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It was said of Rabbi Tarphon, that though a very wealthy man, he was not charitable according to his means. One time Rabbi Akiba said to him. "Shall I invest some money for thee in real estate, in a manner which will be very profitable?" Rabbi Tarphon answered in the affirmative, and brought to Rabbi Akiba four thousand denars in gold, to be so applied. Rabbi Akiba immediately distributed the same among the poor. Some time after this Rabbi Tarphon met Rabbi Akiba, and asked him where the real estate which he had bought for him was situated. Akiba led his friend to the college, and showed him a little boy, who recited for them the 112th psalm. When he reached the ninth verse, "He distributeth, he giveth to the needy, his righteousness endureth forever."
"There," said Akiba, "thy property is with David, the king of Israel, who said, 'he distributeth, he giveth to the needy.'"
"And wherefore hast thou done this?" asked Tarphon.
"Knowest thou not," answered Rabbi Akiba, "how Nakdimon, the son of Guryon, was punished because he gave not according to his means?"
"Well," returned the other, "why didst thou not tell me this; could I not have distributed my means without thy aid?"
"Nay," said Akiba, "it is a greater virtue to cause another to give than to give one's self."
Rabbi Jochanan, the son of Lakkai, was once riding outside of Jerusalem, and his pupils had followed him. They saw a poor woman collecting the grain which dropped from the mouths and troughs of some feeding cattle, belonging to Arabs. When she saw the Rabbi, she addressed him in these brief words, "O Rabbi, assist me." He replied, "My daughter, whose daughter art thou?" "I am the daughter of Nakdimon, the son of Guryon," she answered.
"Why, what has become of thy father's money?" asked the Rabbi; "the amount which thou didst receive as a dowry on thy wedding day?"
"Ah," she replied, "is there not a saying in Jerusalem, 'The salt was wanting to the money?'"
"And thy husband's money," continued the Rabbi; "what of that?"
"That followed the other," she answered; "I have lost them both."
The Rabbi turned to his scholars and said:—
"I remember, when I signed her marriage contract, her father gave her as a dowry one million golden denars, and her husband was wealthy in addition thereto."
The Rabbi sympathized with the woman, helped her, and wept for her.
"Happy are ye, oh sons of Israel," he said; "as long as ye perform the will of God naught can conquer ye; but if ye fail to fulfill His wishes, even the cattle are superior to ye."
Nachum, whatever occurred to him, was in the habit of saying, "This too is for the best." In his old age he became blind; both of his hands and both of his legs were amputated, and the trunk of his body was covered with a sore inflammation. His scholars said to him, "If thou art a righteous man, why art thou so sorely afflicted?"
"All this," he answered, "I brought upon myself. Once I was traveling to the house of my father-in-law, and I had with me thirty asses laden with provisions and all manner of precious articles. A man by the wayside called to me, 'O Rabbi, assist me.' I told him to wait until I unloaded my asses. When that time arrived and I had removed their burdens from my beasts, I found to my sorrow that the poor man had fallen and expired. I threw myself upon his body and wept bitterly. 'Let these eyes, which had no pity on thee, be blind,' I said; 'these hands that delayed to assist thee, let them be cut off, and also these feet, which did not run to aid thee,' And yet I was not satisfied until I prayed that my whole body might be stricken with a sore inflammation. Rabbi Akiba said to me, 'Woe to me that I find thee in this state! But I replied, 'Happy to thee that thou meetest me in this state, for through this I hope that my iniquity may be forgiven, and all my righteous deeds still remain recorded to gain me a reward of life eternal in the future world.'"
Rabbi Janay upon seeing a man bestowing alms in a public place, said, "Thou hadst better not have given at all, than to have bestowed alms so openly and put the poor man to shame."
"One should rather be thrown into a fiery furnace than be the means of bringing another to public shame."
Rabbi Juda said, "No one should sit down to his own meals, until seeing that all the animals dependent upon his care are provided for."
Rabbi Jochanan said that it is as pleasing in God's sight if we are kind and hospitable to strangers, as if we rise up early to study His law; because the former is in fact putting His law into practice. He also said, "He who is active in kindness toward his fellows is forgiven his sins."
Both this Rabbi and Abba say it is better to lend to the poor than to give to them, for it prevents them from feeling ashamed of their poverty, and is really a more charitable manner of aiding them. The Rabbis have always taught that kindness is more than the mere almsgiving of charity, for it includes pleasant words with the more substantial help.
Rabbi Hunnah said, "He who is proud in heart is as sinful as the idolater."
Rabbi Abira said, "He who is proud shall be humbled."
Heskaiah said, "The prayers of a proud-hearted man are never heard."
Rabbi Ashi said, "He who hardens his heart with pride, softens his brains with the same."
Rabbi Joshua said "Meekness is better than sacrifice"; for is it not written, "The sacrifices of God are a broken heart—a broken contrite spirit, Thou, oh Lord, will not despise?"
The son of Rabbi Hunnah said, "He who possesses a knowledge of God's law, without the fear of Him, is as one who has been intrusted with the inner keys of a treasury, but from whom the outer ones are withheld."
Rabbi Alexander said, "He who possesses worldly wisdom and fears not the Lord, is as one who designs building a house and completes only the door, for as David wrote in Psalm 111th, 'The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord.'"
When Rabbi Jochanan was ill, his pupils visited him and asked him for a blessing. With his dying voice the Rabbi said, "I pray that you may fear God as you fear man." "What!" exclaimed his pupils, "should we not fear God more than man?"
"I should be well content," answered the sage, "if your actions proved that you feared Him as much. When you do wrong you first make sure that no human eyes see you; show the same fear of God, who sees everywhere, and everything, at all times."
Abba says we can show our fear of God in our intercourse with one another. "Speak pleasantly and kindly to everyone"; he says, "trying to pacify anger, seeking peace, and pursuing it with your brethren and with all the world, and by this means you will gain that 'favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man,' which Solomon so highly prized."
Rabbi Jochanan had heard Rabbi Simon, son of Jochay, illustrate by a parable that passage of Isaiah which reads as follows: "I, the Lord, love uprightness; but hate robbery (converted) into burnt-offering."
A king having imported certain goods upon which he laid a duty, bade his officers, as they passed the custom-house, to stop and pay the usual tariff.
Greatly astonished, his attendants addressed him thus: "Sire! all that is collected belongs to your majesty; why then give what must be eventually paid into thy treasury?"
"Because," answered the monarch, "I wish travelers to learn from the action I now order you to perform, how abhorrent dishonesty is in my eyes."
Rabbi Eleazer said: "He who is guided by righteousness and justice in all his doings, may justly be asserted to have copied God in His unbounded beneficence. For of Him (blessed be His name) we read, 'He loveth righteousness and justice'; that is, 'The earth is filled with the loving kindness of God.'" Might we think that to follow such a course is an easy task? No! The virtue of beneficence can be gained only by great efforts. Will it be difficult, however, for him that has the fear of God constantly before his eyes to acquire this attribute? No; he will easily attain it, whose every act is done in the fear of the Lord.
"A crown of grace is the hoary head; on the way of righteousness can it be found."
So taught Solomon in his Proverbs. Hence various Rabbis, who had attained an advanced age, were questioned by their pupils as to the probable cause that had secured them that mark of divine favor. Rabbi Nechumah answered that, in regard to himself, God had taken cognizance of three principles by which he had endeavored to guide his conduct.
First, he had never striven to exalt his own standing by lowering that of his neighbor. This was agreeable to the example set by Rabbi Hunna, for the latter, while bearing on his shoulders a heavy spade, was met by Rabbi Choana Ben Chanilai, who, considering the burden derogatory to the dignity of so great a man, insisted upon relieving him of the implement and carrying it himself. But Rabbi Hunna refused, saying, "Were this your habitual calling I might permit it, but I certainly shall not permit another to perform an office which, if done by myself, may be looked upon by some as menial."
Secondly, he had never gone to his night's rest with a heart harboring ill-will against his fellow-man, conformably with the practice of Mar Zutra, who, before sleeping, offered this prayer: "O Lord! forgive all those who have done me injury."
Thirdly, he was not penurious, following the example of the righteous Job, of whom the sages relate that he declined to receive the change due him after making a purchase.
Another Rabbi bearing also the name of Nechumah, replied to Rabbi Akiba, that he believed himself to have been blessed with long life because, in his official capacity, he had invariably set his face against accepting presents, mindful of what Solomon wrote, "He that hateth gifts will live." Another of his merits he conceived to be that of never resenting an offense; mindful of the words of Rabba, "He who is indulgent toward others' faults, will be mercifully dealt with by the Supreme Judge."
Rabbi Zera said that the merit of having reached an extreme age was in his case due, under Providence, to his conduct through life. He governed his household with mildness and forbearance. He refrained from advancing an opinion before his superiors in wisdom. He avoided rehearsing the word of God in places not entirely free from uncleanliness. He wore the phylacteries all day, that he might be reminded of his religious duties. He did not make the college where sacred knowledge is taught, a place of convenience, as, for instance, to sleep there, either occasionally or habitually. He never rejoiced over the downfall of a fellow-mortal, nor would he designate another by a name objectionable to the party personally, or to the family of which he was a member.
"Three friends," said the Rabbis, "has man. God, his father, and his mother. He who honors his parents honors God."
Rabbi Judah said, "Known and revealed are the ways of man. A mother coaxes a child with kind words and gentle ways, gaining honor and affection; therefore, the Bible says, 'Honor thy father,' before 'honor thy mother.' But in regard to fearing, as the father is the preceptor of the child, teaching it the law, the Bible says, 'Every man shall fear his mother,' before the word 'father.'"
Rabbi Ulah was once asked, "How extended should be this honor due to parents?"
"Listen, and I will tell ye how thoroughly it was observed by a heathen, Damah, the son of Nethina. He was a diamond merchant, and the sages desired to purchase from him a jewel for the ephod of the high priest. When they reached his house, they found that the key of the safe in which the diamond was kept was in the possession of Damah's father, who was sleeping. The son absolutely refused to wake his father, to obtain the key, even when the sages in their impatience offered him a much larger sum for the jewel than he had demanded. And further, when his father awoke, and he delivered the diamond to the purchasers, and they offered him the larger sum which they had named, he took from it his first price, returning the balance to them, with the words, 'I will not profit by the honor of my father.'"
Man cannot always judge of man, and in the respect paid to parents by their children, earthly eyes cannot always see the truth. For instance, a child may feed his parents on dainties, and yet deserve the punishment of a disrespectful son; while another may send his father to labor, and yet deserve reward. How may this be?
A certain man placed dainty food before his father, and bade him eat thereof. When the father had finished his meal, he said:—
"My son, thou hast prepared for me a most delicious meal. Wherefrom didst thou obtain these delicacies?"
And the son replied, insultingly:—
"Eat as the dogs do, old man, without asking questions."
That son inherited the punishment of disrespect.
A certain man, a miller, had a father living with him, at the time when all people not working for themselves were obliged to labor a certain number of days for the government. When it came near the time when this service would be required of the old man, his son said to him, "Go thou and labor for me in the mill, and I will go and work for the government."
He said this because they who labored for the government were beaten if their work proved unsatisfactory, and he thought "it is better for me to run the chance of being beaten than to allow my father to risk it." Therefore, he deserved the reward of the son who "honors his father."
Rabbi Chiyah asserted that God preferred honor shown to parents, to that displayed toward Himself. "It is written," said he, "'Honor the Lord from thy wealth.' How? Through charity, good deeds, putting the mezuzah upon thy doorposts, making a tabernacle for thyself during Succoth, etc.; all this if thou art able. If thou art poor the omission is not counted a sin or a neglect. But it is written, 'Honor thy father and thy mother,' and the duty is demanded alike of rich and poor; aye, even shouldst thou be obliged to beg for them from door to door."
