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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Shabbath

Folio 30a

GEMARA. Since the second clause teaches, HE IS CULPABLE, it may be inferred that it is R. Judah.1  Then to what does the first clause refer? if to an invalid dangerously ill, [the Tanna] should have stated, 'it is permitted'?2  While If to an invalid who is not in danger, he should have stated, He is liable to a sin-offering?3 — After all, [it refers] to an invalid dangerously sick, and logically he should teach, it is permitted; but because he wishes to teach 'HE IS CULPABLE' in the second clause, he also teaches 'HE IS NOT CULPABLE' in the first. And as for what R. Oshaia taught: If it is for the sake of a sick person, that he should sleep, he must not extinguish it; but if he extinguishes it, he is not liable, though it is forbidden-that refers to one who is not dangerously ill, and agrees with R. Simeon.4

This question was asked before R. Tanhum of Neway:5  What about extinguishing a burning lamp for a sick man on the Sabbath? — Thereupon he commenced and spake:6  Thou, Solomon, where is thy wisdom and where is thine understanding? It is not enough for thee that thy words contradict the words of thy father David, but that they are self-contradictory! Thy father David said, The dead praise not the Lord;7  whilst thou saidest, Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead8  but yet again thou saidest, for a living dog is better than a dead lion.9  Yet there is no difficulty. As to what David said: 'The dead praise not the Lord', this is what he meant: Let a man always engage in Torah and good deeds before he dies, for as soon as he dies he is restrained from [the practice of] Torah and good deeds, and the Holy One, blessed be He, finds nought to praise in him. And thus R. Johanan said, What is meant by the verse, Among the dead [I am] free?10  Once a man dies, he becomes free of the Torah and good deeds. And as to what Solomon said, 'Wherefore I praised the dead that are already dead' for when Israel sinned in the wilderness, Moses stood before the Holy One, blessed be He, and uttered many prayers and supplications before Him, but he was not answered. Yet when he exclaimed, 'Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants!'11  he was immediately answered. Did not then Solomon well say, wherefore I praised the dead that are already dead'? Another interpretation: In worldly affairs, when a prince of flesh and blood issues a decree, it is doubtful whether it will be obeyed or not; and even if you say that it is obeyed, it is obeyed during his lifetime but not after his death. Whereas Moses our Teacher decreed many decrees and enacted numerous enactments, and they endure for ever and unto all eternity. Did then not Solomon well say, 'Wherefore I praise the dead, etc.' Another interpretation [of] 'wherefore I praise, etc.' is in accordance with Rab Judah's dictum in Rab's name, viz., What is meant by, Shew me a token for good, that they which hate me may see it, and be ashamed?12  David prayed before the Holy One, blessed be He, 'Sovereign of the Universe! Forgive me for that sin!'13  'It is forgiven thee,' replied He. 'Shew me a token in my lifetime,' he entreated. 'In thy lifetime I will not make it known,' He answered, 'but I will make it known in the lifetime of thy son Solomon.' For when Solomon built the Temple, he desired to take the Ark into the Holy of Holies, whereupon the gates clave to each other. Solomon uttered twenty-four prayers,14  yet he was not answered. He opened [his mouth] and exclaimed, 'Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors: And the King of glory shall come in.15  They rushed upon him to swallow him up, crying, 'Who is the king of glory'? 'The Lord, strong and mighty,'16  answered he. Then he repeated, 'Lift up your heads, O ye gates; Yea, lift them up, ye everlasting doors: and the King of glory shall come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of glory. Selah';17  yet he was not answered. But as soon as he prayed, 'O Lord God, turn not away the face of thine anointed remember the good deeds of David thy servant,'18  he was immediately answered. In that hour the faces of all David's enemies turned [black] like the bottom of a pot, and all Israel knew that the Holy One, blessed be He, had forgiven him that sin. Did then not Solomon well say, wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead'? And thus it is written, On the eighth day he sent the people away, and they blessed the king, and went into their tents joyful and glad of heart for all the goodness that the Lord had shewed unto David his servant, and to Israel his people.19  'And they went unto their tents' [means] that they found their wives clean; 'joyful', because they had enjoyed the lustre of the Divine Presence; 'and glad of heart', because their wives conceived and each one bore a male child; 'for all the goodness that the Lord had shewed unto David his servant', that He had forgiven him that sin; and to Israel his people', for He had forgiven them the sin of the Day of Atonement.20

