Showing posts with label Sacred. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sacred. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

The Mystery Of Pain - A Book Of Jewish Thoughts



The Mystery Of Pain - A Book Of Jewish Thoughts

THE MYSTERY OF PAIN

THE mystery of pain is an old problem. The Rabbis were deeply impressed with its gravity and complexity. The sorrows of the universe and the agony of Israel; the suffering of the nation and the pain of the individual, formed the inspiration of some of their noblest thoughts. They fully realized that suffering can chasten and heal and purify, even ‘as salt cleanses meat’. And so they call God’s chastisements the blessed scourges of love, and tell us that even as the olive only gives forth its sweet and perfumed oil on being crushed, so also Israel only reaches perfection through crushing sorrows. They tell us that in the thick darkness of the world-problem is God—the ‘Light Behind’; that all things work together for good—even Death; they represent God as saying to mankind, ‘with thy very wounds I will heal thee’; they say that those whom God afflicts bear His name; that only through a ‘sorrow’s crown of sorrows’ cometh true life. Heaven is not to be won by rest and ease and quiet. Only those who have suffered and endured greatly have achieved greatly. The world’s greatest workers, thinkers, and teachers have only reached the pinnacle of fame by surmounting obstacles which to ordinary men, content with the lower slopes, would have seemed insuperable. Man has ever risen nearer to God by the altar-stairs of pain and sorrow—those altar-stairs which lead through darkness, for ever upwards, towards the very Throne of God.
S. ALFRED ADLER, 1906.



Excerpt From A Book of Jewish Thoughts By Joseph Herman Hertz

Light In Darkness - A Book Of Jewish Thoughts

Light In Darkness - A Book Of Jewish Thoughts

LIGHT IN DARKNESS

WHEN Adam saw for the first time the sun go down, and an ever-deepening gloom enfold creation, his mind was filled with terror. God then took pity on him, and endowed him with the divine intuition to take two stones—the name of one was Darkness and the name of the other Shadow of Death—and rub them against each other, and so discover fire. Thereupon Adam exclaimed with grateful joy: ‘Blessed be the Creator of Light’.
TALMUD.

WHENCE AND WHITHER

I

AKABYA, son of Mahalalel, said, ‘Reflect upon three things, and thou wilt not come within the power of sin: know whence thou camest, and whither thou art going, and before whom thou wilt in future have to render account and reckoning’.
ETHICS OF THE FATHERS.



II

AN old Saxon chieftain was once revelling with his boon companions in the brilliantly lighted banqueting hall, when he noticed a bird flying from end to end, and he exclaimed: ‘Even thus is our fate. Out of the darkness we come; we speed for a while through a gay and merry world, and then again into darkness we lapse.’ Ah, not so, dear Congregants! ‘The dust returneth to the earth, as it was, but the spirit returneth unto God who gave it.’ Our true essence is deathless—spirit of God’s undying Spirit, soul of His immortal Soul. If we have risen to a true conception of life and our duty, if we have proved ourselves faithful to our mission, then our end will not be a leap in the dark, but—
‘Life’s race well run,
Life’s work well done,
Life’s crown well won’:
then come rest and peace—rest with God, peace everlasting.
HERMANN ADLER, 1898.

Time And Eternity - A Book Of Jewish Thoughts

Time And Eternity - A Book Of Jewish Thoughts

TIME AND ETERNITY

GOD, the Source of life, has placed in our nature the blessed hope of immortality, by which we may console ourselves for the vanity of life, and overcome the dread of death. If thou art in truth of the higher sphere, why should the thought of leaving this lower region trouble thee? Especially since the very pleasures which thou seekest on earth are, in reality, but briars and thorns. Therefore seek them not. But what shouldst thou do? This: Use thy time as thou wouldst a doubtful companion: extract the good and avoid the evil. Avail thyself of the few opportunities of improvement in his company, and use thy discretion so that thou mayest suffer no injury from thy association with him. And remember that the companionship of time is but of short duration. It flies more quickly than the shades of evening. We are like a child that grasps in his hand a sunbeam. He opens his hand soon again, but, to his amazement, finds it empty and the brightness gone.
YEDAYA PENINI, 14th cent.

