Megillah, Chapter Four, Mishnah Nine

 

Introduction

This mishnah continues to identify heretical behavior.  In yesterday’s mishnah we saw heretical behavior involving what a person wears, be it clothing, footwear or tefillin.  In today’s mishnah we see heretical behavior involving things a person says while leading the prayers or translating the Torah.

 

Mishnah Nine

1)      If one says “May the good bless you,” this is the way of heresy.  

2)      [If one says], “May Your mercy reach the nest of a bird,” “May Your name be mentioned for the good,” “We give thanks, we give thanks,” they silence him.

3)      One who uses euphemisms in the portion dealing with forbidden marriages, he is silenced.

4)      If he says, [instead of] “And you shall not give any of your seed to be passed to Moloch,” (Leviticus 18:21) “You shall not give [your seed] to pass to a Gentile woman,” he silenced with a rebuke.

 

Explanation

Section one:  The heresy here seems to be one of dualism.  Saying “May the good bless you” sounds as if there are two gods, one that governs the good and one that governs the bad.  This was a common theology at the time of the Mishnah, especially among groups dubbed “Gnostics” by modern scholars.  The rabbis were insistent that one God was responsible for both evil and good.

Section two:   There are three “heretical” saying in this mishnah.  I’ll try to explain them one at a time.  The mishnah says that for each “they silence him.”  This implies that the mishnah is describing one who “passes before the ark,” meaning one who leads the Amidah prayer.  If he tries to enter in one of these prayers they remove him as prayer leader.

““May Your mercy reach the nest of a bird:”  This line is explained in the Talmud in several different ways.  One is that he is complaining to God saying, “Your mercy is on the nest of this bird” but not on me.  God commanded shooing away the mother bird before taking the young, an act of mercy for the mother (Deuteronomy 22:6).  The person praying complains that God has not shown similar mercy to him. A different explanation is that this saying understands God’s commandments as being only about mercy, when really they are decrees which we are to obey without questioning their reasoning.  Another explanation is that he says “Your mercy reaches only to this nest” but cannot extend any further.  In such a way he limits God’s power.  

 “May Your name be mentioned for the good:”   This implies that God’s name should not be connected with the bad or the evil.  As in the first section, this might imply some sort of dualism—we thank God for the good and don’t mention the evil because its source is a different god.  

“We give thanks, we give thanks:” Again the problem seems to be one of dualism—giving thanks twice sounds like it is being given to two different gods. However, in this section the dualism may not be of a good god and a bad god, but simply two gods.  There were ancient sects of Jews (including Christians) who while professing monotheism, gave divine roles to other characters, such as God’s word (the Logos), God’s spirit or Jesus.

Section three: Leviticus 18:7 says, “you shall not uncover the nakedness of your father.”  If a person translates this as “you shall not uncover the nakedness of his father,” in an attempt to use a more innocuous third person, he is silenced.  The translation of the Torah is to be literal, and even in the section concerning forbidden relations. 

Section four: The Torah prohibits “passing one’s child to Moloch.”  Some ancient translators understood this as a prohibition against impregnating or having sexual relations with a Gentile (Aramean) woman or perhaps against giving one’s child to a Gentile to raise. Since passing one’s child to Moloch is a capital crime, this might imply that having sexual relations with is a capital crime.  Therefore the rabbis insisted upon a literal translation of the verse.   

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