Midrash Tanhuma
Category: Judaism
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Midrash Tanhuma (Hebrew: מִדְרָשׁ תַּנְחוּמָא‎) is the name given to three different collections of Pentateuch aggadot; two are extant, while the third is known only through citations. By answering questions the Torah left unanswered, the Midrashim made the terse style of the biblical message more meaningful and relevant in the lives of those who heard them when they were first spoken on the Sabbath and festival days.

Midrash Tanhuma

The Torah is full of holy fire; it was written with a black fire upon a white fire.

The Torah has meekness as its footgear, and the fear of God as its crown. Hence Moses was the proper person through whose hands it should be delivered; he was meek, and with the fear of the Lord he was crowned.

You can not expect to occupy yourself with the study of the Torah in the future world and receive the reward for so doing in this world; you are meant to make the Torah your own in this life, and to look for reward in the life to come.

Cain’s offering consisted of the seed of flax, and that of Abel of the fatlings of his sheep. This is probably the reason why the wearing of a garment of various materials, as of woolen and linen together, was prohibited.

As one who finishes the building of his house proclaims that day a holiday, and consecrates the building, so God, having finished creation in the six days, proclaimed the seventh day a holy day and sanctified it.

If the fraudulent man and the usurer offer to make restitution, it is not permitted to accept it from them.

The Bible, or written law, contains unexplained passages and hidden sentences, which can not be fully understood without the help of the oral law. Further, the written law contains generalities, whilst the oral law goes in for explanations in detail, and is consequently much larger in volume. Indeed, as a figure of speech we could apply to it the words in Job (iv. 9), “The measure thereof is longer than the earth and broader than the sea.” The knowledge of this oral law can not be expected to be found amongst those who are bent on enjoying earthly life and worldly pleasures; its acquisition requires the relinquishment of all worldliness, riches and pleasures, and requires intellect aided by constant study.

There is no evil that has no remedy, and the remedy for sin is repentance.

Whatever hardships may be imposed upon Jews by the powers that be, they must not rebel against the authorities who impose them, but are to render compliance, except when ordered to disregard the Torah and its injunctions; for that would be tantamount to giving up their God.

He that stole an ox had to restore fivefold, and he that stole a sheep had to give back only fourfold, because by stealing the ox he may have prevented the owner from plowing or doing other agricultural work for the time being.

There is a wall of separation erected between the Shechinah and the following three classes, a wall that can never be razed: The cheat, the robber, and the idle worshiper.

The meaning of the phrase, “God made man in his own image,” is that, like his Maker, a man is to be righteous and upright. Do not argue that evil inclination is innate in you; such argument is fallacious; when you are a child you commit no sin; it is when you grow out of infancy that your evil inclination becomes developed. You have the power of resisting the evil inclination if you feel so inclined, even as you are able to convert the bitter elements of certain foods into very palatable eatables.

Hadrian King of Rome (Edom), having made great conquests, requested his court in Rome to proclaim him God. In answer to this modest request, one of his ministers said, “If your Majesty desires to become God, it will be necessary to quit God’s property first, to show your independence of him. He created heaven and earth; get out of these and you can proclaim yourself God.” Another counselor replied by asking Hadrian to help him out of a sad position in which he was placed. “I have sent a ship to sea,” he said, “with all my possessions on board of her, and she is but a short distance — about three miles from shore — but is struggling against the watery elements, which threaten her total destruction.” “Do not trouble,” replied the King, “I will send some of my ships well manned, and your craft shall be brought to the haven where she would be.” “There is no need for all that,” said the counselor satirically; “order but a little favorable wind, and her own crew will manage to bring her safely into port.” “And where shall I order the wind from? How have I the power to order the wind?”answered Hadrian angrily. Has your Majesty not even a little wind at your command?” said the King’s adviser mockingly, “and yet you wish to be proclaimed God!”

Hadrian then retired to his own rooms angry and disappointed, and when he told his wife of the controversy he had had with his ministers she remarked that his advisers did not strike on the proper thing which would bring his wish to a happy consummation. “It seems to me,” she said mockingly, “that the first thing you must do is to give God back what he has given you and be under no obligation to him.” “And what may that be?” inquired the heathen. “The soul, of course,” answered his wife. “But,” argued the King, “if I give back my soul, I shall not live.” “Then,” said his wife triumphantly, “that shows that you are but mortal, and can not be God.”