WHATSOEVER thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might.
ECCLESIASTES 9. 10.

ACCUSTOM thyself to complete any good work thou hast undertaken.
DERECH ERETZ ZUTTA, 8th cent.

.

Excerpt From A Book of Jewish Thoughts By Joseph Herman Hertz

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

Humility - Abraham Ibn Ezra - A Book Of Jewish Thoughts

Humility - Abraham Ibn Ezra - A Book Of Jewish Thoughts

HUMILITY

THE man who does good works is more likely to be overtaken by pride in them than by any other moral mischance, and its effect on conduct is injurious in the extreme. Therefore, among the most necessary of virtues is that one which banishes pride; and this is, humility.
First among the signs by which the meek are known is that when misfortunes come to them their endurance triumphs over their fear and grief, and they willingly submit to the decree of God, and own that His judgements are righteous.
In matters of justice, however, the meek will be high-spirited and fearless, punishing the wicked without fear for favour. He will help the oppressed and rescue him from the power of the oppressor.
BACHYA IBN PAKUDAH, 1040.

AT all times let a man fear God as well in private as in public, acknowledge the truth, and speak the truth in his heart; and let him rise early and say: Sovereign of all worlds! Not because of our righteous acts do we lay our supplications before Thee, but because of Thine abundant mercies.
DAILY PRAYER BOOK.

WISDOM begetteth humility.
ABRAHAM IBN EZRA, 1167.




Excerpt From A Book of Jewish Thoughts By Joseph Herman Hertz

True Wisdom - A Book Of Jewish Thoughts




True Wisdom - A Book of Jewish Thoughts

TRUE WISDOM

SURELY there is a mine for silver,
And a place for gold which they refine.
Iron is taken out of the earth,
And brass is molten out of the stone.
Man setteth an end to darkness,
And searcheth out to the farthest bound
The stones of thick darkness and of the shadow of death.
He breaketh open a shaft away from where men sojourn;
He putteth forth his hand upon the flinty rock;
He overturneth the mountains by the roots.
He cutteth out passages among the rocks,
And his eye seeth every precious thing.
He bindeth the streams that they trickle not,
And the thing that is hid bringeth he forth to light.
But where shall wisdom be found?
And where is the place of understanding?
Man knoweth not the price thereof;
Neither is it found in the land of the living.
The deep saith, It is not in me:
And the sea saith, It is not with me.
It cannot be gotten for gold,
Neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof.
Whence then cometh wisdom?
And where is the place of understanding?
Destruction and Death say,
We have heard a rumour thereof with our ears,
God understandeth the way thereof,
And He knoweth the place thereof,
And unto man He said,
Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom;
And to depart from evil is understanding.
JOB 28. 14, 915, 20, 223, 28.

RABBI TARPHON87 said: The day is short, and the work is great, but the labourers are idle, though the reward be great, and the Master of the work is urgent. It is not incumbent upon thee to complete the work; but neither art thou free to desist from it. Faithful is thine Employer to pay the reward of thy labour. But know that the reward unto the righteous is not of this world.
ETHICS OF THE FATHERS.

REMEMBER also thy Creator in the days of thy youth, or ever the evil days come, and the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them: or ever the sun and the light, and the moon and the stars be darkened, and the clouds return after the rain; and the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit return to God who gave it.
This is the end of the matter; all hath been heard: fear God, and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
ECCLESIASTES 12. 12, 7, 13.

.

