Judaism – A Small Collection of Profound Jewish Sayings

For the LORD Almighty will care for his flock, the people of Judah, and make them like a proud horse in battle. From Judah will come the cornerstone, from them the tent peg, from them the battle bow, from them every ruler.

– Zechariah 10:3-4

A Small Collection of Profound Jiewish Sayings

Nearly every one of the sayings listed below come directly from a book freely available on-line at the Sacred-texts.com website. This valuable source of Jewish wisdom is entitled ‘Tales and Maxims from the Midrash’ and was originally written by Rabbi Samuel Rapaport in 1907. Nearly all of them are citations taken from authentic Jewish Biblical commentaries commonly known as Midrash. Quite a few of them are several centuries old and may well have been derived from other, even older, sources. Similar to some of the best sayings found throughout both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud, these particular examples of ancient Jewish wisdom can be seen as follows:

By saying that the Torah is not in heaven, Moses meant to convey that there is no other Torah to come thence to supersede this Torah, and there is no other man to come and bring another Torah from heaven. (Deuteronomy Rabba 8)

Just as the dove is saved only by her wings, so Israel is saved only by the precepts. (Berakoth 53b)

‘O, you Jews’, she exclaimed, ‘You seem to live in the inner chambers of one’s heart.’(Niddah 20b)

There is no redemption without faith. (Tanchuma Beshallach)

R. Joseph said, ‘Cast a malediction on the dog’s tail and it will do its work’. For there was a dog that used to eat the Rabbis’ shoes and they did not know who it was that did it, so they pronounced a malediction on the culprit, and the dog’s tail caught fire and got burnt. (Moed Katan 17a)

Heresy may be many things but it’s not boring   (Avodah Zarah 17a)

The verse, ‘Yea, for thy sake we are killed all the day long’ can be applied to circumcision, which has been appointed for the eighth day. (Gittin 57b)

God will wipe away tears from off all faces. This means from the faces of non-Jews as well as Jews.  (Genesis Rabba 26)

The world was like a wilderness before the Exodus and the giving of God’s behests on Sinai. (Numbers Rabba 2)

The Israelites were the first to introduce national flags. (Numbers Rabba 2)

He who causes his fellow-man to sin is worse than he who seeks a man’s life. .(Numbers Rabba 21)

God says to Israel, ‘You are called my children, but you must take my law as your guide of life.’ It is as though a prince should ask his father to make it known throughout his kingdom that he is the king’s son. The father tells him: ‘Clothe yourself in purple and put on your coronet; then all will know that you are my son. (Deuteronomy Rabba 7)

In vain have you acquired knowledge if you do not impart knowledge to others. (Deuteronomy Rabba 2)

To do justice and righteousness is more acceptable to God than sacrifices (Proverbs 21:3). Sacrifices were in vogue only whilst the Temple was in existence, but justice and righteousness must exist with and without the Temple. Sacrifices atoned only for sins committed in error, not for presumptuous sin: justice and righteousness atone for all sins. (Deuteronomy Rabba 5)

All men alike, both those who know the living God and those who know Him not, lose their lives, one may say, when they sleep, but God in his goodness restores their lives to all alike. (Deuteronomy Rabba 5)

Remember that whatever evil it may be possible to avert or delay, there is no such possibility with death. Death is no respecter of persons, against it there is no appeal, and after it there is no remedy, nor can you suggest a substitute such as your slave, nor can you plead for delay, saying that you are not quite ready to meet it, nor can you create anything to protect you from it. (Deuteronomy Rabba 9)

It is a great and good thing for a man to have the blessings of a good man. (Midrash Ruth 6)

One of the characteristics of the righteous is that their yes is yes, and their no is no. (Midrash Ruth 7)

Do not sit down in the presence of one who is greater than you unless he invites you to do so. (Midrash Ruth 7)

What wisdom considers to be her very crown, meekness looks upon as her mere sandal. (Midrash Songs 1)

