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Ancient Jewish Proverbs, by Abraham Cohen, , at sacred-texts.com
RULES OF CONDUCT
*176. Be the cursed and not the curser (Sanh. 49a; D. 652).
A similar exhortation is, "A man should always be of the pursued and not of the pursuers" (B. K. 93a), and cf. "They who are oppressed and oppress not, who listen to insults without retorting, who act lovingly and are happy under trials—of them it is said (Judg. v. 31), "Let them who love Him be as the sun when it goeth forth in its might" (Shab. 88b).
177. What is hateful to thyself, do not to thy fellow-man (Shab. 31a; D. 223).
This negative form of the Golden Rule (cf. Matt. vii. 12) is ascribed in the Talmud to Hillel, who gave it to the would-be proselyte who wished to be taught the whole of the Law while he stood on one foot. It soon became famous and passed into proverbial use. It was earlier than Hillel, and is found in Tobit iv. 14 and in Philo.
178. Physician, heal thy lameness (Gen. R. ch. xxiii. § 4; D. 109).
Similar to Luke iv, 23. Cf. "Take the splinter from thine eyes! [And he answers] Take the beam from thine eyes!" (B. B. 15b; Erach. 16b; D. 309), which is identical with Matt. vii. 4, and "Improve thyself and then improve others" (B. B. 60b and often; D. 604). That physicians were unpopular may be seen from the wording of this proverb and from the passage quoted on proverb no. 174. Ben Sira finds it necessary to write a special exhortation for men to "honour a physician" (Ecclus. xxxviii. 1 f.), and a Rabbi advises, "Do not dwell in a town where the chief man in it is a physician" (Pes. 113a).
*179. Hast gone into the city, conform to its laws (Gen. R. ch. xlviii. § 14; D. 31).
Cf. "Man should never depart from established custom" (B. M. 86b), "A man should never exclude himself from the general body" (Ber. 49b),"The law of the State is law," i.e. is binding on the Jewish inhabitant (Git. 10b and often), "When in Rome do as Rome does."
180. Go out and see how the people act (Ber. 45a and often; D. 573).
Follow the majority. Cf. "Custom rules the law."
181. Hast spoiled thy work, take a needle and sew (Gen. R. ch. xix. § 6; Ds. 149).
Do your best to right the mischief done by you.
*182. Whatever thou hast to thy discredit, be the first to tell it (B. K. 92b; D. 500).
It will be worse for you if others tell it.
183. Be not choleric and thou shalt not sin (Ber. 29b; D. 429).
A mediæval Jewish work declares: "Anger rusts the intellect so that it cannot discern the good to do it and the bad to avoid it." Cf. nos. 101 ff.
184. Become not intoxicated and thou shalt not sin (Ber. 29b; D. 428).
Other Rabbinic sayings on this subject are: "Wine leads both man and woman to adultery" (Num. R. ch. x. § 4); "One cup of wine is good for a woman, two are degrading, three make her act like an immoral person, and four cause her to lose all self-respect and sense of shame" (Keth. 65a); "Enter wine, exit the secret" (Erub. 65a; Sanh. 38a); "Wine ends in blood" (Sanh. 70a); "Wine brings lamentation into the world" (Jom. 76b); "Who has drunk a quarter of a measure of wine may not expound the Law" (Keth. 10b); "Nor should he recite his prayers, for the prayer of a drunkard is an abomination" (Erub. 64a); "Priests should never drink wine" (Taan. 17a bot.). Abba Shaūl]. said: "It was once my occupation to bury the dead, and I made it a practice to observe their bones. I have
thus perceived that he who indulged in strong drink, his bones appeared to be burnt; if to excess, they were without marrow; but if in due measure, they were full of marrow" (Nid. 24b). Dukes (Zur r. S., no. 24) quotes "Where Satan cannot penetrate, he sends wine as his ambassador." It is not to be inferred from these sayings, that total abstinence was commended. Quite the contrary. Why, ask the Rabbis, is the Nazirite [see no. 188] commanded to bring a sin-offering (Num. vi. 14)? Because he imposed upon himself the oath to abstain from wine, which is one of God's gifts to man (Taan. 11a). Wine was largely used, but in moderation. It of course figured in the religious ceremonies, but it was enacted, "No blessing is to be pronounced over the cup of wine, unless it has first been mixed with water. Such is the opinion of R. Eliezer. The wise men, however, do pronounce the blessing over undiluted wine" (Mish. Ber. vii. 5).
*185. Cast no mud into the well from which thou hast drunk (B. K. 92b; D. 148).
Against ingratitude. Cf. "It is a dirty bird that fouls its own nest."
*186. Mix fodder for one ox, mix for many oxen (B. M. 69a).
