Avodah Zarah 4b:16עבודה זרה ד׳ ב
The William Davidson Talmudתלמוד מהדורת ויליאם דוידסון
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4bד׳ ב

(במדבר כד, טז) ויודע דעת עליון אפשר דעת בהמתו לא הוה ידע דעת עליון מי הוה ידע

“And knows the knowledge of the Most High” (Numbers 24:16). Now, this should not be understood to mean that Balaam knew the thoughts of God, as is it possible that Balaam did not know the mind of his animal, and yet he did know the mind of the Most High?

מאי דעת בהמתו לא הוה ידע בעידנא דחזו ליה דהוה רכיב אחמריה אמרו ליה מאי טעמא לא רכבתא אסוסיא אמר להו ברטיבא שדאי ליה מיד ותאמר האתון הלא אנכי אתונך אמר לה לטעינא בעלמא

The Gemara clarifies: What is meant by the claim that Balaam did not know the mind of his animal? When the princes of Moab saw that Balaam was riding on his donkey, they said to him: What is the reason that you do not ride upon a horse, which is more fitting for you? Balaam said to them: I am riding on a donkey because I left my horse in a meadow to graze. Immediately: “And the donkey said to Balaam: Am not I your donkey?” (Numbers 22:30), i.e., the donkey you always use. Balaam said to it: For carrying burdens only, not for riding.

אמרה ליה אשר רכבת עלי אמר לה אקראי בעלמא אמרה ליה מעודך ועד היום הזה ולא עוד אלא שאני עושה לך רכיבות ביום ואישות בלילה כתיב הכא ההסכן הסכנתי וכתיב התם (מלכים א א, ב) ותהי לו סוכנת

The donkey further said to Balaam: “Upon which you have ridden.” Balaam said to it: Merely at irregular occurrences. The donkey said to him: “All your life long unto this day” (Numbers 22:30). The donkey added: And moreover, I perform for you riding during the day, and marriage, i.e., intercourse, during the night. The Gemara explains: This is derived from the following comparison: It is written here that Balaam’s donkey said: “Was I ever wont [hahasken hiskanti] to do so to you” (Numbers 22:30), and it is written there, with regard to Abishag the Shunammite and King David: “And be a companion [sokhenet] unto him; and let her lie in your bosom” (I Kings 1:2). This teaches that the term hiskanti alludes to sexual intercourse.

אלא מאי ויודע דעת עליון שהיה יודע לכוין אותה שעה שהקב"ה כועס בה והיינו דקאמר להו נביא (מיכה ו, ה) עמי זכר נא מה יעץ בלק מלך מואב ומה ענה אותו בלעם בן בעור מן השטים ועד הגלגל למען דעת צדקות ה'

The Gemara returns to its previous question: Rather, what is the meaning of: “And knows the knowledge of the Most High” (Numbers 24:16)? It means that he was able to determine precisely the hour at which the Holy One, Blessed be He, is angry. At that moment Balaam would utter his curse and, through God’s anger, it would be fulfilled. And this is what the prophet said to the Jewish people: “O My people, remember now what Balak, king of Moab, devised, and what Balaam, son of Beor, answered him; from Shittim unto Gilgal, that you may know the righteous acts of the Lord” (Micah 6:5).

א"ר אלעזר אמר להן הקב"ה לישראל עמי ראו כמה צדקות עשיתי עמכם שלא כעסתי עליכם כל אותן הימים שאם כעסתי עליכם לא נשתייר מעובדי כוכבים משונאיהם של ישראל שריד ופליט והיינו דקאמר ליה בלעם לבלק (במדבר כג, ח) מה אקב לא קבה אל ומה אזעם לא זעם ה'

Rabbi Elazar says, in explanation of that verse: The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to the Jewish people: My nation, see how many acts of kindness I performed for you, that I did not become angry at you during all of those days when Balaam attempted to curse the Jewish people, and he was not able to find a moment of divine anger. As, had I become angry at you, there would not have remained a remnant or a refugee among the enemies of the Jewish people, a euphemism for the Jewish people themselves. Instead, God restrained His anger and Balaam’s curse went unfulfilled. And this is what Balaam said to Balak: Since God is not becoming angry, I can do nothing, as: “How shall I curse whom God has not cursed? And how shall I execrate whom the Lord has not execrated”? (Numbers 23:8).