The slanderer seems to deny the existence of God. As King David has it, “They say, Our lips are with us, who is Lord over us?” (Ps. xii.)

Let us not lose sight of the lesson that it is meant to convey to us by the expression, “And the Lord came down to see” (Gen. xi.), namely that we are not to judge merely by “hearsay” and to assert anything as having taken place unless we saw it.

Elijah quickened the dead, caused rain to descend, prevented rain from coming down, and brought fire down from heaven; but he did not say “I am God.”

When Noah set out to plant the vine, Satan encountered him and asked upon what errand he was bent. “I am going to plant the vine,” said Noah. “I will gladly assist you in this good work,” said Satan. When the offer of help was accepted Satan brought a sheep and slaughtered it on the plant, then a lion, then a pig, and finally a monkey. He thus explained these symbols to Noah. When a man tastes the first few drops of wine he will be as harmless as a sheep; when he tastes a little more he will become possessed of the courage of a lion and think himself as strong; should he further indulge in the liquid produced by your plant he will become as objectionable as a pig; and by yet further indulgence in it he will become like a monkey.

Because the Torah mulcts the thief in double, and in some cases more than double, the value of what he has stolen, one is not to conclude that he is allowed to steal when in want, with the intention of paying back double and more than double the value.

The promise to Abraham that he should become a great nation was fulfilled when the Israelites became the recipients of God’s laws. Moses, on account of their being the possessors of the Torah, styles them “a great nation” (Deut. iv.).

Blessings proceed from Zion (Ps. cxxxiv.), the dew is blessed from Zion (Ps. cxxxiii.), so does help come from Zion (Ps. xx.), and salvation (Ps. xiv.). The future blessings of Israel will proceed from Zion (Ps. cxiii.), and Zion itself will receive God’s blessings.

The comparison in beauty of any woman to Sarah is like comparing monkeys with men.

“This shall not be thine heir, but he that cometh forth out of thy loins shall be thine heir” (Gen. xv. 4). There is a story of a man blessed with learning, wisdom, and riches, who had an only son, to whom he naturally gave the best education, and whom he sent to Jerusalem for the purpose of completing his education. He had all arrangements made for his bodily comforts, and took every care that the young man, who was very promising and on whom he doted, should want for nothing. Shortly after his son’s departure, he took to his bed, from which he rose not again.

His death caused immense regret in the place of his residence, for in him the poor had lost a real support, and many a man a wise counselor and adviser. It was felt that the town in general had lost one whom it would be difficult to replace.

The funeral and the days of mourning over, a friend who was known to be the executor of the dead man’s last will, and who had duly informed the son by letter of the sad death of his father, proceeded to break the seal of the will and see its contents. To his great astonishment, and no less to the astonishment of every one who learned the nature of its contents, the whole of the dead man’s property, personal and otherwise, movable and immovable, after leaving considerable amounts to various charities, was left to his negro slave; there was but a saving clause that his beloved son should have the privilege of choosing one thing, but one only, out of the whole estate.

The son, though duly informed of the details of this strange will, was so immersed in grief at the Ion of his father that his mind could not be diverted to anything else; and it was only when his teacher alluded to his father’s death and the inheritance which he might expect, and advised him to use it for the same laudable purposes, that the young man informed his beloved master that by his father’s will he had been reduced to a beggar. Meanwhile, the negro slave of the departed man, having gone through all the formalities and proved his title, lost no time in taking possession of his dead master’s property. He was ready and willing enough to grant the son one thing out of his late father’s goods, whenever he should come and claim the object of his choice. The acute rabbi, on reading the will, saw at once the drift of the testator’s intention, and told his pupil that he should proceed to his native town and take possession of his property. “But I have no property to take possession of,” pleaded the young man, “except one article of my late father’s goods.” “Well then,” replied the teacher, unable to conceal a smile, “choose your late father’s negro slave out of his estate, and with him will go over to you all he possesses, since a slave can own nothing, and all he has belongs to his master. That, indeed, was your father’s clever device. He knew that if the will were to state that all was left to you, the negro, being by the force of circumstances in charge of everything that was left, would probably in your absence take for himself and his friends all the valuables on which he could lay his hands; whereas if he knew or thought an belonged to him he would take care of everything that was left. Your wise father knew that the one thing he gave you the power to choose would be no other than his slave, and with him you would become the just and rightful owner of everything.”