Rabbi Abahu said, "Abini, my son, hath obeyed this precept even as it should be observed."
Abini had five children, but he would not allow any of them to open the door for their grandfather, or attend to his wants when he himself was at home. Even as he desired them in their lives to honor him, so he paid respect to his father. Upon one occasion his father asked him for a glass of water. While he was procuring it the old man fell asleep, and Abini, re-entering the room, stood by his father's side with the glass in his hand until the latter awoke.
"What is fear?" and "What is honor?" ask the Rabbis.
Fear thy mother, and thy father by sitting not in their seats and standing not in their places; by paying strict attention to their words and interrupting not their speech. Be doubly careful not to criticise or judge their arguments or controversies.
Honor thy father and thy mother, by attending to their wants; giving them to eat and to drink; put their raiment upon them, and tie their shoes if they are not able to perform these services for themselves.
Rabbi Eleazer was asked how far honor toward parents should be extended, and he replied: "Cast all thy wealth into the sea; but trouble not thy father and thy mother."
Simon, the son of Jochai, said: "As the reward to those who honor their parents is great, so is the punishment equally great for those who neglect the precept."
Rabbi Jochanan said, "It is best to study by night, when all is quiet; as it is written, 'Shout forth praises in the night.'"
Reshbi Lakish said, "Study by day and by night; as it is written, 'Thou shalt meditate therein day and night.'"
Rabbi Chonan, of Zepora said, "The study of the law may be compared to a huge heap of dust that is to be cleared away. The foolish man says, 'It is impossible that I should be able to remove this immense heap, I will not attempt it;' but the wise man says, 'I will remove a little to-day, some more to-morrow, and more the day after, and thus in time I shall have removed it all.'
"It is the same with studying the law. The indolent pupil says, 'It is impossible for me to study the Bible. Just think of it, fifty chapters in Genesis; sixty-six in Isaiah, one hundred and fifty Psalms, etc. I cannot do it;' but the industrious student says, 'I will study six chapters every day, and so in time I shall acquire the whole.'"
In Proverbs 24:7, we find this sentence: "Wisdom is too high for a fool."
"Rabbi Jochanan illustrates this verse with an apple depending from the ceiling. The foolish man says, 'I cannot reach the fruit, it is too high;' but the wise man says, 'It may be readily obtained by placing one step upon another until thy arm is brought within reach of it.' The foolish man says, 'Only a wise man can study the entire law,' but the wise man replies, 'It is not incumbent upon thee to acquire the whole.'"
Rabbi Levi illustrates this by a parable.
A man once hired two servants to fill a basket with water. One of them said, "Why should I continue this useless labor? I put the water in one side and it immediately leaks out of the other; what profit is it?"
The other workman, who was wise, replied, "We have the profit of the reward which we receive for our labor."
It is the same in studying the law. One man says, "What does it profit me to study the law when I must ever continue it or else forget what I have learned." But the other man replies, "God will reward us for the will which we display even though we do forget."
Rabbi Ze-irah has said that even a single letter in the law which we might deem of no importance, if wanting, would neutralize the whole law. In Deuteronomy 22:17, we read, "Neither shall he take to himself many wives, that his heart may turn away." Solomon transgressed this precept, and it is said by Rabbi Simon that the angels took note of his ill-doing and addressed the Deity: "Sovereign of the world, Solomon has made Thy law even as a law liable to change and diminution. Three precepts he has disregarded, namely, 'He shall not acquire for himself many horses'; 'neither shall he take to himself many wives'; 'nor shall he acquire to himself too much silver and gold.'" Then the Lord replied, "Solomon will perish from the earth; aye, and a hundred Solomons after him, and yet the smallest letter of the law shall not be dispensed with."
The Rabbis have often applied in a figurative sense, various passages of Holy Writ, among others the opening verse of the 55th chapter of Isaiah. "Ho, every one of ye that thirsteth, come ye to the water, and he, too, that hath no money; come ye, buy and eat; yea, come, buy without money and without price, wine and milk."
The three liquids which men are thus urged to procure are considered by the sages of Israel as typical of the law.
One Rabbi asked, "Why is the word of God compared to water?"
To this question the following answer was returned: "As water runs down from an eminence (the mountains), and rests in a low place (the sea), so the law, emanating from Heaven, can remain in the possession of those only who are humble in spirit."
Another Rabbi inquired, "Wherefore has the Word of God been likened to wine and milk?" The reply made was, "As these fluids cannot be preserved in golden vessels, but only in those of earthenware, so those minds will be the best receptacles of learning which are found in homely bodies."
Rabbi Joshua ben Chaninah, who was very homely in appearance, possessed great wisdom and erudition; and one of his favorite sayings was, that "though many have exhibited a vast amount of knowledge, notwithstanding their personal attractions, yet had they been less handsome, their acquirements might have been more extensive."
The precepts are compared to a lamp; the law of God to a light. The lamp gives light only so long as it contains oil. So he who observes the precepts receives his reward while performing them. The law, however, is a light perpetual; it is a protection forever to the one who studies it, as it is written:—
"When thou walkest, it (the law) will guide thee; when thou liest down, it will watch over thee; and when thou awakest, it will converse with thee."
When thou walkest it will guide thee—in this world; when thou liest down, it will watch over thee—in the grave; when thou awakest, it will converse with thee—in the life to come.
A traveler upon his journey passed through the forest upon a dark and gloomy night. He journeyed in dread; he feared the robbers who infested the route he was traversing; he feared that he might slip and fall into some unseen ditch or pitfall on the way, and he feared, too, the wild beasts, which he knew were about him. By chance he discovered a pine torch, and lighted it, and its gleams afforded him great relief. He no longer feared brambles or pitfalls, for he could see his way before him. But the dread of robbers and wild beasts was still upon him, nor left him till the morning's dawn, the coming of the sun. Still he was uncertain of his way, until he emerged from the forest, and reached the cross-roads, when peace returned unto his heart.
