stood by way of a miracle?
The Gemara answers: Yes, two forms of these letters did exist at that time, but the people did not know which one of them was to be used in the middle of the word and which at the end of the word, and the Seers came and established that the open forms are to used be in the middle of the word and the closed forms at the end of the word.
The Gemara asks: Ultimately, however, doesn’t the phrase “these are the commandments” (Leviticus 27:34) indicate that a prophet is not permitted to initiate any matter of halakha from now on? Rather, it may be suggested that the final letters already existed at the time of the giving of the Torah, but over the course of time the people forgot them, and the prophets then came and reestablished them.
§ The Gemara cites another ruling of Rabbi Yirmeya or Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba. Rabbi Yirmeya said, and some say that it was Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba who said: The Aramaic translation of the Torah used in the synagogues was composed by Onkelos the convert based on the teachings of Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua. The Aramaic translation of the Prophets was composed by Yonatan ben Uzziel based on a tradition going back to the last prophets, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. The Gemara relates that when Yonatan ben Uzziel wrote his translation, Eretz Yisrael quaked over an area of four hundred parasangs [parsa] by four hundred parasangs, and a Divine Voice emerged and said: Who is this who has revealed My secrets to mankind?
Yonatan ben Uzziel stood up on his feet and said: I am the one who has revealed Your secrets to mankind through my translation. However, it is revealed and known to You that I did this not for my own honor, and not for the honor of the house of my father, but rather it was for Your honor that I did this, so that discord not increase among the Jewish people. In the absence of an accepted translation, people will disagree about the meaning of obscure verses, but with a translation, the meaning will be clear.
And Yonatan ben Uzziel also sought to reveal a translation of the Writings, but a Divine Voice emerged and said to him: It is enough for you that you translated the Prophets. The Gemara explains: What is the reason that he was denied permission to translate the Writings? Because it has in it a revelation of the end, when the Messiah will arrive. The end is foretold in a cryptic manner in the book of Daniel, and were the book of Daniel translated, the end would become manifestly revealed to all.
The Gemara asks: Was the translation of the Torah really composed by Onkelos the convert? Didn’t Rav Ika bar Avin say that Rav Ḥananel said that Rav said: What is the meaning of that which is written with respect to the days of Ezra: “And they read in the book, the Torah of God, distinctly; and they gave the sense, and they caused them to understand the reading” (Nehemiah 8:8)? The verse should be understood as follows: “And they read in the book, the Torah of God,” this is the scriptural text; “distinctly,” this is the translation, indicating that they immediately translated the text into Aramaic, as was customary during public Torah readings.
“And they gave the sense,” these are the divisions of the text into separate verses. “And they caused them to understand the reading,” these are the cantillation notes, through which the meaning of the text is further clarified. And some say that these are the Masoretic traditions with regard to the manner in which each word is to be written. This indicates that the Aramaic translation already existed at the beginning of the Second Temple period, well before the time of Onkelos. The Gemara answers: The ancient Aramaic translation was forgotten and then Onkelos came and reestablished it.
The Gemara asks: What is different about the translation of Prophets? Why is it that when Onkelos revealed the translation of the Torah, Eretz Yisrael did not quake, and when he revealed the translation of the Prophets, it quaked? The Gemara explains: The meaning of matters discussed in the Torah is clear, and therefore its Aramaic translation did not reveal the meaning of passages that had not been understood previously. Conversely, in the Prophets, there are matters that are clear and there are matters that are obscure, and the Aramaic translation revealed the meaning of obscure passages. The Gemara cites an example of an obscure verse that is clarified by the Aramaic translation: As it is written: “On that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon” (Zechariah 12:11).
And with regard to that verse, Rav Yosef said: Were it not for the Aramaic translation of this verse, we would not have known what it is saying, as the Bible does not mention any incident involving Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon. The Aramaic translation reads as follows: On that day, the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Ahab, son of Omri, who was slain by Hadadrimmon, son of Tavrimon, in Ramoth-Gilead, and like the mourning for Josiah, son of Amon, who was slain by Pharaoh the lame in the valley of Megiddon. The translation clarifies that the verse is referring to two separate incidents of mourning, and thereby clarifies the meaning of this verse.