And as to what Solomon said, 'for a living dog is better than a dead lion', — that is as Rab Judah said in Rab's name, viz.; what is meant by the verse, Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; let me know how frail I am.21  David said before the Holy One, blessed be He, 'Sovereign of the Universe! Lord, make me to know mine end.' 'It is a decree before Me,' replied He, 'that the end of a mortal22  is not made known.' 'And the measure of my days, what it is'-'it is a decree before Me that a person's span [of life] is not made known.' 'Let me know how frail [hadel] I am.'23  Said He to him. 'Thou wilt die on the Sabbath.' 'Let me die on the first day of the week!'24  'The reign of thy son Solomon shall already have become due, and one reign may not overlap another even by a hairbreadth.' 'Then let me die on the eve of the Sabbath!' Said He, 'For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand':25  better is to Me the one day that thou sittest and engagest in learning than the thousand burnt-offerings which thy son Solomon is destined to sacrifice before Me on the altar.'26

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. The work of extinguishing is not needed per se but merely to effect something else, e.g., to spare the oil, and it is R. Judah who maintains that such work involves liability.
  2. 'He is exempt' implies that it is actually forbidden.
  3. Since there is no danger of life, it is prohibited like any other work.
  4. That no liability is incurred on account of a labour not required for itself, v. n. 4 and infra 93b.
  5. A district in North Palestine (Jast.). MS.M. reads: Nineweh. V. Ta'an., Sonc. ed., p. 64, n. 5.
  6. This formula generally introduces a popular sermon, which preceded the answering of the question. Such follows here.
  7. Ps. CXV, 17.
  8. Eccl. IV, 2.
  9. Ibid. IX, 4.
  10. Ps. LXXXVIII, 6 (E.V. 5: (Cast off among the dead).
  11. Ex. XXXII, 13.
  12. Ps. LXXXVI, 17.
  13. Sc. of Bathsheba.
  14. Heb. [H] songs. In Solomon's prayer (I Kings VIII, 23-53) expressions of entreaty ([H] song; [H], prayer; and [H], supplication) occur twenty-four times.
  15. Ps. XXIV, 7.
  16. Ibid. 8.
  17. lbid. 9f.
  18. 11 Chron. VI, 42.
  19. I Kings VIII, 66.
  20. Which they had kept as a Feast instead of a Fast. V. vv. 2 and 65: the fourteen days must have included the tenth of the seventh month, which is the Day of Atonement; v. M.K. 9a.
  21. Ps. XXXIX, 5 (E.V. 4).
  22. Lit., 'flesh and blood'.
  23. Translating: Let me know when I will cease (to be), fr. hadal, to cease.
  24. The following day, so that the usual offices for the dead may be performed, some of which are forbidden on the Sabbath.
  25. Ps. LXXXIV, 11 (E.V. 10).
  26. Thus your life is too precious for a single day to be renounced.-Study itself is regarded in Judaism as an act of worship — indeed, the greatest, though only when it leads to piety; cf. Pe'ah I, 1.

Shabbath 30b

Now, every Sabbath day he would sit and study all day.1  On the day that his soul was to be at rest,2  the Angel of death stood before him but could not prevail against him, because learning did not cease from his mouth. 'What shall I do to him?' said he. Now, there was a garden before his house; so the Angel of death went, ascended and soughed in the trees. He [David] went out to see: as he was ascending the ladder, it broke under him. Thereupon he became silent [from his studies] and his soul had repose. Then Solomon sent to Beth Hamidrash: My father is dead and lying in the sun; and the dogs of my father's house are hungry; what shall I do? They sent back, Cut up a carcase and place it before the dogs; and as for thy father, put a loaf of bread or a child upon him and carry him away.3  Did then not Solomon well say, for a living dog is better than a dead lion?4  And as for the question which I asked before you,5  — a lamp is designated lamp, and the soul of man is called a lamp:6  better it is that the lamp of flesh and blood be extinguished before the lamp of the Holy One, blessed be He.7

Rab Judah son of R. Samuel b. Shilath said in Rab's name: The Sages wished to hide the Book of Ecclesiastes,8  because its words are self-contradictory; yet why did they not hide it? Because its beginning is religious teaching9  and its end is religious teaching. Its beginning is religious teaching, as it is written, What profit hath man of all his labour wherein he laboureth under the sun?10  And the School of R. Jannai commented: Under the sun he has none, but he has it [sc. profit] before the sun.11  The end thereof is religious teaching, as it is written, Let us hear the conclusion of the matter, fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole of man.12  What is meant by, 'for this is the whole of man'? — Said R. Eleazar, The entire world was created only for the sake of this [type of] man. Simeon b. 'Azzai-others state, Simeon b. Zoma-said: The entire world was created only to be a companion to this man.

