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Steinsaltz

The Gemara asks: What verse did Rabbi Akiva expound that prevented him from making the same mistake as Aḥer? Rabba bar bar Ḥana said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: It was the following: “And He came [ve’ata] from the holy myriads” (Deuteronomy 33:2), which he explained in this manner: He, God, is unique [ot] among His myriads of angels. Therefore, he knew that he had merely seen an angel.

And Rabbi Abbahu said: Rabbi Akiva expounded the verse: “Preeminent above a myriad” (Song of Songs 5:10) to indicate that He is exemplary among His myriad.

And Reish Lakish said: He expounded the verse: “The Lord of hosts is His name” (Isaiah 48:2); He is the Master in His host.

And Rav Ḥiyya bar Abba said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: He expounded the verses: “But the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake; the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake, fire; but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, a still, small voice,” and it states in that verse: “And behold, the Lord passed by” (I Kings 19:11–12). Rabbi Akiva used this verse in order to recognize the place of His presence and refrain from trespassing there.

§ The Gemara returns to discussing the heavenly beings. The Sages taught: Six statements were said with regard to demons: In three ways they are like ministering angels, and in three ways they are like humans. The baraita specifies: In three ways they are like ministering angels: They have wings like ministering angels; and they fly from one end of the world to the other like ministering angels; and they know what will be in the future like ministering angels.

The Gemara is puzzled by this last statement: Should it enter your mind that they know this? Not even the angels are privy to the future. Rather, they hear from behind the curtain when God reveals something of the future, like ministering angels.

And in three ways they are similar to humans: They eat and drink like humans; they multiply like humans; and they die like humans.

Six statements were said with regard to humans: In three ways, they are like ministering angels, and in three ways they are like animals. The baraita explains: In three ways they are like ministering angels: They have intelligence like ministering angels; and they walk upright like ministering angels; and they speak in the holy tongue like ministering angels. In three ways humans are like animals: They eat and drink like animals; and they multiply like animals; and they emit excrement like animals.

§ The mishna taught: Whoever looks at four things, it would have been better for him had he never entered the world: Anyone who reflects upon that which is above the firmament; that which is below the earth; what was before the creation of the world; and what will be after the end of the world. The Gemara asks: Granted, it is prohibited to reflect on what is above, what is below, and what is after. This is fine, since one is examining things that are not part of the world but lie beyond it. But before the creation of the world, what has happened has happened. Why is it prohibited to reflect upon this?

The Gemara explains: Rabbi Yoḥanan and Rabbi Elazar both say: This can be demonstrated through a parable with regard to a flesh-and-blood king who said to his servants: Build for me large palaces on a garbage dump. They went and built them for him. Clearly, in that case, the king does not desire that they mention the garbage dump. Here too, God does not want people to concern themselves with the chaos that preceded the world.

It is taught in the mishna: Whoever has no concern for the honor of his Maker deserves to have never come to the world. The Gemara asks: What is lack of concern for the honor of one’s Maker? Rabbi Abba said: This is one who looks at a rainbow. Rav Yosef said: This is one who commits a transgression in private. They proceed to clarify their opinions: Looking at a rainbow constitutes an act of disrespect toward the Divine Presence, as it is written: “As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (Ezekiel 1:28), and it is a dishonor to God to stare at His likeness.

Rav Yosef said: This is one who commits a transgression in private, in accordance with Rabbi Yitzḥak, as Rabbi Yitzḥak said: Whoever commits a transgression in private, it is as though he pushed away the feet of the Divine Presence, as it is stated: “Thus said the Lord: The heavens are My seat, and the earth My footstool” (Isaiah 66:1). If one believes that no one can see what he is doing in private, it is as though he said that God is absent from that place. He is therefore compared to one who attempts to remove God from His footstool.

The Gemara raises a difficulty: And is that so? But didn’t Rabbi Ela the Elder say: If a person sees that his inclination is overcoming him, he should go to a place where he is unknown, and wear black, and wrap himself in black, in the manner of mourners, because he should be ashamed of his weakness, and do there what his heart desires, but let him not desecrate the Name of Heaven in public. This shows that sinning in private is sometimes preferable to the public performance of a transgression. The Gemara answers: This is not difficult. This case, where one who commits a transgression in public has no concern for the honor of his Maker, occurs when one is capable of overcoming his inclination and fails to do so. That case, where it is preferable to sin in private, occurs when one is incapable of overcoming his inclination. He is therefore advised to, at the very least, refrain from desecrating God’s name in public.

Rabbi Yehuda, son of Rabbi Naḥmani, the disseminator of Reish Lakish, interpreted a verse homiletically: Whoever looks at the following three things, his eyes will grow dim: One who looks at a rainbow, at a Nasi, and at the priests. He explains: At a rainbow, as it is written: “As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about, this was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (Ezekiel 1:28). At a Nasi, as it is written: “And you shall put of your splendor upon him” (Numbers 27:20), which indicates that the splendor of the Divine Presence rested upon Moses, who was the Nasi of Israel. The third item, looking at priests, is referring to one who looks at the priests when the Temple is standing, as they would stand on their platform and bless Israel with the ineffable name, at which point the Divine Presence would rest above the joints of their fingers.

Apropos this Sage, the Gemara cites another statement of his: Rabbi Yehuda, son of Rabbi Naḥmani, the disseminator of Reish Lakish, interpreted a verse homiletically: What is the meaning of that which is written: “Trust not in a companion, do not put your confidence in an intimate friend” (Micah 7:5)? If the evil inclination says to you: Sin, and the Holy One, Blessed be He, will forgive, do not trust it, since it is stated: “Trust not in a companion [rei’a].” And rei’a is referring to none other than the evil [ra] inclination, as it is stated: “For the inclination of the heart of man is evil [ra]” (Genesis 8:21).

And “intimate friend” is referring to none other than the Holy One, Blessed be He, as it is stated: “You are the intimate friend of my youth” (Jeremiah 3:4). Lest you say: Since I am acting in private, who will testify against me? The stones of the house and the beams of the house of each person testify against him, as it is stated: “For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it” (Habakkuk 2:11).

And the Sages say: A person’s soul shall itself testify against him, as it is stated: “Guard the doors of your mouth from she who lies in your bosom” (Micah 7:5). What thing lies in a person’s bosom? You must say it is his soul. Rabbi Zerika said: The two ministering angels who accompany him, i.e., each individual, they testify against him, as it is stated: “For He will command his angels over you, to guard you in all your ways” (Psalms 91:11). And the Sages say: A person’s limbs testify against him, as it is stated: “Therefore you are My witnesses, says the Lord, and I am God” (Isaiah 43:12), which indicates that each individual becomes his own witness and testifies against himself on the Day of Judgment.

MISHNA: Yosei ben Yo’ezer says not to place one’s hands on offerings before slaughtering them on a Festival because this is considered performing labor with an animal on a Festival. His colleague, Yosef ben Yoḥanan, says to place them; Yehoshua ben Peraḥya says not to place them; Nitai HaArbeli says to place them; Yehuda ben Tabbai says not to place them; Shimon ben Shataḥ says to place them; Shemaya says to place them; Avtalyon says not to place them. Hillel and Menaḥem did not disagree with regard to this issue. Menaḥem departed from his post, and Shammai entered in his stead. Shammai says not to place them; Hillel says to place them.

Talmud - Bavli - The William Davidson digital edition of the Koren No=C3=A9 Talmud
with commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz Even-Israel (CC-BY-NC 4.0)
אדם סלומון
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