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Pesikta de-Rab Kahana

by William G. Braude

Bibliographic information

TitlePesikta de-Rab Kahana
AuthorWilliam G. Braude
PublisherVarda Books
Publication Date2002
SubjectJewish Religious Thought


The destiny of some great ancient books is mysteriously secured in the faith that at some point and in some way someone will come along and open the book and once again bring it to the world. When considering the massacre of the scholars, King Alexander Jannai is reported by the Talmud to have asked, ďBut what will become of the Torah?Ē He was told, ďBehold, it is rolled up and deposited in a corner. Whoever wants to study it, let him go and study it!Ē The Talmud reports that after the Sages were killed, the world was desolate until Simeon Shetah came and restored the Torah to its glory. For reasons that will forever remain a mystery, this seems also to be the fate of the Pesikta de-Rab Kahana.

The Pesikta emerged in a time of deep crisis for the Jewish people. It remained well known and studied from the end of the fifth century until it disappeared sometime in the sixteenth century. In 1832 Leopold Zunz, without benefit of manuscript or text, brilliantly postulated its existence and its structure. This magisterial assertion was confirmed in 1868, when Solomon Buber published the Pesikta, based on four manuscripts that he had discovered. A new edition, based on yet another manuscript of the work, was published a century later by Bernard Mandelbaum. We do not know who compiled and organized the Pesikta during the fifth century, nor do we know how it came to be forgotten. Were it not for Leopold Zunzís conjecture, Solomon Buberís diligent search, and Bernard Mandelbaumís fastidious scholarship, it might very well have remained unknown. Thanks to these scholars, the Pesikta was reborn. And now, to this list we can add the name of William Braude. Were it not for him, this Pesikta and other collections of midrashim (the Pesikta Rabbati, the Midrash Tehillim, and the Tanna de-Vei Eliyyahu) would have remained rolled up in a corner. It was he who took them out of their corner and brought them to the English reader.

About the Author 

William G. Braude, (Gershon Zev) (Translator) ---

Rabbi Braude was a scholar, lecturer, and visiting professor at Brown University, Yale University, Providence College, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Hebrew Union College, and University of Connecticut. He translated numerous ancient Hebrew texts including Builders of Zion (Bonay Zion), The Midrash on Psalms, Pasikta Rabbati: Discourses for Feasts, Fasts, and Special Sabaths, Pesikta De Rab, Pesikta de Rab Kahana: R. Kahana`s Compilation of Discourses for Sabbaths and Festal Days, and Tanna debe eliyyahu: The Lore of the School of Elijah. He also wrote Jewish Proselyting in the First Five Centuries of the Common Era: The Age of the Tannaim and Amoraim.


Introduction to the 2001 Edition


Piska 1

Why God, having withdrawn from the earth, came back to it. Dwelling thereon in the Tabernacle, by His presence He sanctified it for ever

Piska 2

How did the children of Israel who had committed the sin of making the golden calf come to the merit of having the Tabernacle in their midst?

Piska 3

The role of Amalek

Piska 4

The mystery and paradox of the Red Heifer

Piska 5

Israelís reckoning of time by the moon; the advent of the new moon in Nisan as the time of Israelís redemption

Piska 6

Offerings serve menís needs, not Godís

Piska 7

Godís justice on the Passover midnight

Piska 8

The omer as asserting that God alone is the source of substance

Piska 9

The infinite range of Godís mercy

Piska 10

Tithe that you may be blithe

Piska 11

The awesome doings of God and the radiance of certain personages in Israel

Piska 12

Torah and its range of eternal meaning

Piska 13

Israel are to occupy themselves with matters right and proper for them, or else become wanderers

Piska 14

Godís mild reproach of Israel, and the happy consequences of hearkening to Him

Piska 15

Lament for Jerusalem

Piska 16

The certainty of Godís comforting

Piska 17

Why Zion should not despair

Piska 18

The comforting and rebuilding of Jerusalem

Piska 19

Israelís obedience to three basic commands makes her worthy of being Godís own people

Piska 20

Jerusalemís ultimate distinction and glory

Piska 21

The radiance of Zion and Godís bestowal of light

Piska 22

The universal joy and glory which will come at the time of Israelís vindication

Piska 23

From judgment to mercy

Piska 24

On repentance

Piska 25

Godís acts of patience

Piska 26

On Godís judgment

Piska 27

Lessons of the Feast of Sukkot

Piska 28

The Eighth-Day Festival as exemplifying Godís gracious dealing with Israel

Supplement 1

Supplement 2

Supplement 3

Supplement 4

Supplement 5

Supplement 6

Supplement 7



Passages Cited

Authorities Cited

Subjects and Names

Plays on Words and Letters


Piska 6

My food which is presented unto Me for offerings (Num. 28:2).

