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I. Examine Your Conduct
1. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Fasts 1:1-3, 17
1 It is a positive Torah commandment to cry out and to sound trumpets in the event of any difficulty that arises which affects the community, as [Numbers 10:9] states: “[When you go out to war… against] an enemy who attacks you and you sound the trumpets….”
[This commandment is not restricted to such a limited scope; rather] the intent is: Whenever you are distressed by difficulties – e.g., famine, plague, locusts, or the like – cry out [to God] because of them and sound the trumpets.
2 This practice is one of the paths of repentance, for when a difficulty arises, and the people cry out [to God] and sound the trumpets, everyone will realize that [the difficulty] occurred because of their evil conduct, as [Jeremiah 5:25] states: “Your sins have turned away [the rains and the harvest climate].” This [realization] will cause the removal of this difficulty.
3 Conversely, should the people fail to cry out [to God] and sound the trumpets, and instead say, “What has happened to us is merely a natural phenomenon and this difficulty is merely a chance occurrence,” this is a cruel conception of things, which causes them to remain attached to their wicked deeds. Thus, this time of distress will lead to further distresses.
This is implied by the Torah’s statement [Leviticus 26:27-28]: “If you remain indifferent to Me, I will be indifferent to you with a vengeance.” The implication of the verse is: When I bring difficulties upon you so that you shall repent and you say it is a chance occurrence, I will add to your [punishment] an expression of vengeance for that indifference [to Divine Providence].
17 Whenever there is a communal fast that was instituted for a distressing circumstance, the [community’s] court and [its] elders sit in the synagogue and review the conduct of the city’s [inhabitants] from the time the morning prayers were concluded until noon. They remove the stumbling blocks that lead to sin. They give warnings, enquire, and investigate all those who pursue violence and sin, and [encourage them] to depart [from these ways]. Similarly, [they investigate] people who coerce others and humble them. They also occupy themselves with other similar matters.
[This is what would happen] from noon until the evening: During the [third] quarter of the day, they would read the blessings and the curses in the Torah [as implied by Proverbs 3:11]: “My son, do not despise the instruction of the Lord, and do not reject His rebuke.” As the haftarah, they would read a portion from the prophets appropriate to the distress [for which they are fasting].
During the [fourth] quarter of the day, the afternoon service is recited, supplications are made, [the people] cry out [to God] and confess according to their capability.
2. Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 5a
Raba (some say, R. Hisda) says: If a man sees that painful sufferings visit him, let him examine his conduct. For it is said: “Let us search and try our ways, and return unto the Lord.” If he examines and finds nothing [objectionable], let him attribute it to the neglect of the study of the Torah. For it is said: “Happy is the man whom Thou chastenest, O Lord, and teachest out of Thy law.” If he did attribute it [thus], and still did not find [this to be the cause], let him be sure that these are chastenings of love. For it is said: “For whom the Lord loveth He correcteth.”
II. Why Jerusalem was Destroyed
3. Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 9b
Why was the first Sanctuary destroyed? Because of three [evil] things which prevailed there: idolatry, immorality, bloodshed…
But why was the second Sanctuary destroyed, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah, [observance of] precepts, and the practice of charity? Because therein prevailed hatred without cause. That teaches you that groundless hatred is considered as of even gravity with the three sins of idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed together.
4. Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 119b
Abaye said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because the Sabbath was desecrated therein, as it is said, and they have hid their eyes from My sabbaths, therefore I am profaned among them.
Abbahu said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because the reading of the shema’ morning and evening was neglected [therein], for it is said, Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink [etc.]; and it is written, And the harp and the lute, the tabret and the pipe, and wine, are in their feasts: but they regard not the work of the Lord; and it is written, Therefore my people are gone into captivity, for lack of knowledge.
Hamnuna said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because they neglected [the education of] school children; for it is said, pour it out [sc. God’s wrath] because of the children in the street: why pour it out? Because the child is in the street.
‘Ulla said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because they [its inhabitants] were not ashamed of each other, for it is written, Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? nay, they were not at all ashamed [… therefore they shall fall].