The darkness in which the man walked was the lack of religious knowledge. The torch he discovered typifies God's precepts, which aided him on the way until he obtained the blessed sunlight, compared to God's holy word, the Bible. Still, while man is in the forest (the world), he is not entirely at peace; his heart is weak, and he may lose the right path; but when he reaches the cross-roads (death), then may we proclaim him truly righteous, and exclaim:—
"A good name is more fragrant than rich perfume, and the day of death is better than the day of one's birth."
Rabbi Jochanan, the son of Broka, and Rabbi Eleazer, the son of Chismah, visited their teacher, Rabbi Josah, and he said to them:—
"What is the news at the college; what is going on?"
"Nay," they answered, "we are thy scholars; it is for thee to speak, for us to listen."
"Nevertheless," replied Rabbi Josah, "no day passes without some occurrence of note at the college. Who lectured to-day?"
"Rabbi Eleazer, the son of Azaryah."
"And what was his subject?"
"He chose this verse from Deuteronomy," replied the scholar:—
"'Assemble the people together, the men, the women, and the children;' and thus he expounded it:—
"'The men came to learn, the women to listen; but wherefore the children? In order that those who brought them might receive a reward for training their children in the fear of the Lord.'
"He also expounded the verse from Ecclesiastes:—
"'The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails fastened (are the words of) the men of the assemblies, which are given by one shepherd.'
"'Why is the law of God compared to a goad?' he said. 'Because the goad causes the ox to draw the furrow straight, and the straight furrow brings forth a plenty of good food for the life of man. So does the law of God keep man's heart straight, that it may produce good food to provide for the life eternal. But lest thou shouldst say, "The goad is movable, so therefore must the law be," it is also written, "as nails," and likewise, as "nails fastened," lest thou shouldst argue that nails pounded into wood diminish from sight with each stroke, and that therefore by this comparison God's law would be liable to diminution also. No; as a nail fastened or planted, as a tree is planted to bring forth fruit and multiply.
"'The men of assemblies are those who gather in numbers to study the law. Frequently controversies arise among them, and thou mightest say, "With so many differing opinions how can I settle to a study of the law?" Thy answer is written in the words which are given by one shepherd. From one God have all the laws proceeded. Therefore make thy ears as a sieve, and incline thy heart to possess all these words.'"
Then said Rabbi Josah, "Happy the generation which Rabbi Eleazer teaches."
The Rabbis of Jabnah expressed their regard for all human beings, learned and unlearned, in this manner:—
"I am a creature of God and so is my neighbor. He may prefer to labor in the country; I prefer a calling in the city. I rise early for my personal benefit; he rises early to advance his own interests. As he does not seek to supplant me, I should be careful to do naught to injure his business. Shall I imagine that I am nearer to God because my profession advances the cause of learning and his does not? No. Whether we accomplish much good or little good, the Almighty will reward us in accordance with our righteous intentions."
Abaygeh offered the following as his best advice:—
"... Let him be also affable and disposed to foster kindly feelings between all people; by so doing he will gain for himself the love both of the Creator and His creatures."
Rabba always said that the possession of wisdom and a knowledge of the law necessarily led to penitence and good deeds. "For," said he, "it would be useless to acquire great learning and the mastery of biblical and traditional law and act irreverently toward one's parents, or toward those superior on account of age or more extensive learning."
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do God's commands."
Rabba said, "Holy Writ does not tell us that to study God's commands shows a good understanding, but to do them. We must learn, however, before we can be able to perform; and he who acts contrary through life to the teachings of the Most High had better never have been born."
"The wise man is in his smallest actions great: the fool is in his greatest actions small."
A pupil once inquired of his teacher, "What is real wisdom?" The teacher replied, "To judge liberally, to think purely, and to love thy neighbor." Another teacher answered, "The greatest wisdom is to know thyself."
"Beware of conceit and pride of learning; learn thy tongue to utter, 'I do not know.'"
If a man devotes himself to study, and becomes learned, to the delight and gratification of his teachers, and yet is modest in conversation with less intelligent people, honest in his dealings, truthful in his daily walks, the people say, "Happy is the father who allowed him to study God's law; happy the teachers who instructed him in the ways of truth; how beautiful are his ways; how meritorious his deeds! Of such an one the Bible says, 'He said to me, Thou art my servant; oh, Israel, through thee am I glorified.'"
But when a man devotes himself to study, and becomes learned, yet is disdainful with those less educated than himself, and is not particular in his dealings with his fellows, then the people say of him, "Woe to the father who allowed him to study God's law; woe to those who instructed him; how censurable is his conduct; how loathsome are his ways! 'Tis of such an one the Bible says, 'And from his country the people of the Lord departed.'"
When souls stand at the judgment-seat of God, the poor, the rich, and the wicked each are severally asked what excuse they can offer for not having studied the law. If the poor man pleads his poverty he is reminded of Hillel. Though Hillel's earnings were small he gave half each day to gain admittance to the college.
When the rich man is questioned, and answers that the care of his fortune occupied his time, he is told that Rabbi Eleazer possessed a thousand forests and a thousand ships, and yet abandoned all the luxuries of wealth and journeyed from town to town searching and expounding the law.
When the wicked man pleads temptation as an excuse for his evil course, he is asked if he has been more tempted than Joseph, more cruelly tried than he was, with good or evil fortune.
Yet though we are commanded to study God's law, we are not to make of it a burden; neither are we to neglect for the sake of study any other duty or reasonable recreation. "Why," once asked a pupil, "is 'thou shalt gather in thy corn in its season' a Scriptural command? Would not the people gather their corn when ripe as a matter of course? The command is superfluous."
"Not so," replied the Rabbis; "the corn might belong to a man who for the sake of study would neglect work. Work is holy and honorable in God's sight, and He would not have men fail to perform their daily duties even for the study of His law."
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 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."
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 lay 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 him will I give Achsah, my daughter, for wife."
Would he have given his daughter to a slave or a heathen?
But God prospered him, and "Othniel, the son of Keuaz, 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."