וכמה זעמו רגע וכמה רגע אמר אמימר ואיתימא רבינא רגע כמימריה ומנלן דרגע הוה ריתחיה דכתיב (תהלים ל, ו) כי רגע באפו חיים ברצונו ואיבעית אימא מהכא (ישעיהו כו, כ) חבי כמעט רגע עד יעבור זעם

The Gemara further discusses this matter: And how long does His indignation last? It lasts a moment. And how long is a moment? Ameimar, and some say Ravina, said: It lasts as long as it takes to say the word moment [rega]. The Gemara asks: And from where do we derive that God’s anger lasts for only a moment? As it is written: “His anger is but for a moment; His favor, for a lifetime” (Psalms 30:6). And if you wish, say instead that it is derived from here: “Hide yourself for a brief moment, until the anger passes” (Isaiah 26:20), meaning that God’s anger passes in a mere moment.

אימת רתח אמר אביי בתלת שעי קמייתא כי חיורא כרבלתא דתרנגולא כל שעתא ושעתא מחוור חיורא כל שעתא אית ביה סורייקי סומקי ההיא שעתא לית ביה סורייקי סומקי

The Gemara asks: When is God angry? Abaye said: During the first three hours of the day, when the crest of the rooster whitens in the sun, as though life has left the rooster and it suddenly turns white, that is when God is angry. The Gemara asks: Doesn’t its crest whiten each and every hour? How can this serve as a sign? The Gemara answers: The difference is that every other hour there remain red streaks [surayekei] in the rooster’s crest, whereas at that hour of His anger there are no red streaks in its crest.

רבי יהושע בן לוי הוה מצער ליה ההוא מינא [בקראי יומא חד] נקט תרנגולא [ואוקמיה בין כרעיה דערסא] ועיין ביה סבר כי מטא ההיא שעתא אלטייה כי מטא ההיא שעתא נימנם

The Gemara relates: A certain heretic would distress Rabi Yehoshua ben Levi by incessantly challenging him as to the meaning of verses. One day, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi took a rooster and placed it between the legs of the bed upon which he sat, and looked at it. He thought: When that moment of God’s anger arrives, I will curse the heretic and be rid of him. When that moment of God’s anger arrived, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi fell asleep and missed the opportunity to curse the heretic.

אמר שמע מינה לאו אורח ארעא למיעבד הכי [ורחמיו על כל מעשיו כתיב] וכתיב (משלי יז, כו) גם ענוש לצדיק לא טוב

Upon awakening, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: I can conclude from the fact that I fell asleep that it is not proper conduct to do this, to curse people, even if they are wicked, as the verse: “And His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalms 145:9) is written even with regard to sinners. And moreover, it is inappropriate to cause the punishment of another, as it is written: “Punishment, even for the righteous, is not good” (Proverbs 17:26). Even for a righteous person, it is improper to punish another.

תנא משמיה דר"מ בשעה שהמלכים מניחין כתריהן בראשיהן ומשתחוין לחמה מיד כועס [הקב"ה] אמר רב יוסף לא ליצלי איניש צלותא דמוספי בתלת שעי קמייתא דיומא ביומא קמא דריש שתא ביחיד דלמא כיון דמפקיד דינא דלמא מעייני בעובדיה ודחפו ליה מידחי

In explanation of the cause of God’s anger, it is taught in the name of Rabbi Meir: When the kings wake up and place their crowns on their heads and bow down to the sun, the Holy One, Blessed be He, immediately grows angry. This is why God’s anger occurs during the first three hours of the day. Rav Yosef says: A person should not recite the additional prayers during the first three hours of the day on the first day of Rosh HaShana if he is praying individually, as, since the judgment of the entire world is reckoned then, perhaps the Heavenly court will scrutinize his actions and reject him.

אי הכי דצבור נמי דצבור נפישא זכותיה אי הכי דיחיד דצפרא נמי לא כיון דאיכא צבורא דקא מצלו לא קא מדחי

The Gemara raises a difficulty: If that is so, the prayer of the community should not be recited at that time as well. The Gemara explains: The prayer of the community is not rejected even at this time, due to its many merits. The Gemara asks: If that is so, then shouldn’t the morning prayer of one who is praying individually also not be recited at this time? The Gemara answers: Since there is in all places a community that prays the morning prayer at that same time, his prayer is not rejected. By contrast, the additional prayer is recited at different times by different communities, as unlike the morning prayer it does not have a fixed time but can be recited at any point during the day.

והא אמרת שלש ראשונות הקב"ה יושב ועוסק בתורה איפוך

The Gemara raises another difficulty: But didn’t you say that during the first three hours of the day The Holy One, Blessed be He, sits and engages in Torah study, and He engages in judgment only during the second set of three hours? The Gemara answers: Reverse the order so that it is stated that He sits in judgment during the first three hours of the day.