Isaac said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because the small and the great were made equal, for it is said, And it shall be, like people like priest; which is followed by, The earth shall be utterly emptied.
Amram son of R. Simeon b. Abba said in R. Simeon b. Abba’s name in R. Hanina’s name: Jerusalem was destroyed only because they did not rebuke each other: for it is said, Her princes are become like harts that find no pasture: Just as the hart, the head of one is at the side of the other’s tail, so Israel of that generation hid their faces in the earth, and did not rebuke each other.
Rab Judah said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because scholars were despised therein: for it is said, but they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and scoffed at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy. What does ‘till there was no remedy’ intimate? Said Rab Judah in Rab’s name: He who despises a scholar, has no remedy for his wounds
The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: I the Lord am your God. You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, or of the land of Canaan to which I am taking you; nor shall you follow their laws. My rules alone shall you observe, and faithfully follow My laws: I the Lord am your God. You shall keep My laws and My rules, by the pursuit of which man shall live: I am the Lord.
6. Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 85a-b
Ishmael, R. Akiba and R. Eleazar b. Azariah were once on a journey, with Levi ha-Saddar and R. Ishmael son of R. Eleazar b. Azariah following them. Then this question was asked of them: Whence do we know that in the case of danger to human life the laws of the Sabbath are suspended?…
Jose son of R. Judah said: Only ye shall keep My Sabbaths,’ one might assume under all circumstances, therefore the text reads: ‘Only’ viz, allowing for exceptions. R. Jonathan b. Joseph said: For it is holy unto you; I.e., it [the Sabbath] is committed to your hands, not you to its hands. R. Simeon b. Menassia said: And the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath. The Torah said: Profane for his sake one Sabbath, so that he may keep many Sabbaths. Rab Judah said in the name of Samuel: If I had been there, I should have told them something better than what they said: He shall live by them, but he shall not die because of them. Raba said: [The exposition] of all of them could be refuted, except that of Samuel, which cannot be refuted.
Therefore but a single person was created in the world, to teach that if any man has caused a single life to perish, he is deemed by Scripture as if he had caused a whole world to perish; and anyone who saves a single soul, he is deemed by Scripture as if he had saved a whole world. Again [but a single person was created] for the sake of peace among humankind, that one should not say to another, “My father was greater than your father”.
8. Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 74a
Johanan said in the name of R. Simeon b. Jehozadak: By a majority vote, it was resolved in the upper chambers of the house of Nithza in Lydda that in every [other] law of the Torah, if a man is commanded: ‘Transgress and suffer not death’ he may transgress and not suffer death, excepting idolatry, incest, [which includes adultery] and murder…
And how do we know this of murder itself? — It is common sense. Even as one who came before Raba and said to him, ‘The governor of my town has ordered me, “Go and kill so and so; if not, I will slay thee”’. He answered him, ‘Let him rather slay you than that you should commit murder; who knows that your blood is redder? Perhaps his blood is redder.’
9. Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 46b
MISHNAH. If a man sells himself and his children to a heathen, he is not to be redeemed. His children, however, are to be redeemed after the death of their father.
GEMARA.R. Assi said: This rule applies only if he sold himself a second and a third time…
A certain man sold himself to the Lydians and then appealed to R. Ammi saying, Redeem me. So he said: We have learnt, if a man sells himself and his children to a heathen he is not to be redeemed, but his children are to be redeemed after the death of their father, to prevent their going astray. All the more so then here, where there is a danger of their being killed.
IV. Render Your Sabbath Profane
10. Babylonian Talmud, Pesahim 112a
Our Rabbis taught: Seven things did R. Akiba charge his son R. Joshua: My son, do not sit and study at the highest point of the town; do not dwell in a town whose leaders are scholars; do not enter your own house suddenly, and a the more your neighbour’s house; and do not withhold shoes from your feet. Arise early and eat, in summer on account of the sun [i.e., heat] and in winter on account of the cold; treat your Sabbath like a weekday rather than be dependent on man , and strive to be on good terms with the man upon whom the hour smiles.
11. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:18
A person should always construct himself and bear hardship rather than appeal to people at large and make himself a burden on the community. Our Sages commanded, saying: “Make your Sabbaths as weekdays, and do not appeal to people at large.” Even a distinguished sage who becomes poor should involve himself in a profession – even a degrading one – rather than appeal to people at large. It is preferable for a person to skin the hide of animal carcasses, rather than tell people: “I am a great sage…” or “I am a priest, grant me sustenance.” Our Sages commanded conducting oneself in such a manner.
There were great sages who were woodchoppers, porters of beams, water-carriers for gardens, and iron-smelters and makers of charcoal, but they did not ask anything from the community, nor did they accept gifts that were given to them.
12. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:7
There are eight levels in charity, each level surpassing the other. The highest level beyond which there is none is a person who supports a Jew who has fallen into poverty [by] giving him a present or a loan, entering into partnership with him, or finding him work so that his hand will be fortified so that he will not have to ask others [for alms]. Concerning this [Leviticus 25:35] states: “You shall support him, the stranger, the resident, and he shall live among you.” Implied is that you should support him before he falls and becomes needy.
V. “Your Brother Shall Live With You”
13. Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metsia 62a
If two are travelling on a journey [far from civilisation], and one has a pitcher of water, if both drink, they will [both] die, but if one only drinks, he can reach civilisation, — The Son of Patura taught: It is better that both should drink and die, rather than that one should behold his companion’s death. Until R. Akiba came and taught: ‘that thy brother may live with thee:’ thy life takes precedence over his life.
14. Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metsia 71a
Joseph learnt: If thou lend money to any of my people that is poor by thee: [this teaches, if the choice lies between] my people and a heathen, ‘my people’ has preference; the poor or the rich — the ‘poor’ takes precedence; thy poor [sc. thy relatives] and the [general] poor of thy town — thy poor come first; the poor of thy city and the poor of another town — the poor of thine own town have prior rights.
15. Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metsia 31b
Thou shalt surely open [thy hand unto thy brother, to thy poor, etc.]. I know this only of the poor of thine own city: whence do I know it of the poor of another city? — From the expression, ‘Thou shalt surely open’, implying, in all cases.
He [also] used to say: If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am for my own self [only], what am I? And if not now, when?
VI. Sufficient for his Need
17. Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 67b
Our Rabbis taught: If an orphan applied for assistance to marry, a house must be rented for him, a bed must be prepared for him and [he must also be supplied with] all [household] objects [required for] his use, and then he is given a wife in marriage, for it is said in Scriptures, Sufficient for his need in that which he wanteth: ‘sufficient for his need’, refers to the house; ‘in that which wanteth’, refers to a bed and a table; ‘he’ refers to a wife, for so it is said in Scripture, I will make him a help meet unto him.
Our Rabbis taught: ‘Sufficient for his need’ [implies] you are commanded to maintain him, but you are not commanded to make him rich; ‘in that which he wanteth’ [includes] even a horse to ride upon and a slave to run before him. It was related about Hillel the Elder that he bought for a certain poor man who was of a good family a horse to ride upon and a slave to run before him. On one occasion he could not find a slave to run before him, so he himself ran before him for three miles.
18. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:4
Whenever a person gives charity to a poor person with an unpleasant countenance and with his face buried in the earth, he loses and destroys his merit7even if he gives him 1000 gold pieces. Instead, he should give him with a pleasant countenance and with happiness, commiserating with him about his troubles, as [Job 30:25] states: “Did I not weep for those who face difficult times; did not my soul feel sorrow for the destitute?” And he should speak to him words of sympathy and comfort, as [ibid. 29:13] states: “I would bring joy to a widow’s heart.”
When a man opens a pit, or digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or an ass falls into it, 34 the one responsible for the pit must make restitution; he shall pay the price to the owner, but shall keep the dead animal. 35 When a man’s ox injures his neighbor’s ox and it dies, they shall sell the live ox and divide its price; they shall also divide the dead animal. 36 If, however, it is known that the ox was in the habit of goring, and its owner has failed to guard it, he must restore ox for ox, but shall keep the dead animal.
