The Alphabet Of Ben Sira

A Not So Divine Comedy

Probably the most annoying part of attempting an ethnography of the CRC is the 2 hour commute (each way) via public transportation. On the other hand, I get to catch up on light reading. Today's entertainment comes from Rabbinic Fantasies a collection of midrashim ranging from the Rabbinic Period through R. Nachman. Specifically, I was reading about the "Alphabet of Ben Sira" which is best known for giving us the midrash of Lilith. (And not to be confused with the apocryphal book The Wisdom of Ben Sira).
It's a real shame this isn't taught in Yeshivot - this stuff is off the charts on the unintentional comedy scale. According to the book, Ben Sira was the son of Yirmayahu and his daughter, though not through incestuous means. (I'd elaborate, but this is a family blog). At any rate, Ben Sira was born with a full set of teeth, the intelligence of an adult, and the personality of Stewie from Family Guy.
I quote from pages 171-172:

    "My son," said his mother to Ben Sira, "don't speak for the evil eye may fix its power on you."
    "The evil eye has no authority over me. Besides, do not try to talk me out of doing what my father did. To me applies the proverb, 'The ewe takes after the ewe, and the son follows the deeds of his father.'"
    "Why do you interrupt me my son?" his mother asked.
    "Because you know that I'm hungry, and you give me nothing to eat."
    "Here, take my breasts. Eat and drink."
    "I have no desire for your breasts. Go sift flour in a vessel, knead it into fine bread, and get fatty meat and aged wine - and you can eat with me."

Awfully precocious for an infant, no? Just wait until he gets to school:

    Said the teacher, "You cannot be taught, for you are still too young. Our sages of blessed memory stated, 'at the age of five years a child begins to study Bible.' (Mishna Avot 5:24)"
    "But have you not learned," Ben Sira asked, "The day is short, but the work is great' (Mishna Avot 2:20)? And you tell me to sit and not to study because I am too young! In the cemetery I can see children younger than I who are dead. Who knows what will be, whether I shall live or die?"
    The teacher retorted, "How dare you instruct me! Our sages of blessed memory declared, 'Whoever teaches the law in the presence of his teacher is deserving of death' (B. Berakhot 31b)."
    Ben Sira replied, "You are not yet my teacher, for so far I have learned nothing from you."

So, you might be wondering, what would a child like this be when he grows up? Well, later in his life he had an audience with Nebuchadnezzar (how he got there is an amusing story in its own right) and explained to him the answers of such philosophical questions as:

  • Why were farts created? (Ben Sira also cured Nebuchadnezzar's daughter who had a thousand every hour. And you thought I had a hard time dating)
  • Why does the ox not have hair under its nose?
  • Why does the cat eat the mouse and not other rodents?
  • Why are the cat and dog enemies? (Thus explaining the history of cartoons in the process)

Remember that the guy asking these questions went on to command the army which destroyed the temple. For some reason, I would think he had more important things on his mind...or not.
Anyway, if you ever have two hours on the subway, The Alphabet of Ben Sira and Rabbinic Fantasies are highly recommended.

Posted in Random Acts of Scholarship.

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