Documents for the Study of the Gospels

By David R. Cartlidge; David L. Dungan | Go to book overview

Rabbinic Parables

Introduction: A parable is usually a brief and easily understood narrative which either makes or illustrates a point. Most rabbinic parables are exegetical, intended either directly to explain a scriptural passage (1) or to illustrate an interpretation already given (2 and 3).

1. “Thus the people cried out to Moses” (Num. 11:2).—But what had Moses done? Would it not have been more appropriate to say “And the people cried out to God?” Thus why does the passage say, “And the people cried out to Moses?” R. Shime’ on says: “There is a parable. To what can this be compared? To the case of a human king who was angry with his son. That son went to his father’s friend and said to him: ‘Go and plead for me before my father.’ Thus Israel went to Moses and said to him: ‘Plead for us before God’” (Sifre Num. 86).

2. “Happy are you, O Israel” (Deut. 33:29).—All Israel gathered together before Moses, and they said to him: “Moses, our Master, tell us what good the Holy One, blessed be he, is about to give to us in the coming eternity.” He said to them: “I do not know what further to say to you. Happy are you in the way prepared for you.” It is like the case of a man who turned his son over to a tutor. He (the tutor) was taking him around and showing him, and he said to him: “All these trees are yours, all these grapevines are yours, all these olive trees are yours.” When he grew tired of showing him, he said to him: “I do not know what further to say to you. Happy are you in the way that is prepared for you.” Thus Moses said to Israel: “I do not know what further to say to you. Happy are you in the way that is prepared for you: ‘How abundant is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for those who fear thee’” (Ps. 31.19; Sifre Deuteronomy 356).

3. Another interpretation of “the mind of Pharaoh and his servants was changed toward the people” (Exod. 14:5).—They said: “Has not much good come to us because of them (the Israelites)?” R. Yose the Galilean says: “There is a parable. To what can this be compared? To the case of a man who inherited a field and who sold it for a pittance. The buyer went and opened up wells in it, and he planted in it gardens, trees, and orchards. The seller then began to be choked with grief. Thus it happened to the Egyptians who sent (the Israelites) out without knowing what they sent out. Concerning them there is an explicit statement in the traditional writings: ‘Those whom you sent out

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