Cf. "In for a penny, in for a pound," "As well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb."
187. Be deliberate! Be deliberate! ’Tis worth four hundred Zuz (Ber. 20a; D. 521).
The proverb originated under the following circumstances: R. Ida, the son of Ahaba, once pulled a kind of head-covering only worn by non-Jewish women from the head of a woman, under the supposition that she was a Jewess. He was mistaken, and was fined four hundred Zuz. On asking the woman her name, she replied that it was Methūn, which also means "Be deliberate! Be not hasty!" There is a further play on the word, for it closely resembles another with the meaning "Two hundred." Note that the word is repeated, bringing the total to "Four hundred," the amount paid as a fine. Ibn Gabirol likewise says: "Reflection insures safety, but rashness is followed by regrets" (no. 114).
*188. Go away! Go away! 0 Nazirite, they say; do not approach even the neighbourhood of a vineyard (Shab. 13a and often; quoted as a proverb in Num. R. ch. x. § 8; D. 441).
A Nazirite was one who had taken a vow to abstain from the produce of the vine (see Num. vi. 2 ff.) The meaning of the proverb is: Avoid even the circumstances which might possibly lead to wrong. The same idea is taught in the ancient Jewish doctrine "Make a fence round the Law" (Aboth, i. 1).
Cf. also "Keep far from what is foul and from what is like unto it" (Ḥul. 44b).
189. Circumvent the wicked man lest he circumvent thee (Gen. R. ch. lxxv. § 1; D. 589).
*190. If thy comrade call thee "Ass," put the saddle upon thy back (B. K. 92b; D. 282).
Reliance can be placed on the frank criticism of a friend.
*191. If one person tell thee thou hast ass's ears, take no notice; should two tell thee so, procure a saddle for thyself (Gen. R. ch. xlv. § 7; D. 96).
Where opinions agree there is more credence. Cf. "What everyone says must be true."
*192. Before wine-drinkers [set] wine; before a ploughman a measure of roots (Sot. 10a; D. 595).
Everything in its proper place. Cf. no. 112 above.
193. If a hundred pumpkins [cost] a Zuz in the city, still have some with you (Pes. 113a; D. 465).
However cheap they may be in the city, take some with you when journeying there. Omit no precautions.
194. If thou goest up to the roof, take thy provisions with thee (Pes. 113a; D. 540).
However short be the journey see that you are well provided with the requirement of
your needs. Cf. "Though the sun shines, leave not your cloak at home."
195. Even when the ox has his head in the [fodder-] basket, go up to the roof, and remove the ladder from under thee (Ber. 33a; Pes. 112b; D. 618)
Take all possible precautions. Oxen were greatly feared because of their liability to gore.
*196. To the tenth generation speak not contemptuously of a gentile in the presence of a proselyte (Sanh. 94a; D. 194).
Have regard for his feelings. Cf. the next proverb.
*197. Should there be a case of hanging in one's family record, say not to him, "Hang up this fish " (B. M. 59b; D. 213).
So in English, "Name not a rope in his house that hanged himself."
*198. Leave the drunkard alone; he will fall by himself (Shab. 32a; D. 624).
Retribution comes in its own time. Do not try to hasten it.
*199. Man ought to pray for mercy even to the last clod of earth [thrown upon his grave] (Ber. 8a; D. 433).
Cf. "Even when a sharp sword is laid on his neck, a man should not withhold himself from [the hope of] mercy" (Ber. 10a; D. 113). "Never say die."
*200. In a field where there are mounds, talk no secrets (Gen. R. ch. lxxiv. § 2; D. 151).
Similarly: "The way has ears, the wall has ears" (Lev. R. ch. xxxii. § 2; D. 32), and the English proverb "Fields have eyes and woods have ears."
*201. Whether innocent or guilty, enter into no oath (j. Shebu. vi. 5; D. 155).
Cf. "Accustom not thy mouth to swearing, neither use thyself to the naming of the Holy One" (Ecclus. xxiii. 9).
*202. What is expensive for thy back, what is reasonable for thy stomach (B. M. 52a; D. 569).
Spend much on your clothes, even if you have to stint yourself in food. Orientals attach great importance to their external appearance. Other sayings are: "R. Joḥanan called his garment, That which honoureth me" (B. K. 91b; Shab. 113b), "A scholar on whose clothes vermin are found is worthy of death" (Shab. 114a), "To honour the Sabbath, let not thy Sabbath apparel be the same as thy weekday apparel" (Shah. 113a), "The glory of men is their raiment" (Derech Erets Zuta, ch. x). Cf. proverb no. 265.
203. Spend according to thy means on eating, less on clothing, and more on dwelling (Gen. R. ch. xx. § 12; D. 458).
Contrast this with the preceding.