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."
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,'" etc.
Rabbi Jochanan said in the name of Rabbi Joseh, "To those who delight in the Sabbath shall God give inheritance without end. As it is written, 'Then shalt thou find delight in the Lord,' etc. 'And I will cause thee to enjoy the inheritance of Jacob, thy father.' Not as it was promised to Abraham, 'Arise and walk through the land to its length and breadth.' Not as it was promised to Isaac, 'I will give thee all that this land contains'; but as it was promised to Jacob, 'And thou shalt spread abroad, to the West, and to the East, to the North, and to the South.'"
Rabbi Jehudah said that if the Israelites had strictly observed the first Sabbath, after the command to sanctify the seventh day had been given, they would have been spared captivity; as it is written, "And it came to pass on the seventh day, that there went out some of the people to gather (the Mannah), but they found nothing." And in the next chapter we find, "Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim."
One Joseph, a Jew, who honored the Sabbath, had a very rich neighbor, who was a firm believer in astrology. He was told by one of the professional astrologers that his wealth would become Joseph's. He therefore sold his estate, and bought with the proceeds a large diamond, which he sewed in his turban, saying, "Joseph can never obtain this." It so happened, however, that while standing one day upon the deck of a ship in which he was crossing the sea, a heavy wind arose and carried the turban from his head. A fish swallowed the diamond, and being caught and exposed for sale in the market, was purchased by Joseph to supply his table on the Sabbath eve. Of course, upon opening it he discovered the diamond.
Rabbi Ishmael, the son of Joshua, was asked, "How did the rich people of the land of Israel become so wealthy?" He answered, "They gave their tithes in due season, as it is written, 'Thou shalt give tithes, in order that thou mayest become rich.'" "But," answered his questioner, "tithes were given to the Levites, only while the holy temple existed. What merit did they possess while they dwelt in Babel, that they became wealthy there also?" "Because," replied the Rabbi, "they honored the Holy Law by expounding it." "But in other countries, where they did not expound the Law, how did they deserve wealth?" "By honoring the Sabbath," was the answer.
Rabbi Achiya, the son of Abah, said, "I sojourned once in Ludik, and was entertained by a certain wealthy man on the Sabbath day. The table was spread with a sumptuous repast, and the dishes were of silver and gold. Before making a blessing over the meal the master of the house said, 'Unto the Lord belongeth the earth, with all that it contains.' After the blessing he said, 'The heavens are the heavens of the Lord, but the earth hath He given to the children of men.' I said to my host, 'I trust you will excuse me, my dear sir, if I take the liberty of asking you how you have merited this prosperity?' He answered, 'I was formerly a butcher, and I always selected the finest cattle to be killed for the Sabbath, in order that the people might have the best meat on that day. To this, I believe firmly, I owe my prosperity.' I replied, 'Blessed be the Lord, that He hath given thee all this.'"
The Governor Turnusrupis once asked Rabbi Akiba, "What is this day you call the Sabbath more than any other day?" The Rabbi responded, "What art thou more than any other person?" "I am superior to others," he replied, "because the emperor has appointed me governor over them."
Then said Akiba, "The Lord our God, who is greater than your emperor, has appointed the Sabbath day to be holier than the other days."
When man leaves the synagogue for his home an angel of good and an angel of evil accompany him. If he finds the table spread in his house, the Sabbath lamps lighted, and his wife and children in festive garments ready to bless the holy day of rest, then the good angel says:—
"May the next Sabbath and all thy Sabbaths be like this. Peace unto this dwelling, peace;" and the angel of evil is forced to say, "Amen!"
But if the house is not ready, if no preparations have been made to greet the Sabbath, if no heart within the dwelling has sung, "Come, my beloved, to meet the bride; the presence of the Sabbath let us receive;" then the angel of evil speaks and says:—
"May all thy Sabbaths be like this;" and the weeping angel of goodness, responds, "Amen!"
Samson sinned against the Lord through his eyes, as it is written, "I have seen a woman of the daughters of the Philistines.... This one take for me, for she pleaseth in my eyes." Therefore through his eyes was he punished, as it is written, "And the Philistines seized him, and put out his eyes."
Abshalom was proud of his hair. "And like Abshalom there was no man as handsome in all Israel, so that he was greatly praised; from the sole of his foot up to the crown of his head there was no blemish on him. And when he shaved off the hair of his head, and it was at the end of every year that he shaved it off, because it was too heavy on him so that he had to shave it off, he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels by the king's weight." Therefore by his hair was he hanged.
Miriam waited for Moses one hour (when he was in the box of bulrushes). Therefore the Israelites waited for Miriam seven days, when she became leprous. "And the people did not set forward until Miriam was brought in again."
Joseph buried his father. "And Joseph went up to bury his father." There was none greater among the children of Israel than Joseph. Moses excelled him afterward, however; therefore we find, "And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him." But the world has seen none greater than Moses, therefore 'tis written, "And He (God) buried him in the valley."
When trouble and sorrow become the portion of Israel, and the fainthearted separate from their people, two angels lay their hands upon the head of him who withdraws, saying, "This one shall not see the comfort of the congregation."
When trouble comes to the congregation it is not right for a man to say, "I will go home; I will eat and drink; and things shall be peaceful to me;" 'tis of such a one that the holy book speaks, saying, "And behold there is gladness and joy; slaying of oxen, and killing of sheep; eating of flesh, and drinking of wine. 'Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we must die.' And it was revealed in my ears by the Lord of Hosts; surely the iniquity shall not be forgiven ye until ye die."
Our teacher, Moses, always bore his share in the troubles of the congregation, as it is written, "They took a stone and put it under him." Could they not have given him a chair or a cushion? But then he said, "Since the Israelites are in trouble (during the war with Amalek) lo, I will bear my part with them, for he who bears his portion of the burden will live to enjoy the hour of consolation. Woe to the one who thinks, 'Ah, well, I will neglect my duty; who can know whether I bear my part or not;' even the stones of his house, aye, the limbs of the trees, shall testify against him, as it is written, 'For the stones will cry from the wall, and the limbs of the trees will testify.'"
