of comeliness there, if we see that the cloud covered the Tabernacle on the day the Mishkan was reared up (Numb. 9.). Further, I am surely black in the history of the spies when they brought up an evil report (Numb. 13.), but there is my comeliness in Joshua and Caleb. I am verily black in Shittim (Numb. 25.), yet there is my comeliness in Phineas. If I am made black by Achan (Joshua 7.) I am made comely by Joshua. The kings of Israel rendered me black, but the kings of Judah rendered me comely. And though I am a mixture of blackness and comeliness through all these enumerated events and conditions of things, I am perfectly comely in my prophets.--Mid. Songs 1.

What wisdom considers to be her very crown, meekness looks upon as her mere sandal.--Mid. Songs 1.

Do not look upon a parable or simile lightly, for some difficult passages of Scripture may be explained through them; just as one may find anything lost in a dark place by the aid of a candle.--Mid. Songs 1.

The consecratory Psalm (30.) was actually Solomon's composition, although it bears David's name.--Mid. Songs 1.

p. 169

The Torah has been compared to wine, water, oil, and honey and milk. Just as we find water all over the earth's surface, so do we find the Torah; water will never cease from this globe, neither will God's laws cease. Water comes from the heavens, and the Torah came from heaven. There is a noise when water descends, and the Torah descended amidst thunders. Water quickens the thirsty soul; so does the Torah quicken him who is thirsty for knowledge. Water cleanses impurities, and God's laws do the same. Water coming down by drops can form a river; so if a man acquires Torah bit by bit he may eventually become a great scholar. Water, unless one is thirsty, cannot be drunk with any degree of pleasure; in the same way, unless one has a craving for the Torah, its study, if enforced, will become a burden. Water runs from high places and seeks the lower portions of the earth; so the Torah will not remain with the haughty man, but rather seeks out the lowly. Water is not kept in golden or silver vessels, but is best kept in earthenware; so the Torah will not be retained except by him who is meek of spirit. A man of distinction will not think it beneath his dignity to ask for water from the meanest individual, neither is any one too great to despise instruction from the most insignificant person. One may drown in water if one cannot swim; so, unless one possesses a thorough knowledge of the Torah and all its meanings, one may be drowned in it. But it may be said that water gets stale if kept for a time in a vessel, and that the same should apply to the Torah. Remember therefore that it is also likened to wine, which improves with age. Again, water leaves no trace on him who tastes it, and the same, it might be said, must be the case with the Torah. But here again we must remember the comparison of the Torah to wine. just as wine has a visible effect on one who drinks it, so the studious man is at once known when one looks at him. Water does not rejoice the heart, and it might be concluded that the

p. 170

same is true of the Torah; hence it is likened to wine, since each rejoices the heart. Yet wine is sometimes injurious; not so the Torah, which is compared with oil. As oil is capable of anointing any part of the human body, so is the Torah an anointment to its possessor. But oil again has a bitter taste before it is purified; is this, then, equally true of the Torah? No; for the Torah is compared to milk and honey, each of which has an agreeable taste, while when blended they have healing properties as well as sweetness.--Mid. Songs 1.

Israel is compared to oil. As berries do not yield their oil except when they are crushed, so Israel will not show his greatness except under the stress of persecution. As oil will not mix with other liquids, so Israel will not assimilate with other nations. Oil does not effervesce; so Israel is modest in speech. If a drop of water is put into a vessel full of oil, a drop of oil will fall out; so if an atom of levity is put into the heart of a wise man, an atom of his knowledge will be lost. Oil brings light; so Israel is the light of the world (Isa. 60.). Oil has no echo, neither has Israel in this world.--Mid. Songs 1.

Any one who brings another under the wings of the Shechinah may be said to have created him. So it was said concerning Abraham and Sarah, 'The souls they have made in Haran' (Gen. 12.) because of the souls they had rescued from idolatry and brought to the knowledge of God.--Mid. Songs 1.

The Israelites were asked what security they could offer that the Torah about to be intrusted to them would be strictly observed by them. All proffered security, such as the Patriarchs, was rejected; but when they mentioned their children as security these were accepted. Therefore the prophet is charged to tell them, 'Thou hast forgotten the Torah of thy God, so will I also forget thy children' (Hosea 4.).--Mid. Songs 1.

