Random Quote #83 topic: hebraic, Translations from the Talmud, Midrashim and Kabbala

The great importance of this ceremonial washing of the hands
will appear from the following anecdote, which we quote
_verbatim_ from another part of the Talmud:--"It happened once,
as the Rabbis teach, that Rabbi Akiva was immured in a prison,
and Yehoshua Hagarsi was his attendant. One day the gaoler said
to the latter as he entered, 'What a lot of water thou hast
brought to-day! Dost thou need it to sap the walls of the
prison?' So saying, he seized the vessel and poured out half of
the water. When Yehoshua brought in what was left of the water
to Rabbi Akiva, the latter, who was weary of waiting, for he was
faint and thirsty, reproachfully said to him, 'Yehoshua, dost
thou forget that I am old, and my very life depends upon thee?'
When the servant related what had happened, the Rabbi asked for
the water to wash his hands, 'Why, master,' said Yehoshua,
'there's not enough for thee to drink, much less to cleanse thy
hands with.' To which the Rabbi replied, 'What am I to do? They
who neglect to wash their hands are judged worthy of death; 'tis
better that I should die by my own act from thirst than act
against the rules of my associates.' And accordingly it is
related that he abstained from tasting anything till they
brought him water to wash his hands." (_Eiruvin_, fol. 21, col.
2. See also _Maimonides, Hilc. Berach._, vi. 19.)

From the context of the passage just quoted we cull the
following, which proves that the Talmud itself bases the precept
concerning the washing of hands on oral tradition and not on the
written law:--"Rav Yehudah ascribes this saying to Shemuel, that
when Solomon gave to the traditional rules that regulated the
washing of hands and other ceremonial rites the form and
sanction of law, a Bath Kol came forth and said (Prov. xxiii.
15), 'My son, if thy heart be wise, my heart shall rejoice, even
mine;' and again it said (Prov. xxvii, 11), 'My son, be wise,
and make my heart glad, that I may answer him that reproacheth
me.'" (See Prov. xxx. 5, 6.)

There is a great deal in the Talmud about washing the hands, in
addition to what is said in the treatise Yadaim, which is
entirely devoted to the subject. But this topic is subordinate
to another, namely, the alleged inferiority of the precepts of
the Bible to the prescriptions of the Rabbis, of which the
punctilious rules regulative of hand washing form only a small
fraction. This is illustrated by an anecdote from the Talmudic
leaflet entitled Callah, respecting Rabbi Akiva, whose fame
extends from one end of the world to the other. (See _Yevamoth_,
fol. 16, col. 2).

Once upon a time, as the Elders were sitting together, two lads
passed by them, one with his head covered and the other
bareheaded. Of the latter boy as he passed Rabbi Elazar said,
"He is a Mamzer," and Rabbi Yehoshua, "He is a Ben Haniddah,"
but Rabbi Akiva contended, "He is both a Mamzer and a Ben
Haniddah." Upon which the Elders said to Rabbi Akiva, "How
darest thou be so bold as dispute the assertion of thy masters?"
"Because I can substantiate what I say," was his answer. He then
went to the mother of the lad, and found her selling pease in
the market place. "Daughter," said he to her, "if thou wilt
answer all that I ask of thee, I will ensure thee a portion in
the life to come." She replied, "Let me have thy oath and I will
do so." Then taking the oath with his lips but nullifying it in
his heart, he asked her, "What sort of a son is thy lad?" She
replied, "When I entered my bridal chamber I was a Niddah, and
consequently my husband kept away from me." Thus it was found
out that the boy was a Mamzer and a Ben Haniddah; upon which the
sages exclaimed, "Great is Rabbi Akiva, for he has overcome his
masters;" and as they congratulated him they said, "Blessed be
the Lord God of Israel, who hath revealed His secret unto Akiva
the son of Joseph." Thus did the Rabbi forswear himself, and
thus did his companions compliment him on the success of his
perjury; yet the Bible says, "Thou shalt not take the name of
the Lord thy God in vain" (Exod. xx. 7), and "Keep thou far from
a falsehood" (Exod. xxiii. 7).

Here is a companion picture from Yoma, fol. 84, col. 1.--"Rabbi
Yochanan was suffering from scurvy, and he applied to a Gentile
woman, who prepared a remedy for the fifth and then the sixth
day of the week. 'But what shall I do to-morrow?' said he; 'I
must not walk so far on the Sabbath.' 'Thou wilt not require any
more,' she answered. 'But suppose I do,' he replied. 'Take an
oath,' she answered, 'that thou wilt not reveal it, and I will
tell thee how to compound the remedy.' This he did in the
following words: 'By the God of Israel, I swear I will not
divulge it.' Nevertheless, when he learned the secret, he went
and revealed it. 'But was not that profaning the name of God?'
asks one. 'No,' pleads another Rabbi, 'for, as he told her
afterward, that what he meant was that he would not tell it to
the God of Israel.' The remedy was yeast, water, oil, and salt."

The anecdote that follows is from Sanhedrin, fol. 97, col
1:--"In reference to the remark of Ravina, who said, 'I used to
think that there was no truth in the world,' one of the Rabbis,
Toviah (or Tavyoomah, as some say), would protest and say, 'If
all the riches of the world were offered me, I would not tell a
falsehood.' And he used to clench his protestation with the
following apologue: 'I once went to a place called Kushta, where
the people never swerve from the truth, and where (as a reward
for their integrity) they do not die until old age; and there I
married and settled down, and had two sons born unto me. One day
as my wife was sitting and combing her hair, a woman who dwelt
close by came to the door and asked to see her. Thinking that it
was a breach of etiquette (that any one should see her at her
toilet), I said she was not in. Soon after this my two children
died, and the people came to inquire into the cause of their
premature decease. When I told them of my evasive reply to the
woman, they asked me to leave the town, lest by my misconduct I
might involve the whole community in a like calamity, and death
might be enticed to their place."

Food remains for three days in the stomach of the dog, because God knew
that his food would be scanty.

THE TALMUD, _Shabbath_, fol. 155, col. 1.


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