If you see your fellow’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your fellow. 2 If your fellow does not live near you or you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home and it shall remain with you until your fellow claims it; then you shall give it back to him. 3 You shall do the same with his ass; you shall do the same with his garment; and so too shall you do with anything that your fellow loses and you find: you must not remain indifferent. 4 If you see your fellow’s ass or ox fallen on the road, do not ignore it; you must help him raise it…
8 When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it.
God said, “Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature: cattle, creeping things, and wild beasts of every kind.” And it was so. 25 God made wild beasts of every kind and cattle of every kind, and all kinds of creeping things of the earth. And God saw that this was good. 26 And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.” 27 And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them and God said to them, “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth.” 29 God said, “See, I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food. 30 And to all the animals on land, to all the birds of the sky, and to everything that creeps on earth, in which there is the breath of life, [I give] all the green plants for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw all that He had made, and found it very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
VIII. Beyond the Requirements of the Law
22. Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metsia 30b
For R. Johanan said: Jerusalem was destroyed only because they gave judgments therein in accordance with Biblical law. Were they then to have judged in accordance with the laws of thieves? — But say thus: because they based their judgments [strictly] upon Biblical law, and did not go beyond the requirements of the law.
IX. “Who Obscures Counsel Without Knowledge”
23. Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 5a
It has been taught: R. Simeon b. Yohai says: The Holy One, blessed be He, gave Israel three precious gifts, and all of them were given only through sufferings. These are: The Torah, the Land of Israel and the world to come. Whence do we know this of the Torah? — Because it is said: Happy is the man whom Thou chastenest, o Lord, and teachest him out of Thy law. Whence of the Land of Israel? — Because it is written: As a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee, and after that it is written: For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land. Whence of the world to come? — Because it is written: For the commandment is a lamp, and the teaching is light, and reproofs of sufferings are the way of life.
Then the Lord replied to Job out of the tempest and said: 2 Who is this who darkens counsel, Speaking without knowledge? 3 Gird your loins like a man; I will ask and you will inform Me. 4 Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? Speak if you have understanding. 5 Do you know who fixed its dimensions Or who measured it with a line? 6 Onto what were its bases sunk? Who set its cornerstone 7 When the morning stars sang together And all the divine beings shouted for joy? 8 Who closed the sea behind doors When it gushed forth out of the womb, 9 When I clothed it in clouds, Swaddled it in dense clouds, 10 When I made breakers My limit for it, And set up its bar and doors, 11 And said, “You may come so far and no farther; Here your surging waves will stop”? 12 Have you ever commanded the day to break, Assigned the dawn its place, 13 So that it seizes the corners of the earth And shakes the wicked out of it? 14 It changes like clay under the seal Till [its hues] are fixed like those of a garment. 15 Their light is withheld from the wicked, And the upraised arm is broken. 16 Have you penetrated to the sources of the sea, Or walked in the recesses of the deep? 17 Have the gates of death been disclosed to you? Have you seen the gates of deep darkness? 18 Have you surveyed the expanses of the earth? If you know of these—tell Me.
X. “Make for Yourself a Heart of Many Rooms”
25. Babylonian Talmud, Hagigah 3b
‘The masters of assemblies’: these are the disciples of the wise, who sit in manifold assemblies and occupy themselves with the Torah, some pronouncing unclean and others pronouncing clean, some prohibiting and others permitting, some disqualifying and others declaring fit. Should a man say: How in these circumstances shall I learn Torah? Therefore the text says: ‘All of them are given from one Shepherd’. One God gave them; one leader uttered them from the mouth of the Lord of all creation, blessed be He; for it is written: ‘And God spoke all these words’. Also do thou make thine ear like the hopper and get thee a perceptive heart to understand the words of those who pronounce unclean and the words of those who pronounce clean, the words of those who prohibit and the words of those who permit, the words of those who disqualify and the words of those who declare fit.