או דילמא בר מאמה יסוד ואמה סובב תיקו
or are they perhaps calculated excluding the cubit of the base of the altar and the cubit of its ledge? The altar’s edge can be considered to be at the end of the ramp, the point at which it meets the altar, or it can be considered the point on the ramp that is directly over the external base of the altar, which is two cubits away from the point where the ramp meets the altar. Which of these two calculations is the correct one? Rav Pappa’s question remains unanswered, and the Gemara concludes: The dilemma shall stand unresolved.
§ It was taught in the mishna that if both of them were equal and neither preceded the other, the appointed priest says to all the priests: Extend your fingers [ hatzbiu ], and a lottery was performed. A tanna taught the meaning of the unusual term hatzbiu: Put out your fingers for a count. The Gemara asks: Let him count the priests themselves directly, rather than counting their fingers. The Gemara answers: This is a support for a teaching of Rabbi Yitzḥak, as Rabbi Yitzḥak said: It is prohibited to count Jews directly, even for the purposes of a mitzva, as it is written concerning King Saul and his count of his soldiers:“ And he numbered them with bezek” (I Samuel 11: 8), meaning that he counted them through shards, one shard representing each man, rather than counting them directly.
Rav Ashi strongly objects to this interpretation of the verse: From where do you derive that this word bezek is a term related to the verb meaning to break apart, so that it means shards? Perhaps it is the name of a town, and it means that Saul counted them in Bezek, as it is written: “ And they found Adoni -bezek in Bezek” (Judges 1:5), which shows that Bezek is the name of a place. The Gemara answers: Indeed, the proof is not from that verse but from here, where it says:“ And Saul summoned the people and numbered them by sheep” (I Samuel 15: 4), meaning that Saul tallied his soldiers by having each one take a sheep and put it aside to represent him in the count.
Rabbi Elazar said: Whoever counts a group of Jews violates a negative mitzva, as it is stated: “ And the number of the children of Israel will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured” (Hosea 2:1). Rabbi Elazar interprets the verse to be say ing: Which may not be measured. Rav Naḥman bar Yitzḥak said: One who counts a group of Jews in fact violates two negative mitzvot, as it is stated in that verse: “ Which cannot be measured and cannot be counted” (Hosea 2:1).
Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani said that Rabbi Yonatan raised a contradiction: It is written in this verse:“ And the number of the children of Israel will be like the sand of the sea, ” suggesting that they will have a specific number, though it will be very large. On the other hand, it continues and says:“ Which cannot be measured and cannot be counted, ” which means they will not be countable at all. How can these two statements be reconciled?
It is not difficult: Here, in the second statement, it is referring to a time when the Jewish people fulfill the will of God; then they will be innumerable. There, in the first statement, it is referring to a time when the Jewish people do not fulfill the will of God; then they will be like the sand of the sea, having a specific number. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said a different resolution in the name of Abba Yosei ben Dostai: It is not difficult: Here, in the second statement, it is referring to counting by the hand of man; the Jewish people will be too numerous to count by man. There, in the first statement, it is referring to counting by the hand of God, and He will find that they are like the number of the grains of the sand of the sea.
Rav Nehilai bar Idi said that Shmuel said: Once a man is appointed as a leader of the community, he becomes wealthy. This is derived from the verses cited above. Initially, it is written with regard to Saul:“ And he numbered them with bezek, ” meaning pottery shards, and in the end it is written: “ And he numbered them with sheep, ” indicating that he was able to provide enough of his own sheep to use them in counting the people. The Gemara asks: But perhaps the people provided these sheep from their own flocks. The Gemara rejects this: If so, what is the novelty in the matter? Why would the text tell us that the people were counted with sheep if not to illustrate incidentally the great wealth of Saul?
וירב בנחל אמר רבי מני על עסקי נחל בשעה שאמר לו ראה הקדוש ברוך הוא לשאול לך והכית את עמלק אמר ומה נפש אחת אמרה תורה הבא עגלה ערופה כל הנפשות הללו על אחת כמה וכמה
§ Having mentioned the verse about Saul, the Gemara proceeds to interpret more of that passage: “ And Saul came to the city of Amalek and he strove in the valley” (I Samuel 15: 5). Rabbi Mani said: This means that Saul strove with God, as it were, concerning the matter of the valley. At the time when the Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Saul: “ Now go and attack Amalek and proscribe all that belongs to him; do not pity him, but kill men and women alike, infants and sucklings alike, oxen and sheep alike, camel and donkey alike” (I Samuel 15: 3), Saul countered and said: Now, if on account of one life that is taken, in a case where a slain person’s body is found and the murderer is unknown, the Torah said to bring a heifer whose neck is broken to a barren valley, in the atonement ritual described in Deuteronomy 6: 1–9, all the more so must I have pity and not take all these Amalekite lives.
