The sugya continues to discuss the yetzer hara.
These two statements talk about the great power of the Evil Inclination, which according to R. Shimon b. Lakish, a person could not withstand were it not for the help of God.
This section uses some midrashic references to show that the antidote to the Evil Inclination is the study of Torah. This is something the rabbis believed in quite fervently. Indeed, in other places we learn that the Torah was specifically created to be the antidote for the Evil Inclination.
The perniciousness of the Evil Inclination is twofold: it entices a man to sin in this world and then it testifies against him in the world to come. This is related to a midrash on Proverbs 29:21 in which the “servant” is interpreted as the Evil Inclination. The Evil Inclination is given over to a person’s control, like a servant. But if he doesn’t take control, the evil inclination will testify against him in the world to come. This is derived from an “Atbah” which is a letter code system whereby each Hebrew letter corresponds with another letter. Using this particular “atbah” system, the word “manon” corresponds to “witness.”
These two midrashim point out the progressive influence and eventual dominance that the yetzer hara exerts over a person. At first it is an external force, residing outside of the person. Eventually, it takes him over and utterly dominates his life. I think the same could be said about many evil influences in our life—at first they are visitors to our daily lives, causing us to err, but not radically changing our personality. Eventually, however, they become a part of our identity, making it all the more difficult to be free.
While the immediate reference for this statement seems to be the (male) sexual organ, it could also refer to the yetzer hara in general. The more one succumbs to one’s evil inclination, the larger that inclination grows. In contrast, when we resist the urges that push us to do the wrong thing, we often are able to grow stronger, more resistant to temptation.
In this midrash, God regrets having created four things: the exile of the people of Israel, the Chaldeans (a people renowned for their sorcery), the Ishmaelites (known as robbers) and the Evil Inclination. I should emphasize that all of these verses are being read midrashically and not according to their peshat (simple) meaning.
These three (four) verses bring comfort to Israel (the enemies of Israel is a euphemism for Israel) for they offer a promise that the evil inclination will not continue to rule over us forever. Ultimately, God is in control of humanity and will remove that stone that He has given us as a heart.
Today’s section returns to the topic of the Messiah son of Joseph and various other Messiahs or figures thought to be redeemers of Israel.
The prophet Zechariah refers to four craftsmen shown to him by God. R. Hana b. Bizna interprets these as referring to four messianic figures. According to Rashi all of these various “messiahs” worked as various types of craftsmen. Elijah built an altar. The messiahs will be involved in the rebuilding of the Temple. Rashi offers two interpretations of the “Righteous Priest.” He is either Shem, son of Noah or Malchizedek who blessed Abraham.
R. Hana b. Bizna demonstrates that the four craftsmen are not those referred to in the beginning of the verse. The “horns” also mentioned in the verse are the nations of the world that scattered Israel, whereas the craftsmen are those that redeem Israel.
R. Sheshet gives up the argument, noting that R. Hana is the expert in matters of aggadah.
The continuation of R. Hana’s midrash interprets the four shepherds and the eight princes referred to by Micah. Even Rashi admits that it is not all that clear why these specific characters are referred to.
Today’s section returns to interpreting the mishnah about the Simchat Bet Hashoevah.
The baraita cited here shows that there were thirty log in each jar, not one hundred and twenty in each.
The baraita claims that these four youth were stronger than the legendary son of Martha bat Baytos, a priest. Marta’s son could carry two sides of a huge ox up the altar while walking slowly, heel to toe, because one shouldn’t run up the altar. Nevertheless, the sages wouldn’t allow him to do so because they held it would be better for more priests to participate in the sacrificial ceremony. Indeed, they ruled that twenty four people would be involved in bringing the meat of the ox up to the altar.
The Talmud questions what makes the young priests superior to Marta’s son. After all, clearly the meat was much heavier than the oil.
The answer is that the ladders were basically perpendicular, making the ascent much more difficult. In contrast, the ramp up the altar was a gentle slope.