Excerpt From A Book of Jewish Thoughts By Joseph Herman Hertz

Resignation, Immortality, Eternal Hope - A Book Of Jewish Thoughts

Resignation, Immortality, Eternal Hope - A Book of Jewish Thoughts

הַצּוּר תָּמִים

RESIGNATION

RIGHTEOUS art Thou, O God, and ever just,
And none can question, none withstand Thy will;
And though our hearts be humbled to the dust,
Teach us, through all, to see Thy mercy still.
Our life is measured out by Thee above,
And to Thy will each human heart must bow;
No frail remonstrance mars our perfect love,
No man shall say to Thee, ‘What doest Thou?’
When suffering to human fault is due,
Forgive, O Lord, and stay Thine hand, we pray;
And when it brings but trial of faith anew,
Turn Thou the night of gloom to trustful day.
When blessings bring Thy sunshine to our heart,
Let gratitude uplift each soul at rest;
And when to bear our griefs becomes our part,
Let faith and hope exhort us—God knows best.
The Lord hath given—praise unto His Name!
But with that praise our task is but begun.
The Lord hath taken—still our thought the same,
His is Law our Law; His will, not ours, be done.
A. A. GREEN, 1917.

IMMORTALITY

THERE are those who gain eternity in a lifetime, others who gain it in one brief hour.
TALMUD.

RABBI JACOB86 said: This world is like a vestibule before the world to come. Prepare thyself in the vestibule, so that thou mayest enter into the palace.
Better is one hour of repentance and good deeds in this world than the whole life in the world to come; and better is one hour of blissfulness of spirit in the world to come than the whole life of this world.
ETHICS OF THE FATHERS.



ETERNAL HOPE

WHOM have I in heaven but Thee?
And there is none upon earth that I desire beside Thee.
My flesh and my heart faileth:
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.
PSALM 73. 256.


Excerpt From A Book of Jewish Thoughts By Joseph Herman Hertz

Almighty, What Is Man - A Book Of Jewish Thoughts

Almighty, What Is Man -  A Book of Jewish Thoughts

ALMIGHTY, WHAT IS MAN?

ALMIGHTY! what is man?
But flesh and blood.
Like shadows flee his days,
He marks not how they vanish from his gaze,
Now like a flower blowing,
Now scorched by sunbeams glowing.
And wilt Thou of his trespasses inquire?
How may he ever bear
Thine anger just, Thy vengeance dire?
Then spare him, be Thou merciful, O King,
Upon the dreaded day of reckoning!
Almighty! what is man?
A faded leaf!
If Thou dost weigh him in the balance—lo!
He disappears—a breath that thou dost blow.
His heart is ever filled
With lust of lies unstilled.
Wilt Thou bear in mind his crime
Unto all time?
He fades away like clouds sun-kissed,
Dissolves like mist.
Then spare him! let him love and mercy win,
According to Thy grace, and not according to his sin!
SOLOMON IBN GABIROL, 1050.
(Trans. Emma Lazarus.)

.
Excerpt From A Book of Jewish Thoughts By Joseph Herman Hertz.











A Mediaeval Jewish Moralist - A Book Of Jewish Thoughts

A Mediaeval Jewish Moralist - A Book of Jewish Thoughts

A MEDIAEVAL JEWISH MORALIST

I

NO crown carries such royalty with it as doth humility; no monument gives such glory as an unsullied name; no worldly gain can equal that which comes from observing God’s laws. The highest sacrifice is a broken and contrite heart; the highest wisdom is that which is found in the Law; the noblest of all ornaments is modesty; the most beautiful of all things man can do is to forgive wrong.
Cherish a good heart when thou findest it in any one; hate, for thou mayest hate it, the haughtiness of the overbearing man, and keep the boaster at a distance. There is no skill or cleverness to be compared to that which avoids temptation; there is no force, no strength that can equal piety. All honour to him who thinks continually and with an anxious heart of his Maker; who prays, reads, and learns, and all these with a passionate yearning for his Maker’s grace.

