Rav Hunna had four hundred casks of wine which had turned into vinegar. On hearing of his misfortune, Rav Yehudah, the brother of Rav Salla the Holy, or, as some say, Rav Adda bar Ahavah, came and visited him, accompanied by the Rabbis. "Let the master," said they, "examine himself carefully." "What!" said he, "do you suppose me to have been guilty of wrong-doing?" "Shall we then," said they, "suspect the Holy One--blessed be He!--of executing judgment without justice?" "Well," said Rav Hunna, "if you have heard anything against me, don't conceal it." "It has been reported to us," said they, "that the master has withheld the gardener's share of the prunings." "What else, pray, did he leave me?" retorted Rav Hunna; "he has stolen all the produce of my vine yard." They replied, "There is a saying that whoever steals from a thief smells of theft." "Then," said he, "I hereby promise to give him his share." Thereupon, according to some, the vinegar turned to wine again; and, according to others, the price of vinegar rose to the price of wine.
Berachoth, fol. 5, col. 2.
Rav Adda bar Ahavah once saw a Gentile woman in the market-place wearing a red head-dress, and supposing that she was a daughter of Israel, he impatiently tore it off her head. For this outrage he was fined a fine of four hundred zouzim. He asked the woman what her name was, and she replied, "My name is Mathan." "Methun, Methun," he wittily rejoined, "is worth four hundred zouzim."
Ibid., fol. 20, col. 1.
Methun means patience and Mathan two hundred. The point lies either in the application of the term Methun, which means patience, as if to say, had he been so patient as to have first ascertained what the woman was, he would have saved his four hundred zouzim; or in the identity of the sound Mathan, i. e., two hundred, which doubled, equals four hundred. This has long since passed into a proverb, and expresses the value of patience.
From the foregoing extract it would seem that it was not the fashion among Jewish females to wear head-dresses of a red color, as it was presumed to indicate a certain lightness on the part of the wearer; so Rav Adda in his pious zeal thought he was doing a good work in tearing it off from the head of the supposed Jewess. "Patience, patience is worth four hundred zouzim."
Custom among the Jews had then, as now, the force of religion. The Talmud says, "A man should never deviate from a settled custom. Moses ascended on high and did not eat bread (for there it is not the custom); angels came down to earth and did eat bread (for here it is the custom so to do)." Bava Metzia, fol. 86, col. 2.
In the olden time it was not the fashion for a Jew to wear black shoes (Taanith, fol. 22, col. 1). Even now, in Poland, a pious Jew, or a Chasid, would on no account wear polished boots or a short coat, or neglect to wear a girdle. He would at once lose caste and be subjected to persecution, direct or indirect, were he to depart from a custom. Custom is law, is an oft-quoted Jewish proverb, one among the most familiar of their household words, as "Custom is a tyrant," is among ours. Another saying we have is, "Custom is the plague of wise men, but is the idol of fools.)
The following anecdotes are related by way of practically illustrating Ps. ii. 11, "Rejoice with trembling." Mar, the son of Ravina, made a grand marriage-feast for his son, and when the Rabbis were at the height of their merriment on the occasion, he brought in a very costly cup, worth four hundred zouzim, and broke it before them, and this occasioned them sorrow and trembling. Rav Ashi made a grand marriage-feast for his son, and when he noticed the Rabbis in high jubilation, he brought in a costly cup of white glass and broke it before them, and this made them sorrowful. The Rabbis challenged Rav Hamnunah on the wedding of his son Ravina, saying, "Give us a song, sir," and he sung, "Woe be to us, for we must die! Woe be to us, for we must die!" "And what shall we sing?" they asked in chorus by way of response. He replied, "Sing ye, 'Alas! where is the law we have studied? where the good works we have done? that they may protect us from the punishment of hell!'" Rabbi Yochanan, in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, says, "It is unlawful for a man to fill his mouth with laughter in this world, for it is said in Ps. cxxvi., 'Then (but not now) will our mouth be filled with laughter,'" etc. It is related of Resh Lakish that he never
once laughed again all the rest of his life from the time that he heard this from Rabbi Yochanan, his teacher.
Berachoth, fol. 30, col. 2, and fol. 31, col. 1.
