"Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken and forgotten me" (Isa. xlix. 14). The community of Israel once pleaded thus with the Holy One--blessed be He!--"Even a man who marries a second wife still bears in mind the services of the first, but Thou, Lord, hast forgotten me." The Holy One--blessed be He!--replied, "Daughter, I have created twelve constellations in the firmament, and for each constellation I have created thirty armies, and for each army thirty legions, each legion containing thirty divisions, each division thirty cohorts, each cohort having thirty camps, and in each camp hang suspended 365,00 myriads of stars, as many thousands of myriads as there are days in the year; all these have I created for thy sake, and yet thou sayest, 'Thou hast forsaken and forgotten me!' Can a woman forget her sucking-child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee."
Berachoth, fol. 32, col. 2.
No deceased person is forgotten from the heart (of his relatives that survive him) till after twelve months, for it is said (Ps. xxxi. 12), "I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind; I am like a lost vessel" (which, as Rashi explains, is like all lest property, not thought of as lost for twelve months, for. not till then is proclamation for it given up).
Ibid., fol. 58, col. 2.
Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Yossi, and Rabbi Shimon (ben Yochai) were sitting together, and Yehudah ben Gerim (the son, says Rashi, of proselyte parents) beside them. In the course of conversation Rabbi Yehudah remarked, "How beautiful and serviceable are the works of these Romans! They have established markets, spanned rivers
by bridges, and erected baths." To this remark Rabbi Yossi kept silent, but Rabbi Shimon replied, "Yea, indeed; but all these they have done to benefit themselves. The markets they have opened to feed licentiousness, they have erected baths for their own pleasure, and the bridges they have raised for collecting tolls." Yehudah ben Gerim. thereupon went direct and informed against them, and the report having reached the Emperor's ears, an edict was immediately issued that Rabbi Yehudah should be promoted, Rabbi Yossi banished to Sepphoris, and Rabbi Shimon taken and executed. Rabbi Shimon and his son, however, managed to secret themselves in a college, where they were purveyed to by the Rabbi's wife, who brought them daily bread and water. One day mistrust seized the Rabbi, and he said to his son, "Women are light-minded; the Romans may tease her and then she will betray us." So they stole away and hid themselves in a cave. Here the Lord interposed by a miracle, and created a carob-tree bearing fruit all the year round for their support, and opened a perennial spring for their refreshment. To save their clothes they laid them aside except at prayers, and to protect their naked bodies from exposure they would at other times sit up to their necks in sand, absorbed in study. After they had passed twelve years thus in the cave, Elijah was sent to inform them that the Emperor was dead, and his decree powerless to touch them. On leaving the cave, they noticed some people plowing and sowing, when one of them exclaimed, "These folk neglect eternal things and trouble themselves with the things that are temporal." As they fixed their eyes upon the place, fire came and burnt it up. Then a Bath Kol was heard exclaiming, "What! are ye come forth to destroy the world I have made? Get back to your cave and hide you." Thither accordingly they returned, and after they had stopped there twelve months longer, they remonstrated, Pleading that even the judgment of the wicked in Gehenna lasted no longer than twelve months; upon which a Bath Kol was again heard from heaven, which said, "Come ye forth from your cave." Then they arose and obeyed it.
Shabbath, fol. 33, col. 2.
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said that at every utterance which proceeded from the mouth of the Holy One--blessed be He!--on Mount Sinai, Israel receded twelve miles, being conducted gently back by the ministering angels; for it is said (Ps. lxviii. 12), "The angels of hosts kept moving."
Shabbath, fol. 88, col. 2.
A Sadducee once said to Rabbi Abhu, "Ye say that the souls of the righteous are treasured up under the throne of glory; how then had the Witch of Endor power to bring up the prophet Samuel by necromancy?" The Rabbi replied, "Because that occurred within twelve months after his death; for we are taught that during twelve months after death the body is preserved and the soul soars up and down, but that after twelve months the body is destroyed and the soul goes up never to return."
Ibid., fol. 152, col. 2.
Clever answers to puzzling questions like the above, are of frequent occurrence in the Talmud; and we select here a few out of the many specimens of Rabbinical ready wit and repartee.
