TalmuDigest

For the week ending 8 May 2010 / 23 Iyyar 5770

Sanhedrin 86 - 92

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll
  • Stealing people and stealing money
  • The rebellious judge
  • The highest place in the world
  • Disputes in the subjects in which the rebellious judge is overruled
  • How questions of law were resolved by the courts
  • What constitutes a rebellious ruling punishable by death
  • Where and when the execution takes place
  • False prophets and reluctant ones
  • When prophecy of many prophets is suspect
  • Which prophet need not perform a wonder to be believed
  • The final test of the Patriarch Avraham
  • The punishment of a false prophet inciting to idol worship
  • Who is denied a share in the World-to-Come
  • Proofs from Scripture and nature for resurrection of the dead
  • The challenges to our right to Eretz Yisrael

Return and Overturn

  • Sanhedrin 89b

A prophet who withholds revealing the prophecy granted him, ruled our Sages, is punished with lashes. Rabbi Chisda raised the question as to how it was possible for others to be aware of this prophecy in order to give him the warning that is required to make one liable for such a punishment. The Sage Abaye explained that other prophets would be privy to this prophecy, as it is written: "For the L-rd G-d will not do anything without revealing it to His servants the prophets." (Amos 3:17)

But, asks the gemara, perhaps the Heavenly Host mercifully reversed the harsh decree and withdrew the prophecy? If so, came the reply, this reversal would have been communicated to all of the prophets. This too is challenged by citing the case of the Prophet Yonah. He received a prophecy commanding him to go to Nineveh, capital of the sinful Assyrian Empire, and announce that, "in forty days from now Nineveh will be overturned." (Yonah 3:4) As we are all familiar with the outcome of this prophecy from our annual reading of the Book of Yonah at the Mincha service on Yom Kippur, Nineveh was indeed spared without Yonah being informed of any reversal.

The response to this challenge is that that prophecy Yonah received was one that Nineveh would be "overturned" — which could be understood that the sinners there would "overturn" their ways by repenting. Yonah made the misinterpretation that this was a prophecy of destruction. But his call for repentance achieved its goal and "G-d saw in their actions that they had repented their evil ways and G-d reconsidered the evil He had intended for them and did not bring it upon them." (Yonah 3:10) Only then did the prophet realize that there had been no change in his prophecy requiring notification, but that the initial message from Heaven was that there was an option of "overturning" which could spare Nineveh.

When we hear this historical account read on Yom Kippur we cannot help wondering how a foreigner like Yonah could succeed in arousing the capital of the world's superpower to repentance by threatening Heavenly destruction. Should someone come forward in our time with such a doomsday prophecy he would probably be placed in a mental institution!

The secret lies in the origins of the city Nineveh. "From that land went out Ashur (founder of the Ashur-Assyrian Empire) and built Nineveh." (Bereishet 10:11) Rashi explains that Ashur was concerned about the influence which the evil Nimrod, leader of a rebellion against G-d, was having on his children, and therefore moved away to found a new city. A city founded with such noble intentions was thus granted the potential to properly respond to a prophet's call for return and "overturn" more than a millennium afterwards.

What the Sages Say

"The punishment of the inveterate liar is that he is not believed even when he tells the truth."

  • Gemara, Sanhedrin 89b

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