A man once laid a wager with another that he would put Hillel out of temper. If he succeeded he was to receive, but if he failed he was to forfeit, four hundred zouzim. It was close upon Sabbath-eve, and Hillel was washing himself, when the man passed by his door, shouting, "Where is Hillel? where is Hillel?" Hillel wrapped his mantle round him and sallied forth to see what the man wanted. "I want to ask thee a question," was the reply. "Ask on, my son," said Hillel. Whereupon the man said, "I want to know why the Babylonians have such round heads?" "A very important question, my son," said Hillel; "the reason is because their midwives are not clever." The man went away, but after an hour he returned, calling out as before, "Where is Hillel? where is Hillel?" Hillel again threw on his mantle and went out, meekly asking, What now, my son?" "I want to know," said he, "why the people of Tadmor are weak-eyed?" Hillel replied, "This is an important question, my son, and the reason is this, they live in a sandy country." Away went the man, but in another hour's time he returned as before, crying out, "Where is Hillel? where is Hillel?" Out came Hillel again, as gentle as ever, blandly requesting to know what more he wanted. "I have a question to ask, I said the man. "Ask on, my son," said Hillel. "Well, why have the Africans such broad feet?" said he. "Because they live in a marshy land," said Hillel. "I have many more questions to ask," said the man, "but I am afraid that I shall only try thy patience and make thee angry." Hillel, drawing his mantle around him, sat down and bade the man ask all the questions he wished. "Art thou Hillel," said he, "whom they call a prince in Israel?" "Yes," was the reply. "Well," said the other, I pray there may not be many more in Israel like thee!" "Why," said Hillel, "how is that?" "Because," said the man, "I have betted four hundred zouzim that I could put thee out of temper, and I have lost them all through thee." "Be warned for the future," said
Hillel; "better it is that thou shouldst lose four hundred zouzim, and four hundred more after them, than it should be said of Hillel he lost his temper!"
Shabbath, fol. 31, col. 1.
Rabbi Perida had a pupil to whom he had to rehearse a lesson four hundred times before the latter comprehended it. One day the Rabbi was hurriedly called away to perform some charitable act, but before he went he repeated the lesson in hand the usual four hundred times, but this time his pupil failed to learn it. "What is the reason, my son," said he to his dull pupil, "that this time my repetitions have been thrown away?" "Because, master," naively replied the youth, "my mind was so pre-occupied with the summons you received to discharge another duty." "Well, then," said the Rabbi to his pupil, "let us begin again." And he repeated the lesson a second four hundred times.
Eiruvin, fol. 54, col. 2.
Between Azel and Azel (1 Chron. viii. 38 and ix. 44), there are four hundred camel-loads of critical researches due to the presence of manifold contradictions.
P'sachim, fol. 62, col. 2.
Egypt has an area of four hundred square miles.
Ibid., fol. 94, col.
The Targum of the Pentateuch was executed by Onkelos the proselyte at the dictation of Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua, and the Targum of the prophets was executed by Jonathan ben Uzziel at the dictation of Haggai, Zachariah, and Malachi (!) at which time the land of Israel was convulsed over an area of four hundred square miles.
Meggillah, fol. 3, col. 1.
Mar Ukva was in the habit of sending on the Day of Atonement four hundred zouzim to a poor neighbor of his. Once he sent the money by his own son, who returned bringing it back with him, remarking, "There is no need to bestow charity upon a man who, as I myself have seen, is able to indulge himself in expensive old wine." "Well," said his father, "since he is so dainty in his taste, he must have seen better days. I will therefore double the amount
for the future." And this accordingly he at once remitted to him.
Kethuboth, fol. 67, col. 2.
"And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, . . . ye shall carry up my bones from hence" (Gen. 1. 25). Rabbi Chanena said, "There is a reason for this oath. As Joseph knew that he was perfectly righteous, why then, if the dead are to rise in other countries as well as in the land of Israel, did he trouble his brethren to carry his bones four hundred miles?" The reply is, "He feared lest, if buried in Egypt, he might have to worm his way through subterranean passages from his grave into the land of Israel."
Ibid., fol. iii, col. 1.
To this day among the Polish Jews the dead are provided for their long subterranean journey with little wooden forks, with which, at the sound of the great trumpet, they are to dig and burrow their way from where they happen to be buried till they arrive in Palestine. To avoid this inconvenience there are some among them who, on the approach of old age, migrate to the Holy Land, that their bones may rest there against the morning of the resurrection.
Rav Cahana was once selling ladies' baskets when he was exposed to the trial of a sinful temptation. He pleaded with his tempter to let him off and he promised to return, but instead of doing so he went up to the roof of the house and threw himself down headlong. Before he reached the ground, however, Elijah came and caught him, and reproached him, as he caught him up, with having brought him a distance of four hundred miles to save him from an act of willful self-destruction. The Rabbi told him that it was his poverty which had given to the temptation the power of seduction. Thereupon Elijah gave him a vessel full of gold denarii and departed.
