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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate ‘Abodah Zarah

Folio 3a

The release from those commands only means that even if they observed them they would not be rewarded. But why should they not? Is it not taught: R. Meir used to say. 'Whence do we know that even an idolater who studies the Torah is equal to a High Priest? From the following verse: Ye shall therefore keep My statutes and My ordinances which, if a man do, he shall live by them.1  It does not say "If a Priest, Levite, or Israelite do, he shall live by them," but "a man"; here, then, you can learn that even a heathen who studies the Torah is equal to a High Priest!' — What is meant, then, is that they are rewarded not as greatly as one who does a thing which he is bidden to do, but as one who does a thing unbidden. For, R. Hanina said: He who is commanded and does, stands higher then he who is not commanded and does.2  )

The nations will then say, 'Sovereign of the Universe, has Israel, who accepted the Torah, observed it? The Holy One, blessed be He, will reply, 'I can give evidence that they observed the Torah.' 'O Lord of the Universe,' they will argue, 'can a father give evidence in favour of his son? For it is written, Israel is My son, My firstborn.'3  Then will the Holy One, blessed be He, say: 'Heaven and Earth can bear witness that Israel has fulfilled the entire Torah.' But they will [object], saying: 'Lord of the Universe, Heaven and Earth are partial witnesses, for it is said, If not for My covenant with day and with night. I should not have appointed the ordinances of Heaven and Earth.'4  (And R. Simeon b. Lakish further said: What is conveyed by the phrase. And there was evening and there was morning the sixth day?5  It teaches us that God made a condition with the works of creation, saying: 'If Israel accept my Law it will be well, but if not, I shall reduce you to a state of chaos';6  which accords with the comment of R. Hezekiah on the verse, Thou didst cause sentence to be heard from Heaven, the earth trembled and was still:7  If the earth trembled, how could it be still, and if it was still, how could it tremble? But at first it trembled, and subsequently it became still.)8  Then the Holy One, blessed be He, will say, 'Some of yourselves shall testify that Israel observed the entire Torah. Let Nimrod come and testify that Abraham did not [consent to] worship idols; let Laban come and testify that Jacob could not be suspected of theft;9  let Potiphar's wife testify that Joseph was above suspicion of immorality; let Nebuchadnezzar come and testify that Hanania, Mishael and Azariah did not bow down to an image; let Darius come and testify that Daniel never neglected the [statutory] prayers;10  let Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite, and Eliphaz the Temanite [and Elihu11  the son of Barachel the Buzite]12  testify that Israel has observed the whole Torah; as it is said, Let them [the nations] bring their [own] witnesses, that they [Israel] may be justified.'13

The nations will then plead. 'Offer us the Torah anew and we shall obey it.' But the Holy One, blessed be He, will say to them, 'You foolish ones among peoples, he who took trouble [to prepare] on the eve of the Sabbath can eat on the Sabbath, but he who has not troubled on the eve of the Sabbath, what shall he eat on the Sabbath? Nevertheless, I have an easy command which is called Sukkah;14  go and carry it out.'15  (But how can you say so: does not R. Joshua b. Levi say: What is [the meaning of] the verse, The ordinances which I command thee this day to do them?16  It is that this day only [the present] is the time to do them,' they cannot be done tomorrow [in times to come]: this day is the time in which to do them, but not in which to be rewarded for them. [Why then should they be offered this observance in the Messianic time?] — Because the Holy One, blessed be He, does not deal imperiously with His creatures.17  And why does He term it an easy command? — Because it does not affect one's purse.) Straightaway will every one of them betake himself and go and make a booth on the top of his roof; but the Holy One, blessed be He, will cause the sun to blaze forth over them as at the Summer Solstice.18  and every one of them will trample down his booth and go away, as it is said, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us.19  (But you have just said 'The Holy One, blessed be He, does not deal imperiously with his creatures? — True! but with the Israelites, too, it occasionally happens

