ה׳ בניסן ה׳תשע״ח (March 21, 2018)

Avoda Zara 65a-b: The Pleasures of the World-to-Come

Although we have learned that it is forbidden to give presents to pagans on the holidays that honor their gods, Rav Yehuda and Rava both taught that such gifts can be given if it is known that the non-Jew is not an idol worshipper.

Our Gemara relates the following story, illustrating this point:

Rava once sent a present to the local governor, bar Sheshakh, on a pagan feast-day, saying, “I know that he does not worship idols,” but upon paying him a visit, he found him sitting up to his neck in a bath of rosewater while naked harlots were standing before him. Bar Sheshakh said to him, “Have you Jews anything this pleasurable in the World-to-Come?” Rava replied that the Jewish religion has even finer than this. Bar Sheshakh asked, “What can possibly be finer than this?” In response Rava answered that in the World-to-Come there will be no fear of the ruling power for Jews, while he still lives in fear of the ruling power. Bar Sheshakh argued that in his position as governor he has no fear of the ruling power.

While they were sitting together, the king’s courier arrived with the message, “Arise, the king requires your presence.” As he was about to depart – and recognizing how prescient Rava’s words had turned out to be – bar Sheshakh said to Rava: “May the eye burst that wishes to see evil of you!'” To this Rava responded, “Amen,” and bar Sheshakh’s eye burst.

The Gemara continues with Rav Pappi saying: Rava should have answered him by quoting the passage in Sefer Tehillim (45:10) that princesses would serve the Jewish People in the next world. Rav Naḥman bar Yitzḥak said: Rava should have answered him by quoting the passage in Sefer Yeshayahu (64:3) that indicates that the reward of the next world is beyond what any human being can possibly imagine.

The political system in Persia was similar to a feudal system, which gave the local governor free reign and independence in the areas under his control, which is why bar Sheshakh’s immediate response was that he feared no man.

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