You can not be too careful about prayer, and you should never omit to pray. Prayer eclipses all other services, and towers above sacrifices; and the sinful man may receive God’s grace through prayer.

As one is prohibited from reciting any portion of the Torah by heart, but must read it out of the written scroll, so is he who expounds any portion thereof not allowed to read his exposition from anything written, but must deliver it by word of mouth.

When God’s creatures incur punishment, the Merciful One looks for one to plead for the guilty people, to open a way, as it were, as was the case in the time of Jeremiah. (See Jer. v.)

The proverb says, “If you rub shoulders with the anointed you will become anointed.” Lot, being associated with Abraham, became hospitable; whilst his character does not indicate inclination to hospitality on his own part.

You must not in any way mislead your fellow men, not even to the extent of asking the price of anything he may have for disposal, so ag to make him believe that you are a likely purchaser, whilst you have no intention of purchasing the article.

The righteous are put to more and severer trials than the unrighteous. So the owner of flax will beat out the good flax often and severely, so as to make it purer, but does not treat the inferior article in the same way, lest it fall away into small pieces.

The following tend to make a man prematurely old: Fear, war, trouble from his children, or a shrew of a wife.

As there is a regularity in the position of the sun daily three times: in the morning he is in the east, at noon between the east and west, and in the evening in the west, so must there be an inflexible regularity with every Jew in reciting his Prayers three times daily, morning, afternoon, and evening.

A widower with unmarried sons is advised to see his sons married before he marries again.

Adrianus (Hadrian), discussing with Rabbi Joshua the innumerable adversaries that the Israelites had to encounter, said, “Great is the sheep that can withstand seventy wolves.” Rabbi Joshua replied, “Greatest is the shepherd who enables the sheep to outlive the constant attacks of the wolves.”

There is merit and even dignity in handicraft.

Do not say, I need not work for my living, but cast my hope on God who supports all living creatures. You must work for a livelihood, and look up to God to bless the work of your hands. Jacob, in alluding to the delivery from Laban’s house, says, “God hath seen the labor of my hands” (Gen. xxxi.).

A homely domesticated wife is like the altar in the temple; and she is even an atonement as the altar was.

Isaiah committed sin by saying, “In the midst of a people of unclean lips do I dwell” (Isa. vi.). For this, the slander which is compared to fire, he was punished with fire, with the live coal taken from the altar (Isa. vi.).

However adverse one’s opinion may be of any one placed in a high position, he is bound to pay him the respect due to his position. Rabbi Judah Hannasi, when writing to Antoninus, invariably used the phrase, “Judah, thy servant, sends greeting.”

A modest woman is worthy of being the wife of a high priest, for she is like an altar in her home.

God wishes man to ask forgiveness, and not to see him in his guilt.

So exceedingly handsome was Joseph that when the friends Of Potiphar’s wife visited her, and the hostess proffered them fruit, the Egyptian women cut their fingers instead of the fruit, as they could not take their eyes off the wonderfully handsome Hebrew slave; and they sympathized with their friend when he scorned her advances.

Give me the admonition of the old in preference to the flattery of the young.

When Moses said to the people, “After the Lord your God shall ye walk” (Deut. xiii.), they took alarm at the formidable, or rather impossible, task imposed upon them. “How,” said they, “is it possible for man to walk after God, who hath his way in the storm and in the whirlwind, and the clouds are the dust of his feet” (Nahum i.), “whose way is in the sea and his path in the great waters”? (Ps. lxxvii.). Moses explained to them that to walk after God meant to imitate humbly his attributes of mercy and compassion by clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and comforting the mourner.

A fatality seems to have been attached to Shechem in connection with Israel’s sorrows. The capture of Dinah took place at Shechem. Joseph was sold there into slavery. David’s kingdom was split in Shechem; and the advent of Jeroboam also took place in Shechem.

O woman, what mischief thou causest! Even the worshiping of idols did not cause such trouble and loss of life as a woman caused. The making and worshiping of the golden calf caused the loss of three thousand men (Exod. xxxii.); but through a woman at Shittim twenty-four thousand were the victims.