And how are its words self-contradictory? — It is written, anger is better than play;13  but it is written, I said of laughter, It is to be praised.14  It is written, Then I commended joy;15  but it is written, and of joy [I said] What doeth it?16  There is no difficulty: 'anger is better than laughter': the anger which the Holy One, blessed be He, displays to the righteous in this world is better than the laughter which the Holy One, blessed be He, laughs with the wicked in this world.17  'And I said of laughter, it is to be praised': that refers to the laughter which the Holy One, blessed be He, laughs with the righteous in the world to come. 'Then I commended joy': this refers to the joy of a precept.18  'And of joy [I said], what doeth it': this refers to joy [which is] not in connection with a precept.19  This teaches you that the Divine Presence rests [upon] man] neither through gloom,20  nor through sloth, nor through frivolity, nor through levity, nor through talk, nor through idle chatter,21  save through a matter of joy in connection with a precept, as it is said, But now bring me a minstrel. And it came to pass, when the minstrel played, that the hand of the Lord came upon him.22

Rab Judah said: And it is likewise thus for a matter of halachah.23  Raba said: And it is likewise thus for a good dream.24  But that is not so, for R. Giddal said in Rab's name: If any scholar sits before his teacher and his lips do not drip bitterness,25  they shall be burnt, for it is said, his lips are as lilies [shoshanim], dropping liquid myrrh [mor'ober]:26  read not mor'ober, but mar'ober [dropping bitterness]; read not shoshanim but sheshonin [that study]?27  There is no difficulty: the former applies to the teacher; the latter to the disciple. Alternatively, both refer to the teacher, yet there is no difficulty: the one means before he commences; the other, after he commences. Even as Rabbah before he commenced [his discourse] before the scholars used to say something humorous, and the scholars were cheered; after that he sat in awe and began the discourse.

The Book of Proverbs too they desired to hide, because its statements are self-contradictory. Yet why did they not hide it? They said, Did we not examine the Book of Ecclesiastes and find a reconciliation? So here too let us make search. And how are its statements self-contradictory? — It is written, Answer not a fool according to his folly;28  yet it is also written, Answer a fool according to his folly?29  There is no difficulty: the one refers to matters of learning;30  the other to general matters. Even as a certain person came before Rabbi and said to him, 'Your wife is my wife and your children are mine.'31  'Would you like to drink a glass of wine?' asked he. He drank and burst.

A certain man came before R. Hiyya and said to him, 'Your mother is my wife and you are my son! Would you like to drink a glass of wine?' asked he. He drank and burst.

R. Hiyya observed: Rabbi's prayer was in-so-far effective that his sons were not made illegitimate.32  For when Rabbi prayed he used to say, May it be Thy will, O Lord our God, to save me this day from the impudent and from impudence.33

'Matters of learning'-what is that? — As R. Gamaliel sat and lectured, Woman is destined to bear every day, for it is said, the woman conceived and beareth simultaneously.34  But a certain disciple scoffed at him, quoting, 'there is no new thing under the sun.'35  Come, and I will show you its equal in this world,36  be replied. He went forth and showed him a fowl. On another occasion R. Gamaliel sat and lectured, Trees are destined to yield fruit every day, for it is said, and it shall bring forth boughs and bear fruit:37  just as the boughs [exist] every day, so shall there be fruit every day. But a certain disciple scoffed at him, saying, but it is written, 'there is no new thing under the sun!' Come, and I will show you its equal in this world, replied he. He went forth and showed him the caper bush.38  On another occasion R. Gamaliel sat and expounded, Palestine is destined to bring forth cakes and wool robes, for it is said, There shall be an handful of corn in the land.39  But a certain disciple scoffed at him, quoting, 'there is no new thing under the sun!' 'Come, and I will show you their equal in this world,' replied he. He went forth and showed him morels and truffles;40  and for silk robes [he showed him] the bark of a young palm-shoot.41