Do not look upon a parable or simile lightly, for some difficult passages of Scripture may be explained through them; just as one may find anything lost in a dark place by the aid of a candle. (Midrash Songs 1)

All the peace and happiness here are mere vanity as compared with the abiding peace in the world to come. (Midrash Ecclesiastes 2)

Scrupulousness causes cleanliness, which again leads to purity, and purity brings holiness, holiness meekness, and this prompts a fear of sin, a fear of sin begets saintliness, and saintliness brings the Holy Spirit. (Midrash Songs 1)

All souls go upwards; but for those of the righteous there is a resting-place, whilst those of the wicked are fugitive. (Midrash Ecclesiastes 3)

The recital of (prayer) is better than a thousand burnt offerings. (Midrash Ecclesiastes 4)

An ignorant man who puts forth pretentions to knowledge is best styled a flatterer of the Torah. (Midrash Ecclesiastes 5)

There is stir and noise when man is born, and the same when he dies; he comes to this world weeping, and there is weeping for him when he goes hence. He arrives without knowledge, and departs without knowledge. When born his fists are closed, as if to say, ‘I have everything,’ and when he dies his hands are open, showing that he has nothing. (Midrash Ecclesiastes 5)

There is no death brought about without sin, and no pain without iniquity. (Midrash Ecclesiastes 5)

The soul is not attracted by any earthly goods that may be offered to her. She is like a king’s daughter, who finds no value in things which to others may seem precious. (Midrash Ecclesiastes 6)

The admonition of a good and sincere preacher is preferable to the expounding of Holy Writ by a quack; however great his enthusiasm, he can only be called a firebrand. (Midrash Ecclesiastes 7)

He who rebels against the king has it in him to rebel against God. (Midrash Ecclesiastes 9)

Fools, as a rule, look upon all mankind as fools. (Midrash Ecclesiastes 10)

He who trains a bad pupil must expect discredit. (Midrash Lamentations, Pesichta)

There was harmony between God and his people when He redeemed them from Egypt. They have sinned and broken that harmony, and become separated from their God. (Midrash Lamentations, Pesichta)

A woman’s pleasure consists in a fine house and fine clothes rather than in the best of food. (Midrash Esther 3)

The Hebrew language for speech, Latin for war, and the Persian language for lamentations. (Midrash Esther 4)

As the sea throws up its refuse on its shores, so have the wicked their filthiness upon their mouths. (Midrash Psalms 2)

A man is bound to pay the same respect to his wife’s father as he would to his own father. (Midrash Psalms 7)

If one tells you definitely when the Messiah will come, believe him not. (Midrash Psalms 9)

David’s words clearly show that righteous non-Jews will inherit future bliss. He says: ‘The wicked shall go to ‘Sheol’ and all the nations that forget God’ (Psalms 9:18), i.e. those of the nations that forget God, but not those who worship God. (Midrash Psalms 9)

He who hears himself abused (or cursed) and does not retaliate may be called a saintly man. (Midrash Psalms 16)

It is much more difficult to cope with a Jewish enemy than with a non-Jewish enemy. (Midrash Psalms 18)

Of all the good men who are designed to see God, those that were upright in their lives here stand in the first rank. (Midrash Psalms 11)

Trust in God delivers us from impending peril. (Midrash Psalms 22)

Woe to any man when death approaches him, to the strong man when he becomes weak, or to him who loses his sight; but woe to the whole generation which is ruled by a woman. (Midrash Psalms 22)

If all your life is given up to the pursuit of earthly things, it is quite consistent for you to look downwards; but if you pursue the higher life, look upwards. (Midrash Psalms 32)

The wicked are, as a rule, brought to judgment when all fear of judgment has left them. (Midrash Psalms 36)

Jerusalem is destined to become the Metropolis of the world. (Midrash Psalms 36)

To Israel’s question ‘O Lord, when wilt Thou redeem us?’ God’s answer is, ‘When you have fallen to your lowest depth.’ (Midrash Psalms 4)

He that is deeply sensible of his sin, is in terror of it, confesses it, and is in communion with God concerning this burden of uncleanliness, may hope for forgiveness. (Midrash Psalms 51)

If you intend to put man to rights, put yourself to rights first. (Midrash Psalms 53)

As there is no limit to the evils of a bad wife, so there is no limit to the good that is caused by a good wife. (Midrash Psalms 53)

‘I am that I am,’ said God to Moses, by which He intimated that He created the world in mercy, and will always rule the world in mercy. (Midrash Psalms 72)

One is not to think lightly of a parable or a simile: indeed one is to look upon them in the same sense as psalms, hymns, or prophecy.

Hath not the Lord sent his prophet Ezekiel to put forth a riddle and speak a parable unto the house of Israel (Ezkl. 17.)? and hath not the Psalmist said, ‘I will open my mouth in a parable’ (Psalms 78)? (Midrash Psalms 79)

The coats, or covers, with which God clothed Adam and Eve after their fall were made of the serpent’s skin. (Midrash Psalms 92)

Moses and Isaiah alone of all the prophets knew what they were prophesying; all the other prophets, including Elijah and Samuel, uttered their prophecies mechanically. (Midrash Psalms 90)

If you bear in mind that your prayers are directed to the God above, then they will be a blending of joy and awe. (Midrash Psalms 100)

Sing praises unto the Eternal whether you worship Him as a God of judgment or as a God of mercy. (Midrash Psalms 101)

God asks neither for burnt offerings nor for other sacrifices. He asks for earnest prayer. (Midrash Psalms 102)

Prayer is not to be offered in the midst of frivolity or laughter, but with humility and bowed head. (Midrash Psalms 108)

At the redemption of Israel, the nations amongst which they have been scattered, and out of which they will be redeemed, will sing praises to God. (Midrash Psalms 117)

The wicked walk in darkness, but those who have the light of God, the Torah, as their guide are restricted from committing sin even when they have a passing desire to do so. (Midrash Psalms 119)

Every man gets the wife he deserves (Midrash Psalms 125)

Repentance is of no avail in a matter of wronging your fellow-man, without first rectifying the wrong done.(Midrash Psalms 125)

No one has a right to expect success in his mundane affairs unless he works for it. Moses blessed the works of the hands and all of man’s doings. (Midrash Psalms 136)

Let no man say ‘My father was a righteous man; I shall be all right for his sake,’ or ‘My brother was a righteous man, and I shall reap the benefit of his merits.’ Abraham could not save Ishmael, and Jacob could not save Esau. Each man must work out his own salvation. (Midrash Psalms 146)

Man should attain sound sense and a feeling of responsibility at the age of twenty. (Midrash Proverbs 1)

Man must be attentive to his wife, to his studies, and to his occupation. (Midrash Proverbs 5)

Happy indeed is the teacher who has a disciple that can intercede with Heaven, by his prayer, on behalf of the teacher. (Midrash Proverbs 7)

Do not despise an ignorant man who strives to gain knowledge, or a man of ill repute who strives to redeem his past. (Midrash Proverbs 7)

The Day of Atonement will never be abolished. (Midrash Proverbs 9)

Have a good word for your fellow-man, and the ministering angels will plead for you before the throne of mercy. (Midrash Proverbs 11)

Man may have two hands; but he is not to rob with the one and give alms with the other. (Midrash Proverbs 11)

He who, being on friendly terms with another, eats and drinks with him and does not refrain from speaking against him, is designated by God Himself an evil one. (Midrash Proverbs 12)

A man proud of his knowledge is a propagator of folly. (Midrash Proverbs 13)

Here man is able to comprehend things and test them by his senses, such as the sense of sight or the sense of hearing; but he cannot imagine what future bliss means, since it is an abstract idea and cannot be tested either by the sense of sight or by the sense of hearing. (Midrash Proverbs 13)

God lends eloquence to the righteous. (Midrash Proverbs 15)