Good men lift up their eyes and look one straight in the face; bad, wicked men drop their eyes.

“Should not a man pray every hour?” asked Antoninus of his friend Rabbi Judah Hannasi. He demurred on receiving a reply in the negative. After a while the Rabbi called on Antoninus, and was as careful as always to address him with considerable deference.

After about an hour he came again, and addressed him again carefully with all the titles he was wont to use, and so the Rabbi repeated his visits and expressions of homage about every hour during the day. When, at last Antoninus told his friend that he felt himself slighted instead of honored by the frequency of the visits, and the expressions of homage with which Rabbi Judah meant to honor him, “Therein,” the sage said, “lies my reason for telling you that man was not to address the throne of mercy every hour as you contended, since such frequency savors of contempt.”

There is a most remarkable identity between the occurrences in the life of Joseph and those in the history of Zion and Jerusalem, and a remarkable similarity in the phrases employed in describing the respective events of each, whether in their adversity or in their prosperity. We read: “Israel loved Joseph” (Gen. xxxvii.), “The Lord loveth the gates of Zion” (Ps. lxxxvii.). Joseph’s brethren hated him; “My heritage is unto me as a lion in the forest, it crieth out against me, therefore I hate it” (Jer. xii.). Joseph speaks of making sheaves; there are sheaves in connection with Zion (Ps. cxxvi.). Joseph dreamed: “When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion we were like them that dream” (Ps. cxxvi.). Joseph was asked, “Wilt thou rule over us?” “Say unto Zion thy God ruleth” (Isa. Iii.). Joseph was asked whether his father and brothers would prostrate themselves before him. “They shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth” (Isa. xlix.). Joseph’s brethren were jealous; “Thus said the Lord of Hosts, I was jealous for Zion with great jealousy” (Zech. viii.). Joseph went to inquire about the peace of his brothers; Zion was to seek the peace of the city where she is captive (Jer. xxix.). — Joseph’s brethren saw him from the distance; the same is said about Zion (Ezek. xxiii.). Joseph’s brothers contemplated his destruction; so the nations contemplated the destruction of Zion (Ps. 1xxxiii.). Joseph was stripped of his coat of many colors; concerning Zion, the prophet says, “They shall strip thee of thy clothes” (Ezek. xvi.). Joseph was put into a pit; “They have put me alive into the dungeon” (lam. iii.). The pit into which Joseph was put contained no water. In connection with Zion, Jeremiah was put into a pit where there was no water (Jer. xxxviii.). Joseph’s brothers sat down to their meal; “We have given the hand to Egyptians and to Assyrians to be satisfied with bread” (Lam. v.). Joseph was pulled up from the pit; Jeremiah, who in connection with his prophecy about Zion was put into a dungeon — as stated above — was drawn up from the dungeon (Jer. iii.).

Lamentations were raised about Joseph; “And in that day did the Lord call for weeping and mourning” (Isa. xxii.). In the case of Joseph consolation was rejected. “Labor not to comfort me” (Isa. xxii.) — Joseph was sold; “the children of Judah and of Jerusalem have you sold unto the Grecians” (Joel iv.). Joseph is described as handsome; “Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion” (Ps. x1viii.). Joseph was the greatest in his master’s house; “the glory of the latter house shall be greater than the former” (Hag. ii.). The Lord was with Joseph; “Now mine eyes shall be open and mine ears attent unto the prayers that are made in this place” (2 Chron. vii.). Grace and loving kindness were shown to Joseph; concerning Zion God says, “I remember the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals” (Jer. ii.). Joseph was rendered presentable by changing his clothes, etc.; “When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion” (Isa. iv.). The throne of Pharaoh was above Joseph; “At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord” (Jer. iii.). Joseph was clothed, in grand garments; “Awake, awake, put on thy strength, O Zion, put on thy beautiful garments” (Isa. lii.). Joseph was met by an angel; “Behold I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way” (Mal. iii.).

There is a tendency with every man to become humble when near his death.

It matters not where the body is buried; the spirit goes whither it is destined.

Jacob’s objection to being buried in Egypt was due to the fact that the Egyptians practised witchcraft by means of dead bodies, and he would not have his body utilized for such abominable practises.

There is no death to the righteous.

The righteous bless their offspring before they depart hence.

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