From the point of view of religious observance one may say that poverty becomes the Jew; in poverty

p. 171

he is an observant Jew. Rabbi Akiba used to say, Poverty becomes a Jew as a red bridle becomes a white horse.--Mid. Songs 1.

King Solomon's mind may well be compared to a hidden treasure, of the existence of which no one was aware until an expert pointed out the spot and its contents. His was a most brilliant mind, lying dormant till it was inspired from above, and then he became a veritable light to the Torah in his exposition, by prose, poetry, and simile, of many of its obscure passages.--Midrash Songs I.

Israel is justified in pleading for God's special protection, since concurrently with God's work on their behalf the light of the knowledge of God is brought about. The redemption from Egypt had the effect that such as Jethro, Rahab, and others were brought under the wings of the Shechinah. The miracles wrought on behalf of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah also caused a large number of proselytes to Judaism.--Mid. Songs 1.

Rabbi Simeon b. Jochuah made it a point to cement affection between man and wife. A man came to him once from Sidon and asked him to grant him a divorce from his wife, as his ten years of conjugal bliss had brought him no offspring. The wise Rabbi, who read impulsiveness in the man's character, told him to go home and make a sort of a feast in commemoration of the coming event. 'I see no reason,' he said, 'why, a divorce should not be celebrated in some way, similar to the tying of the marriage knot.' The man, in expectation of his approaching freedom, was right glad of the opportunity of making merry, and gave a banquet; and being in good spirits be said to his wife: 'See, I am prepared to give you the most valuable thing in my house to take with you if you offer no obstacle to our divorce, and will return to your father's house.' When, after the banquet, he fell into a deep slumber, she got her servants to carry him to her father's house, whither she went herself.

p. 172

On awakening and finding himself in the house of the man with whom he was about to sever his relationship he asked his wife who was by his side the meaning of all this. 'I have done nothing against your expressed wish,' said his spouse it was only last evening that you offered me the most precious thing in your house.' The man was very much touched by this manifestation of true affection on the part of his wife, and when they appeared again before the Rabbi the following day, the sly sage could not conceal a smile as he asked the man what he could do for him. 'My wife and I have come to ask your prayers on our behalf, so that the Lord may grant us an heir or heirs.' The good man prayed to God to grant their desire, if in his wisdom it seemed good for them, and the couple did not remain childless for very many days.--Mid. Songs 1.

Ben Azai was in a deep study, and to those who passed him it seemed as if he was sitting in the midst of a flame. They told Rabbi Akiba of it, who went to him and asked him whether he was studying any mystery. 'Not at all,' said Ben Azai. 'I was looking up the Pentateuch, the Prophets and the Hagiographa, and rejoiced over their contents as though I had been one of those who received the Torah at the foot of Sinai when God proclaimed His word in the midst of fire.'--Mid. Songs 1.

On the day on which Solomon married Necha, Pharaoh's daughter, the foundation of Rome-Israel's persecutor and oppressor--was laid by the angel Michael.--Mid. Songs 1.

When Jeroboam erected the two golden calves, they tried likewise to erect two cottages in Rome, but they fell in as often as they were put up. There was near by an old man, named Abbé Kolon, who told the builders that unless water were brought from the river Euphrates to Mix With the lime, no building would stand there, and he offered to fetch the water from the Euphrates. He took large casks, and posing as a wine merchant made his

p. 173

way unopposed to the river Euphrates, where he filled his casks with water of that river and returned to Rome. The water being used for the mixing of the lime and sand, the houses were successfully erected. 1--Mid. Songs 1.

Jacob went to Beersheba for the purpose of hewing down the groves which Abraham had planted there. When on his deathbed Jacob was inspired by the Holy Spirit and told that the Shechinah would dwell amongst his descendants when they returned to their fatherland. The middle beam of the Mishkan had to reach from one end to the other, and measured thirty-two cubits (Exod. 26. 28), and was made of the timber which Jacob had hewn down in Beersheba. The Israelites had carried this timber with them to Egypt and preserved some during their captivity. Subsequently they took this timber with them at the Exodus. Thus we have it stated: 'and every man with whom was found shittim wood for the work of the service brought it.'--Mid. Songs 1.