ואיבעית אימא לעולם לא תיפוך תורה דכתיב בה אמת דכתיב (משלי כג, כג) אמת קנה ואל תמכור אין הקב"ה עושה לפנים משורת הדין דין דלא כתיב ביה אמת הקב"ה עושה לפנים משורת הדין:

And if you wish, say instead: Actually, do not reverse the order. Rather, this is the reason that an individual should not recite the additional prayer during the first three hours of the day when God is engaged in Torah study: In the case of the Torah, with regard to which it is written: Truth, as it is written: “Buy the truth, and sell it not” (Proverbs 23:23), the Holy One, Blessed be He, does not act in a manner that is beyond the letter of the law. But with regard to judgment, with regard to which it is not written: Truth, but it is a process that involves mercy and compromise, the Holy One, Blessed be He, can act in a manner that is beyond the letter of the law.

יום מעיד טרף בעגל סימן: גופא אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי מאי דכתיב (דברים ז, יא) אשר אנכי מצוך היום לעשותם היום לעשותם ולא למחר לעשותם היום לעשותם ולא היום ליטול שכרן

§ The Gemara presents a mnemonic for the ensuing statements of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi: Today, bear witness, shake, the golden calf. The Gemara returns to an earlier discussion (3a), first by citing the matter itself. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says: What is the meaning of that which is written: “Which I command you this day, to do them” (Deuteronomy 7:11)? This verse teaches that today is the time to do them, i.e., to perform the mitzvot, in this world, but tomorrow, in the World-to-Come, is not the time to do them. Furthermore, today is the time to do them, but today is not the time to receive one’s reward, which is given in the World-to-Come.

אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי כל מצות שישראל עושין בעולם הזה באות ומעידות אותם לעולם הבא שנאמר (ישעיהו מג, ט) יתנו עידיהם ויצדקו ישמעו ויאמרו אמת יתנו עידיהם ויצדקו אלו ישראל ישמעו ויאמרו אמת אלו עובדי כוכבים

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says: All of the mitzvot that the Jews perform in this word will come and bear witness for them in the World-to-Come, as it is stated: “Let them bring their witnesses that they may be justified, and let them hear, and say: It is truth” (Isaiah 43:9). He explains: “Let them bring their witnesses that they may be justified”; these are referring to the Jews. “And let them hear, and say: It is truth”; these are referring to the nations of the world.

ואמר רבי יהושע בן לוי כל מצות שישראל עושין בעולם הזה באות וטורפות אותם לעובדי כוכבים לעולם הבא על פניהם שנאמר (דברים ד, ו) ושמרתם ועשיתם כי היא חכמתכם ובינתכם לעיני העמים נגד העמים לא נאמר אלא לעיני העמים מלמד שבאות וטורפות לעובדי כוכבים על פניהם לעוה"ב

And Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says: All of the mitzvot that the Jewish people perform in this world will come and strike the faces of the nations of the world in the World-to-Come, as it is stated: “Observe therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the eyes of the nations” (Deuteronomy 4:6). It is not stated: Before the nations; rather, the verse states: “In the eyes of the nations,” which taken literally teaches that they will come and strike the faces of the nations of the world in the World-to-Come.

וא"ר יהושע בן לוי לא עשו ישראל את העגל אלא ליתן פתחון פה לבעלי תשובה שנאמר (דברים ה, כה) מי יתן והיה לבבם זה להם ליראה אותי כל הימים וגו'

And Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says: The Jewish people fashioned the Golden Calf (see Exodus, chapter 32) only to give a claim to penitents, as it is stated after the revelation at Sinai: “Who would give that they had such a heart as this always, to fear Me, and keep all My commandments, that it might be good for them, and with their children forever” (Deuteronomy 5:25). If the nation was truly at such a lofty spiritual state, how could they worship the Golden Calf? Rather, their sin occurred so that it would be made clear that one can repent for any sin, as even a sin as severe as the Golden Calf was forgiven.

והיינו דא"ר יוחנן משום ר"ש בן יוחאי לא דוד ראוי לאותו מעשה ולא ישראל ראוין לאותו מעשה לא דוד ראוי לאותו מעשה דכתיב (תהלים קט, כב) ולבי חלל בקרבי

And this is similar to that which Rabbi Yoḥanan says in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yoḥai: David was not fit to act as he did in that incident involving Bathsheba, and the Jewish people were not fit to act as they did in that incident of the Golden Calf. David was not fit to act as he did in that incident involving Bathsheba (see II Samuel, chapter 11), as it is written: “And my heart is wounded within me” (Psalms 109:22), i.e., he had vanquished his evil inclination, and therefore it should not have been able to rule over him to that extent.

ולא ישראל ראוין לאותו מעשה דכתיב מי יתן והיה לבבם זה להם ליראה אותי כל הימים אלא למה עשו

And likewise the Jewish people were not fit to act as they did in that incident of the Golden Calf, as it is written with regard to the Jewish people of that time: “Who would give that they had such a heart as this always, to fear Me and keep all My commandments, that it might be good for them, and with their children forever” (Deuteronomy 5:25). Rather, why did they perform these sins?