204. Diminish from thy food and drink and add to thy dwelling (Pes. 114a; D. 574).
Similar to the preceding.
*205. Let thy grandson sell wax, and do not let thyself be troubled (Sanh. 95a; cited as a proverb in Jalkut to Samuel, § 155; D. 168).
Do not concern yourself too much with the future. Do not stint yourself now, because it might affect the second or third generation. The same idea occurs in the following: "Sufficient is the trouble in its own time" (Ber. 9b), with which is to be compared "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" (Matt. vi. 34).
*206. If [thy wife] hath borne thee sixty in thy lifetime [but they have all died], of what use were sixty to thee? Bestir thyself and beget one who will be stronger than the sixty (B. B. 91a; D. 150).
Do not lose courage even in the face of overwhelming disappointments, but persevere until you finally succeed. On "sixty" see no. 16.
*207. One should take grave notice of his master's curses even when they are undeserved (Jalkut to Samuel § 142).
Teachers were held in extraordinary esteem by Jews, and were sometimes credited with the power of harming people by cursing them.
Cf. "The curse of a wise man is fulfilled even when undeserved" (Sanh. 90b).
*208. Hast given [the poor] to eat and to drink, accompany them on their way (Gen. R. ch. xlviii. § 20).
Show respect to the poor, even when assisting them. The proverb is based upon Abraham's treatment of his guests (cf. Gen. xviii.).
209. In the time of rejoicing, rejoicing; in the time of mourning, mourning (Gen. R. ch. xxvii. § 4; D. 174).
"To everything there is a season" (Eccles. iii. 1).
*210. While on thy way, to thine enemy make thyself heard (Sanh. 95b; D. 3).
Seize the opportunity to retaliate on him, whenever and wherever it may present itself to you. The words can also bear the meaning "While on thy way, submit to thine enemy," which offers a parallel to Matt. v. 25.
*211. He from whom a mantle has been confiscated by the court should go on his way singing (Sanh. 7a; D. 220).
One should not resent the penalty inflicted by lawful judges.
*212. From thy debtor accept even bran in payment (B. K. 46b; B. M. 118a; BḄ. 92b; D. 501).
On the principle "Half a loaf is better than none."
*213. According to the Zuzim dance (Midrash to Psalm xiv. 12; Ds. 94).
In accordance with the payment so regulate the work. Truer to Jewish teaching is the maxim: "Be not like servants who minister to their master upon the condition of receiving a reward" (Aboth. i. 3).
214. If a man of Naresh has kissed thee, count thy teeth (Hul. 127a; D. 535).
The town of Naresh in Babylonia had a bad reputation. The general meaning of the proverb is: Beware of a deceitful man, especially when he greets you effusively. One is reminded of Virgil's line "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes."
215. Let the reader of the letter be the one to break the news (B. M. 83b and often; D. 601).
Having involved yourself in an affair, carry it out to a conclusion, however unpleasant it may be.
216. If the wheat of the city be rye-grass, sow of it (Gen. R. ch. lix. § 8; D. 289).
Prefer what is home-grown, even if it be inferior to foreign produce.
217. First learn, then form opinions (Shah. 63a; D. 434).
This fine maxim occurs also in Hebrew form in Ber. 63b; Ab. Zar. 19a (D. 454).
218. When the horn is sounded in [the market of] Rome, son of a fig-dealer, sell thy father's figs (Ber. 62b; D. 603).
Another possible rendering is: "The horn is sounded in Rome: "Son of a fig-dealer, etc." If thy father is away, act in his absence. Do not let the opportunity pass.
219. While thou art hungry eat; while thou art thirsty drink; while the cauldron is still hot pour out (Ber. 62b; D. 550).
Do not procrastinate.
220. While thy fire is burning, go cut up thy pumpkin and cook (Sanh. 33b; D. 12).
Seize the opportunity as it occurs to you.
221. While the sandal is on thy foot, tread down the thorns (Gen. R. ch. xliv. § 12; D. 552).
Parallel to the preceding.
222. If thou hast dates in the fold of thy garment, run to the brewery (Pes. 113a; D. 658).
Having gathered the dates in the fold of thy cloak, run at once and have them brewed. Do not waste time. In the East, beer (called by the Arabs Nabidh) was brewed from dates.
223. While yet the sand is on thy feet dispose of thy wares (Pes. 113a; D. 11).
Cf. in English " Expedition is the soul of business," and generally the meaning is the same as the preceding.
*224. He who has a lawsuit should go to a judge (Sanh. 3b; D. 466).
Do not waste time, but have your wrongs attended to by the properly constituted authorities without delay.
225. He who is in pain should go to the doctor (B. K. 46b; D. 216).
Same as preceding.
Next: Chapter VII: Vagaries of Fortune