Turnus Rufus once said to Rabbi Akiva, "If your God is a friend to the poor, why doesn't he feed them?" To which he promptly replied, "That we by maintaining them may escape the condemnation of Gehenna." "On the contrary," said the Emperor, "the very fact of your maintaining the poor will condemn you to Gehenna. I will tell thee by a parable whereto this is like, It is as if a king of our own flesh and blood should imprison a servant who has offended him, and command that neither food nor drink should be given him, and as if one of his subjects in spite of him should go and supply him with both. When the king hears of it will he not be angry with that man? And ye are called servants, as it is said (Lev. xxv. 55), 'For unto me the children of Israel are servants.'" To this Rabbi Akiva replied, "And I too will tell thee a parable whereunto the thing is like. It is like a king of our own flesh and blood who, being angry with his son, imprisons him, and orders that neither food nor drink be given him, but one goes and gives him both to eat and drink. When
the king hears of it will he not handsomely reward that man? And we are sons, as it is written (Deut. xiv. i), 'Ye are the sons of the Lord your God.'" "True," the Emperor replied, "ye are both sons and servants; sons when ye do the will of God; servants when ye do not and now ye are not doing the will of God."
Bava Bathra, fol. 10, col. 1.
Certain philosophers once asked the elders at Rome, "if your God has no pleasure in idolatry, why does He not destroy the objects of it?" "And so He would," was the reply, "if only such objects were worshiped as the world does not stand in need of; but you idolators will worship the sun and moon, the stars and the constellations. Should He destroy the world because of the fools there are in it? No! The world goes on as it has done all the same, but they who abuse it will have to answer for their conduct. On your philosophy, when one steals a measure of wheat and sows it in his field it should by rights produce no crop; nevertheless the world goes on as if no wrong had been done, and they who abuse it will one day smart for it."
Avoda Zarah, fol. 54, col. 2.
Antoninus Cæsar asked Rabbi (the Holy), "Why does the sun rise in the east and set in the west?" "Thou wouldst have asked," answered the Rabbi, "the same question if the order had been reversed." "What I mean," remarked Antoninus, "is this, is there any special reason why he sets in the west?" "Yes," replied Rabbi, "to salute his Creator (who is in the east), for it is said (Neh. ix. 6), 'And the host of heaven worship Thee.'"
Sanhedrin, fol. 91, col. 2.
Cæsar once said to Rabbi Tanchum, "Come, now, let us be one people." "Very well," said Rabbi Tanchum, "only we, being circumcised, cannot possibly become like you; if, however, ye become circumcised we shall be alike in that regard anyhow, and so be as one people." The Emperor said, "Thou hast reasonably answered, but the Roman law is, that he who nonpluses his ruler and puts him to silence shall be cast to the lions." The word was no sooner uttered than the Rabbi was thrown into the den, but the
lions Stood aloof and did not even touch him. A Sadducee, who looked on, remarked, "The lions do not devour him because they are not hungry," but, when at the royal command, the Sadducee himself was thrown in, he had scarcely reached the lions before they fell upon him and began to tear his flesh and devour him.
Sanhedrin, fol. 39, col. 1.
A certain Sadducee asked Rabbi Abhu, "Since your God is a priest, as it is written (Exod. xxv. 2), 'That they bring Me an offering,' in what did He bathe Himself after He was polluted by the burial (Num. xix. 11, 18) of the dead body of Moses? it could not be in the water, for it is written (Isa. xl. 12) 'Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand?' which therefore are insufficient for Him to bathe in." The Rabbi replied, 'He bathed in fire, as it is written (Isa. lxvi. 15) 'For behold the Lord will come with fire.'"
Turnus Rufus asked this question. also of Rabbi Akiva, "Why is the Sabbath distinguished from other days?" Rabbi Akiva replied, "Why art thou distinguished from other men?" The answer was, "Because it hath pleased my Master thus to honor me." And so retorted Akiva, "It hath pleased God to honor His Sabbath." "But what I mean," replied the other, "was how dost thou know that it is the Sabbath-day?" The reply was, "The river Sambatyon proves it; the necromancer proves it; the grave of thy father proves it, for the smoke thereof rises not on the Sabbath."
Ibid., fol. 65, col. 2.
See Bereshith Rabba, fol. 4, with reference to what is here said about Turnus Rufus and his father's grave. The proof from the necromancer lies in the allegation that his art was unsuccessful if practiced on the Sabbath-day. The Sambatyon, Rashi says, is a pebbly river which rushes along all the days of the week except the Sabbath, on which it is perfectly still and quiet. In the Machser for Pentecost (D. Levi's ed. p. 81), it is styled "the incomprehensible river," and a footnote thereto informs us that "This refers to the river said to rest on the Sabbath from throwing up stones, etc., which it does not cease to do all the rest of the week." (See Sanhedrin, fol. 65, col. 2; Yalkut on Isaiah, fol. 3, 1; Pesikta Tanchuma. See also Shalsheleth Hakabbala and Yuchsin.)
Those Israelites and Gentiles who have transgressed with their bodies (the former by neglecting to wear phylacteries,
and the latter by indulging in sensuous pleasures), shall go down into Gehenna, and there be punished for twelve months, after which period their bodies will be destroyed and their soul consumed, and a wind shall scatter their ashes under the soles of the feet of the righteous; as it is said (Mal. iv. 3), "And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be as ashes under the soles of your feet," But the Minim, the informers, and the Epicureans, they who deny the law and the resurrection of the dead, they who separate themselves from the manners of the congregation, they who have been a terror in the land of the living, and they who have sinned and have led the multitude astray, as did Jeroboam the son of Nebat and his companions,--these shall go down into Gehenna, and there be judged for generations upon generations, as it is said (Isa. lxvi. 24), "And they shall go forth and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me," etc. Gehenna itself shall be consumed but they shall not be burned up in the destruction; as it is said (Ps. xlix. 114; Heb. xv.), "And their figures shall consume hell from being a dwelling."
Rosh Hashanah, fol. 17, col. 1.
Once when Israel went up by pilgrimages to one of the three annual feasts at Jerusalem (see Exod. xxxiv. 23, 24), it so happened that there was no water to drink. Nicodemon ben Gorion therefore hired of a friendly neighbor twelve huge reservoirs of water promising to have them replenished against a given time, or failing this to forfeit twelve talents of silver. The appointed day came and still the drought continued, and therewith the scarcity of water; upon which the creditor appeared and demanded payment of the forfeit. The answer of Nicodemon to the demand was, "There's time yet; the day is not over." The other chuckled to himself, inwardly remarking, "There's no chance now; there's been no rain all the season," and off he went to enjoy his bath. But Nicodemon sorrowful at heart, wended his way to the Temple. After putting on his prayer scarf, as he prayed, he pleaded, "Lord of the Universe! Thou knowest that I have not entered into this obligation for my own sake, but for Thy glory and for the
benefit of Thy people." While he yet prayed the clouds gathered overhead, the rain fell in torrents, and the reservoirs were filled to overflowing. On going out of the house of prayer he was met by the exacting creditor, who still urged that the money was due to him, as he said, the rain came after sunset. But in answer to prayer the clouds immediately dispersed, and the sun shone out as brightly as ever.
Taanith, fol. 19. col. 2.
Nicodemon ben Gorion of the above story is by some considered to be the Nicodemus of St. John's Gospel iii. 1-10; vii. 50, xix. 30.
Would that my husband were here and could listen to me; I should permit him to stay away another twelve years.
Kethuboth, fol. 63. col. 1.
Hereto hangs a tale stranger than fiction, yet founded on fact. Rabbi Akiva was once a poor shepherd in the employ of Calba Shevua, one of the richest men in all Jerusalem. While engaged in that lowly occupation his master's only daughter felt in love with him, and the two carried on a clandestine courtship for some time together. Her father, hearing of it, threatened to disinherit her, to turn her out of doors and disown her altogether, if she did not break off her engagement. How could she connect herself with one who was the baseborn son of a proselyte, a reputed descendant of Sisera and Jael, an ignorant fellow that could neither read nor write, and a man old enough to be her father? Rachel--for that was her name--determined to be true to her lover, and to brave the consequences by marrying him and exchanging the mansion of her father for the hovel of her husband. After a short spell of married life she prevailed upon her husband to leave her for a while in order to join a certain college in a distant land, where she felt sure that his talents would be recognized and his genius fostered into development worthy of it. As he sauntered along by himself he began to harbor misgivings in his mind as to the wisdom of the step, and more than once thought of returning. Put when musing one day at a resting-place a waterfall arrested his attention, and he remarked how the water, by its continual dropping, was wearing away the solid rock. All at once, with the tact for which he was afterward so noted, he applied the lesson it yielded too himself. "So may the law," he reasoned, "work its way into my hard and stony heart," and he felt encouraged and pursued his journey, Under the tuition of Rabbi Eliezer, the son of Hyrcanus, and Rabbi Yehoshua, the son of Chananiah, his native ability soon began to appear, his name became known to fame, and he rose step by step until he ranked as a professor in the very college which he had entered as a poor student. After some twelve years of hard study and diligent,
service in the law he returned to Jerusalem, accompanied by a large number of disciples. On nearing the dwelling of his devoted wife he caught the sound of voices in eager conversation. He paused awhile and listened at the door, and overheard a gossiping neighbor blaming Rachel for her mésalliance, and twitting her with marrying a man who could run away and leave her as a widow for a dozen of years or more on the crazy pretext of going to college. He listened in eager curiosity, wondering what the reply would be. To his surprise, he heard his self-sacrificing wife exclaim, "Would that my husband were here and could listen to me; I should permit, nay, urge him to stay other twelve years, if it would benefit him." Strange to say Akiva taking the hint from his wife, turned away and left Jerusalem without ever seeing her. He went abroad again for a time, and then returned for good; this time, so the story says, with twice twelve thousand disciples. Well-nigh all Jerusalem turned out to do him honor, every one striving to be foremost to welcome him. Calba Shevua, who for many a long year had repented of his hasty resolution, which cost him at once his daughter and his happiness, went to Akiva to ask his opinion about annulling this vow. Akiva replied by making himself known as his quondam servant and rejected son-in-law. As we may suppose, the two were at once reconciled, and, Calba Shevua looked upon himself as favored of Heaven above all the fathers in Israel.
The Rabbis say that at first they used to communicate the Divine name of twelve letters to every one. But when the Antinomians began to abound, the knowledge of this name was imparted only to the more discreet of the priestly order, and they repeated it hastily while the other priests pronounced the benediction of the people. (What the name was, says Rashi, is not known.) Rabbi Tarphon, the story goes on to say, once listened to the high priest, and overheard him hurriedly pronouncing this name of twelve letters while the other priests were blessing the people.
Kiddushin, fol. 71, col. 1.
Twelve hours there are in the day:--The first three, the Holy One--blessed be He!--employs in studying the law; the next three He sits and judges the whole world; the third three He spends in feeding all the world; during the last three hours He sports with the leviathan; as it is said (Ps. civ. 26), "This leviathan Thou hast created to play with it."
Avodah Zarah, fol. 3, col. 2.
Rabbi Yochanan bar Chanena said:--The day consists of twelve hours. During the first hour Adam's dust was
collected from all parts of the world; during the second it was made into a lump; during the third his limbs were formed; during the fourth his body was animated; during the fifth he stood upon his legs; during the sixth he gave names to the animals; during the seventh he associated with Eve; during the eighth Cain and a twin sister were born (Abel and his twin sister were born after the Fall, says the Tosephoth); during the ninth Adam was ordered not to eat of the forbidden tree; during the tenth he fell, during the eleventh he was judged; and during the twelfth he was ejected from paradise; as it is said (Ps. xlix. 13, A. V. 12), "Man (Adam) abode not one night in his dignity."
Sanhedrin, fol. 38, col. 2.
Rabbi Akiva used to say:--Of five judgments, some have lasted twelve months, others will do so;--those of the deluge, of Job, of the Egyptians, of Gog and Magog, and of the wicked in Gehenna.
Edioth, chap. 2, mish. 10.
Plagues come upon those that are proud, as was the case with Uzziah (2 Chron. xxvi. 16), "But when he was strong (proud), his heart was lifted up to destruction." When the leprosy rose up in his forehead, the Temple was cleft asunder twelve miles either way.
Avoth d'Rab. Nathan, chap. 9.
This hyperbole is evidently a mere fiction joined on to a truth for the purpose of frightening the proud into humility. The end sanctifieth the means, as we well know from other instances recorded in the Talmud.
Those who mourn for deceased relatives are prohibited from entering a tavern for thirty days, but those who mourn for either father or mother must not do so for twelve months.
