1. A. R. Simeon b. Yohai taught, "How masterful are the Israelites, for they know how to find favor with their creator."
E. Said R. Hunia [in Aramaic:], "There is a tenant farmer who knows how to borrow things, and there is a tenant farmer who does not know how to borrow. The one who knows how to borrow combs his hair, brushes off his clothes, puts on a good face, and then goes over to the overseer of his work to borrow from him. [The overseer] says to him, 'How's the land doing?' He says to him, 'May you have the merit of being fully satisfied with its [wonderful] produce.' 'How are the oxen doing?' He says to him, 'May you have the merit of being fully satisfied with their fat.' 'How are the goats doing?' 'May you have the merit of being fully satisfied with their young.' 'And what would you like?' Then he says, 'Now if you might have an extra ten denars, would you give them to me?' The overseer replies, 'If you want, take twenty.'
F. "But the one who does not know how to borrow leaves his hair a mess, his clothes filthy, his face gloomy. He too goes over to the overseer to borrow from him. The overseer says to him, 'How's the land doing?' He replies, 'I hope it will produce at least what [in seed] we put into it.' 'How are the oxen doing?' 'They're scrawny.' 'How are the goats doing?' 'They're scrawny too.' 'And what do you want?' 'Now if you might have an extra ten denars, would you give them to me?' The overseer replies, 'Go, pay me back what you already owe me!'"
If Aphrahat had demanded a direct answer, he could not have received a more explicit one. He claims Israel does nothing right. Sages counter, speaking in their own setting, of course, that they do everything right. Sages then turn the tables on the position of Aphrahat—-again addressing it head-on. While the nations may do everything Israel does, they do it wrong.
The testimony of language itself proves that fact, for the same word, applied to Israel, brings credit, and applied to gentiles, brings derision:
2. A. Said R. Eleazar, "The nations of the world are called a congregation, and Israel is called a congregation.
B. "The nations of the world are called a congregation: 'For the congregation of the godless shall be desolate' [Job 15:34], . . .
J. "The nations of the world are called sages, and Israel is called sages.
K. "The nations of the world are called sages: 'And I shall wipe out sages from Edom' [Ob. 1:8].
L. "And Israel is called sages: 'Sages store up knowledge' [Prov. 10:14].
M. "The nations of the world are called unblemished, and Israel is called unblemished.
N. "The nations of the world are called unblemished: 'Unblemished as are those that go down to the pit' [Prov. 1:12].
O. "And Israel is called unblemished: 'The unblemished will inherit goodness' [Prov. 28:10],
S. "The nations of the world are called righteous, and Israel is called righteous.
T. "The nations of the world are called righteous: 'And righteous men shall judge them' [Ez. 23:45].
U. "And Israel is called righteous: 'And your people—all of them are righteous' [Is. 60:21].
V. "The nations of the world are called mighty, and Israel is called mighty.
W. "The nations of the world are called mighty: 'Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man' [Ps. 52:3].
X. "And Israel is called mighty: 'Mighty in power, those who do his word'" [Ps. 103:20],
The concluding element is the striking one. "Might" now takes on a meaning of its own, one that is comfortable for the subordinated party to the dispute. At each point Israel stands in the balance against the nations of the world, the one weighed against the other. We cannot identify the passage with the age at hand. "Rome" is hardly "the nations of the world." Even though the nations of the world are subject to the same language as is applied to Israel, they still do not fall into the same classification. For language is dual. When a word applies to Israel, it serves to praise, and when the same word applies to the nations, it underlines their negative character. Both are called "congregation," but the nations' congregation is desolate, and so throughout, as the context of the passage cited concerning the nations repeatedly indicates. The nations' sages are wiped out; the unblemished nations go down to the pit; the nations, called men, only work iniquity. Now that is precisely the contrast drawn in Isaac's saying, so, as I said, the whole should be deemed a masterpiece of unitary composition. Then the two types of exegesis—direct and peripheral—turn out to complement one another, each making its own point.
We turn to yet a third response to the same question, does God yet love Israel? This one goes still further than the preceding, since it credits Israel with nothing less than the creation of the world!
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