If I were hungry, I would not speak to thee of it; for the world is

Mine, and the fullness thereof (Ps. 50:12). Of the words I would not

speak to thee of it, R. Simon said: Thirteen qualities of mercy are

attributed in Scripture to the Holy One, as indicated in the verse The

Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed: ďThe Lord, the Lord, God,

merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth;

keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, and

passing over transgression and sin, clearing [those who repentĒ] (Exod.

34:6Ė7). Do you think it likely, then, that One so merciful would

entrust the providing of His sustenance to man who is cruel? Hence,

If I were hungry, I would not speak to thee of it (Ps. 50:12).

According to R. Judah bar R. Simon, the Holy One said to Israel:

[My children], I have made available ten clean beasts as food for

youóthree of these subject to your control, and seven not subject to

your control. Subject to your control: The ox, the sheep, and the goat

(Deut. 14:4); not subject to your control: the hart, the gazelle, the roe-

buck, the wild goat, the ibex, the antelope, and the mountain sheep (Deut.

14:5). Have I so burdened you that you need to go over mountains

and hills to fetch Me an offering out of those that are not subject to

your control? Have I not told you to fetch only such as are subject to

your control, such as those reared at your trough? Hence, Suppose I

were hungry, I am not asking too much of thee (Ps. 50:12).

R. Isaac said that in the words My food which is presented unto Me

for offerings (Num. 28:2), God raises the question: Does My person

require food or drink? If you think My person requires food or drink,

then learn otherwise from My angels, learn otherwise from My ministers.

Of them it is written His ministers are a flaming fire (Ps. 104:4).

And how is their fire nourished? By the flame-like splendor of Godís

presence, for it is written In the light of the Kingís countenance is life

(Prov. 16:15). And further on this point, R. Haggai, citing R. Isaac,

said: It is written Thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens . . . their

[angelic] host . . . and Thou preservest them all (Neh. 9:6)ówith Thee is

the preservation of life. [Hence, If I were hungry, I would have no reason

to speak to thee (Ps. 50:12) ].

R. Simeon ben Lakish said that in the verse It is to be a continual

burnt offering, [like that] which was offered on Mount Sinai, for a sweet

savor, an offering made by fire unto the Lord (Num. 28:6), Scripture

suggests that God is asking: Does My person require food or drink?

Learn the answer from the statement in Scripture, And [Moses] was there

with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor

drink water (Exod. 34:28). Did he see Me eat, did he see Me drink? It

may therefore be argued a fortiori: If Moses, when he went on a mission

for Me, ate no bread and drank no water for forty days and forty

nights,6 do you suppose My person requires food or drink? Hence, If

I were hungry, I would have no reason to speak to thee (Ps. 50:12).

According to R. Hiyya bar Abba, the Holy One said: My creatures

do not require for their sustenance the things which in accordance

with My command they create. Do I, for My sustenance, require the

things which I have created? Have you ever in all your life heard anyone

say, ďGive some wine to this vine to drink so that it will create

much more wine,Ē ďGive some olive oil to this olive tree to drink so

that it will create much more oil?Ē My creatures do not require for

their sustenance the things which in accordance with My command

they create. Shall I, then, require for My sustenance that which I have

created? Hence, If I were hungry, I would not speak of it to thee [who art

My creature] (ibid.).

R. Yannai said: Human nature being what it is, would a man

walking alongside a stream be likely to feel that he has quenched his

thirst by drinking no more than two or three log of water? The Lord,

however, says of a log of wine [or so] that makes up the daily drink

offerings: ďI drink, I am filled, I am satisfied.Ē For, as R. Hiyya taught,

in the words In the holy place shalt thou pour out a drink offering of filling,

intoxicating drink unto the Lord (Num. 28:7), His drinking, His

satiety, and His intoxication are implied.

As a matter of fact, said Jose ben Menasya in the name of R. Simeon

ben Lakish, when the drink offerings were poured upon the

altar, its cup-like drains had to be stopped up [so that the wine

overflowing the altar would make it appear that God could not swallow

the wine fast enough]. According to R. Jose bar Bun, if the

practice which R. Simeon ben Lakish spoke of is not followed, the

drink offering is not valid.

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