Rabbi Meir said, "When a man teaches his son a trade, he should pray to the Possessor of the world, the Dispenser of wealth and poverty; for in every trade and pursuit of life both the rich and the poor are to be found. It is folly for one to say, 'This is a bad trade, it will not afford me a living;' because he will find many well to do in the same occupation. Neither should a successful man boast and say, 'This is a great trade, a glorious art, it has made me wealthy;' because many working in the same line as himself have found but poverty. Let all remember that everything is through the infinite mercy and wisdom of God."
Rabbi Simon, the son of Eleazer, said, "Hast thou ever noted the fowls of the air and beasts of the field how easily their maintenance is provided for them; and yet they were only created to serve me. Now should not I find a livelihood with even less trouble, for I was made to serve my fellow-creatures? But, alas! I sinned against my Creator, therefore am I punished with poverty and obliged to labor."
Rabbi Judah said, "Most mule-drivers are cruel. They beat their poor beasts unmercifully. Most camel-drivers are upright. They travel through deserts and dangerous places, and have time for meditation and thoughts of God. The majority of seamen are religious. Their daily peril makes them so. The best doctors are deserving of punishment. In the pursuit of knowledge they experiment on their patients, and often with fatal results. The best of butchers deserve to be rated with the Amalekites, they are accustomed to blood and cruelty; as it is written of the Amalekites, 'How he met thee by the way and smote the hindmost of thee, and that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary.'"
Man is born with his hands clenched; he dies with his hands wide open. Entering life he desires to grasp everything; leaving the world, all that he possessed has slipped away.
Even as a fox is man; as a fox which seeing a fine vineyard lusted after its grapes. But the palings were placed at narrow distances, and the fox was too bulky to creep between them. For three days he fasted, and when he had grown thin he entered into the vineyard. He feasted upon the grapes, forgetful of the morrow, of all things but his enjoyment; and lo, he had again grown stout and was unable to leave the scene of his feast. So for three days more he fasted, and when he had again grown thin, he passed through the palings and stood outside the vineyard, meagre as when he entered.
So with man; poor and naked he enters the world, poor and naked does he leave.
Alexander wandered to the gates of Paradise and knocked for entrance.
"Who knocks?" demanded the guardian angel.
"Who is Alexander?"
"Alexander—the Alexander—Alexander the Great—the conqueror of the world."
"We know him not," replied the angel; "this is the Lord's gate, only the righteous enter here."
Alexander begged for something to prove that he had reached the gates of Paradise, and a small piece of a skull was given to him. He showed it to his wise men, who placed it in one scale of a balance, Alexander poured gold and silver into the other scale, but the small bone weighed heavier; he poured in more, adding his crown jewels, his diadem; but still the bone outweighed them all. Then one of the wise men, taking a grain of dust from the ground placed that upon the bone, and lo, the scale flew up.
The bone was that which surrounds the eye of man; the eye of man which naught can satisfy save the dust which covers it in the grave.
When the righteous dies, 'tis earth that meets with loss. The jewel will ever be a jewel, but it has passed from the possession of its former owner. Well may the loser weep.
Life is a passing shadow, say the Scriptures. The shadow of a tower or a tree; the shadow which prevails for a time? No; even as the shadow of a bird in its flight, it passeth from our sight, and neither bird nor shadow remains.
"My lover goes down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to wander about in the garden and pluck roses." (Song of Songs).
The world is the garden of my lover, and he my lover is the King of kings. Like a bed of fragrant spices is Israel, the sweet savour of piety ascends on high, the perfume of learning lingers on the passing breeze, and the bed of beauty is fenced round by gentle peace. The plants flourish and put forth leaves, leaves giving grateful shelter to those who suffer from the heats and disappointment of life, and my lover seeking the most beautiful blossom, plucks the roses, the students of the law, whose belief is their delight.
When the devouring flames seize upon the cedar, shall not the lowly hyssop fear and tremble? When anglers draw the great leviathan from his mighty deeps, what hope have the fish of the shallow pond? When the fishing-line is dropped into the dashing torrent, can they feel secure, the waters of the purling brook?
Mourn for those who are left; mourn not for the one taken by God from earth. He has entered into the eternal rest, while we are bowed with sorrow.
Rabbi Akiba was once traveling through the country, and he had with him an ass, a rooster, and a lamp.
At nightfall he reached a village where he sought shelter for the night without success.
"All that God does is done well," said the Rabbi, and proceeding toward the forest he resolved to pass the night there. He lit his lamp, but the wind extinguished it. "All that God does is done well," he said. The ass and the rooster were devoured by wild beasts; yet still he said no more than "All that God does is done well."
Next day he learned that a troop of the enemy's soldiers had passed through the forest that night. If the ass had brayed, if the rooster had crowed, or if the soldiers had seen his light he would surely have met with death, therefore he said again, "All that God does is done well."
Once when Rabbi Gamliel, Rabbi Eleazer, the son of Azaria, Rabbi Judah, and Rabbi Akiba were walking together, they heard the shouts and laughter and joyous tones of a multitude of people at a distance. Four of the Rabbis wept; but Akiba laughed aloud.
"Akiba," said the others to him, "wherefore laugh? These heathens who worship idols live in peace, and are merry, while our holy city lies in ruins; weep, do not laugh."
"For that very reason I laugh, and am glad," answered Rabbi Akiba. "If God allows those who transgress His will to live happily on earth, how infinitely great must be the happiness which He has stored up in the world to come for those who observe His commands."
Upon another occasion these same Rabbis went up to Jerusalem. When they reached Mount Zophim and saw the desolation about them they rent their garments, and when they reached the spot where the Temple had stood and saw a fox run out from the very site of the holy of holies four of them wept bitterly; but again Rabbi Akiba appeared merry. His comrades again rebuked him for this, to them, unseemly state of feeling.