§ The Gemara introduces another statement from the same line of tradition. The verse states: “And I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, for the men who were with me did not see the vision; but a great trembling fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves” (Daniel 10:7). Who were these men? The term “men” in the Bible indicates important people; who were they? Rabbi Yirmeya said, and some say that it was Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba who said: These are the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.
The Gemara comments: In certain ways they, the prophets, were greater than him, Daniel, and in certain ways he, Daniel, was greater than them. They were greater than him, as they were prophets and he was not a prophet. Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi were sent to convey the word of God to the Jewish people, while Daniel was not sent to reveal his visions to others. In another way, however, he was greater than them, as he saw this vision, and they did not see this vision, indicating that his ability to perceive obscure and cryptic visions was greater than theirs.
The Gemara asks: Since they did not see the vision, what is the reason that they were frightened? The Gemara answers: Even though they did not see the vision, their guardian angels saw it, and therefore they sensed that there was something fearful there and they fled.
Ravina said: Learn from this incident that with regard to one who is frightened for no apparent reason, although he does not see anything menacing, his guardian angel sees it, and therefore he should take steps in order to escape the danger. The Gemara asks: What is his remedy? He should recite Shema, which will afford him protection. And if he is standing in a place of filth, where it is prohibited to recite verses from the Torah, he should distance himself four cubits from his current location in order to escape the danger. And if he is not able to do so, let him say the following incantation: The goat of the slaughterhouse is fatter than I am, and if a calamity must fall upon something, it should fall upon it.
§ After this digression, the Gemara returns to the exposition of a verse cited above. Now that you have said that the phrases “every province” and “every city” appear for the purposes of midrashic exposition, for what exposition do the words “every family” appear in that same verse (Esther 9:28)? Rabbi Yosei bar Ḥanina said: These words come to include the priestly and Levitical families, and indicate that they cancel their service in the Temple and come to hear the reading of the Megilla.
As Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: The priests at their Temple service, the Levites on their platform in the Temple, where they sung the daily psalm, and the Israelites at their watches, i.e., the group of Israelites, corresponding to the priestly watches, who would come to Jerusalem and gather in other locations as representatives of the entire nation to observe or pray for the success of the Temple service, all cancel their service and come to hear the reading of the Megilla.
This is also taught in a baraita: The priests at their service, the Levites on the platform, and the Israelites at their watches, all cancel their service and come to hear the reading of the Megilla. The Sages of the house of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi relied upon the halakha stated here and determined that one cancels his Torah study and comes to hear the reading of the Megilla. They derived this principle by means of an a fortiori inference from the Temple service: Just as one who is engaged in performing service in the Temple, which is very important, cancels his service in order to hear the Megilla, is it not all the more so obvious that one who is engaged in Torah study cancels his study to hear the Megilla?
The Gemara asks: Is the Temple service more important than Torah study? Isn’t it written: “And it came to pass when Joshua was by Jericho that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man stood over against him with his sword drawn in his hand. And Joshua went over to him and said to him: Are you for us, or for our adversaries? And he said, No, but I am captain of the host of the Lord, I have come now. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down” (Joshua 5:13–14).
The Gemara first seeks to clarify the incident described in the verse. How did Joshua do this, i.e., how could he bow to a figure he did not recognize? Didn’t Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi say: It is prohibited for a person to greet his fellow at night if he does not recognize him, as we are concerned that perhaps it is a demon? How did Joshua know that it was not a demon? The Gemara answers: There it was different, as the visitor said to him: But I am captain of the host of the Lord.
The Gemara asks: Perhaps this was a demon and he lied? The Gemara answers: It is learned as a tradition that demons do not utter the name of Heaven for naught, and therefore since the visitor had mentioned the name of God, Joshua was certain that this was indeed an angel.
As for the angel’s mission, the Gemara explains that the angel said to Joshua: Yesterday, i.e., during the afternoon, you neglected the afternoon daily offering due to the impending battle, and now, at night, you have neglected Torah study, and I have come to rebuke you. Joshua said to him: For which of these sins have you come? He said to him: I have come now, indicating that neglecting Torah study is more severe than neglecting to sacrifice the daily offering. Joshua immediately determined to rectify the matter, as the verses states: “And Joshua lodged that night” (Joshua 8:9) “in the midst of the valley [ha’emek]” (Joshua 8:13), and Rabbi Yoḥanan said: