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The Talmud in Avodah Zara 3b says that the last quarter of the day Hashem plays with the Leviathan. Is there any explanation of what that means? If so, where?

הקב"ה יושב ועוסק בתורה....רביעיות יושב ומשחק עם לויתן שנאמר לויתן זה יצרת לשחק בו

God sits and learns Torah (the first quarter of the day) ....the last quarter of the day, He sits and plays with the Leviathan, as the verse says (Tehillim 104:26): "This Leviathan, You created to play with."

( free translation )

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    hebrewbooks.org/… – Gershon Gold Dec 16 '14 at 2:00
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    I've lightly edited your question, to include links to the Gemara and a relevant excerpt. I think this is an interesting question, +1 .....hope to see you around! :^) – MTL Dec 16 '14 at 2:01
  • @GershonGold That's an answer. Why not post it as such? – MTL Dec 16 '14 at 2:08
  • @Shokhet: If you want you can post it. I do not understand it enough to explain it. – Gershon Gold Dec 16 '14 at 2:53
  • I once heard a very nice explanation of this idea, but I'm much too lazy to write it up – Y     e     z Dec 16 '14 at 3:37
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The Talmud gets it from Tehillim 104:26: שָׁם, אֳנִיּוֹת יְהַלֵּכוּן; לִוְיָתָן, זֶה-יָצַרְתָּ לְשַׂחֶק-בּוֹ. "There go the ships; there is leviathan, whom Thou hast formed to sport therein."

In Canaanite myth, the Leviathan (Lotan) is a dangerous creature whom Baal must slay. Thus:

he name of a mythological sea serpent or dragon, personifying the chaos waters, mentioned in the Ugaritic texts, in the OR, and in later Jewish literature...In the Ugaritic texts the name appears as ltn, which has traditionally been vocalized as Lotan, but it has been persuasively argued by J. A. Emerton (182) that the correct rendering should be Litan. In this Ugaritic passage (lines 1-4) Mot alludes to Baal's defeat of Litan as follows, "Because you smote Litan the twisting serpent, (and) made an end of the crooked serpent, the tyrant with seven heads, the skies will become hot (and) will shine."

The point in Tehillim is that for Hashem, this is not a creature which rivals his power. It is a mere pet, to play with.

  • Why then does the gemarra have to say that Hashem plays with it every day? With your explanation, once would have been sufficient – robev May 27 '18 at 17:40
  • You play with your pet only once, and neglect it ever after? Poor Fluffy. :( – josh waxman May 27 '18 at 21:29
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IIRC, the Maharal, in Beer Hagoleh ch. 4, explains that the Leviathan is a symbol for the world's great materialism (as it's an enormous mass of flesh-life), and 'playing' is something that may be a source of enjoyment without fulfilling a need. Thus, God is described as playing with earthly materialism, because He doesn't need anything from His creations. There are other recorded explanations as well: a quick internet search showed me that this passage is discussed by R. Tzadok Hakohen (scroll down) and R. Yonasan Eibshutz in Yaaros Dvash 1:7

If I may offer my own "פשט על דרך אגדה", based (somewhat) on ideas that I've heard from R. Moshe Shapiro: the Leviathan is often used by Chazal as a reference to the reward of the righteous in the future (see Bava Basra 74b, and the Targum Yonasan to the verse quoted, Tehillim 104:26). Thus, God's "daily" schedule seems to, at least loosely, parallel the efforts of man as well, just on his own field - we are supposed to study the Torah, use the Torah's yardstick as a guide for how we/the world should operate (parallel to judgement), and implement the Torah's values in order to improve the world and the lives of those who inhabit it. After all the 'work', there is 'play'; in the future, the person who has done what he is supposed to do will be rewarded with being able to enjoy 'the meat of the Leviathan'

  • I'm not sure if you're talking about the same thing Gershon was talking about, but he posted a link on the question to a באר הגולה....I haven't read it through yet, so I'm not sure it's the same as what you're saying. – MTL Dec 16 '14 at 20:37
  • I wrote this from memory. If you find the Be'er Hagolah and disagree with my reading/memory, I won't object to you editing my answer – הנער הזה Dec 16 '14 at 21:31
  • It's a little heavy to read through in its entirety, though I might later today. I just put it up so you can read it yourself, and link to it if you want. ( from a quick skim, it looks like you remembered correctly ) – MTL Dec 16 '14 at 21:34
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The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains this here as follows:

The playing represents the Supernal enjoyment from souls that connect the world with G-dliness (לויתן related to הפעם ילוה את אישתי - meaning connection), pleasure here meaning to emphasize the novelty of the matter, like the enjoyment one gets from seeing a parrot talking, even though it isn't able to speak as well as a human, the fact that it can speak at all is what causes the enjoyment.

This playing is a continuation of the previous three activities. First is G-d learning Torah - this means coming from above without prompting from below, in contrast to what it says in general that when a person learns Torah G-d learns opposite him - implying G-d's kindness in providing for the world without any deserving action. Then G-d judges the world - finding nothing worthy (compare to Job 4:18) and the first activity tempers the second, causing G-d to sustain all of creation with His mercy. All of this is from above, giving to the world. The last part is creation being connected to G-dliness through its own efforts, which is the ultimate purpose and creates that enjoyment.

  • You're wearing my hat!!! Give it back! :P – MTL Dec 16 '14 at 20:55
  • @Shokhet, ever shechted a werewolf? I'll supervise (from a distance) :-P – Yishai Dec 16 '14 at 21:03
  • :P ...though if that werewolf were to be בנימין, I think I'd pass ;-) – MTL Dec 16 '14 at 21:06

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