"Ye ask me why I am merry," said he; "come now, tell me why ye weep?"
"Because the Bible tells us that a stranger (one not descended from Aaron) who approaches the holy of holies shall be put to death, and now behold the foxes make of it a dwelling-place. Why should we not weep?"
"Ye weep," returned Akiba, "from the very reason which causes my heart to be glad. Is it not written, 'And testify to me, ye faithful witnesses, Uriah, the priest, and Zachariah, the son of Berachiahu?' Now what hath Uriah to do with Zachariah? Uriah lived during the existence of the first Temple, and Zachariah during the second. Know ye not that the prophecy of Uriah is compared to the prophecy of Zachariah. From Uriah's prophecy we find, 'Therefore for your sake Zion will be plowed as is a field, and Jerusalem will be a desolation, and the mount of Zion shall be as a forest;' and in Zachariah we find, 'They will sit, the old men and women, in the streets of Jerusalem.' Before the prophecy of Uriah was accomplished I might have doubted the truth of Zachariah's comforting words; but now that one has been accomplished, I feel assured that the promises to Zachariah will also come to pass, therefore am I glad."
"Thy words comfort us, Akiba," answered his companions. "May God ever provide us comfort."
Still another time, when Rabbi Eleazer was very sick and his friends and scholars were weeping for him, Rabbi Akiba appeared happy, and asked them why they wept. "Because," they replied, "our beloved Rabbi is lying between life and death." "Weep not, on the contrary be glad therefor," he answered. "If his wine did not grow sour, if his flag was not stricken down, I might think that on earth he received the reward of his righteousness; but now that I see my teacher suffering for what evil he may have committed in this world, I rejoice. He hath taught us that the most righteous among us commit some sin, therefore in the world to come he will have peace."
While Rabbi Eleazer was sick, the four elders, Rabbi Tarphon, Rabbi Joshua, Rabbi Eleazer, the son of Azoria, and Rabbi Akiba, called upon him.
"Thou art better to Israel than the raindrops to earth, or the raindrops are for this world only, while thou, my teacher, have helped the ripening of fruit for this world and the next," said Rabbi Tarphon.
"Thou art better to Israel than the sun, for the sun is for this world alone; thou hast given light for this world and the next," said Rabbi Joshua.
Then spoke Rabbi Eleazer, the son of Azoria:—
"Thou art better to Israel," said he, "than father and mother to man. They bring him into the world, but thou, my teacher, showest him the way into the world of Immortality."
Then said Rabbi Akiba:—
"It is well that man should be afflicted, for his distresses atone for his sins."
"Does the Bible make such an assertion, Akiba?" asked his teacher.
"Yes," answered Akiba. "'Twelve years old was Manassah when he became king, and fifty-and-five years did he reign in Jerusalem, and he did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord' (Kings). Now, how was this? Did Hezekiah teach the law to the whole world and not to his son Manassah? Assuredly not; but Manassah paid no attention to his precepts, and neglected the word of God until he was afflicted with bodily pain, as it is written, 'And the Lord spoke to Manassah and to his people, but they listened not, wherefore the Lord brought over them the captains of the armies belonging to the king of Assyria, and they took Manassah prisoner with chains, and bound him with fetters, and led him off to Babylon; and when he was in distress he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And he prayed to Him, and He permitted Himself to be entreated by him and heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem unto his kingdom. Then did Manassah feel conscious that the Lord is indeed the (true) God.'
"Now, what did the king of Assyria to Manassah? He placed him in a copper barrel and had a fire kindled beneath it, and while enduring great torture of his body, Manassah was further tortured in his mind. 'Shall I call "page318" id= upon the Almighty?' he thought. 'Alas! His anger burns against me. To call upon my idols is to call in vain,—alas, alas, what hope remains to me!'
"He prayed to the greatest of his idols, and waited in vain for a reply. He called to the lesser gods, and remained unanswered. Then with trembling heart he addressed the great Eternal.
"'O Eternal! God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their descendants, the heavens and the earth are the works of Thy hand. Thou didst give to the sea a shore, controlling with a word the power of the mighty deep. Thou art merciful as Thou art great, and Thou hast promised to accept the repentance of those who return to Thee with upright hearts. As numerous are my sins as the sands which cover the seashore. I have done evil before Thee, committing abominations in Thy presence and acting wickedly. Bound with fetters I come before Thee, and on my knees I entreat Thee, in the name of Thy great attributes of mercy, to compassionate my suffering and my distress. Pardon me, O Lord, forgive me. Do not utterly destroy me because of my transgressions. Let not my punishment eternally continue. Though I am unworthy of Thy goodness, O Lord, yet save me in Thy mercy. Henceforth will I praise Thy name all the days of my life, for all Thy creatures delight in praising Thee, and unto Thee is the greatness and the goodness forever and ever, Selah!'"
"God heard this prayer, even as it is written, 'And He permitted Himself to be entreated by him, and brought him back to Jerusalem unto his kingdom.'"
"From which we may learn," continued Akiba, "that affliction is an atonement for sin."
Said Rabbi Eleazer, the great, "It is commanded 'thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy soul and with all that is loved by thee.'
"Does not 'with all thy soul' include 'with all that is loved by thee?'
"Some people love themselves more than they love their money; to them 'tis said, 'with all thy soul;' while for those who love their money more than themselves the commandment reads, 'with all that is loved by thee.'"
But Rabbi Akiba always expounded the words, "with all thy soul," to mean "even though thy life be demanded of thee."
When the decree was issued forbidding the Israelites to study the law, what did Rabbi Akiba?
He installed many congregations secretly, and in secret lectured before them.
Then Papus, the son of Juda said to him:—
"Art not afraid, Akiba? Thy doings may be discovered, and thou wilt be punished for disobeying the decree."
"Listen, and I will relate to thee a parable," answered Akiba. "A fox, walking by the river side, noticed the fishes therein swimming and swimming to and fro, never ceasing; so he said to them, 'Why are ye hurrying, what do ye fear?'