ואם אדם חטא בהמה מה חטאה ואם גדולים חטאו קטנים מה חטאו יצאה בת קול ואמרה לו אל תהי צדיק הרבה ובשעה שאמר לו שאול לדואג סוב אתה ופגע בכהנים יצאה בת קול ואמרה לו אל תרשע הרבה
And he further reasoned: If the men have sinned, in what way have the animals sinned? Why, then, should the Amalekites’ livestock be destroyed? And if the adults have sinned, in what way have the children sinned? A Divine Voice then came forth and said to him: “ Do not be overly righteous” (Ecclesiastes 7:16). That is to say: Do not be more merciful than the Creator Himself, Who has commanded you to do this, for to do so would not be an indication of righteousness but of weakness. At a later time, when Saul said to Doeg: “ Turn around and strike down the priests, and Doeg the Edomite turned around and struck down the priests, and he killed on that day eighty-five men who wore the linen ephod, and he struck Nob the city of priests by the sword, man and woman alike, infants and sucklings alike, oxen and donkeys and sheep, by the sword” (I Samuel 22: 18–19), a Divine Voice came forth and said to him: “ Do not be overly wicked” (Ecclesiastes 7:17).
אמר רב הונא כמה לא חלי ולא מרגיש גברא דמריה סייעיה שאול באחת ועלתה לו דוד בשתים ולא עלתה לו שאול באחת מאי היא מעשה דאגג והא איכא מעשה דנוב עיר הכהנים אמעשה דאגג כתיב נחמתי כי המלכתי את שאול למלך
Apropos Saul’s contravention of God’s command to obliterate Amalek, the Gemara observes that Rav Huna said: How little does a person who has the support of his Lord have to worry or be concerned. The proof for this assertion is a comparison between Saul and David. Saul failed with one single sin and it was counted against him, costing him the throne. David, however, failed with two sins and they were not counted against him, as he retained his position. The Gemara asks: What was Saul’s one sin? The incident with Agag, king of Amalek, whom Saul spared in defiance of God’s command (see I Samuel 15: 9). But was this his sole sin? There is also the incident of Nob, the city of priests, in which Saul later slew many innocent people, as cited above. The Gemara answers: It was after the incident with Agag, and even before the incident at Nob, that God said:“ I regret that I have crowned Saul to be king” (I Samuel 15: 11).
דוד בשתים מאי נינהו דאוריה ודהסתה
Rav Huna stated above that David failed with two sins. What were they? One was the incident in which he had Uriah killed. The other was the matter of the incitement of David to conduct a census of the Jewish people (see II Samuel 24: 1), which led to many deaths in a plague.
The Gemara asks: But were these his only two sins? There is also the incident of Bathsheba, in which he took another man’s wife as his own. The Gemara answers: There, in that case, punishment was exacted from him separately, so the matter is no longer listed among his sins, as it is written with regard to this incident:“ And he shall restore the lamb fourfold” (II Samuel 12: 6). The lamb was a metaphor for Bathsheba, and ultimately David was indeed given a fourfold punishment for taking Bathsheba: The first child born to Bathsheba and David died (see II Samuel 12: 13–23); David’s son Amnon was killed; Tamar, his daughter, was raped by Amnon (see II Samuel 13); and his son Avshalom rebelled against him and was ultimately killed (see II Samuel 15–18).
התם נמי אפרעו מיניה דכתיב ויתן ה׳ דבר (בעם מן הבוקר) ועד עת מועד התם לא אפרעו מגופיה
The Gemara asks: If sins for which was David was punished separately are not counted, one could ask: There, too, with regard to the sin of the census, he was punished separately, as it is written: “ And the Lord sent a plague against Israel from the morning until the appointed time” (II Samuel 24: 15). The Gemara responds: There, David was not punished personally, in his own body; rather, the punishment was inflicted on the Jewish people.
