19 Oct 2017

Touring the Talmud: Sanhedrin 90-96 – Measure for Measure

This week’s insights are dedicated Le’Iluy Nishmat Shmuel Simcha Bunim Ben Eliyohu Dovid

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Some notes on presentation: Each week there will be two sections presented. The first will be a summary/outline of the seven daf (pages) studied for Daf Yomi (Daily Page) of the previous week. The second will be an insight into one of the themes discussed within those pages. For a full explanation click here.

Perek Helek


Daf 90 

Mishna: ‘All of Israel have a portion in the World to Come’.

  • Immediately followed with: ‘And these are the exceptions…
  • First exception (dealt with for the next several pages): One who does not believe that the Tehiyat HaMetim – the Resurrection of the Dead has its source in Torah.


  • Question: Why does not believing in Resurrection result in loss of World to Come?! Rather, it should only result in loss of Resurrection. After all, God’s dealings are measure for measure – mida keneged mida.
  • Proof of ‘measure for measure’ is brought to this point from a story in II Kings 7.
  • Rabbis continue to offer possible sources in Torah that allude to the Resurrection.
  • Questions to the rabbis from various gentiles, including some VIP’s like Cleopatra and Caesar, regarding the Resurrection.

Daf 91

  • Questions of the dead rising from the earth give rise to questions of ownership of earth.
  • Alexander of Macedonia presides over various disputes between Israel, Phoenicians, Egyptians and the descendants of Ishmael regarding ownership of the land of Israel.
  • Geviha ben Pesisa, our star lawyer, wins each dispute.

            As we speak of VIPs and their dealings with the rabbis we are told of various discussions between the Roman leader Antoninus (many believe this to refer to Marcus Aurelius) and Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi.  Among these discussions are the questions regarding the divine judgment of the body and soul, at which   point the soul enters the body of a fetus, and at which point the evil inclination enters a human being. In  two cases Rabbi Yehuda adjusts his initial opinion based on the logic of Antoninus.

  • More details on the resurrection are discussed and further possibilities are cited as to its source in the Torah.

Daf 92

  • The obligation of a teacher of Torah to his student.
  • In the World to Come a teacher continues to teach his students.
  • Faithful leaders who treat the people kindly and with empathy will also lead in the World to Come.
  • Twelve different statements made by Rabbi Elazar. Including:
    • Value of having knowledge and the dangers of lacking it.
    • Importance of respecting food.
    • Effects of lying.
    • Effects of looking at lewd scenes and images.
    • Benefits of living inconspicuously.
  • The Gemara returns to discuss the nature of the Resurrection.

Daf 93

  • Dialogue on Resurrection turns to lengthy and detailed discussion of the Book of Daniel and the story of Hananya, Mishael, and Azaria who survived a fiery furnace unscathed.

Daf 94

  • We are to pay attention to our intuition and subconscious.
  • The Mashiah (Messiah) and divine salvation.
  • King Hizkiya of Israel (who was meant to be the Mashiah) and his struggle with Sennacherib king of Assyria.

Daf 95Instances of divine retribution and the justice of response.

  • Case Study: The massacre of the city of Nob by King Saul (I Samuel 22) and its repercussions.
  • King David and his involvement with Goliath and its repercussions.
  • How the universe responds to those who live faithful lives and engage in prayer with God.
  • Discussion returns to Sennacherib and the details of the divine plague that hit his army.

Daf 96

  • Unanticipated outcomes to various circumstances: don’t make hasty assumptions as to how events will conclude.
  • Properly treating the wise and Torah-educated children of those who are not learned.
  • Jeremiah the prophet is quoted questioning the nature of divine reward and punishment, namely, why the wicked seem to prosper.
  • Various righteous converts that came from the enemies of Israel.
  • Nebuchadnezzar and the destruction of the first Bet HaMikdash (Holy Temple) in Jerusalem.


Measure for Measure

In his brilliant discoveries about physics Sir Isaac Newton identified three laws of motion. In his third law Newton determined that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. When sitting on a chair we are not only exerting force on the chair downwards, the chair is exerting force upon us upwards. Forces only exist as a result of interaction between objects.

The interaction between objects does not necessarily require direct physical contact between them. For example, the sun and planets exert gravitational forces on each other despite the great spatial separation between them.

The Gemara opens its discussions on eschatology, providence and reward and punishment, with the forces that exist in the interactions between us and God. They postulate that God’s responses are directly proportional to and oppose our own[1]. The Hakhamim essentially apply Newton’s third law of motion to our interactions with God.

How do we know that all of the measures [that] God [takes] are measure for measure [with ours]? (90b)

We often believe that God’s responses to us, whether they be reward or punishment, are not necessarily responsive to the manner and measure of our actions but rather a payment of sorts. Mere compensation would not necessarily teach us about the nature of our involvement in the world. Yet, when the reaction is equal and opposite to ours we can learn and improve.

The forces at work between us and God — the action and reaction — are a result of how things are not of how we wish they might be. When dealing with the complexities and variables of the human psyche and an infinite and conscious God, the actions and reactions can be quite surprising.

As we sometimes do not realise the results of our actions in the physical world — we break things without intending to, and we bring more joy to others than we might anticipate — so too with our involvement in the universe. We might experience reactions from God that we assumed would be different in magnitude because we misjudged the true force of our actions.

It is also true that we are not always immediately aware of the results we set in motion by our actions. There are ripple effects that may only come to play after lapses of time.

Rather than look at our relationship with God as one of two separate individuals freely choosing to do what we wish with each other, the Talmud teaches us to see God’s actions towards us as reactions that result from our own. In a sense, we are working off of each other.

In understanding this, we aim at learning the laws of ‘divine motion’ that are most viable, sustainable and beneficial to us in the universe. We seek to adjust and hone ourselves so that our movement in and through the world flows well with the circumstances of reality — so that we can live in harmony rather than at odds with God. We try to be like a fish in water rather than a bull in a china shop. Clashing with reality can be terribly unpleasant.

Different people will find different results from similar actions because of their physical health, mental focus and psychological well-being. Michael Phelps in water is not you or me. The way we are determines the way the world will react with us.

Rambam writes in Hilkhot De’ot[2] that refining our physical, psychological and spiritual selves along with developing sensitivity to our interactions with those around us and with the world, is to walk in the Way of God.

Because it is all about interactions it would be beneficial to recognise that all things play on each other in some way big or small. The entire fabric of the universe is interconnected and through it all flows the Force of the Creator. All of our actions occur within that medium; we are always acting in the waters of reality that surround us. And for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

The Talmud’s discussions in the chapter examine the opening postulate of mida keneged mida (measure for measure) in its various facets. Ultimately though, the Talmud teaches us that the world is heading in a certain direction. The world will emerge into a state of perfection. Our involvement in that unfolding and connection to those ends depends on us. We are to learn the laws of its function and know that our successful navigation depends on our relationships — our interactions — and the divine reactions that they incur.

But only in this should one glory: In his understanding and knowledge of Me. For I God act with kindness, justice, and equity in the world; For these I desire — declares God. (Jeremiah, 9:23)

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joseph Dweck


[1] This is a concept that runs throughout Biblical and rabbinic literature.

[2] 1:6-7