Rabbi Yehoshua ibn Shuaib, student of the Rashba (1280-1340)

“I have adjured you…” (Shir Hashirim 2:7) The prophet says that G-d made them swear in Egypt not to force the end. In the end it did happen: the Bnei Ephraim forced the end and left 30 years early, for they counted the 400 years of exile from the time of the decree (the Covenant Between the Parts, when Avraham Avinu was 70 years old), while in reality the count befan when Yitzchok was born, as the Torah says, “Your seed will be strangers…” (Bereishis 15:13). That is why He made them swear by the deer and gazelles, for it is known that the nature of these animals is that during the month of mating season (the rut), they walk around without thinking, like drunkards, and that is why it’s so easy for the hunters to catch them at that time. So too, the Jewish people: only love could confuse them such that they fall into the hands of their enemies, as happened to the Bnei Ephraim when they fell into the hands of the Philistines. (Drashos Ri Ibn Shuaib, Pesach)

The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 75:6) tells how Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi instructed Rabbi Efes to write a letter from him to “our master, King Antoninus.” Rabbi Efes wrote, “From Yehudah the Nasi to our master, King Antoninus.” Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi took the letter, read it and tore it up, telling him to write instead, “From your servant Yehuda, to our master, King Antoninus.” Rabbi Efes asked, “Rabbi, why do you ignore your own honor?” Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi replied, “Am I better than my grandfather? Didn’t he say ‘so says your servant Yaakov’?”

Rabbi Yehoshua ibn Shu’ib cites a version of this Midrash in which Antoninus received the letter and responded, “If only I would be your servant in the World to Come!” (Cf. Avodah Zarah 10b.) But Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi says again, “I am no greater than my grandfather who humbled himself before your grandfather.”

Ibn Shu’ib stresses that we, the Jewish people in exile, must follow in the footsteps of Yaakov Avinu, bearing our trials and responding to danger by humbling ourselves before the gentiles. We must call them our masters and ourselves their servants. Furthermore, when speaking to them we must minimize our own greatness, just as Yaakov Avinu said, “I have sojourned with Lavan” – I have not become a powerful or wealthy figure. “I have acquired an ox and a donkey” – the blessings of my father, that I would get the dew of heaven and the fats of the earth, were not fulfilled, for oxen and donkeys are neither from heaven nor from earth. And the singular “ox” and “donkey” also minimized Yaakov’s wealth (Rashi). This is the humble way we must speak to the gentiles. (Drashos)


Rabbinic Quotations