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Avodah Zarah, Daf Heh, Part 2
Reading for Monday
, July 17
Avodah Zarah 5-2



This section discusses what Jewish history might have been like had Israel not sinned with the golden calf.


אמר ר”ל בואו ונחזיק טובה לאבותינו שאלמלא הן לא חטאו אנו לא באנו לעולם שנאמר (תהלים פב, ו) “אני אמרתי אלהים אתם ובני עליון כלכם חבלתם מעשיכם אכן כאדם תמותון” וגו’.


Resh Lakish said: Come let us be grateful to our ancestors, for had they not sinned, we would not have come into the world, as it is said: “I said you are gods and all of you are sons of the Most High; now that you have spoiled your deeds, you shall indeed die like mortals,” etc (Psalms 82:6).


The fact that our ancestors sinned at the golden calf, then people would have been like angels (god) and would not have had children. Thus we, those living now, would not have come into existence.


למימרא דאי לא חטאו לא הוו מולדו והכתיב (בראשית ט, ז) “ואתם פרו ורבו” עד סיני.


That is to say that if the Israelites had not committed that sin they would not have given birth to children? Was it not written, “And you, be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 9:7)? That refers to those who lived up to the times of Sinai.


The implication of the above tradition is that were it not for the sin with the golden calf, the Israelites would have been too pure to engage in procreation. But this is problematic—humanity was commanded to be fruitful from the time of Noah.

The provisional answer is that this refers only to humanity up until the time of Sinai. According to this theory, once the Torah was given, Israelites would have been so holy that they would not have procreated. It is an interesting way of perceiving the revelation, even if it is not going to stand.


בסיני נמי כתיב (דברים ה, כו) “לך אמור להם שובו לכם לאהליכם” לשמחת עונה.


But with regard to those at Sinai, too, it is written, “Go say to them, Return to your tents.” This refers to regular sexual intercourse.


The problem is that the Israelites at Sinai were explicitly told—go return to your tents. This is interpreted as meaning that they should go procreate.

The Talmud resolves that they were told to have sex with their wives, but not necessarily to procreate. This is an interesting instance where the rabbis are willing to divide the two—sex does not necessarily imply procreation.


והכתיב (דברים ה, כה) “למען ייטב להם ולבניהם” וגו’ לאותן העומדים על הר סיני.


And is it not also said, “That it might be well with them and with their children” (Deuteronomy 5:25)?  It refers to the children of those who stood at Sinai.


A verse from Deuteronomy seems to imply that God planned for the Israelites to have descendants even before the sin with the golden calf. But this too can be interpreted as referring only to the children born before the revelation on Sinai.


והאמר ר”ל מאי דכתיב (בראשית ה, א) “זה ספר תולדות אדם” וגו’ וכי ספר היה לו לאדם הראשון? מלמד שהראה לו הקב”ה לאדם הראשון דור דור ודורשיו דור דור וחכמיו דור דור ופרנסיו כיון שהגיע לדורו של ר”ע שמח בתורתו ונתעצב במיתתו אמר (תהלים קלט, יז) ולי מה יקרו רעיך אל [וגו’].


But did not Resh Lakish say, what is it that is written, “This is the book of the generations of Adam?” (Genesis 5:1). Did Adam have a book? Rather, this teaches that the Holy Blessed One showed Adam every generation with its darshanim, every generation with its sages, every generation with its leaders; when he reached the generation of R. Akiva  he rejoiced at his Torah, but was grieved about his death, and said, “How precious are Your thoughts to me, O God!” (Psalms 139:17).


In this midrash God shows Adam all of the future leaders of the Jewish people, all the way through R. Akiva. Clearly God anticipated that people would procreate even before they sinned with the golden calf.


וא”ר יוסי אין בן דוד בא עד שיכלו נשמות שבגוף שנאמר (ישעיהו נז, טז) “[כי לא לעולם אריב ולא לנצח אקצוף] כי רוח מלפני יעטוף ונשמות אני עשיתי”.


And R. Yose said: The Son of David will only come when all the souls in the guf have been exhausted, as it is said, “For I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth, for the spirit should fall before me and the souls which I have made” (Isaiah 57:16).


This midrash contains the idea that there are a predestined number of souls in a place called the “guf.” Only when they have all been used up with Messiah come. Again, this implies that people were destined to procreate at the creation of the world.


לא תימא אנו לא באנו לעולם אלא כמי שלא באנו לעולם.


Do not say “we would not have come into the world,” rather it would have been as if we had not come into the world.


The Talmud now emends the statement with which this section began. Had they not sinned, Jews would have lived forever. While they would have procreated, those Jews who were at Sinai would eternally overshadow those Jews born later.


למימרא דאי לא חטאו לא הוו מייתי? והכתיב פרשת יבמות ופרשת נחלות.

על תנאי


Does that mean then that if they had not sinned, they would never have died? But were not chapters written about levirate marriage and inheritance?

These were written conditionally.


The idea that had they not sinned Jews would have lived forever is problematic—the Torah contains laws which assume that people would die. The laws of levirate marriage assume that married men die and the laws of inheritance clearly assume that people die.

The answer is that these laws were written conditionally. They were given under the foreknowledge that they would be relevant only if Israel did not sin.