“Rabbi Yudai was in the presence of of Rabbi Azariah son of Simlai. He asked him, ‘Righteous ones who stumble upon a sin from the Torah that invokes excision, ponder repentance, and die—does their death atone for them?’ He replied, ‘Yes, and sometimes they are punished in this world, procuring atonement.’ He saw Rabbi Yudai’s face turn sallow. He said to him, ‘Say what you would say! The Torah does not receive impurity, as is written: Is not My word like fire, says YHWH? (Jeremiah 23:29) [cf. BT Berakhot 22b]. Thoughts in your heart?’
‘The secret of YHWH is for those who revere Him, [and to them He reveals His covenant] (Psalms 25:14). Ten elders martyred by the empire on account of the sale of Joseph!
He said to him, ‘Phinehas is Elijah’ [cf. BT Bava Batra 109b; Sotah 43a: ‘(Phinehas was a descendant) of Joseph who mastered his passion.’ On Phinehas as identified with Elijah, see Targum Yerushalmi, Exodus 6:18; Numbers 25:12; BT Metsi’a 114b, and Rashi, ad loc.; Tanḥuma, Pinḥas 1; Pirqe de-Rabbi Eli’ezer 47; Zohar 1:209b; 2:190a; 3:214a, 215a, 282a (both RM)].
He replied, ‘But Rabbi Akiva did not have ancestral merit!’ [see JT Berakhot 4, 7d; BT Berakhot 27b]. He said, ‘Of the descendants of Issachar, men who knew how to interpret the signs of the times (1 Chronicles 12:33) [cf. BT Yoma 26a in the name of Rava: ‘You will not find any rabbinical scholar offering rulings unless he is a descendant from the tribe of Levi or Issachar… ‘Issachar,’ as is written: Of the descendants of Issachar, men who knew how to interpret the signs of the times, to know what Israel ought to do (1 Chronicles 12:33)’].’
He opened, saying, ‘When Jacob came in from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, ‘You are to come to me, for שָׂכֹר שְׂכַרְתִּיךָ (sakhor sekhartikha), I have surely hired you (Genesis 30:16). שָׂכֹר (S’khar), Reward—afterward. יֵשׁ שְׂכַ (Yesh s’khar), There is reward. Yesh, There is now; afterward, lambs for the kingdom in heaven. Their bodies will remain in their places in this world, everything ultimately restored to primal form. It is written: Each according to his blessing, he blessed them (Genesis 49:28).’
Rabbi Yudai fell prostrate, and slept. In his dream, they showed him Do not let your mouth incriminate your flesh (Ecclesiastes 5:5). ‘You have entered—seal it.’ From that day on, he did not mention it. He said, ‘How precious is your love, O God, and the children of humankind shelter in the shadow of Your wings (Psalms 36:8), and their children should not speak of them—kindness of God in everything.’
Rabbi Azariah said, ‘This is certainly so, as is written: Do not touch my anointed ones (1 Chronicles 16:22); and it is written: In whose hand is the soul of every living thing and the spirit of all human flesh (Job 12:10). Concerning His concealed, hidden matters one may not speak at all, for of One who has the spirits and souls of the righteous in His hands—of hidden matters He has fashioned—one should not encroach [cf. Zohar 2:95a, 100b (both SdM)]” (Zohar Ḥadash 89c–d).
“Rabbi Yudai opened, ‘On the day שֶׁיָּזֻעוּ שֹׁמְרֵי הַבַּיִת (she-yazu’u shomerei ha-bayit), that the keepers of the house will quake (Ecclesiastes 12:3)—these are the tanna’im and amora’im who used to protect the world while in the land of Israel, וְאִזְדַּעְזְעוּן (ve-izdaze’un), now convulsed, from their posts.
‘וְהִתְעַוְּתוּ אַנְשֵׁי הֶחָיִל (Ve-hit’avvetu anshei he-ḥayil), And the men of caliber are bent (ibid.), as is said: If you know there are men of caliber among them (Genesis 46:7). [This refers to] the sin of the sons of Jacob—men of caliber—who suffered a perversion of judgment, as is said: הַאֵל יְעַוֵּת (ha-el ye’avvet), God will pervert justice (Job 8:3). They received a perversion of judgment, these men of caliber. For this is the way of the serpent—after slaying a person, it returns and bites him again, mercilessly. This is perversion of judgment!’ [cf. Midrash Mishlei 1:13: ‘still that sin lingers’; Midrash Tehillim 9:13; Elleh Ezkerah (Beit ha-Midrash, 2:64–72); ‘Ma’aseh Asarah Harugei Malkhut’ (Beit ha-Midrash, 6:19–35); Seder Eliyyahu Rabbah 28; Zohar 1:106a, 202a; 2:33a. 254b (Heikh); ZḤ 46a, 76d, 89c (last two MhN, Rut); Rabbenu Baḥya ben Asher on Genesis 38:1, 44:17; Yom Kippur Musaf liturgy].
The residents of the land of Israel sent [the exiles in Babylon] a missive: ‘It befits you to weep, like one who weeps from afar. But mourning and sobbing, and eulogizing with wailing and bitterness—that does not suit you. For you bathed your feet and did not want them sullied as before. This is as is written: I have bathed my feet, shall I sully them? (Song of Songs 5:3) [cf. Shir ha-Shirim Rabbah ad loc.: ‘I have bathed my feet—from the filth of idolatry’].
