י״ד בתשרי ה׳תשע״ט (September 23, 2018)

Menahot 44a-b: How Tzitzit Saved a Sinner

The Gemara relates one concluding story about the power of fulfilling the commandment of tzitzit.

Once a man, who was very scrupulous about the precept of tzitzit, heard of a certain harlot in one of the towns by the sea who accepted four hundred gold dinars for her hire. He sent her four hundred gold dinars and made an appointment with her.

When the day arrived he came and waited at her door, and her maid came and told her, ‘That man who sent you four hundred gold dinars is here and waiting at the door’; to which she replied ‘Let him come in.’ When he came in she prepared for him seven beds, six of silver and one of gold; and between one bed and the other there was a ladder of silver, but the last was of gold. She then went up to the top bed and lay down upon it naked. He too went up after her in his desire to sit naked with her, when all of a sudden the four tzitzit of his garment struck him across the face; whereupon he slipped off and sat upon the ground. She also slipped off and sat upon the ground and swore, ‘By the Roman Capitol, I will not leave you alone until you tell me what defect you saw in me.’ ‘By the Temple,’ he replied, ‘never have I seen a woman as beautiful as you are; but there is one precept which the Lord our God has commanded us, it is called tzitzit, and with regard to it the expression ‘I am the Lord your God’ is twice written, signifying, I am He who will exact punishment in the future, and I am He who will give reward in the future. Now the tzitzit appeared to me as four witnesses testifying against me.’

She said, ‘I will not leave you until you tell me your name, the name of your town, the name of your teacher, the name of your school in which you study the Torah.’ He wrote all this down and handed it to her. Thereupon she arose and divided her estate into three parts; one third for the government, one third to be distributed among the poor, and one third she took with her in her hand in addition to the beds of gold and silver. She then came to the Beit Midrash of Rabbi Ḥiyya, and said to him, ‘Master, give instructions to your students about me and have them make me a convert.’ ‘My daughter,’ he replied ‘perhaps you have set your eyes on one of the disciples?’ She thereupon took out the script and handed it to him. ‘Go,’ said he ‘and take possession of your purchase.’

Those beds which she had spread for him for an illicit purpose she now spread out for him lawfully.

This story, whose details can be interpreted in many ways, teaches how repentance based on love of God can successfully turn sins into merits to the extent that the sinner can reach the heights of holiness.