The Unsearchable Human Heart Of Government (Shabbat 11a)


In line with the Book of Proverbs and the vast scope of responsibility, the rabbis about government and the political heart were Weberian in their practical realism and bleak view of things. Michael Satlow posted on FB this beautiful gemara, appropriate to the moment.

ואמר רבא בר מחסיא אמר רב חמא בר גוריא אמר רב אם יהיו כל הימים דיו ואגמים קולמוסים ושמים יריעות וכל בני אדם לבלרין אין מספיקים לכתוב חללה של רשות מאי קראה אמר רב משרשיא שמים לרום וארץ לעומק ולב מלכים אין חקר:

And Rava bar Meḥasseya said that Rav Ḥama bar Gurya said that Rav said: Even if all the seas would be ink, and the reeds that grow near swamps would be quills, and the heavens would be parchment, and all the people scribes; all of these would be insufficient to write the space of governmental authority. Rav Mesharshiya said: What is the verse? “The Heavens on High and the land to the depth and the heart of kings are unsearchable” (Proverbs 25:3).  

Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 11a (Sefaria, modified)


About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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