Niddah 70 - Men of Alexandria and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya

The men of Alexandria asked Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya twelve things: three matters of wisdom in law, three on moral lessons, three were just stupid questions, and three were about proper conduct.

They asked about a woman who was divorced, married someone else, and then remarried her first husband. Since that is prohibited by the Torah, what is the status of her daughter - can she marry a Kohen? Do we compare her to a widow who married a High Priest, which is prohibited, and whose daughter cannot marry a Kohen, and do we say that our case is surely worse? Or do we say that our case is better, since a widow married to a High Priest is herself disqualified to marry another Kohen, but our divorcee, although already prohibited to marry a Kohen, can still eat the Kohen's portion, if she is a daughter of a Kohen? He answered, from the Torah's use of the word, "She is abomination when remarried to her first husband" - only she, but not her daughter.

They asked him about a moral lesson. In Ezekiel it says that God "does not desire the death of a wicked man," but about the sinful sons of Eli it says, "For God desired to kill them?!" He answered that in the first case they were open to repentance, but in the second they were not.

They asked him a stupid question, "Does the wife of Lot transmit ritual impurity of the dead?" He answered, "She is pure salt, and salt does not have any impurity."

They asked, "What should a man do to become wise?" He answered, "Study more, and limit his business." They asked, "Many have done that, and yet this has not helped them." He answered, "They should also plead for mercy from Him to Whom wisdom belongs."

Art: John La Farge - The Three Wise Men