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Lev. XVIII, 5.
  2. [The idea underlying this principle is the contrast between the Autonomy of the Will and the Law of God as the Authority to Man. The moral act finds its sure basis only when it is conceived as prompted by the command of God. When man acts in obedience thereto the merit is thus greater. Cf. Lazarus, M. The Ethics of Judaism (English ed.) 1 pp. 123 ff.]
  3. Ex. IV, 22.
  4. Jer. XXXIII, 25 rendered homiletically thus: If not for My covenant (i.e., the Torah, which is to be meditated) day and night, I should not have appointed etc.
  5. Gen. I, 31.
  6. The phrase is made to read — There was evening and there was morning [only because of] the sixth day of Sivan, the date of the revelation at Sinai.
  7. Ps. LXXVI, 9.
  8. The earth feared that its inhabitants could not abide in the absence of a moral code to serve as the foundation of society; but it was set at rest when sentence was heard from heaven, i.e., when the Divine commandments were proclaimed from Sinai.
  9. Cf. Gen. XXXI, 37.
  10. His windows were open in his upper chamber towards Jerusalem, and he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime. (Dan. VI, 11). This is the earliest record of the practice, still observed by Jews the world over, of offering prayers thrice daily. morning (Shaharith), afternoon (Minhah) and evening (Ma'arib) with face turned towards the Holy City.
  11. A friend of Job; Job XXXII, 2.
  12. Buz, according to Gen. XXII, 21, was a son of Nahor; his descendant Elihu, therefore, being an Israelite, is not to be included here (Rashi); cf. B.B. 15b, where it is discussed whether Elihu was an Israelite or a Gentile.
  13. Isa, ibid.
  14. Sukkah, booth, the temporary structure in which Jews dwell during the Festival of Tabernacles (Lev. XXIII, 42).
  15. To test their self-exertion for the sake of a religious observance.
  16. Deut. VII, 11.
  17. [H] [G], sovereignty, despotic rule.
  18. Lit., 'the cycle of Tammuz' which lasts from 21st June to 22nd September. The Jewish Calendar, while being lunar, takes cognisance of the solar system, to which it is adjusted at the end of every cycle of nineteen years. For ritual purposes, the four Tekufoth are calculated according to the solar system, each being equal to one fourth of 365 days, viz. 91 days, 7 1/2 hours. T. of Nisan, (vernal Equinox) begins March 21; T. of Tammuz (Summer Solstice), June 21; T. of Tishri (Autumnal Equinox). Sept. 23; T. of Tebeth (Winter Solstice) Dec. 22.
  19. Ps. II, 3.
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‘Abodah Zarah 3b

that the summer solstice extends till the Festival [of Tabernacles] and they are vexed [by the heat].1  But does not Raba say: He who is vexed thereby is freed from dwelling in the Sukkah?2  — Granted, they would [in such circumstances] be freed, but would Israelites contemptuously trample it down?) Thereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, will laugh at them, as it is said, He that sitteth in heaven laugheth.3  Said R. Isaac: 'Only on that day is there laughter for the Holy One, blessed be He!' Some connected that comment of R. Isaac with the following teaching: R. Jose says, In time to come idol-worshippers will come and offer themselves as proselytes. But will such be accepted? Has it not been taught4  that in the days of the Messiah proselytes will not be received; likewise were none received in the days of David or of Solomon? — Well, they will be self-made proselytes,5  and will place phylacteries on their foreheads and on their arms, fringes in their garments, and a Mezuzah on their doorposts, but when the battle of Gog-Magog will come about6  they will be asked, 'For what purpose have you come?' and they will reply: 'Against God and His Messiah' as it is said, Why are the nations in an uproar, and why do the peoples mutter in vain, etc.7  Then each of the proselytes will throw aside his religious token and get away, as it is said, Let us break their bands asunder,8  and the Holy One, blessed be He, will sit and laugh, as it is said: He that sitteth in heaven laugheth.9  [It was on this that] R. Isaac remarked that there is no laughter for the Holy One, blessed be He, except on that day. But is there not, indeed? Yet Rab Judah said in the name of Rab: 'The day consists of twelve hours; during the first three hours the Holy One, blessed be He, is occupying Himself with the Torah, during the second three He sits in judgment on the whole world, and when He sees that the world is so guilty as to deserve destruction, He transfers Himself from the seat of Justice to the seat of Mercy;10  during the third quarter, He is feeding the whole world, from the horned buffalo to the brood of vermin; during the fourth quarter He is sporting with the leviathan,11  as it is said, There is leviathan, whom Thou hast formed to sport therewith'?12  Said R. Nahman b. Isaac: Yes, He sports with His creatures, but does not laugh at His creatures except on that day.13

R. Aba said to R. Nahman b. Isaac: Since the day of the destruction of the temple, there is no laughter for the Holy One, blessed be He. Whence do we know that there is not? Shall we say from the verse, And on that day did the Lord, the God of Hosts, call to weeping and lamentation?14  But this refers to that day and no more. Shall we then say, from this verse: If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember thee?15  But this, too, excludes forgetfulness, but not laughter. Hence, [it is known] from the verse, I have long time held my peace, I have been still, and refrained myself, now will I cry.16  What then does God do in the fourth quarter?17  — He sits and instructs the school children,18  as it is said, Whom shall one teach knowledge, and whom shall one make to understand the message? Them that are weaned from the milk.19  Who instructed them theretofore?20  — If you like, you may say Metatron,21  or it may be said that God did this as well as other things. And what does He do by night? — If you like you may say, the kind of thing He does by day; or it may be said that He rides a light cherub, and floats in eighteen thousand worlds; for it is said, The chariots of God are myriads, even thousands shinan.22  Do not read Shinan, [repeated], but she-enan [that are not];23  or it may be said, He sits and listens to the song of the Hayyoth,24  as it is said, By the day the Lord will command His lovingkindness and in the night His song shall be with me.25