II

LET thy dealings be of such sort that a blush need never visit thy cheek; be sternly dumb to the voice of passion; commit no sin, saying to thyself that thou wilt repent and make atonement at a later time. Let no oath ever pass thy lips; play not the haughty aristocrat in thine heart; follow not the desire of the eyes; banish carefully all guile from thy soul, all unseemly self-assertion from thy bearing and thy temper.
Speak never mere empty words; enter into strife with no man; place no reliance on men of mocking lips; wrangle not with evil men; cherish no too fixed good opinion of thyself, but lend thine ear to remonstrance and reproof.
Be not weakly pleased at demonstrations of honour; strive not anxiously for distinction; never let a thought of envy of those who do grave wrong cross thy mind; be never enviously jealous of others, or too eager for money.
Honour thy parents; make peace whenever thou canst among people, lead them gently into the good path; place thy trust in, give thy company to, those who fear God.

III

IF the means of thy support in life be measured out scantily to thee, remember that thou hast to be thankful and grateful even for the mere privilege to breathe, and that thou must take up that suffering as a test of thy piety and a preparation for better things. But if worldly wealth be lent to thee, exalt not thyself above thy brother; for both of ye came naked into the world, and both of ye will surely have to sleep at last together in the dust.
Bear well thy heart against the assaults of envy, which kills even sooner than death itself; and know no envy at all, save such envy of the merits of virtuous men as shall lead thee to emulate the beauty of their lives. Surrender not thyself a slave to hate, that ruin of all the heart’s good resolves, that destroyer of the very savour of food, of our sleep, of all reverence in our souls.
Keep peace both within the city and without, for it goes well with all those who are counsellors of peace; be wholly sincere; mislead no one by prevarications, by words smoother than intention, as little as by direct falsehood. For God the Eternal is a God of Truth; it is He from whom truth flowed first, He who begat truth and sent it into creation.
ELEAZAR (ROKËACHOF WORMSc. 1200.
...

Excerpt From A Book of Jewish Thoughts By Joseph Herman Hertz

Deeds The Best Commendation - A Book Of Jewish Thoughts

Deeds The Best Commendation - A Book of Jewish Thoughts

DEEDS THE BEST COMMENDATION


WHEN Akabya,84 son of Mahalalel, was on his death-bed, his son asked, ‘Father, commend me to thy friends’. ‘No, my son,’ said he, ‘I shall not commend thee.’ ‘Hast thou found aught unworthy in me?’ ‘No, my son,’ replied he, ‘thy deeds will bring thee near unto men, and thy deeds will drive thee from them.’
TALMUD.

RABBI HANINA, son of Dosa, said: He in whom the spirit of his fellow men taketh delight, in him the Spirit of the All-present taketh delight; and he in whom the spirit of his fellow men taketh not delight, in him the Spirit of the All-present taketh not delight.

RABBI JUDAH THE PRINCE85 said, Which is the right course that a man should choose for himself? That which he feels to be in itself honourable to the doer, and which also brings him the respect of his fellow men. Reflect upon three things, and thou wilt not come within the power of sin: Know what is above thee—a seeing Eye, a hearing Ear, and all thy deeds are written in a Book.
ETHICS OF THE FATHERS.


Excerpt From A Book of Jewish Thoughts By Joseph Herman Hertz

Talmudic Parables And Legends - A Book Of Jewish Thoughts


Talmudic Parables And Legends - A Book of Jewish Thoughts

TALMUDIC PARABLES AND LEGENDS

I

THE HEART ENNOBLES ANY CALLING
RABBI BAROKA, a saintly mystic, one day as he was walking through the crowded market-place of his town, met Elijah, the wandering spirit of prophecy in Jewish lore. ‘Who of all this multitude has the best claim to Heaven?’ asks the Rabbi of his spirit companion. The prophet points to a disreputable, weird-looking creature, a turnkey. ‘That man yonder, because he is considerate to his prisoners, and refrains from all unnecessary cruelty. In that miniature hell over which he presides he has suppressed many a horror.’ ‘And who else is here sure of eternal life?’ continues the Rabbi. Elijah then points to two motley-dressed fellows, clowns, who were supplying amusement to the bystanders. The Rabbi’s astonishment knew no bounds. ‘Scorn them not,’ explains the prophet; ‘it is always their habit, even when not performing for hire, to cheer the depressed and the sorrowful. Whenever they see a sufferer they join him, and by merry talk cause him to forget his grief.’
The heart ennobles any calling. A turnkey may leave the saintly behind in true merit of life; and a jester may be first in the kingdom of heaven, if disinterestedly he has diminished the sadness of human lives.

