Ha-tsofeh le-vet Yisra’el: Tashlikh (The Observer of the House of Israel: Tashlikh)

Isaac Erter


You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea: You will show faithfulness to Jacob. . . .

—Micah 7:19–20

In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, while I was walking along the riverbank, I lifted up my eyes and I saw, and lo and behold! Samael was standing by the river, and evil angels were roaming around on both of its banks, and as for myself, fear of demons and satyrs had never terrified me all my life long, for I am a Jew, and I fear the Lord, the God of Heaven, alone. So I approached the Satan and enquired of him: “Why are you here, Samael? And what are you doing by this riverbed?” The Satan replied and said: “I am spreading a net over the river, to collect with the trawling net all the sins of the Children of Israel which they will cast away into the depths, into the tumultuous waves, so as to bring them up to Heaven; there will I spread them out in the midst of the divine camp, in order that all the heavenly hosts shall see, on High, the transgressions of this people, that they are mighty, and their sins, that they are exceedingly grievous.” I replied: “You have acted foolishly, Samael, as you have chosen for yourself the waters of the land of Poland in which to hunt prey of iniquity and transgression! Make a detour to the rivers of Germany and of France; there the Children of Israel have their sidelocks cropped, there the Children of Israel go clean-shaven, there the Jews wear alien attire, in accordance with the fashion of the gentile nations in whose midst they dwell; whereas we, who are here, wear traditional Jewish garments, our beards are fully grown—not a single hair of them will fall to the ground—and each of the sidelocks of our heads is two-and-a-half cubits in length.”

There was yet something further I had to say—and my words were upon my tongue—to recount all our righteous deeds, by virtue of which we are distinguished from the rest of the families of the House of Jacob, but lo and behold! A sound like that of thunder in the celestial sphere impacted on my ears, and I shut my lips, and I turned around to see what it was—and lo and behold! It was the voice of Samael, the Satan—the voice of his mocking laughter at my words. And he replied and said to me: “You have furnished me this day with cause for laughter by reason of your words and of the phrases issuing from your mouth! For you have stated today that it is the fullness of a man’s beard and the length of his sidelocks that constitute the witnesses of his perfection of heart, and that the attire worn by him are a sign of righteous or wicked deeds. For it is from both the very hairs of their beards and the sidelocks of their heads that the iniquities of your brethren, the residents of this land, have grown mighty, and beneath the corners of their garments they conceal the foreskins of their hearts and the multitude of their transgressions. Look at the people emerging from the synagogues and the prayer houses! They will come, group after group, to the bank of this river, to seize hold of the corners of their garments and to shake out their sins into the water. Hasten, my satyrs! Gird yourselves with strength, my ministers! Station yourselves, each one of you upon his place! Make ready the net! Fasten its hooks! Strengthen its cords—so that the cord does not snap, or the hook shift, or the net descend to the depths of the riverbed on account of the weight of the burden it is bearing.

But as for you, stand here together with me!

Behold, your eyes are opened

And you shall see the sins

As they descend into the water” [ . . . ]

I turned my eyes toward the place to which they had been originally focused, and I saw, and lo and behold, from beneath the garments of the rabbis went forth: the image of jealousy; mockery of good families, mockery at those wise of heart. Mockery directed at everyone: quarrelling and strife, snares and nets, hearts of stone harder than rocks; and an inkwell belonging to scribes, and an image comprising many hands, and a wild boar of the forest, with its mouth polluted by the dung of human excrement bringing up the rear of the entire camp. The Satan said to me: “Do you see? All these have been born to the giant. It is the sin of pride! The image of this jealousy which you have seen is not the jealousy existing among learned men, which increases wisdom; it is that of the jealousy that loves the man who stirs up its spirit, and glorifies him, carrying him upon its hands, and he becomes a model for it: this jealousy, that sets its face against a man for evil, hates him, turns him into a reproach, and, if it could, would swallow him like a fish; this is the jealousy whose eye will be directed for evil objectives against one born at the same hour as oneself when people praise him in the gates, that will hate a resident of its city when people appoint him a rabbi, setting him upon a throne, and instead of according honor to his name, it scorns him. For this too is the fruit of the haughtiness in the hearts of the rabbis—to scorn every human being—to hold both nations and individuals alike in abhorrence. Only their own families are regarded as distinguished, and the families of the entire House of Israel are accounted merely as sheep. All the inhabitants of the world and the dwellers on earth are considered by them as vermin; they are giants, and all the wise of heart are mere grasshoppers in their sight. This man whose heart has elevated him heavenward, to devise skillful devices and to expose those who are dragging balls of fine dust along their pathways, is merely the largest of the grasshoppers, a cricket or a bald locust; however, out of the locust family, they alone are deemed giants; all the thoughts of these men are focused on their heads (they call someone of great discernment ‘a head’)—they live by their heads, they quarrel about their heads, and should one of them say: ‘My head is upon me like Mt. Carmel!,’ his fellow will speak about himself: ‘My head is upon me like Mt. Lebanon!’ That is the reason why the men compete, that is the reason why they quarrel, that is the reason why they ensnare souls; that is the reason for their imposition of bans of excommunication; it is not on account of fear of the Almighty, but on account of the pride and the haughtiness of their hearts. For fear of the Almighty causes the dispersed ones to return and brings near those who are distant, while as regards pride, it drives away with its arms everyone who is close to godliness, whereas those who are already distant from it, it disperses further still.”

Now I had stood in silence until now, as I was astounded at the vision that I had just seen, to the point where I lacked the ability to find the words to express the inclination of my heart; but as soon as he had spoken, my spirit returned to me and my words came back to my tongue, and I called out: “What is the meaning of this polluted mouth of the pig that I saw? Ah, Lord! What is this unclean wild animal, an abomination for the Children of Israel, doing in the shadow of the wings of our teacher and our master?” The Satan replied and said: “It symbolizes the sin of those who utter unseemly words in their works of halakhic inquiries and responses, who speak in an obscene manner, employing lewd, detestable, and abominable expressions, as does one of those empty-headed individuals who make bodily incisions on themselves in the house of a prostitute, and the word of the Lord has become, in their works, an object of shame and abhorrence of the soul.” I replied: “I am not aware, Samael, of any such enquiries concerning which you question me! Is it really your desire that the legislators of Israel should not offer guidance in the laws affecting women during their period of menstrual sickness, or when they have an issue of their blood not in the time of their menstrual ritual impurity? What ought the righteous judges do when arbitrating matters of strife within their gates? Where a women goes astray, and witnesses testify saying: ‘She has committed harlotry while under her husband’s roof,’ should they make a blanket decree to prohibit her having continued marital relations with her husband before they have refined and clarified and sifted the words in question in accordance with statute and religious law? Do they possess the power to speak a word to this effect without creating disorder or concealing ethical laws?” The Satan replied and said: “There are different sorts of cases! For even the sages of the gentile nations, throughout all their dominions, record matters of strife such as these in a book, but their ears examine the words, and they refine their utterances so as to remove the abomination from their midst.”

Translated by
David E.


Isaac Erter, Ha-Tsofeh le-Vet Yiśraʾel: Tashlikh (Prag: M. I. Landau, 1840), https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.hwmnr3&seq=7. Republished as: Isaac Erter, “Tashlikh,” in Ha-Tsofeh le-Vet Yiśraʼel = A Watchman unto the House of Israel, by Isaac Erter, ed. Yehuda Friedlander (Jerusalem: Mosad Byaliḳ, 1996), 98-105ff: 98-100, 103–5.

Published in: The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization, vol. 6.

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