R. Levi says: He who discontinues [learning] words of the Torah and indulges in idle gossip will be made to eat glowing coals of juniper, as it is said, They pluck salt-wort with wormwood; and the roots of juniper are their food.26

Resh Lakish says: To him who is engaged in the study of the Torah by night, the Holy One extends a thread of grace by day, as it is said, By day the Lord will command his lovingkindness, and in the night his song shall be with me.27  For what reason will the Lord command his lovingkindness by day? — because His song shall be with me in the night.

Some report the exposition of Resh Lakish thus: To him who is engaged in the study of the Torah in this world, which is likened unto the night, the Holy One, blessed be He, extends the thread of grace in the future world, which is likened unto the day, as it is said: By day the Lord, etc.

Rab Judah says in the name of Samuel: Why is it written, And Thou makest man as the fishes of the sea, and as the creeping things, that have no ruler over them?28  Why is man here compared to the fishes of the sea? To tell you, just as the fishes of the sea, as soon as they come on to dry land, die, so also man, as soon as he abandons the Torah and the precepts [incurs destruction]. Another explanation: Just as the fishes of the sea, as soon as the sun scorches them, die; so man, when struck by the sun, dies. This can be applied to the present world, or to the future world. You can, in accordance with R. Hanina, apply this to the present world, for R. Hanina says: Everything is in Heaven's hands, except cold and heat, as is said, 'colds and heat-boils are in the way of the froward, he that keepeth his soul holdeth himself far from them;29  or, according to R. Simeon b. Lakish, it can be applied to the future life, for R. Simeon b. Lakish says: There is no Gehenna in the Future World,30  but the Holy One, blessed be He, brings the sun out of its sheath, so that it is fierce: the wicked are punished by it, the righteous are healed by it. The wicked are punished

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Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. The test is therefore not exceptional or harsh.
  2. Suk. 26a.
  3. Ps. II, 4.
  4. Yeb. 24a.
  5. [Gerim gerurim, lit., 'dragged-in proselytes' a class of converts who judaize in mass under the impulsion of fear, v. Moore, G. F., Judaism I, 337].
  6. In the great drama of the Messianic age there will be a combat with the heathen powers under the leadership of Gog and Magog (Ezek. XXXIX).
  7. Ps. II, 1.
  8. Ibid. 3.
  9. Ibid. 4.
  10. I.e., instead of meting out punishment, exercises clemency.
  11. [A huge sea monster, real according to some but according to others imaginary. We have here a magnification of God's power in sporting with the mightiest, as men do with their animal pets.]
  12. Ps. CIV, 26; hence we see there is laughter before the Lord!
  13. [The discomfiture of the nations which sought to rule without the restraints of the moral law will prove the most laughter-provoking sight.]
  14. Isa. XXII, 12.
  15. Ps. CXXXVII, 5, 6.
  16. Isa. XLII, 14.
  17. According to the statement that all laughter has been eliminated since the Destruction.
  18. [I.e., who died in their infancy (Rashi); the development of their personality that survives death is in the special care of the Eternal.]
  19. Isa. XXVIII, 9.
  20. I.e., prior to the Destruction.
  21. [Metatron: Name of an angel, who is also called [H] Metatron is probably derived from Metator, meaning guide, precursor, he being regarded as the angel who went before the Israelites in the wilderness.]
  22. Ps. LXVIII, 18.
  23. By altering [H] into [H] the verse is made to mean: The chariots … are twice ten thousand less two thousand, i.e., eighteen thousand.
  24. Hayyoth are angels that surround the heavenly throne (v. Ezek. III), proclaiming the praises and holiness of God.
  25. Ps. XLII, 9.
  26. Job XXX, 4. By a very slight alteration, the verse — which speaks of the poor who pick vegetables and roots for their food — is made to read: [H] which is rendered thus: They who break away from the table (of the Law) to idle gossip will have roots of juniper as their food.
  27. Ps. XLII, 9.
  28. Hab. I, 14.
  29. Prov. XXII, 5. The Heb, words (ohjpu ohbm) standing for thorns and snares may also be rendered colds and heat-boils. The underlying idea is that man is not to take a fatalistic view and blame Providence for maladies and other evils which, by care and prudence, he can avert.
  30. I.e., the Messianic era.
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