Kiddushin, fol. 40, col. 1.
"Pashur, the son of Immer the priest" (Jer. xx. i) had four hundred servants, and every one of them rose to the rank of the priesthood. One consequence was that an insolent priest hardly ever appeared in Israel but his genealogy could be traced to this base-born, low-bred ancestry. Rabbi Elazar said, "If thou seest an impudent priest, do not think evil of him, for it is said (Hos. iv- 4), 'Thy people are as they that strive with the priest.'"
Ibid., fol. 70, col. 2.
David had four hundred young men, handsome in appearance and with their hair cut close upon their foreheads, but with long flowing curls behind, who used to ride in chariots of gold at the head of the army. These were men of power (men of the fist, in the original), the mighty men of the house of David, who went about to strike terror into the world.
Kiddushin, fol. 76, col. 2.
Four hundred boys and as many girls were once kidnapped and torn from their relations. When they learned the purpose of their capture, they all exclaimed, "Better drown ourselves in the sea; then shall we have an inheritance in the world to come." The eldest then explained to them the text (Ps. lxviii. 22), "The Lord said, I will bring again from Bashan; I will bring again from the depths of the sea." "From Bashan," i. e., from the teeth of the lion; "from the depths of the sea," i. e., those that drown themselves in the sea. When the girls heard this explanation they at once jumped all together into the sea, and the boys with alacrity followed their example. It is with reference to these that Scripture says (Ps. xliv. 22), "For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter."
Gittin, fol. 57, col. 2.
There were four hundred synagogues in the city of Byther, in each there were four hundred elementary teachers, and each had four hundred pupils. When the enemy entered the city they pierced him with their pointers; but when at last the enemy overpowered them, he wrapped them in their books and then set fire to them; and this is what is written (Lam. iii. 5 1 ), "Mine eye affecteth my heart because of all the daughters of my city."
Ibid., fol. 58, col. 1.
The total population of Byther must have been something enormous when the children in it amounted to 64,000,000! The elementary teachers alone came to 160,000.
Once when the Hasmonean kings were engaged in civil war it happened that Hyrcanus was outside Jerusalem and Aristobulus within. Every day the besieged let down a box containing gold denarii, and received in return lambs for the daily sacrifices. There chanced to be an old man in the city who was familiar with the wisdom of the Greeks,
and he hinted to the besiegers in the Greek language that so long as the Temple services were kept up the city could not be taken. The next day accordingly, when the money had been let down, they sent back a pig in return. When about half-way up the animal pushed with its feet against the stones of the wall, and thereupon an earthquake was felt throughout the land of Israel to the extent of four hundred miles. At that time it was the saying arose, "Cursed be he that rears swine, and he who shall teach his son the wisdom of the Greeks." (See Matt. viii. 30.)
Soteh, fol. 49, col. 2.
If one strikes his neighbor with his fist, he must pay him one sela; if he slaps his face, he is to pay two hundred zouzim; but for a back-handed slap the assailant is to pay four hundred zouzim. If he pulls the ear of another, or plucks his hair, or spits upon him, or pulls off his mantle, or tears a woman's head-dress off in the street, in each of these cases he is fined four hundred zouzim.
Bava Kama, fol. 90, col. 1.
There was once a dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and the Mishnic sages as to whether a baking-oven, constructed from certain materials and of a particular shape, was clean or unclean, The former decided that it was clean, but the latter were of a contrary opinion. Having replied to all the objections the sages had brought against his decision, and finding that they still refused to acquiesce, the Rabbi turned to them and said, "If the Halacha (the law) is according to my decision, let this carob-tree attest." Whereupon the carob-tree rooted itself up and transplanted itself to a distance of one hundred, some say four hundred, yards from the spot. But the sages demurred and said, "We cannot admit the evidence of a carob-tree." "Well, then, said Rabbi Eliezer, "let this running brook be a proof" and the brook at once reversed its natural course and flowed back. The sages refused to admit this proof also. "Then let the walls of the college bear witness that the law is according to my decision;" upon which the walls began to bend, and were about to fall, when Rabbi Joshuah interposed and rebuked them, saying, "If the disciples
of the sages wrangle with each other in the Halacha, what is that to you? Be ye quiet!" Therefore, out of respect to Rabbi Joshuah, they did not fall, and out of respect to Rabbi Eliezer they did not resume their former upright position, but remained toppling, which they continue to do to this day. Then said Rabbi Eliezer to the sages, "Let Heaven itself testify that the Halacha is according to my judgment." And a Bath Kol or voice from heaven was heard, saying, "What have ye to do with Rabbi Eliezer? for the Halacha is on every point according to his decision!" Rabbi Joshuah then stood up and proved from Scripture that even a voice from heaven was not to be regarded, "For Thou, O God, didst long ago write down in the law which Thou gavest on Sinai (Exod. xxiii. 2), 'Thou shalt follow the multitude.'" (See context.) We have it on the testimony of Elijah the prophet, given to Rabbi Nathan, on an oath, that it was with reference to this dispute about the oven God himself confessed and said, "My children have vanquished me! My children have vanquished me!"