That King Solomon held the fear of God in high estimation we glean from the fact that his two great books, those of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, conclude by saying that the fear of God is above everything. (Midrash Ecclesiastes 3)

A man of a kindly and charitable disposition is generally blessed with old age, which sits on him like a crown. (Midrash Proverbs 16)

A learned man who has a learned son and a learned grandson may reasonably hope that learning will be the characteristic of his family for generations to come. (Midrash Proverbs 18)

If you want to incur contempt, be extravagant in self-praise. (Midrash Proverbs 27)

A judge, like a king, should not depend on anybody’s gifts, nor should he, like a priest, live on the people’s charity. (Midrash Proverbs 30)

Alexander the Great of Macedonia overran the whole world like a swarm of locusts. (Midrash Proverbs 30)

The virtues of Noah’s wife outweighed those of Noah. (Midrash Proverbs 31)

Prayer is, or should be, the service of the heart. (Midrash Samuel 2)

No wizard or astrologer can produce a human soul. (Midrash Samuel 5)

A religious teacher who in his old age is found not to be what he had always led men to believe that he was, pious and pure, is not to be held up to public derision, but should be made to retire from his duties in a manner which will not detract from his dignity.(Midrash Samuel 7)

The following are dignified with the name ‘Precious’: Torah, prophecy, understanding, knowledge, simplicity, the righteous, the death of the righteous, kindness, riches, and Israel. (Midrash Samuel 8)

Immediately a man is born he proceeds into death, when he dies he proceeds into life. (Midrash Samuel 23)

The Torah is full of holy fire; it was written with a black fire upon a white fire. (Tanchum, Bereshith)

The Torah has meekness as its shoes, and the fear of God as its crown. Hence Moses was the proper person through whose hands it should be delivered; he was meek, and with the fear of the Lord he was crowned. (Tanchum, Bereshith)

You cannot expect to occupy yourself with the study of the Torah in the future world and receive the reward for so doing in this world. you are meant to make the Torah your own in this life and to look for reward in the life to come. (Tanchum, Bereshith)

As one who finishes the building of his house proclaims that day a holiday, and consecrates the building, so God, having finished creation in the six days, proclaimed the seventh day a holy day and sanctified it. (Tanchum, Bereshith)

If the fraudulent man and the usurer offer to make restitution, it is not permitted to accept it from them. (Tanchum, Bereshith)

Whatever hardships may be imposed upon Jews by the powers that be, they must not rebel against the authorities who impose them, but are to render compliance, except when ordered to disregard the Torah and its injunctions; for that would be tantamount to giving up their God. (Tanchum, Bereshith)

There is no evil that has no remedy, and the remedy for sin is repentance. (Tanchum, Bereshith)

Whatever hardships may be imposed upon Jews by the powers that be, they must not rebel against the authorities who impose them, but are to render compliance, except when ordered to disregard the Torah and its injunctions for that would be tantamount to giving up their God. (Tanchum, Bereshith)

There is a wall of separation erected between the Shechinah and the following three classes, a wall that can never be razed: The cheater, the robber, and the idol worshipper. (Tanchum, Bereshith)

The meaning of the phrase ‘God made man in his own image’ is that, like his Maker, man is to be righteous and upright. Do not claim that the evil inclination is innate in you; such an argument is fallacious. When you are a child you commit no sin. It is when you grow out of infancy that your evil inclination becomes developed. You have the power of resisting the evil inclination if you feel so inclined, even as you are able to convert the bitter elements of certain foods into very tasty morsels. (Tanchum, Bereshith)

The slanderer seems to deny the existence of God. As King David has it, ‘They say, our lips are with us, who is LORD over us?’ Tanchum, Bereshith)

Let us not lose sight of the lesson that it is meant to convey to us by the expression, ‘And the Lord came down to see’ (Genesis 11), namely that we are not to judge merely by ‘hearsay’ and to assert anything as having taken place unless we saw it. (Tanchum, Bereshith)

