All who are Merciful to the Cruel in the End Become Cruel to the Merciful: The Best of Serpents—Crush its Head!
“How strong is the power of the Other Side that it managed to hide from the eyes of our holy patriarchs the danger of the קְלִפּוֹת (qelipot), shells: from the eyes of our father Abraham, the shell of Ishmael; from the eyes of our father Isaac, the shell of Esau; and from the eyes of our father Jacob, the shell of the תְּרָפִים (terafim), household gods (Genesis 31:19). During the footsteps of Messiah, the Other Side becomes even stronger, in order to strike the disciples of the wise with blindness” (Rabbi Hillel Rivlin of Shklov, in the name of the Gaon of Vilna, Qol ha-Tor 5:9):
And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, מְצַחֵק (mestaḥeq), laughing. And she said to Abraham, “Drive out this slavegirl and her son, for the slavegirl’s son shall not inherit with my son, with Isaac.” And the thing seemed evil in Abraham’s eyes because of his son. And God said to Abraham, “Let it not seem evil in your eyes on account of the lad and on account of your slavegirl. Whatever ever Sarah says to you, listen to her voice, for through Isaac shall your seed be acclaimed. But the slavegirl’s son, too, I will make a nation, for he is your seed” (Genesis 21:9–13) [cf. the Code of Hammurabi, 146].
“Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai said, ‘Rabbi Akiva used to offer four explanations, and mine follows from his. Rabbi Akiva said that מְצַחֵק (mestaḥeq) refers solely to idolatry, as is written, And the people came back from eating and drinking and they rose up לְצַחֵק (letsaḥeq), to play. [And YHWH said to Moses, ‘Quick, go down, for your people (i.e., the motley throng, mixed multitude) that I brought up from Egypt has acted ruinously] (Exodus 32:6) [cf. M Avot 3:17: ‘Rabbi Akiva said: שְׂחוֹק (Seḥoq), mocking, and frivolity lead to immorality’]. From this we learn that Sarah saw Ishmael building idolatrous altars, catching locusts, and sacrificing them.
Rabbi Eli’ezer, son of Rabbi Yose of Galilee, said מְצַחֵק (mestaḥeq) was none other than illicit sexual relations. Sarah saw Ishmael molesting and assaulting the women, as is written, there was Isaac מְצַחֵק (mestaḥeq), playing, with Rebekah his wife (Genesis 26:8) [cf. ibid. 39:17: The Hebrew slave came into me, whom you bought us, לְצַחֶק (letsaḥeq), to play, with me)].
Rabbi Yishma’el said מְצַחֵק (mestaḥeq) refers to bloodshed, as is written: And Abner said to Joab, ‘Pray, let the lads arise and ישַׂחֲקוּ (yesaḥaqu), play, before us.’… And they arose and crossed over—twelve in number… And each man grasped the head of the other with his sword at the side of the other, and they fell together (2 Samuel 2:14–16). From this we learn that Sarah saw Ishmael taking his bow and arrow and shooting towards Isaac, as is written Like a lunatic shooting deadly firebrands is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, ‘Why, I was joking’ (Proverbs 26:18–19).
But I say, perish the thought such a person be in the house of so righteous a man! How could there be idolatry, sexual licentiousness and bloodshed in the home of him, of whom it is said, ‘For I have embraced him so that he will charge his sons [and his household after him to keep the way of YHWH to do righteousness and justice, that YHWH may bring upon Abraham all that He spoke concerning him’] (Genesis 18:19). Therefore מְצַחֵק (mestaḥeq) here can refer only to the matter of inheritance; for when Isaac was born to Abraham, everyone rejoiced, saying, ‘Abraham has had a son, a son who shall inherit the world and take a double portion!’ And Ishmael was מְצַחֵק (mestaḥeq), sneering, saying, ‘Fools I am the firstborn, and I shall take a double portion.’ Indeed, [we may infer this] from Sarah’s response: for the slavegirl’s son shall not inherit with my son. My interpretation is more sound than that of Rabbi Akiva” (Tosefta Sotah 6:6, cf. Bereshit Rabbah 53:11).
“Rabbi Ḥiyya said, ‘Since the day Isaac was born, as long as Ishmael remained in Abraham’s house he did not attain a name. Wherever gold is found, scoria goes unmentioned. So, the son of Hagar the Egyptian, a male unworthy of being mentioned in the presence of Isaac.
Rabbi El’azar said, ‘Sarah saw. She saw him through a contemptuous eye, eyeing him not as the son of Abraham but as the son of Hagar the Egyptian. So, Sarah saw. Sarah saw him with that eye—not Abraham, since in relation to Abraham it is not written: son of Hagar the Egyptian, but rather: his son…
Now, would you ever imagine that Sarah was jealous of her [namely, Hagar] or her son [Ishmael]? If so, the blessed Holy One would not have consented to her, as is written: Whatever Sarah tells you, hearken to her voice. Rather, because she saw him engaging in idolatry and because his mother taught him idolatrous customs, Sarah said, ‘For the son of this maidservant will not inherit! I know he will never inherit the share of faith, nor will he share a portion with my son—neither in this world nor in the world that is coming.’ Therefore the blessed Holy One consented” (Zohar 1:118b).