II

‘WE LIVE IN DEEDSNOT YEARS
AKING had a vineyard, and he hired a number of labourers, one of whom worked more diligently and better than the others. What did the king? He took him by the hand and showed him friendship, and walked in the vineyard conversing with him. At eventide, all the labourers came to receive their hire, and the king paid that labourer too for a full day’s work.
Then were the other labourers sorely vexed. They said, ‘Behold, we have worked the whole day, whereas this one has only worked a few hours’.
Then said the king, ‘Why do you speak thus? Consider. This one, in a few hours, did more work for me than you who toiled the whole day long.’

III

THE ACORN
ARABBI was once passing through a field where he saw a very old man planting an oak-tree. ‘Why are you planting that tree?’ said he. ‘You surely do not expect to live long enough to see the acorn growing up into an oak-tree?’
‘Ah,’ replied the old man, ‘my ancestors planted trees not for themselves, but for us, in order that we might enjoy their shade or their fruit. I am doing likewise for those who will come after me.’

IV

EARTHLY TREASURES
ALEXANDER, the world conqueror, came across a simple people in Africa who knew not war. He lingered to learn their ways. Two citizens appeared before their chief with this point of dispute: One had bought a piece of land and discovered a treasure in it; he claimed that this belonged to the seller, and wished to return it. The seller, on the other hand, declared that he sold the land with all it might contain. So he refused to accept the treasure. The chief, turning to the buyer, said: ‘Thou hast a son?’ ‘Yes.’ And addressing the seller, ‘Thou hast a daughter?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Marry one to the other and make the treasure their marriage portion.’ They left content. ‘In my country’, said the surprised Alexander, ‘the disputants would have been imprisoned, and the treasure confiscated for the king.’ ‘Is your country blessed by sun and rain?’ asked the chief. ‘Yes,’ replied Alexander. ‘Does it contain cattle?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Then it must be for the sake of these innocent animals that the sun shines upon it; surely its people are unworthy of such blessing.’

V

ALEXANDER AT THE GATES OF PARADISE
ALEXANDER the Great, in his travels in the East, one day wandered to the gate of Paradise. He knocked, and the guardian angel asked, ‘Who is there?’ ‘Alexander,’ was the answer. ‘Who is Alexander?’ ‘Alexander, you know—the Alexander—Alexander the Great—Conqueror of the world.’ ‘We know him not—he cannot enter here. This is the Lord’s gate; only the righteous enter.’ Alexander then more humbly begged for something to show he had reached the heavenly gate, and a small fragment of a human skull was thrown to him, with the words, ‘Weigh it’. He took it away, and showed it contemptuously to his Wise Men, who brought a pair of scales, and, placing the bone in one, Alexander put some of his silver and gold against it in the other; but the small bone outweighed them all. More and more silver and gold were put into the scale, and at last all his crown jewels and diadems were in; but they all flew upwards like feathers before the weight of the bone, till one of the Wise Men placed a few grains of dust on the bone. Up flew the scale! The bone was that which surrounded the eye, and nothing will ever satisfy the eye until covered by the dust of the grave.

VI

HEAVENLY TREASURES
KING MONOBAZ, who in the days of the Second Temple became a proselyte to Judaism, unlocked his ancestral treasures at a time of famine, and distributed them among the poor. His ministers rebuked him, saying, ‘Thy fathers amassed, thou dost squander’. ‘Nay,’ said the benevolent king, ‘they preserved earthly, but I heavenly, treasures; theirs could be stolen, mine are beyond mortal reach; theirs were barren, mine will bear fruit time without end; they preserved money, I have preserved lives. The treasures which my fathers laid by are for this world, mine are for eternity.’