Elijah quickened the dead, caused rain to descend, prevented rain from coming down, and brought fire down from heaven; but he did not say ‘I am God.’ (Tanchum, Bereshith)

When Noah set out to plant the vine, Satan encountered him and asked upon what errand he was bent. ‘I am going to plant the vine,’ said Noah. ‘I will gladly assist you in this good work,’ said Satan. When the offer of help was accepted Satan brought a sheep and slaughtered it on the plant, then a lion, then a pig, and finally a monkey. He thus explained these symbols to Noah. When a man tastes the first few drops of wine he will be as harmless as a sheep; when he tastes a little more he will become possessed of the courage of a lion and think himself as strong; should he further indulge in the liquid produced by your plant he will become as objectionable as a pig; and by yet further indulgence in it he will become like a monkey. (Tanchum, Noah)

The promise to Abraham that he should become a great nation was fulfilled when the Israelites became the recipients of God’s laws. Moses, on account of their being the possessors of the Torah, styles them ‘a great nation’. (Tanchum. Lech Lecho)

The comparison in beauty of any woman to Sarah is like comparing monkeys with men. (Tanchum, Lech Lecho)

You cannot be too careful about prayer, and you should never omit to pray. Prayer eclipses all other services, and towers above sacrifices; and the sinful man may receive God’s grace through prayer. (Tanchum, Vaayro)

Just as one is prohibited from reciting any portion of the Torah by heart, but must read it out of the written scroll, so is he who expounds on any passage portion not allowed to read his opinions from anything written, but must deliver it by word of mouth.. (Tanchum, Vaayro)

When God’s creatures incur punishment, the Merciful One looks for one to plead for the guilty people, to open a way, as it were, as was the case in the time of Jeremiah. (Tanchum, Vaayro)

The proverb says, ‘If you rub shoulders with the anointed you will become anointed.’ Lot, being associated with Abraham, became hospitable; while his character does not indicate inclination to hospitality on his own part. (Tanchum, Vaayro)

You must not in any way mislead your fellow-man, not even to the extent of asking the price of anything he may have for sale, so as to make him believe that you are a likely purchaser, while you have no intention of ever purchasing the item. (Tanchum. Vaayro)

The righteous are put to more and severer trials than the unrighteous. So the owner of flax will beat out the good flax often and severely, so as to increase its purity, but does not treat the inferior flax in the same way, because it would simply fall away into small pieces. (Tanchum. Vaayro)

The following tend to make a man prematurely old: Fear, war, trouble from his children, or a shrew of a wife. (Tanchum, Chaya Sarah)

As there is a regularity in the position of the sun daily three times: in the morning he is in the east, at noon between east and west, and in the evening in the west, so must there be an inflexible regularity with every Jew in reciting his prayers three times daily, morning, afternoon, and evening. (Tanchum, Chaya Sarah)

A widower with unmarried sons is advised to see his sons married before he marries again. (Tanchum, Chaya Sarah)

Adrianus (Hadrian), discussing with Rabbi Joshua the innumerable adversaries that the Israelites had to encounter, said ‘Great is the sheep that can withstand seventy wolves.’ Rabbi Joshua replied, ‘Greatest is the shepherd who enables the sheep to outlive the constant attacks of the wolves.’ (Tanchum, Toldous)

There is merit and even dignity in handicraft. (Tanchum, Vayaitza)

Do not say, I need not work for my living, but cast my hope on God who supports all living creatures. You must work for a livelihood and look up to God to bless the work of your hands. Jacob, in alluding to the delivery from Laban’s house, says, ‘God hath seen the labour of my hands’. (Tanchum, Vayaitza)

A homely domesticated wife is like the altar in the Temple; and she is even an atonement as the altar was. (Tanchum, Vayishlach)

Isaiah committed sin by saying, ‘In the midst of a people of unclean lips do I dwell’ (Isaiah 6). For this, the slander which is compared to fire, he was punished with fire, with the live coal taken from the altar (Isaiah 6). (Tanchum. Vayishlach)