Formerly learning was a thing sought after, but now we are become spiritually sick we grow dainty, and choose only light reading or what we consider comforting and promising words. So a man when in robust health does not pick and choose his food, but when less robust he must have light morsels such as will tempt his appetite.--Mid. Songs 2.

Israel at the Exodus may well be compared to a prince just recovered from illness. When his tutor suggests study, the king decides to allow his son some time after his convalescence to recover his strength before he begins

p. 174

to read. Israel did not at once recover from the sufferings they had endured in Egypt, and their Heavenly Father decided to let them have a three months' rest, and feed them with manna and quails, before they approached their school, Sinai, to receive instruction.--Mid. Songs 2.

Nebuchadnezzar was indeed the proverbial gale coming from the north, and sweeping everything before it in the south.--Mid. Songs 3.

Sleep is most agreeable and beneficial in the earlier part of the night.--Mid. Songs 3.

In the plague of hail which was sent on Egypt there were two opposite elements mingled together. There was hail, and fire mingled with the hail (Exod. 9.). It is like a king ruling over various nationalities which are enemies to one another, yet the legions the king sends against an enemy bury their opposition and unite to fight for the king's cause.--Mid. Songs 3.

A preacher must be well conversant with the whole twenty-four books of the Bible. If he is deficient in the knowledge of one of these books it is as bad as if he had no acquaintance with any of them. He must be meek, and even humble; every act of his life should testify to his worth, and withal if his hearers do not like his preaching he is to desist from it.--Mid. Songs 4.

The Psalms were composed by ten individuals: Adam, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Asaph, Heman, Jeduthun, Korah's three sons (taken as one of the composers), and Ezra. But although they were composed by ten different individuals, David's name alone is connected with them. It is like a company of musicians who appear before a king, and are told: 'Although you are, everyone of you, efficient in your art, yet I wish the one with the sweetest voice to sing before me.'--Mid. Songs 4.

The Sanhedrin were known by the designation, 'The eyes of the community.'--Mid. Songs 4.

During the existence of the Temple there were plenty

p. 175

of wicked men such as Ahaz and his followers, Manasseh and his associates, and Amon and his companions. On the contrary, when the Temple was destroyed, the people were conspicuous for the good men amongst them, like Daniel and his associates in righteousness, Mordecai and his followers, and Ezra and his people.--Mid. Songs 4.

Do not, like a simpleton, be deterred from study by thinking 'How can I meet the formidable task of acquiring all that is to be known?' Rather argue like a wise man, 'Others have done it, so it can be done.' Try a little by day and a little by night, and in the course of time your task will be accomplished.--Mid. Songs 5.

The Torah or knowledge increases, and the intellect becomes keener by proper study, and any difficult matter submitted to scholars will find solution; as a structure will be satisfactorily erected by skilful workmen each contributing his skill.--Mid. Songs 5.

The second Temple was deprived of the following five blessings which the first Temple had enjoyed: (1) The fire that came down from heaven for the altar. (2) The anointing oil. (3) The ark. (4) The Holy Spirit. (5) The Urim and Thummim.--Mid. Songs 8.

With the death of the three last of the latter prophets, viz. Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, the Holy Spirit (prophecy) ceased, but use was made of the בת קל echo. Once at the assembly of the wise men in Jericho they heard the echo proclaim, 'There is one amongst you who is well worthy of the Holy Spirit, but alas the present generation is unworthy of it.' They thought of Hillel the elder. At his death they lamented him with the words, 'Oh that saintly man, that meek man, that pupil of Ezra.'--Mid. Song of Songs 8.


167:1 See also Moreh Nebuchim, vol. 3, cap. 51.

173:1 This narrative is seemingly uninteresting, but it seems to me to be given in connexion with what is said about the building of Rome owing to Solomon marrying Pharaoh's daughter. The Midrash proceeds to show how the building of Rome extended as the Israelites sunk deeper in sin. Jeroboam having erected the idols caused a further development of Rome. The houses there only became firm when the water of Euphrates, near Jeroboam's wicked monuments, was mixed with the building materials.

Next: Midrash Ecclesiastes