Sayings From The Talmud - A Book Of Jewish Thoughts

Sayings From The Talmud - A Book Of Jewish Thoughts

SAYINGS FROM THE TALMUD

I

BE thou the cursed, not he who curses. Be of them that are persecuted, not of them that persecute. Look at Scripture: there is not a single bird more persecuted than the dove; yet God has chosen her to be offered up on His altar. The bull is hunted by the lion, the sheep by the wolf, the goat by the tiger. And God said, ‘Bring Me a sacrifice, not from them that persecute, but from them that are persecuted’.
Scripture ordains that the Hebrew slave who ‘loves’ his bondage shall have his ear pierced against the door-post (Exodus 21). Why? Because it is that ear which heard on Sinai, ‘They are My servants, they shall not be sold as bondsmen’. They are My servants, not servants’ servants. And this man voluntarily throws away his precious freedom—‘Pierce his ear!’

II

EVEN when the gates of heaven are shut to prayer, they are open to tears. Prayer is Israel’s only weapon, a weapon inherited from his fathers, a weapon tried in a thousand battles.
When the righteous man dies, it is the earth that loses. The lost jewel will always be a jewel, but the possessor who has lost it—well may he weep.
To one who denied resurrection, Gabiha ben Pasissa said: ‘If what never before existed, exists, why may not that which once existed exist again?’
Life is a passing shadow, says Scripture. Is it the shadow of a tower, of a tree? A shadow that prevails for a while? No, it is the shadow of a bird in its flight—away flies the bird, and there is neither bird nor shadow.
Repent one day before thy death. There was a king who bade all his servants to a great repast, but did not indicate the hour. Some went home and put on their best garments and stood at the door of the palace; others said, ‘There is ample time, the king will let us know beforehand’. But the king summoned them of a sudden; and those that came in their best garments were well received, but the foolish ones who came in their slovenliness, were turned away in disgrace.
Iron breaks the stone, fire melts iron, water extinguishes fire, the clouds drink up the water, a storm drives away the clouds, man withstands the storm, fear unmans man, wine dispels fear, sleep drives away wine, and death sweeps all away—even sleep. But Solomon the Wise says: ‘Charity delivereth from death’.

III

FOUR shall not enter Paradise: the scoffer, the liar, the hypocrite, and the slanderer.
The cock and the owl both await the daylight. ‘The light’, says the cock, ‘brings delight to me; but what are you waiting for?’
Thy friend has a friend, and thy friend’s friend has a friend: be discreet.
He who is ashamed will not easily commit sin. Commit a sin twice, and you will think it perfectly allowable. There is a great difference between him who is ashamed before his own self, and him who is only ashamed before others.
The sun will go down all by himself, without thy assistance. Not what thou sayest about thyself, but what others say. He who humiliates himself will be lifted up; he who raises himself up will be humiliated. Whosoever runs after greatness, greatness runs away from him; he who runs from greatness, greatness follows him.
If the young tell thee, Build; and the old tell thee, Destroy—follow the counsel of the elders; for often the destruction of the elders is construction, and the construction of the young is destruction.



IV

‘FEAR God, as much as you fear man’, said Johanan ben Zakkai.80 ‘Not more?’ asked his pupils in surprise. ‘If you would but fear Him as much!’ said the dying sage.
The righteous are masters of their passions. Not so the wicked: they are the slaves of their desires. The righteous need no monuments: their deeds are their monuments. The righteous promise little and do much; the wicked promise much and do not perform even a little. Let thy yea be yea, and thy nay be nay.
In Palestine it was considered a sign of descent from a good family if any one first broke off in a quarrel. The greatest of heroes is he who turneth an enemy into a friend.
Giving is not the essential thing, but to give with delicacy of feeling. Scripture does not say, ‘Happy is he who giveth to the poor’, but, ‘Happy is he who wisely considereth the poor’. He who makes the sorrowful rejoice will partake of life everlasting.
As the ocean never freezes, so the gate of repentance is never closed. The best preacher is the heart, the best teacher time, the best book the world, the best friend God.
He who curbs his wrath, his sins will be forgiven. Whosoever does not persecute them that persecute him, whosoever takes an offence in silence, he who does good because of love, he who is cheerful under his sufferings, they are the friends of God, and of them the Scripture says, ‘But they that love Him shall be as the sun, when he goeth forth in his might’.


Excerpt From A Book of Jewish Thoughts By Joseph Herman Hertz