Semachoth, chap. 9.
A creature that has no bones in his body does not live more than twelve months.
Chullin, fol. 58, col. 1.
The Alexandrians asked Rabbi Joshua twelve questions; three related to matters of wisdom, three to matters of legend, three were frivolous, and three were of a worldly nature--viz, how to grow wise, how to become rich, and how to ensure a family of boys.
Niddah, fol. 69, col. 2.
There was once a man named Joseph, who was renowned for honoring the Sabbath-day. He had a rich neighbor, a Gentile, whose property a certain fortune-teller had said would eventually revert to Joseph the Sabbatarian. To frustrate this prediction the Gentile disposed of his property, and with the proceeds of the sale he purchased a rare and costly jewel which he fixed to his turban. On crossing a bridge a gust of wind blew his turban into the river and a fish swallowed it. This fish being caught, was brought on a Friday to market, and, as luck would have it, it was bought by Joseph in honor of the coming Sabbath. When the fish was cut up the jewel was found, and this Joseph sold for thirteen purses of gold denarii. When his neighbor met him, he acknowledged that he who despised the Sabbath the Lord of the Sabbath would be sure to punish.
Shabbath, fol. 119, col. 1.
This story cannot fail to remind those who are conversant with Herodotus or Schiller of the legend of King Polycrates, which dates back five or six centuries before the present era. Polycrates, the king of Samos, was one of the most fortunate of men, and everything he took in hand was fabled to prosper. This unbroken series of successes caused disquietude to his friends, who saw in the circumstance foreboding of some dire disaster; till Amasis, king of Egypt, one of the number advised him to spurn the favor of fortune by throwing away what he valued dearest. The most valuable thing he possessed was an emerald signet-ring, and this accordingly he resolved to sacrifice. So, manning a galley, he rowed out to the sea, and threw the ring away into the waste of the waters. Some five or six days after this, a fisherman came to the palace and made the king a present of a very fine fish that he had caught. This the servants proceeded to open, when, to their surprise, they came upon a ring, which on examination proved to be the very ring which had been cast away by the king their master. (See Herodotus, book iii.)
Among the many legends that have clustered round the memory of Solomon, there is one which reads very much like an adaptation of this classic story. The version the Talmud gives of this story is quoted in another part of this Miscellany (chap. vi. No. 8, note), but in Emek Hammelech, fol. 14, col. 4, we have the legend in another form, with much amplitude and variety of detail, of which we can give here only an outline. When the building of the Temple was finished, the king of the demons begged Solomon to set him free from his service, and promised in return to teach him a secret he would be sure to value. Having cajoled Solomon out of possession of his signet-ring, he first flung the ring into the sea, where it was swallowed by a fish, and
then taking up Solomon himself, he cast him into a foreign land some four hundred miles away, where for three weary long years he wandered up and down like a vagrant, begging his bread from door to door. In the course of his rambles he came to Mash Kemim, and was so fortunate as to be appointed head cook at the palace of the king of Ammon (Ana Hanun, see 1 Kings xii. 24; LXX.). While employed in this office, Naama, the king's daughter (see 1 Kings xiv. 21, 31, and 2 Chron. xii. 13), fell in love with him, and, determining to marry him, eloped with him for refuge to a distant land. One day as Naama was preparing a fish for dinner, she found in it a ring, and this turned out to be the very ring which the king of the demons had flung into the sea, and the loss of which had bewitched the king out of his power and dominion. In the recovery of the ring the king both recovered himself and the throne of his father David.
The occurrence of a fish and a ring on the arms of the city of Glasgow memorializes a legend in which we find the same singular combination of circumstances. A certain queen of the district one day gave her paramour a golden ring which the king her husband had committed to her charge as a keepsake. By some means or other the king got to know of the whereabouts of the ring, and cleverly contriving to secure possession of it, threw it into the sea. He then went straight to the queen and demanded to know where it was and what she had done with it. The queen in her distress repaired to St. Kentigern, and both made full confession of her guilt and her anxiety about the recovery of the ring, that she might regain the lost favor of her husband. The saint set off at once to the Clyde, and there caught a salmon and the identical ring in the mouth of it. This he handed over to the queen, who returned it to her lord with such expressions of penitence that the restoration of it became the bond and pledge between them of a higher and holier wedlock.