Our Rabbis taught: A man should always be gentle like Hillel, and not impatient like Shammai. It once happened that two men

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. The angel of death cannot approach one who is studying the Torah; Sot. 21a.
  2. A euphemism for death.
  3. V. infra 156b.
  4. For the sake of the living dogs it was permitted to handle the carcase without further ado, yet the great king David might not be handled this! Or, the answer concerning the dogs was given precedence over that concerning David.
  5. Supra a. This was said in a spirit of humility, instead of 'which you asked before me.'
  6. Prov. XX, 27: the soul of man is the lamp of the Lord.
  7. Where life is endangered, the lamp may certainly be extinguished.
  8. V. supra p. 55, n. 2. Weiss, Dor, 1, p. 212 conjectures that this was at the time of the Synod in the upper chamber of Hanania b. Hezekiah b. Garon (v. p. 54, n. 1), when it was desired to 'hide' Ezekiel too. This activity was occasioned by the spread of books of Hellenistic tendencies, in consequence of which existing material was closely scrutinized as to its fitness.
  9. Lit., 'words of the Torah'.
  10. Eccl. 1, 3.
  11. I.e., one profits if he toils in the Torah, which existed before the sun; Pes. 54a; Ned. 39b.
  12. Ibid. XII, 13.
  13. Ibid. VII, 3.
  14. Ibid. II, 2.
  15. Ibid. VIII, 15.
  16. Ibid. II, 2.
  17. The latter is an idiom for prosperity and well being: the sufferings inflicted upon the righteous are preferable to the prosperity conferred upon the wicked.
  18. The celebrations of such, e.g., a marriage.
  19. The Rabbis frowned upon this. But in all probability this does not apply to a simple and harmless gathering, but to attendance at theatres and circuses, at which the Jewish authorities looked askance, perhaps because they originated in idolatry and also because images of royalty were placed there. — Lev. R. XXXIV. The early Christians too were opposed to this, Tertullian (De Spectaculis, X) describing the theatre as a place of sexual immorality,
  20. Judaism does not encourage asceticism; cf. Ned. 10a.
  21. Or, vain pursuits.
  22. II Kings III, 15. Maharsha observes that the verse is quoted merely to show that the Divine Presence does not rest on a man plunged in gloom, Elisha requiring the minstrel to dissipate the gloom occasioned by Jehoram's visit.
  23. Serious study must be preceded by some light-hearted conversation.
  24. If one goes to sleep in good spirits, he has happy dreams.
  25. Caused by his awe and reverence.
  26. Cant. V, 13.
  27. Translating: the lips of those who study drop bitterness.-This shows that one must not study light-heartedly.
  28. Prov. XXVI, 4.
  29. Ibid. 5.
  30. Then he may be answered.
  31. Thus accusing his wife of adultery and his children of illegitimacy,
  32. The man's miraculous death proved his accusation unfounded. [The text is not clear. Var. lec.: that he was not made (accused to be) illegitimate unlike R. Hiyya, who was declared by the man to be his son; only the character of Rabbi's son was impugned but not of Rabbi himself].
  33. Private prayers were added after the Eighteen Benedictions (v. p. 32, n. 3); Elbogen, Der Judische Gottesdienst, p. 75. This prayer has become incorporated in the daily liturgy. Weiss, Dor, II, 192 conjectures, though on insufficient grounds, that it was occasioned by the opposition he met with among the Rabbis.
  34. Jer. XXXI, 7. (E.V. 8: the woman with child and her that travaileth with child, together).
  35. Eccl. I, 9.
  36. 'This world' is here contrasted with the destined future of change, while generally it is contrasted with the 'world to come'. Whether these two are synonymous it is difficult to say; v. Sanh. p. 601, n. 3. But perhaps the phrase here means, 'the world under present conditions.'
  37. Ezek. XVII, 23.
  38. Jast: of which the various products are eaten successively; v. B.B. 28b.
  39. Ps. LXXII, 16. Rashi: this implies, corn as wide as a handbreadth, i.e., cakes as wide. The Hebrew pissath bar may also be translated pure wool (or, silken) garments'.
  40. Which resemble cakes.
  41. This has a downy, silk-like substance on the inside.