VII

TOLERATION
An aged man, whom Abraham hospitably invited to his tent, refused to join him in prayer to the one spiritual God. Learning that he was a fire-worshipper, Abraham drove him from his door. That night God appeared to Abraham in a vision and said: ‘I have borne with that ignorant man for seventy years: could you not have patiently suffered him one night?’

VIII

THE TORAH IS ISRAEL’S LIFE
ONCE the Romans issued a decree that the Jews should no longer occupy themselves in the study of the Torah. Rabbi Akiba, however, was most zealous in spreading a love and knowledge of the Torah amongst all the Jewish communities. One day his friend Pappus met him and spake thus: ‘Akiba, art thou not afraid? Thou surely must know that thy deeds will bring thee into mortal danger!’ ‘Stay a while!’ retorted Akiba, ‘let me tell thee a story: A fox was walking on the brink of a stream, in the clear waters of which were a number of fishes running to and fro. Said the fox to the fishes, ‘Why do you run so?’ ‘We run’, replied they, ‘because we fear the fishermen’s nets.’ ‘Come up on the dry land’, said the fox, ‘and live with me in safety, even as my forefathers once lived in safety with yours.’ But the fishes said, ‘This surely is not the cleverest amongst animals that speaks thus. Water is our natural home. If we are not safe there, how much less safe should we be on land, where we must surely die!’ It is exactly so with us Jews’, continued Akiba. ‘The Torah is our life and the length of our days. We may, whilst loving and studying the Torah, be in great danger from our enemies; but if we were to give up its study, we should speedily disappear and be no more.’

IX

ISRAEL’S LOYALTY
THERE was once a man who betrothed himself to a beautiful maiden and then went away, and the maiden waited and he came not. Friends and rivals mocked her and said, ‘He will never come’. She went into her room and took out the letters in which he had promised to be ever faithful. Weeping she read them and was comforted. In time he returned, and inquiring how she had kept her faith so long, she showed him his letters. Israel in misery, in captivity, was mocked by the nations for her hopes of redemption; but Israel went into her schools and synagogues and took out the letters, and was comforted. God would in time redeem her and say, ‘How could you alone among all the mocking nations be faithful?’ Then Israel would point to the Law and the Prophets and answer, ‘Had I not your promise here?’

X

THE JEWELS
RABBI MEIR sat during the whole of the Sabbath-day in the School instructing the people. During his absence from the house his two sons died, both of them of uncommon beauty, and enlightened in the Law. His wife bore them to her bedchamber, and spread a white covering over their bodies. In the evening Rabbi Meir came home. ‘Where are my sons?’ he asked. ‘I repeatedly looked round the School, and I did not see them there.’ She reached him a goblet. He praised the Lord at the going out of the Sabbath, drank, and again asked: ‘Where are my sons?’ ‘They will not be afar off’, she said, and placed food before him that he might eat. When he had said grace after the meal, she thus addressed him: ‘With thy permission, I would fain propose to thee one question’. ‘Ask it then’, he replied. ‘A few days ago a person entrusted some jewels into my custody, and now he demands them of me; should I give them back again?’ ‘This is a question’, said the Rabbi, ‘which my wife should not have thought it necessary to ask. What! wouldst thou hesitate to restore to every one his own?’ ‘No,’ she replied; ‘but yet I thought it best not to restore them without acquainting you therewith.’ She then led him to the chamber, and took the white covering from the dead bodies. ‘Ah, my sons! my sons!’ loudly lamented the father. ‘My sons! the light of my eyes!’ The mother turned away and wept bitterly. At length she took her husband by the hand, and said: ‘Didst thou not teach me that we must not be reluctant to restore that which was entrusted to our keeping? See—the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!’

