כ״ט באדר ב׳ ה׳תשע״ד (March 31, 2014)

Sukka 56a-b: The Family of Bilga

The closing story in Massekhet Sukka is a sad one.

In it we learn of the priestly family of Bilga, whose rights and privileges in the Temple were curtailed. Rav Shlomo Adani explains in his Melekhet Shlomo that the punishments – receiving their portion of the lehem ha-panim (the shewbread) in the south, and having their ring for slaughtering and their window sealed up – all indicated that they were finished with their work in the Temple and were about to leave.

What led to these restrictions? The Gemara gives two explanations:

  1. When it was their turn to serve in the Temple the family came late – or perhaps, as suggested by the Rashash, not all of them came – and the next family was forced to work a double shift to make up for their absence.
  2. Miriam the daughter of Bilga rejected Judaism and married a Greek soldier. When the Greeks entered the Temple sanctuary and defiled it, Miriam kicked the altar with her shoe and shouted “Lokos, Lokos [wolf, wolf], until when will you consume the property of the Jewish people, and yet you do not stand with them when they face exigent circumstances?” (The Maharsha explains that the metaphor of the altar as a wolf stemmed from the parallel between a wolf that attacked and ate sheep and the altar upon which the daily korban tamid – a sheep – was brought regularly.)

The Jerusalem Talmud sees her behavior as so problematic that it asks why the family of Bilga did not lose their rights entirely, answering that the 24 family mishmarot (watches) were an essential part of the order of the Temple service and could not be easily done away with.

Do we penalize the entire watch of Bilga because of his daughter? Abaye said: Yes, as people say, the speech of a child in the marketplace is learned either from that of his father or from that of his mother. Miriam would never have said such things had she not heard talk of that kind in her parents’ home.

The Gemara asks: And due to Miriam’s father and mother, do we penalize an entire watch? Abaye said: Woe unto the wicked, woe unto his neighbor.

In order to end the Massekhet on a happier note, the Gemara also quotes Abaye as teaching, “Good fortune to a tzaddik, and to his neighbor, as well.”

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