The last daf of this (very long) chapter continues where we left off last week, with rabbis who resist sexual temptation.
In this fascinating tale, R. Zadok manages to avoid temptation. A few thoughts on the story:
1) The rabbis here are expressing what I think is a prevalent fantasy for them—that they will be pursued by an attractive, non-Jewish woman, and that at the last minute they will resist temptation. This would amplify their own sense of manliness and at the same time their fealty to the Torah.
2) The connection between food and sex is explicitly made in this story—“one who does this eats this.” Maintaining strict separation in terms of sex is aided, in the end, by maintaining strict separation in terms of food.
3) Rabbis are often running to sit in the oven as a form of self-affliction. Not sure why, but it seems to be a common trope in their culture.
In this story, it seems to be R. Kahana’s occupation with baskets that leads him to the dangerous contact with the non-Jewish woman. He is so tempted to have relations with her, that in order to avoid doing so, he attempts to commit suicide. Miraculously, he is saved by Elijah who is none too happy to have to go to the trouble (Elijah seems to fly). But all ends well when R. Kahana is miraculously rescued from poverty.
This is the well-known baraita about mitzvoth that one receives a reward for in this world and in the world to come.
The Talmud now begins to provide biblical sources for each of the mitzvoth listed in the baraita—how do we know that one receives a reward in this world and in the world to come for their performance?
R. Abahu derives the reward for peacemaking from the connection (gezerah shavah) created by the word “pursuing” between Psalms 34:15 and Proverbs 21:21 (above). The study of Torah also has a verse that alludes to these rewards.
This is the conclusion of Rava’s difficulty: Why doesn’t the baraita include the mitzvah of shooing away the mother bird?
The Talmud tries to suggest that the baraita simply is not exhaustive. But this solution fails due to the language of the baraita—“these are the things”—implying that there are no others.
R. Idi’s statement explains that to be truly righteous one needs to be good to other people and not just listen to God’s commands. Sending away the mother bird is an act between God and people—it is not an act that can make one “good.” To be good (or at least not evil), one needs to be kind to other human beings.
Today’s section continues to discuss rewards and punishments.
For performing a mitzvah, one receives additional reward beyond the scope of the mitzvah itself. However, there is no punishment for sins beyond the principal punishment itself. This is a classic Jewish statement of the mercy of God. God rewards good deeds more than God punishes transgressive acts.
There is, however, a verse that seems to say that transgressions do bear fruit. This is interpreted to refer to a transgression that bears fruit—meaning its consequences are somehow amplified beyond the transgression itself. Rashi suggests that others learn from his sin because it was performed in public.
When rewarding people for good deeds, God provides them with extra reward for their good thoughts.
God is generous with humanity—if one even thinks about performing a mitzvah but cannot do so, she is credited as if she performed it.
Again, God is more generous with the sinner—God does not join evil thought with deed.
But if the intention bears fruit—i.e. it leads to an action, God does join it with the evil deeds to punish for them both.
One is punished extra for bad thoughts only if they are about idolatry, which is the most heinous of sins.
Ulla offers a different explanation for when God joins bad thoughts to bad actions—when one repeatedly sins. Rashi explains that even if one does not actually repeat the evil deed, when he thinks about doing it but is prevent from doing so because of circumstances, he is treated as if he performed the evil deed. By thinking of doing it, he has shown that his repentance is not sincere. He’s just waiting for the right opportunity to come along.
The beginning of this section discusses sinning in private versus sinning in public.
According to this source, better that a person sin in private than profane God’s name in public.
According to R. Ilai, if one cannot help it, better to sin in private than in public.
R. Joseph’s statement contradicts the previous source—sinning in private is reprehensible for it is as if one is saying that God does not see one’s private actions.
The resolution is that if one cannot conquer his evil desires, then it is better to sin in private. But if one can conquer his evil desires, but decides that a sin in private “does not count,” for it is not seen by God, it is better that he not come into the world. Such a person has no respect for God.
The Talmud cites the statement of Rabbah—that one who gazes at the rainbow is careless with his Master’s honor. The rainbow according to Ezekiel 1:28 is like the presence of God. One who stares at it, it is as if he is staring at God.
I should admit that I probably have transgressed this one on many occasions. I’m not sure what the rule is about one who sends out lots of rainbow pics from a rainy day in the Golan.
Profaning God’s name is considered to be worse than other sins, and one receives no “credit” in this case. One interpretation of “credit is not granted” is that God does not act like a shopkeeper and delay demand for payment. Rather, he immediately extracts punishment for profaning the Name.
Another interpretation is that if one has committed this sin, it tips the scales if one’s merits and sins are equally balanced.
The Talmud continues to discuss rewards and punishments for sins and good deeds.
Sound advice on how to approach one’s life.