Sifra, Beḥuqotay 2:7, 112c

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Date: 
3d CE
Place: 
Syria Palaestina
Language: 
Hebrew
Category: 
Jewish
Literary genre: 
Midrash
Title of work: 
Sifra
Reference: 

Beḥuqotay 2:7, 112c

Source(s) that the text is built upon (explicitly – quotations, references – or implicitly): 

Leviticus 26:44-45

Commentary: 

This midrash expounds a pair of verses from Leviticus “Yet for all that, when they were in the land of their enemies, I did not spurn them, and I did not abhor them to eliminate them and break My covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God; but I will remember [in their favor] the covenant with their ancestors…” (Leviticus 26:44-45, based on NRSV). It responds to the claim that Israel's subjugation by its enemies indicates that God has rejected them.

Section A explains that the Torah scroll – and, particularly, observance of its laws and commandments – protects Israel from rejection by God. This passage describes a scenario in which all of the gifts that God had bestowed upon Israel were taken from them. Although this section does not enumerate these “good gifts,” other tannaitic texts mention the Land of Israel and the world to come in addition to the Torah (Sifre Deuteronomy 32). Here, it seems that the gifts which were taken from them include sovereignty over the Land of Israel. Yet, despite this loss, their continued possession of the Torah signals their distinctiveness and enduring relationship with God.

Section B provides past events when Israel was persecuted or at war without being rejected by God. This passage concludes with the assurance that He will fulfill his promises in the future. Interestingly, these examples open with Vespasian, the Roman general who was sent to subdue the Jewish rebellion (which began in 66 CE) known as “the Great revolt.” During that conflict, Vespasian became emperor and his son Titus took over leadership of the campaign against the Jews, which led to the destruction of the Temple. This instance reflects Israel's abject circumstances, as presented in Section A. The next features earlier persecution in the “days of Greece” under Antiochus IV Epiphanes (it is unclear why Vespasian is mentioned by name in the first example whereas Antiochus is not explicitly identified here), as further evidence against God's rejection of Israel in their difficulties. Similarly, Haman's threats are cited. By contrast with these three examples, the last anticipates the future by invoking the days of Gog (Ezekiel 38-39). At that point, the midrash conveys assurance that that God is obligated to honor his covenant with Israel, as promised to the twelve tribes; thus, just as God neither forgot nor spurned Israel in the past, so too will God fulfill his covenant by fighting for Israel in the future.

A later version of this midrash appears in a context that focuses on the scroll of Esther in the Babylonian Talmud Megillah 11a (MS New York, Columbia University, Butler Library, X 893 - T 141):

A)    "לא מאסתים" בימי יונים. "ולא געלתים" בימי אספסיינוס קיסר. "לכלותם להפר בריתי אתם" בימי המן. "כי אני ייי אלהיהם" בימי גוג ומגוג.

B)    במתניתא תאנא "לא מאסתים" בימי כשדים שהעמדתי להם דניאל איש חמודות חנניה מישאל ועזריה. "ולא געלתים" בימי יונים. שהעמדתי להם שמעון הצדיק ומתתיה בין יוחנן הכהן הגדול וחשמונאי ובניו. "לכלותם" בימי המן שהעמדתי להם מרדכי ואסתר. "להפר בריתי אתם" בימי רומיים. שהעמדתי להם שלבית רבי וחכמי דורו. "כי אני ייי אלהיהם" לעתיד לבא. שאין כל אומה ולשון שולטת בהן.

A)    “I did not spurn them” (Leviticus 26:44) in the days of the Greeks; “and I did not abhor them” (Leviticus 26:44) in the days of Vespasian Caesar; “to eliminate them and break My covenant with them” (Leviticus 26:44-45, NRSV) in the days of Haman; “for I am the Lord their God” (Leviticus 26:45, NRSV) [refers to] the days of Gog and Magog.

B)    It is taught in a tannaitic tradition: “I did not spurn them” (Leviticus 26:44) in the days of the Chaldeans for I provided them Daniel, the greatly beloved man, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; “and I did not abhor them” (Leviticus 26:44) in the days of the Greeks, for I provided them Shim‘on the Righteous, Matityah ben Yoḥanan the High Priest, the Hasmonean and his sons; “to eliminate them” (Leviticus 26:44, NRSV) in the days of Haman, for I provided them Mordecai and Esther; “and break My covenant with them” (Leviticus 26:45, NRSV) [refers to] days of the Romans, for I provided them the House of Rabbi and the sages of his generation; “For I am the Lord their God” (Leviticus 26:45, NRSV) [refers to] what is destined for the future [when] no nation or (lit: and) tongue [shall] rule over them.

This passage in the Babylonian Talmud omits Section A from the midrash in Sifra while it elaborates on Section B. The Talmud begins with a close parallel to the second section from Sifra (Section A in the Babylonian Talmud strongly resembles Section B of Sifra). In its second section, the Babylonian Talmud develops the idea of leadership (B). Unlike the source in Sifra, which limits itself to historical periods when God saved Israel, the Babylonian Talmud focuses on Jewish leadership that God provided in each of these eras. For each example, the Talmud identifies leaders that God nominated to save Israel: Daniel and his fellows; the Hasmoneans; and, Mordecai and Esther (without respect to chronology). This talmudic passage then mentions the time of the Romans and a statement that Rabbi Yehudah the patriarch (who was active in the end of the second century and the beginning of the third) and the sages of his generation saved Israel. Following this enumeration of leaders, this section closes with a declaration that, in the future, no nation shall rule over Israel. 

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Sifra, Beḥuqotay 2:7, 112c
Author(s) of this publication: Yael Wilfand
Publishing date: Tue, 08/16/2016 - 14:47
URL: http://www.judaism-and-rome.org/sifra-be%E1%B8%A5uqotay-27-112c
Visited: Thu, 07/18/2019 - 03:51

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