Bava Metzia, fol. 59, col. 1.
In the sequel to the above we are told that all the legal documents of Rabbi Eliezer containing his decisions respecting things "clean" were publicly burned with fire, and he himself excommunicated. In consequence of this the whole world was smitten with blight, a third in the olives, a third in the barley, and a third in the wheat; and the Rabbi himself, though excommunicated, continued to be held in the highest regard in Israel.
The Rabbis said to Rabbi Hamnuna, "Rav Ami has written or copied four hundred copies of the law." He replied to them, "Perhaps only (Deut. xxxiii, 4) 'Moses commanded us a law.'" (He meant he did not imagine that any one man could possibly write out four hundred complete copies of the Pentateuch.)
Bava Bathra, fol. 14, col. 1.
Rabbi Chanena said, "If four hundred years after the destruction of the Temple one offers thee a field worth a thousand denarii for one denarius, don't buy it."
Avodah Zarah, fol. 9, col. 2.
We know by tradition that the treatise "Avodah Zarah," which our father Abraham possessed, contained four hundred
chapters, but the treatise as we now have it contains only five.
Avodah Zarah, fol. 14, col. 2.
The camp of Sennacherib was four hundred miles in length.
Sanhedrin, fol. 95, col. 2.
"Curse ye Meroz," etc. (Judges v. 23). Barak excommunicated Meroz at the blast of four hundred trumpets (lit. horns or cornets).
Shevuoth, fol. 36, col. 1.
What is the meaning where it is written (Ps. x. 27), "The fear of the Lord prolongeth days, but the years of the wicked shall be shortened;" "The fear of the Lord prolongeth days" alludes to the four hundred and ten years the first Temple stood, during which period the succession of high priests numbered only eighteen. But "the years of the wicked shall be shortened" is illustrated by the fact that during the four hundred and twenty years that the second Temple stood the succession of high priests numbered more than three hundred. If we deduct the forty years during which Shimon the Righteous held office, and the eighty of Rabbi Yochanan, and the ten of Rabbi Ishmael ben Rabbi, it is evident that not one of the remaining high priests lived to hold office for a whole year.
Yoma, fol. 9, col. 1.
"The souls which they had gotten in Haran" (Gen. xii. 5). From this time to the giving of the law was four hundred and forty-eight years.
Avodah Zarah, fol. 9, col. 1.
A young girl and ten of her maid-servants were once kidnapped, when a certain Gentile bought them and brought them to his house. One day he gave a pitcher to the child and bade her fetch him water, but one of her servants took the pitcher from her, intending to go instead. The master, observing this, asked the maid why she did so, The servant replied, "By the life of thy head, my lord, I am one of no less than five hundred servants of this child's mother." The master was so touched that he granted them all their freedom.
Avoth d'Rab. Nathan, chap. 17.
Cæsar once said to Rabbi Yoshua ben Chananja, "This God of yours is compared to a lion, as it is written (Amos
iii. 8), 'The lion hath roared, who will not fear?' Wherein consists his excellency? A horseman kills a lion." The Rabbi replied, "He is not compared to an ordinary lion, but to a lion of the forest Ilaei." "Show me that lion at once," said the Emperor. "But thou canst not behold him," said the Rabbi. Still the Emperor insisted on seeing the lion; so the Rabbi prayed to God to help him in his perplexity. His prayer was heard; the lion came forth from his lair and roared, upon which, though it was four hundred miles away, all the walls of Rome trembled and fell to the ground. Approaching three hundred miles nearer, he roared again, and this time the teeth of the people dropped out of their mouths and the Emperor fell from his throne quaking. "Alas! Rabbi, pray to thy God that He order the lion back to his abode in the forest."
Chullin, fol. 59, col. 2.
All this is as nothing compared to the voice of Judah, which made all Egypt quake and tremble, and Pharaoh fall from his throne headlong, etc., etc. See Jasher, chap. 64, verses 46, 47.