"'The nets of the angler,' they replied.
"'Come, then,' said the fox, 'and live with me on dry land.'
"But the fishes laughed.
"'And art thou called the wisest of the beasts?' they exclaimed; 'verily thou art the most foolish. If we are in danger even in our element, how much greater would be our risk in leaving it.'
"It is the same with us. We are told of the law that it is 'our life and the prolongation of our days.' This is it when things are peaceful with us; how much greater is our need of it then in times like these?"
It is said that it was but shortly after this when Rabbi Akiba was imprisoned for teaching the law, and in the prison in which he was incarcerated he found Papus, who had been condemned for some other offense.
Rabbi Akiba said to him:—
"Papus, what brought thee here?"
And Papus replied:—
"Joy, joy, to thee, that thou art imprisoned for studying God's law; but woe, woe is mine that I am here through vanity."
When Rabbi Akiba was led forth to execution, it was just at the time of the morning service.
"'Hear, O Israel! the Lord our God, the Lord is one,'" he exclaimed in a loud and firm voice.
The torturers tore his flesh with pointed cards, yet still he repeated, "The Lord is one."
"Always did I say," he continued, "that 'with all thy soul,' meant even though life should be demanded of thee, and I wondered whether I should ever be able to so observe it. Now see, to-day, I do so; 'the Lord is one.'"
With these word he died.
Elishah ben Abuyah, a most learned man, became in after-life an apostate. Rabbi Meir had been one of his pupils, and he never failed in the great love which he bore for his teacher.
It happened upon one occasion when Rabbi Meir was lecturing in the college, that some students entered and said to him:—
"Thy teacher, Elishah, is riding by on horseback on this holy Sabbath day."
Rabbi Meir left the college, and overtaking Elishah walked along by his horse's side.
The latter saluted him, and asked:—
"What passage of Scripture hast thou been expounding?"
"From the book of Job," replied Rabbi Meir. "'The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than the beginning.'"
"And how didst thou explain the verse?" said Elishah.
"That the Lord increased his wealth twofold."
"But thy teacher, Akiba, said not so," returned Elishah. "He said that the Lord blessed the latter days of Job with twofold of penitence and good deeds."
"How," inquired Rabbi Meir, "wouldst thou explain the verse, 'Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof.' If a man buys merchandise in his youth and meets with losses, is it likely that he will recover his substance in old age? Or, if a person studies God's law in his youth and forgets it, is it probable that it will return to his memory in his latter days?"
"Thy teacher, Akiba, said not so," replied Elishah; "he explained the verse, 'Better is the end of a thing when the beginning was good.' My own life proves the soundness of this explanation. On the day when I was admitted into the covenant of Abraham, my father made a great feast. Some of his visitors sang, some of them danced, but the Rabbis conversed upon God's wisdom and His laws. This latter pleased my father, Abuyah, and he said, 'When my son grows up ye shall teach him and he shall become like ye; he did not cause me to study for God's sake but only to make his name famous through me. Therefore, in my latter days have I become wicked and an apostate; and now, return home.'"
"Because, on the Sabbath day, thou art allowed to go so far and no farther, and I have reckoned the distance thou hast traveled with me by the footsteps of my horse."
"If thou art so wise," said Rabbi Meir, "as to reckon the distance I may travel by the footsteps of thy horse, and so particular for my sake, why not return to God and repent of thy apostacy?"
"It is not in my power. I rode upon horseback once on the Day of Atonement; yea, when it fell upon the Sabbath, and when I passed the synagogue I heard a voice crying, 'Return, oh backsliding children, return to me and I will return to ye; except Elishah, the son of Abuyah, he knew his Master and yet rebelled against Him.'"
What caused such a learned man as Elishah to turn to evil ways?
It is reported that once while studying the law in the vale of Genusan, he saw a man climbing a tree. The man found a bird's-nest in the tree, and taking the mother with the young ones he still departed in peace. He saw another man who finding a bird's-nest followed the Bible's command and took the young only, allowing the mother to fly away; and yet a serpent stung him as he descended, and he died. "Now," thought he, "where is the Bible's truth and promises? Is it not written, 'And the young thou mayest take to thyself, but the mother thou shalt surely let go, that it may be well with thee and that thou mayest live many days.' Now, where is the long life to this man who followed the precept, while the one who transgressed it is unhurt?"
He had not heard how Rabbi Akiba expounded this verse, that the days would be long in the future world where all is happiness.
There is also another reason given as the cause for Elishah's backsliding and apostacy.
During the fearful period of religious persecution, the learned Rabbi Judah, whose life had been passed in the study of the law and the practice of God's precepts, was delivered into the power of the cruel torturer. His tongue was placed in a dog's mouth and the dog bit it off.
So Elishah said, "If a tongue which uttered naught but truth be so used, and a learned, wise man be so treated, of what use is it to avoid having a lying tongue and being ignorant. Lo, if these things are allowed, there is surely no reward for the righteous, and no resurrection for the dead."
When Elishah waxed old he was taken sick, and Rabbi Meir, learning of the illness of his aged teacher, called upon him.
"Oh return, return unto thy God." entreated Rabbi Meir.
"What!" exclaimed Elishah, "return! and could He receive my penitence, the penitence of an apostate who has so rebelled against Him?"
"Is it not written," said Meir, "'Thou turnest man to contrition?' No matter how the soul of man may be crushed, he can still turn to his God and find relief."
Elishah listened to these words, wept bitterly and died. Not many years after his death his daughters came, poverty stricken, asking relief from the colleges. "Remember," said they, "the merit of our father's learning, not his conduct."
The colleges listened to the appeal and supported the daughters of Elishah.
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 "page323" id= 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 honor; 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 fiat 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 placed two watchers in the orchard, and that they themselves might not be 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 it is 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.'
"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 honor 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 forever; who may imprison me, but not forever; 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 forever. If He imprisons me, it is forever; 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; 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.' 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 honor 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 labor, 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 traveler 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 offspring 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.' 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 favor 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 for 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."
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