“The children jostled each other with in her (Genesis 25:22), for there that wicked Esau waged battle against Jacob. וַיִּתְרֹצְצוּ (Va-yitrotsetsu), They jostled each other—they crushed each other, as we say: רָצַץ (Ratsats), Crush, its head! Crushing one another, they split apart.
Come and see: This one, the side riding the serpent; that one, the side riding the sacred, perfect throne, on the side of the sun [Tif’eret] performing with the moon [Shekhinah]” (Zohar 1:138a).
And Isaac loved Esau for the game that he brought him, but Rebekah loved Jacob… And it happened when Isaac was old, that his eyes grew too bleary to see, and he called to Esau his elder son and said to him, “My son!” and he said, “Here I am.” And he said, “Look, I have grown old; I know not how soon I shall die. So now, take up, pray, your gear, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and hunt me some game, and make me a dish of the kind that I love and bring it to me that I may eat, so that I may solemnly bless you before I die.” And Rebekah was listening as Isaac spoke to Esau his son… (Genesis 25:28; 27:1–5).
And Laban had gone to shear his flocks, and Rachel stole his household gods that were her father’s. And Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean, in not telling him he was fleeing… And Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done, deceiving me, and driving my daughters like captives of the sword? Why did you flee in stealth and deceive me and not tell me? I would have sent you off with festive songs, with timbrel and lyre. And you did not let me kiss my sons and my daughters. O, you have played the fool!.. why did you steal my gods?” And Jacob answered and said to Laban, “For I was afraid, for I thought, you would rob me of your daughters. With whomever you find your gods, that person shall not live… But Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them… (Genesis 31:19–20; 31–32).
“Rabbi Yose said, ‘What are תְּרָפִים (terafim) (Genesis 31:19)? They were idolatry. Why are they called תְּרָפִים (terafim)? Out of disgrace, as we have learned: ‘place of תּוֹרֶף (toref), pudenda…’ [תְּרָפִים (Terafim), household gods] speak constantly, offering evil counsel to one’s soul. Rachel feared they would offer advice on how to harm Jacob, so to disgrace idolatry she placed them underneath her and they could not speak… Now Rachel, even though she acted to uproot her father from idolatry, was punished; for she never raised Benjamin or existed with him for even an hour [see Genesis 35:16–20]—all on account of her father’s suffering, despite her good intentions” (Zohar 1:164b).
“Come and see! It is written: The people saw that Moses lagged [in coming down from the mountain, and the people assembled against Aaron and said to him, ‘Rise up, make us gods that will go before us, for this man Moses who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what happened to him] (Exodus 32:1). Who are the people? The עֵרֶב רַב (erev rav), mixed multitude [see Exodus 12:38; 32:7]. Who are the עֵרֶב רַב (erev rav), mixed multitude? Were they Lydians, Ethiopians, Cretans or Togarmans, that they are called עֵרֶב רַב (erev rav), ‘mixed multitude’? Were they not Egyptians, journeying from Egypt? If they were a mixture of many nations, it should have been written A mixed multitude ּעַלו (alu), went up, with them, corresponding to their mixture. Rather, A mixed multitude עָלָה (alah), went up, with them [written with the collective singular verb] (Exodus 12:38)—they were one nation, with one language, but consisting of all the sorcerers of Egypt and all its soothsayers, of whom is written and they too, the soothsayers of Egypt, did [thus with their spells] (Exodus 7:11), wanting to confront the wonders of the blessed Holy One. Once they saw the miracles and wonders that Moses performed in Egypt, they returned to Moses. The blessed Holy One said to Moses, ‘Do not accept them!’
Moses said, ‘Master of the Universe! Now that they have seen Your power, they want to convert. Let them see Your power every day and they will know that there is no God but You.’ And Moses accepted them [cf. Exodus 32:11; BT Pesaḥim 87b: ‘The blessed Holy One scattered Israel amongst the heathens only so that they may accumulate converts’]” (Zohar 2:191a, cf. ibid. 2:45b, 191a, 195a).
“Moses wanted to bring these converts under the wings of the Shekhinah and presumed that they too were drawn down from ה (he). Thus he caused the fall of ה (he) of אַבְרָהָם (Avraham), Abraham. This brought upon him descent, as is written: Go, get you down, for your people… have become corrupt (Exodus 32:7). They did not receive small ה (he) with the awe of י (yod) and with the love of [the first] ה (he). So he fell from his rung, which is ו (vav)” (Zohar 1:25a, Tiqqunei ha-Zohar).