‘But we who dwell amid the serpent’s decrees—his lying ambush for us, slaying and biting daily—we see with our own eyes the perversion of judgment at work in our midst. Of those men of caliber—in their days he was silent, not pressing for judgment, for he was terrified of them and could not prevail over them. But once they passed on to that world in repentance, he arose before the blessed Holy One, clamoring for justice.
‘He scrutinized the verse One who kidnaps a man and sells him and he is found in his hands, will surely be put to death (Exodus 21:16) [see Heikhalot Rabbati (in Battei Midrashot 1:74): ‘The Quality of Judgment stood before the blessed Holy One and said, ‘Master of the World! You wrote in Your Torah: One who steals a man and sells him… (will surely be put to death) (Exodus 21:16). Now, the sons of Israel who stole their brother Joseph and sold him—what has happened to them?’ Immediately permission was granted to Samael to annihilate ten heroes in their place’].
The blessed Holy One responded to the serpent, ‘But Joseph was not a man [see Genesis 37:2].’ ‘And he is found in his hands’ [the serpent raises another claim]. ‘Look, he was not found in their hands!’ [the blessed Holy One replies that the brothers no longer had Joseph in their control]. ‘The serpent replied, ‘Should a person be found stealing a living person of his brothers, of Israel, and garner profit from him and sell him, that thief shall die [and you shall root out the evil from your midst] (Deuteronomy 24:7).’
‘For eight hundred years he stood there, demanding judgment. And we have learned that one who is convicted on two counts is sentenced to the more severe penalty. Woe to one who receives punishment for his sins, for death atones for sins! And [woe to one who] returns to receive another punishment! Woe for the perversion of the men of caliber, while Samael and the serpent were steadfast!’ [cf. Pirqei de-Rabbi Eli’ezer 38 in the name of Rabbi Yannai: ‘The tribes did not receive atonement for the sale of Joseph until they died, as is said: Then YHWH Tseva’ot revealed Himself to my ears: This iniquity shall not be purged from you until you die [‘a second death’ (Targum Yonatan)] (Isaiah 22:14)].
‘Consequently, for us it is fitting to weep and wail, for the holy city remains bereft of all its previous bounty. At that moment, Samael alighted and confounded the world. He infused this spirit into the innards of that wicked one, the Roman emperor, and called for retribution against the valiant ones of the world. Woe unto that generation! Woe unto the world! Such a miscarriage of justice has not occurred since the day the world was created.
‘Alas! Your sons—pillars of the world [cf. Proverbs 10:25; BT Yoma 38b], enduring columns upon which the world stands; You were their crown every day. How they were abused in the hands of the serpent! How were holy spirits corrupted to don foreign, alien garments to be ripped apart in abject humiliation! Woe for this event! Woe for this depravity!
‘Who was watching in the Garden of Eden when judgment was rendered above? When ten resplendent jewels, light of the entire garden, in the midst of all the trees, discarded their garments and departed! All the trees of the garden screamed, saying, ‘Woe, men of caliber have been abused!’ and the sentries at the gates of Eden trembled. Those cherubim ascended and descended, blocking any passage through which those lights might leave when they shed the luminosity of their garments. Celestial beings and lower angels screamed before them; guardians of the walls above quaked among all the legions of the heavens, weeping and wailing.
‘Who beheld Mother screeching and ululating? She descended to the cherubim, guardians of the garden’s gates, and they trembled. Mother flew off, accompanied by one cherub. ‘Then Flame of the Whirling Sword—razor sharp—pierced through the gates, and the ten luminaries fled. Celestial beings and terrestrial beings screamed, ‘Woe unto the world! Woe unto the generation!’
‘It befits us to lament, like jackals! When Mother descended and did not find them in the garden, and all the other luminaries and lamps were screaming and wailing, She began to weep and ululate. If those cherubim, guardians of the gates were weeping and wailing, breaking out in lament, is it not all the more fitting for us to weep over all this—and for the miscarriage of justice?’
They opened, saying, ‘They sent a message to Joseph, saying… ‘We beseech you, forgive, pray, the crime and the offense of your brothers for evil they have caused you. And so now, forgive, pray, the crime of the servants of your father’s God.’ And Joseph wept when they spoke to him (Genesis 50:16–17). They transgressed against him but he pardoned all, expiating their sin. Once he forgave, who can incite regarding their offense? This is the meaning of the men of caliber were degraded (Ecclesiastes 12:3). Gross miscarriage of justice—foisted upon those men of caliber. Woe unto us! Who will have compassion upon us? Who will speak to our hearts? Who will comfort us?
‘What a huge distortion of justice! On account of Mother’s banishment, Her flight, drifting away—this made perversion of justice possible. Left alone was the one who prosecuted us, with no one to fend him off nor to offer a defense on our behalf. On account of this, all Mother’s adornments were handed over to this one. For if Mother had been there, She would have gone beyond the letter of the law on their behalf [cf. BT Berakhot 7a]. For this She weeps.
‘For this She wails over Her children, for they were slaughtered in vain, and She was absent from their trials. The serpent executed his wishes against them, as is written: For your crimes, your mother was sent away (Isaiah 50:1). Sent away—so that She would not be available for your trials. Alas! She sits alone (Lamentations 1:1). At that time, She should have been taking up the case of Her children, and on Her account the decree would have been nullified.
‘When those ten jewels left the Garden of Eden to don foreign garments, all the garments, save one, were handed over to the serpent. This is as is written: Reuben returned to the pit (Genesis 37:29). Since he had counseled to put [Joseph] in the pit, he was associated with the pit, and was saved. [This is related to] the capture of Rabbi Eli’ezer” (Zohar Ḥadash 93b–d).