The Gemara challenges this: There, too, in the incident with Bathsheba, David was not punished personally, in his own body; rather, it was his children who suffered punishment. The Gemara answers: That is not so; he was punished personally, in his own body, for that sin, as Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: David was stricken with leprosy for six months after that incident, and the Sanhedrin withdrew from him in protest over his behavior, and the Divine Presence also left him. As it is written that David prayed:“ May those who fear You return to me, and they who know Your testimonies” (Psalms 119:79). Since he prayed for the return of those who fear God and who know His testimonies, referring to the Sages of the Sanhedrin, it can be inferred that they had withdrawn from him. And it is written as well:“ Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, let a vigorous spirit support me” (Psalms 51:14), where David asks for the return of the Divine Spirit, which had left him.
The Gemara asks: And didn’t David commit other sins? Didn’t Rav say: David accepted a slanderous report from Ziba about Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan, stating that the latter was pleased with David’s downfall? There was, in that case, this additional sin. The Gemara responds: Consequently, it is necessary to follow the approach of Shmuel, who said: David did not accept a slanderous report, because Ziba’s claim was true.
The Gemara continues: And even according to Rav, who said that David accepted a slanderous report, one could answer that that sin is not counted, as was he not punished for it? As Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: At the time when David said to Mephibosheth: “ I say that you and Ziba should divide the field” (II Samuel 19: 30), a Divine Voice came forth and said to him: Rehoboam and Jeroboam will divide the kingship. Because David believed Ziba’s slanderous report and awarded him half of Mephibosheth’s field, David was punished by having his kingdom divided into two. Following King Solomon’s death the Jewish people split into two kingdoms, Israel to the north and Judea to the south (see I Kings 12 ). Therefore, David was punished for that sin too.
בן שנה שאול במלכו אמר רב הונא כבן שנה שלא טעם טעם חטא
§ The Gemara continues its discussion of Saul and David. It is written: “ Saul was one year old when he began to reign” (I Samuel 13: 1), which cannot be understood literally, as Saul was appointed king when he was a young man. Rav Huna said: The verse means that when he began to reign he was like a one-year–old, in that he had never tasted the taste of sin but was wholly innocent and upright.
Rav Naḥman bar Yitzḥak strongly objects to this interpretation of the verse, say ing: You could just as well say that he was like a one-year-old in that he was always filthy with mud and excrement. Rav Naḥman was shown a frightful dream that night, and he understood it as a punishment for having disparaged Saul. He said: I humbly submit myself to you, O bones of Saul, son of Kish, and beg your forgiveness. But once again he was shown a frightful dream, and he understood that he had not shown enough deference in his first apology. He therefore said this time: I humbly submit myself to you, O bones of Saul, son of Kish, king of Israel, and beg your forgiveness. Subsequently, the nightmares ceased.
אמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל מפני מה לא נמשכה מלכות בית שאול מפני שלא היה בו שום דופי דאמר רבי יוחנן משום רבי שמעון בן יהוצדק אין מעמידין פרנס על הציבור אלא אם כן קופה של שרצים תלויה לו מאחוריו שאם תזוח דעתו עליו אומרין לו חזור לאחוריך
Rav Yehuda said that Shmuel said: Why did the kingship of the house of Saul not continue on to succeeding generations? It is because there was no flaw in his ancestry; he was of impeccable lineage. As Rabbi Yoḥanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon ben Yehotzadak: One appoints a leader over the community only if he has a box full of creeping animals hanging behind him, i. e., he has something inappropriate in his ancestry that preceded him. Why is that? It is so that if he exhibits a haughty attitude toward the community, one can say to him: Turn and look behind you and be reminded of your humble roots. This is why David’s kingdom lasted while Saul’s did not, as David descended from a family with problematic ancestry, namely Tamar (see Genesis, chapter 38) and Ruth the Moabite (see Ruth 4: 18–22).
Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: Why was Saul punished in that he was ultimately led to commit the sins described above? Because at the very outset of his reign he inappropriately forwent his royal honor, as it is stated with regard to Saul’s inauguration:“ And some base fellows said: How can this man save us? So they disparaged him and brought him no present. But he made himself as if he did not hear” (I Samuel 10: 27). And it is stated immediately afterward:“ And Nahash the Ammonite marched up and encamped against Jabesh -gilead” (I Samuel 11: 1). The implication is that if Saul had forcefully assumed his throne, Nahash would not have dared to attack the people of Jabesh -gilead. In this way, his humility led to the crisis.