This is part of a series of questions on the Gemara in Bechoros 8b-9a. Below is a summary of the relevant parts of the Gemara. After being challenged by Caesar, R' Yehoshua went to Athens to defeat the Athenian Elders in a battle of wits.

In the process of their debate, the following exchange occurred.

"Say that a man wants to marry a woman," the Elders asked him, "and her family refused to give her to him. Why should he then go ahead and attempt to marry a woman of a better lineage?"

R' Yehoshua picked up a peg and stuck it against the lower part of the wall, and it wouldn't stick. He stuck it against a higher part of the wall, and it stuck. He explained, "Maybe he wasn't meant to marry the woman of the lesser lineage; certainly he should attempt to marry the woman of the better lineage, for perhaps he is destined to marry her."

Now, the Elders' question is on the presumption that a family with better yichus would surely prevent their daughter's marriage if the family with worse yichus refused him. Why? The family in their case never specified that they aren't giving her to him because he's not good enough for them.

2 Answers 2


While I have not read the Juggler and the King for many years, this one seems obvious. The Torah was turned down by all the nations but was accepted by Bnai Yisrael. The mashal of the Torah and Bnai Yisrael is that of a marriage. Even though the nations (of lesser yichus because they worshipped idols) turned down the Torah, the Bnai Yisrael (of greater yichus - from Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov) accepted the Torah.

When a person is turned down for marriage, that reduces his prestige and makes it less likely that a family of greater prestige would lower themselves by accepting what the others turned down.

Art Scroll 8b(4) cites the Maharsha and the Gr'a that the "man" is Hashem and the second woman is Israel. When the first "woman" (the nations) rejected the Torah, Hashem was forced to offer it to the lowliest of the nations, a bunch of ragged slaves.

Art Scroll Bechoros 8b(4) note 32 says that this was a parable that attempted to ridicule the Jewish belief in the afterlife. The man is the Jewish people, the first woman is olam hazeh and the second woman is olamhaba. The Jewish people, lowly and despised in this world, have been rejected by the lower status "woman". Surely we would not be accepted into the world to come Maharal

  • It still doesn't answer the question. Why did the Elders assume that the issue was one of prestige and not one of, say, they didn't like his haircut?
    – DonielF
    Aug 19, 2016 at 4:27
  • 1
    Because the whole point is that people did not then turn down marriage for trivial reasons. See the mashal from the gemara. Aug 19, 2016 at 10:11
  • @DonielF Also, being turned down (even for "trivial" reasons) is a disgrace and a high status family would not lower themselves by taking the castoffs of another. Aug 19, 2016 at 14:42

I'd give a simple explanation, that's also good for Sabba's Drush answer.

The dispute you mentioned (and many other disputes with the Greeks) is about the השגחה כללית vs השגחה פרטית:

  • The Elders stick to השגחה כללית, saying that's Kal Vachomer, that's the Natural and [therefore] logical way of seeing things.

  • The Sages replied that we, Jews, stick with השגחה פרטית, meaning Hashem destines people regardlessly of the Nature Laws and against common sense. The Torah teaches us that under G-d's private guidance wonderful and miraculous things can and do happen.

THe later is a general explanation of the History of the Jewish Nation in the eyes of the Greeks, that shows that our wellbeing and prosperity is not based on our military and political power, but on our closeness to G-d and his השגחה פרטית.

  • How does this answer this particular question on the debate?
    – DonielF
    Oct 26, 2018 at 10:08
  • @DonielF Look at R"Akiva that married Rachel, he wasn't "supposed to", but Hashem has his ways. We Jews don't follow השגחה כללית presumably, see Abraham's argument with G-d about his son, so G-d replied: "under the stars, you don't have a son, but if you accent above you can have". THat's the source for אין מזל לישראל.
    – Al Berko
    Oct 26, 2018 at 10:12
  • Elders claimed that following the rules of Nature one being turned down can not seek a higher fate. But we claimed that we defy it (oh, many gentiles also, like b.Gates and other, being turned down from their schools found themselves a better fate).
    – Al Berko
    Oct 26, 2018 at 10:14
  • (Not quite what אין מזל לישראל means, but I hear your point.) So what is the Greek’s argument? He wasn’t able to marry a woman of lesser lineage, so he certainly won’t be able to marry a woman of greater lineage. You’re saying that when we look at the world in the frame of השגחה כללית, that would be the natural way to view it, but when you look at it in the frame of השגחה פרטית, anything is possible?
    – DonielF
    Oct 26, 2018 at 10:14
  • @DonielF you nailed it. It holds till today we're in the same dispute for 2000 years
    – Al Berko
    Oct 26, 2018 at 10:16

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