More Wondrous Your Love to Me than the Love of Women

by tillerofthesoil

imageedit_2_6350929461“If love depends on a specific cause, when the cause ends, so does the love. If love does not depend on a specific cause, then it never ends. What is an example of love depending on a specific cause? The love of Amnon for Tamar [see 2 Samuel 2:13]. What is an example of love not dependent on a specific cause? The love of David and Jonathan” (M Avot 5:20).

And when David returned from striking down the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, the Philistine’s head in his hand. And Saul said, “Whose son are you, lad?” And David said, “The son of your servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.” And it happened as he finished speaking with Saul, that Jonathan’s very self became bound up with David’s, and Jonathan loved him as himself. And Saul took him on that day and did not let him go back to his father’s house. And Jonathan, and David with him, sealed a pact because he loved him like himself. And Jonathan took off the cloak that was on him and gave it to David, and his battle garb, and even his sword and his bow and his belt (1 Samuel 17:57-18:4).

I grieve for you, my brother, Jonathan. Very dear you were to me. More wondrous your love to me than the love of women (2 Samuel 1:26).

And a man who lies with a male as one lies with a woman, the two of them have done an abhorrent thing. They are doomed to die. Their bloodguilt is upon them (Leviticus 20:13).

“Rabbi Yoḥanan said: I am the only one remaining of Jerusalem’s men of outstanding beauty. He who desires to see Rabbi Yoḥanan’s beauty, let him take a silver goblet as it emerges from the crucible, fill it with the seeds of red pomegranate, encircle its brim with a wreath of red roses, and set it between the sun and the shade: its splendor is like that of Rabbi Yoḥanan’s beauty.

But that is not so; for did not a Master say: Rav Kahana’s beauty is a reflection of Rabbi Abbahu’s; Rabbi Abbahu’s is a reflection of our father Jacob’s; our father Jacob’s was a reflection of Adam’s; whereas Rabbi Yoḥanan is omitted!—Rabbi Yoḥanan is different, because he did not have a stately countenance [since he lacked a beard].

Rabbi Yoḥanan used to go and sit at the gates of the ritual bath. He said, ‘When the daughters of Israel ascend from the bath let them encounter me, that they may bear sons as beautiful and as learned as I.’ The Rabbis said to him: ‘Do you not fear an evil eye?’—’I am of the seed of Joseph against whom an evil eye is powerless’ he replied. For it is written, A fruitful son is Joseph, a fruitful son by a spring, [daughters strode by a rampart] (Genesis 49:22): and Rabbi Abbahu said: Do not read עֲלֵי עָיִן (alei ayin), by a spring, but, עוֹלֵי עַיִן (olei ayin), above the eye.’ Rabbi Yose son of Rabbi Ḥanina said from here: let them teem multitudinous in the midst of the earth (Genesis 48:16): just as fish in the seas are covered by water and the eye has no power over them, so also are the seed of Joseph—the eye has no power over them.

One day Rabbi Yoḥanan was bathing in the Jordan, when Resh Laqish saw him and leapt into the Jordan after him. [Rabbi Yoḥanan] said to him, ‘Your strength for Torah’—’Your beauty for women,’ he replied. He said ‘If you return I will give you my sister who is more beautiful than I [cf. Proverbs 7:4 Say to Wisdom, ‘You are my sister’; betrothing a woman without her consent is prohibited, see BT Qiddushin 2a-b].’ He accepted; then he wished to return and collect his gear, but could not [since his mere decision to turn to the study of Torah had so weakened him that he lacked the strength to don his heavy gear]. Subsequently, [Rabbi Yoḥanan] taught him Bible and Mishnah, and made him into a great man. Now, one day there was a dispute in the study hall: a sword, knife, dagger, lance, hand-saw and a scythe—at what stage can they become unclean? When their manufacture is finished. And when is their manufacture finished?—Rabbi Yoḥanan ruled: When they are tempered in a furnace. Resh Laqish maintained: When they have been scrubbed in water. He said to him: ‘A bandit knows his banditry.’ He said to him, ‘And how have you benefited me: there I was called רַבִּי (rabbi), Master [of the bandits], and here [too] I am [still] called רַבִּי (rabbi), Master [of the bandits]!’ ‘I benefited you by bringing you under the wings of the Shekhinah,’ he replied. Rabbi Yoḥanan was offended, and Resh Laqish fell ill. His sister came and wept before him: ‘For the sake of my son [forgive him].’ He replied: Leave your fatherless children, I will preserve them alive (Jeremiah 49:11). ‘For the sake of my widowhood then!’ He said to her, ‘And let your widows trust in Me (ibid.). Rabbi Shim’on son of Laqish died, and Rabbi Yoḥanan was קַא מִצטַעֵר (qa mitsta’er), profoundly disappointed [or: sorry]. The Rabbis said, ‘Who will go to ease his mind? Let Rabbi Ele’azar son of Pedat go, whose statements are sharp.’ So he went and sat before him; but on every matter uttered by Rabbi Yoḥanan he would say: ‘There is [a tradition] taught which supports you.’ He said, ‘Are you the son of Laqisha?’ ‘When I stated a matter, the son of Lakisha used to raise twenty-four objections, to which I gave twenty-four answers, and the halakhah would become broadened; while you say, ‘There is [a tradition] taught which supports you.’ Don’t I know that what I say is good?’ He went around rending his garments and weeping, ‘Where are you, O son of Laqisha, where are you, O son of Laqisha;’ and so he cried until he went insane. The Rabbis petitioned [heaven] to have compassion on him and he died” (BT Bava Metsi’a 84a).

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