XI

THE TWO SHIPS
TWO ships were once seen to be sailing near land. One of them was going forth from the harbour, and the other was coming into the harbour. Every one was cheering the outgoing ship, and every one was giving it a hearty send-off. But the incoming ship was scarcely noticed.
A wise man was looking at the two ships, and he said: ‘Rejoice not over the ship that is setting out to sea, for you know not what destiny awaits it, what storms it may encounter, what dangers it may have to undergo. Rejoice rather over the ship that has reached port safely and brought back all its passengers in peace.’
It is the way of the world, that when a human being is born, all rejoice; but when he dies, all sorrow. Rather ought the opposite to be the case. No one can tell what troubles await the child on its journey into manhood. But when a man has lived and dies in peace, all should rejoice, seeing that he has completed his journey, and is departing this world with the imperishable crown of a good name.

XII

THE MAN AND HIS THREE FRIENDS
ACERTAIN man had three friends, two of whom he loved dearly, but the other he lightly esteemed. It happened one day that the king commanded his presence at court, at which he was greatly alarmed, and wished to procure an advocate. Accordingly he went to the two friends whom he loved; one flatly refused to accompany him, the other offered to go with him as far as the king’s gate, but no farther. In his extremity he called upon the third friend, whom he least esteemed, and he not only went willingly with him, but so ably defended him before the king that he was acquitted.
In like manner, every man has three friends when Death summons him to appear before his Creator. His first friend, whom he loves most, namely, his money, cannot go with him a single step; his second, relations and neighbours, can only accompany him to the grave, but cannot defend him before the Judge; while his third friend, whom he does not highly esteem—his good works—goes with him before the King, and obtains his acquittal.

XIII

VANITY OF HUMAN PLEASURE
AFOX was eyeing longingly some luscious fruit in a very fine garden. But there was no way for him to enter. At last he espied an opening through which, he thought, he might possibly get in, but soon found the hole too small to admit his body. ‘True,’ he said, ‘the hole is small, but if I fast three days my body will become sufficiently reduced to admit me.’ He did so; and to his joy he now feasted to his heart’s content upon the grapes and all the other good things in the orchard. But lo! when he desired to escape before the master of the garden came upon him he saw, to his great consternation, that the opening had again become too small for him. Poor animal! he had a second time to fast three days; and having made good his escape, he cast a farewell glance upon the scene of his late revels, saying: ‘O garden, charming art thou and exquisite are thy fruits! But of what avail hast thou been unto me? What have I now for all my labour and cunning?’
It is even so with man. Naked he comes into the world, naked he must leave it. Of all his toil therein he carries nothing away with him save the fruits of his good deeds.

XIV

BODY AND SOUL
THE Roman Emperor Antoninus once said to Rabbi Judah the Prince, ‘On the great Day of Judgement, soul and body will each plead excuse for sin committed. The body will say to the Heavenly Judge, “It is the soul, and not I, that has sinned. Without it I am as lifeless as a stone.” On the other hand, the soul will say, “How canst Thou impute sin to me? It is the body that has dragged me down.”’
‘Let me tell you a parable’, answered Rabbi Judah the Prince. ‘A king once had a beautiful garden stocked with the choicest fruits. He set two men to keep guard over it—a blind man and a lame man. “I see some fine fruit yonder”, said the lame man one day. “Come up on my shoulder”, said the blind man, “I will carry you to the spot, and we shall both enjoy the fruit.” The owner, missing the fruit, haled both men before him for punishment. “How could I have been the thief?” queried the lame man, “seeing that I cannot walk?” “Could I have stolen the fruit?” retorted the blind man; “I am unable to see anything.” What did the king? He placed the lame man on the shoulders of the blind man and sentenced them both as one.’
In the same way will the Divine Judge of the Universe mete out judgement to body and soul jointly.




Excerpt From A Book of Jewish Thoughts By Joseph Herman Hertz