“All the exile and the destruction of the Temple and all the suffering, all of it came through Moses’ acceptance of the עֵרֶב רַב (erev rav), motley throng, and all the wicked ones and evildoers in every generation come from them, and this is what is referred to: [Once Shabbatai son of Marinus came to Babylon and entreated them to provide him with facilities for trading and they refused this to him; neither did they give him any food. He said:] ‘These are the descendants of the motley throng’ (BT Beitza 32b)” (Tiqqunei ha-Zohar 97a).
Everything has a season, and a time for every matter under the heavens. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to rip down and a time to build. A time to weep and a time to laugh. A time to mourn and a time to dance. A time to fling stones and a time to gather stones in. A time to embrace and a time to pull back from embracing. A time to seek and a time to lose. A time to keep and a time to fling away. A time to tear and a time to sew. A time to keep silent and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace (Ecclesiastes 3:1–8).
“[And Saul came up to the city of Amalek] and lay in wait in the ravine. [And Saul said to the Kenite, ‘Go, turn away, come down from amidst the Amalekite, lest I sweep you away together with him, for you did kindness to all the Israelites when they came up from Egypt] (1 Samuel 15:5).
Rabbi Mani said: Because of what happens in the ravine: When the blessed Holy One said to Saul: ‘Now, go and strike down Amalek, [and put under the ban everything that he has, you shall not spare him, and you shall put to death man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and donkey’] (ibid., 3), [Saul] said: If on account of one person Torah said: Perform the ceremony of the heifer whose neck is to be broken [in atonement for an unidentified homicide, see Deuteronomy 21:1–9], how much more [ought consideration to be given] to all these persons! And if human beings sinned, what has the cattle committed; and if the adults have sinned, what have the little ones done?
A divine voice came forth and said: do not be over-righteous (Ecclesiastes 7:16). And when Saul said to Doeg: ‘You, then, turn round [and stab the priests.’ … and he struck down Nob the priests’ town with the edge of the sword, man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and donkey and sheep, all by the edge of the sword] (1 Samuel 22:18), a divine voice came forth to say: don’t be over-wicked (Ecclesiastes ibid., 17)” (BT Yoma 22b, cf. Mekhilta, Beshallaḥ 1; Guide of the Perplexed 3:39).
“As they say, ‘Do no good to an evil person and harm will not come to you; for if you do good to an evil person, you have done wrong'” (Qohelet Rabbah on 5:8).
“Do not be overrighteous and do not be overwise. [Why should you be dumbfounded? Don’t be overwicked and don’t be a fool. Why should you die before your time?] (Ecclesiastes 7:16). Do not be more righteous—than your Creator, spoken of Saul, as is written, And Saul came up to the city of Amalek [and lay in wait in the ravine] (1 Samuel 15:5). Rabbi Huna and Rabbi Benaiah say: He began to argue against his Creator, saying, ‘So has the blessed Holy One said to you, Now, go and strike down Amalek, and put under the ban [everything that he has, you shall not spare him,] and you shall put to death man and woman, infant and suckling, [ox and sheep, camel and donkey] (ibid., 3). [Saul said to himself:] If the men חָטְאוּ (ḥateu), offended [or: missed the mark], how have the women, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and donkey offended?! A heavenly voice went forth, saying, Do not be overrighteous, more than your Creator! …
Rabbi Shim’on son of Laqish says, ‘All who become merciful in a cruel place in the end become cruel in a merciful place.’ Now when did he become cruel in a merciful place? As is said, And he struck down Nob the priests’ town with the edge of the sword, man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and donkey and sheep, all by the edge of the sword (ibid. 22:19)—Nob should not have become like the seed of Amalek. And the Rabbis say: All who become merciful in a cruel place in the end the quality of Judgment strikes him, as is said, And Saul died, and his three sons [and his armor bearer, and all his men as well, together on that day] (ibid. 31:6)” (Qohelet Rabbah on 7:16, cf. Midrash Zuta; Tanḥuma, Mezora 1; Yalkut Shimoni, 1 Samuel, 121).
“Rav Yehudah said in Shemu’el’s name: When Solomon married Pharaoh’s daughter, she brought him a thousand musical instruments and said to him, ‘Thus we do in honor of that idol, thus in honour of that idol,’ yet he did not forbid her.
Rav Yehudah said in Shemu’el’s name: When Solomon married Pharaoh’s daughter, Gabriel descended and planted a reed in the sea, and it gathered a bank around it, on which the great city of Rome was built [i.e., Solomon’s unfaithfulness laid the seeds for the dissolution of the Jewish State]. In a barraita it was taught: On the day that Jeroboam brought the two golden calves, one into Bethel and the other into Dan, a hut was built, and this developed into Magna Graecia [Greek Italy, i.e., Rome]” (BT Shabbat 56b, cf. Sanhedrin 21b; Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1, 1:10).