However adverse one’s opinion may be of any one placed in a high position, he is bound to pay him the respect due to his position. Rabbi Judah Hannasi, when writing to Antoninus, invariably used the phrase, ‘Judah, thy servant, sends greeting.’ (Tanchum. Vayishlach)

A modest woman is worthy of being the wife of a high priest, for she is like an altar in her home. (Tanchum, Vayishlach)

God wishes man to ask forgiveness, and not to see him in his guilt. (Tanchum. Vayishlach)

Give me the criticism of the old in preference to the flattery of the young. (Tanchum, Vayaishev)

Good men lift up their eyes and look one straight in the face; bad, wicked men drop their eyes. (Tanchum, Vayaishev)

There is a tendency with every man to become humble when near his death. (Tanchum, Vaychee)

It matters not where the body is buried, the spirit goes wherever it is destined. (Tanchum, Vaychee)

Jacob’s objection to being buried in Egypt was due to the fact that the Egyptians practised witchcraft by means of dead bodies, and he would not have his body utilized for such abominable practices. (Tanchum, Vaychee)

There is no death to the righteous.(Talmud, Tanchum. Vaychee.)

Slight no man. Every man was created in God’s image. (Tanchum, Jethro)

If you have acquired knowledge, do not simultaneously acquire a haughty spirit on account of your knowledge; and if you intend to expound God’s word, recite to yourself twice or thrice what you intend saying. Even so great a man as Rabbi Akiba, when once called upon in the assembly to get up and preach, declined to do so, on the ground that he never preached unless he rehearsed his intended speech twice or thrice to himself. (Tanchum, Jethro)

The righteous bless their offspring before they depart to the next world.(Tanchum, Vaychee)

David was descended from Judah. (Tanchum, Vaychee)

Slight no man. Every man was created in God’s image. (Tanchum, Jethro)

Poor ignorant man, you want to find out God’s ways explain first the phenomenon of your own eye; it consists of white and black, and according to all reason the white should supply light, but in reality the little spot in the centre of your eye is the lens to give you sight. (Tanchum, Tezaveh)

A man never so learned should not preach if his preaching is not agreeable to his audience. (Tanchum, Kee Sisso)

A public teacher (preacher) must not only be thoroughly conversant with the twenty-four books of the Bible, but must be known to his flock as modest and distinguished for his virtues. (Tanchum, Kee Sisso)

The Torah was given in the wilderness, and like the wilderness it is free and open to all comers without formalities or introductions: all that wish to do so can enter into it. (Tanchum, Vayakhail)

It is but right and proper that one should be right in the sight of God, but it is also desirable so to act as to be just and right in the eyes of man. (Tanchum, Pekudai)

Slander no one, whether it is your brother or not your brother, whether a Jew or not a Jew. (Tanchum, Pekudai)

Out of certain classes of things God has chosen one. Of days, the seventh was chosen and sanctified. Of years too the seventh was chosen as the Sabbatical year; and out of seven Sabbatical years one was selected as the jubilee. Of countries, God made choice of Palestine. Of the heavens, the Aroboth was chosen for God’s throne. Of nations, Israel was the choice, and of the tribes of Israel, that of Levi. (Tanchum, Bamidbar)

No one can imagine the reward of him who accepts all his sorrows and reverses with religious resignation.(Tanchum. Kee Saizai)

The righteous stand on a higher level than angels. (Tanchum, Vayikra)

Those who aim at greatness do not always get it. Moses fled from it, but it was forced upon him. (Tanchum, Vayikra)

Swear not at all, not even to the truth. (Tanchum, Vayikra)

If you see cruelty and injustice perpetrated by Romulus in Rome, be not dismayed; remember there is One above the dukes and princes of Rome who executes judgment even by the mere word ‘Behold.’ (Midrash Ecclesiastes 5)

May the LORD God bless you in the name of St. Moses.

SOURCE: Tales and Maxims from the Midrash, by Rabbi Samuel Rapaport 1907 (http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/tmm/tmm10.htm)

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