י׳ במרחשון ה׳תשע״ח (October 30, 2017)

Sanhedrin 106a-b: Advice Given and Received

Continuing the Rabbinic traditions regarding Bilam, the prophet to the nations, the Gemara on today’s daf relates that Bilam had a longstanding relationship with Yitro, Moshe’s father-in-law. The Gemara makes use of a homiletical interpretation of the passage (Bamidbar 24:21) where Bilam sees the Keini and offers words of prophecy. The Gemara suggests that this should be understood to mean that Bilam turned to Yitro saying “Keini! Were you not with us when Pharaoh decreed that the boys born to the Israelites should be killed? How did you merit that your descendants would sit with the strong ones of the world?”

The reference is to a well-known midrash taught by Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba in the name of Rabbi Simai, which tells of three famous biblical characters who were brought before Pharaoh and asked to give advice on how to deal with the population explosion of the Children of Israel. Eventually, each received his just deserts, middah ke-neged middah:

Bilam advised Pharaoh to kill the Jewish children, and he was killed (see Sefer Bamidbar 31:8)

Iyyov remained silent, and he was punished with suffering (see the book of Job)

Recognizing that the terrible decree would be carried out, Yitro chose to flee, and his children ended up as members of the .

Many raise the question: why did Iyyov’s silence make him deserving of the intense suffering that he endured, unlike Bilam and Yitro, who each received the equivalent of his own advice?

One suggestion is that his silence was viewed as acquiescence, so, in effect, it was his agreement that sealed the fate of the children who were killed, and thus he was held accountable. According to the Zohar, Iyyov did not remain entirely silent during the discussion. He recommended that the Jewish people should not be killed, but rather should be tortured and have their valuables taken from them – the very sufferings that Iyyov himself eventually experienced.

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