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Parashat Yitro

February 16, 2017

by Rabbi Michael Pitkowsky

The highlight of this week’s parashah is the reading of the Ten Commandments. While there are midrashic compilations on individual books of the Bible, the Ten Commandments merited having their own individual midrash, Midrash Aseret ha-Dibrot, the Midrash of the Ten Commandments. This midrash was edited during the Middle Ages and draws upon many sources, both Jewish and non-Jewish. It is not structured like a classical midrash, and Joel Rosenberg wrote that “[it] represents the transition in Jewish literature from interpretation of Scripture to pure fiction, in a more modern sense of the term.”

Below is an edited version of a story included in this midrash about the commandment against adultery, a story that describes the trials and tribulations of a certain Rabbi Meir.

A tale is told of Rabbi Meir, that he used to go up to Jerusalem on each and every festival. And he would stay at the home of Judah the Cook. The wife of this cook was a beautiful woman, and she was extremely conscientious about honoring Rabbi Meir whenever he came up to see them. In time, the wife of the Rabbi Judah died, and he married another woman…

When the pilgrimage season came around, Rabbi Meir came to Jerusalem, where he went to stay at the house of Rabbi Judah the Cook. Rabbi Judah’s wife came before him, and Rabbi Meir said to her, “Call the wife of Rabbi Judah the Cook.” She replied, “Sir, his wife has died, and he has married me.” Thereupon, Rabbi Meir wept, and he turned away to go. She quickly grabbed Rabbi Meir by his garment and said to him, “Sir, my husband has already requested that I should care for your honor even more than his first wife did…”

Now, Rabbi Meir was a handsome young man, and she cast her gaze upon him and gave him so much to drink that he soon did not know his right from his left.” She suggested that he lie down, and when he did so, she went and lay with him until dawn. From his great drunkenness, he was not aware of her lying down or her rising up,” and he sported with her the entire night.

In the morning Rabbi Meir got up and went to the synagogue to pray. When he returned to the house, she brought before him food and drink, as before, in ministering to his needs. And she bantered and joked in his presence as if Rabbi Meir were a young man to flirt with. And Rabbi Meir wondered to himself, Why is she so brazen in front of me? He looked at the ground and did not wish to gaze upon her. She said to him, “Look at me! Didn’t you play the whole night with me? And now, you’re ashamed of me!”

“God forbid!” Rabbi Meir said. “No such thing has ever happened!” “If you don’t believe me,” she replied, “the sign of it is on your flesh.” Rabbi Meir realized that he had lost his senses with her, and he grew extremely morose, and wept and cried out, saying, “Woe is me that I have lost the Torah that I have learned, and now what remedy do I have?” He resolved to go to the head of the rabbinical community and confess his transgression before him. Whatever he requires me to do, I’ll take upon myself…

Thereupon, he went off to the house of the head of the rabbinical community, and he stood before him. “What do you seek, wise man?” he was asked. “0 everlasting luminary,” he replied, “here is what happened to me…He replied, “Let me first do some research into your case.” The next day, he came before him. The jurist said to him, “I have done research into your case, and we have seen fit to feed you to the lions…”

Immediately, they took him out to the forest and the place of the lions, bound him hand and foot, and themselves ascended into trees. At midnight along came a lion, sniffed his aroma, but went off on his way. They went before the magistrate and told him, “A lion came along, sniffed him out, and went on his way.” “Do the same thing to him again,” he replied. The next day, at midnight, a lion came along, growling around him and sniffing him, but went away. And they told the matter to the sage. “Do it again,” he replied, “If, on the third day, at night, they don’t touch him, bring him to my place, for there is no judgment of Heaven against him.” And so they did. At midnight, a lion came along, growling and roaring around him, who planted his teeth into him, pulled out a rib from his back, and ate from it. The next day, they went and told the sage. He

said, “Bring him to me. In that the beast has eaten only an olive-bulk, it is as if he had eaten him all.” Thereupon, they went to get him and brought him before the sage, who ordered the physicians to heal him.

When Rabbi Meir went back to his house, an oracular voice went out and said, “Rabbi Meir, who has been commanded to obtain life in the world to come, is designated fit to do so. Let a man be warned not to touch another man’s wife!”

(trans. by Joel Rosenberg and published in Rabbinic Fantasies, ed. David Stern and Mark Jay Mirsky)


Rabbi Michael Pitkowsky is the Rabbinic Curriculum Coordinator at AJR.