There's a very widespread metaphor applied to the Talmud, through which it is likened to a vast body of water, which means that the person "navigating" the Talmud is being likened to a sailor, a swimmer, a diver, or - I suppose - a fish. Where does this metaphor come from?

Job 11:9 refers to "the deep things of God" as being broader than the sea (רחבה מני-ים), but I have never heard anybody refer to the ocean of Torah, midrash, piskei halakha, kabbalah or anything really - save for the Talmud specifically.

When was this beautiful metaphor first used? Can it be found within the Talmud itself?

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    Rambam writes in his introduction to his Perush HaMishnah: אני משה בן מימון הספרדי בניתיהו, ומים התלמוד משיתיהו
    – mevaqesh
    Jan 31, 2017 at 3:07
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    – paquda
    Jan 31, 2017 at 18:44

2 Answers 2


See Midrash Shir Hashirim Rabba 5:20:

ר' יוחנן כד הוה פשיט קרייה והוה מטי בדין פסוקא ממולאים בתרשיש, הוה אמר יפה למדני בן אחי ר' יהושע מה גלים הללו בין גל גדול לגל גדול גלים קטנים, כך בין כל דבור ודבור פרשיותיה ודקדוקיה של תורה היו כתובים, ממולאים בתרשיש, זה התלמוד שהוא כים הגדול, הדא דאת אמר תרשישה

The words of R. Yehoshua's nephew are from Yerushalmi, Sota 8:3.

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    Beautiful! That's an excellent source. That's 8th or 9th century, I believe, but according to Jewish Encyclopedia it quotes a lot from the Yerushalmi. I'm keeping this answer un-accepted for the moment, in the hope that somebody might provide an earlier source. If this is taken directly from the Yerushalmi, for example, that would be perfect.
    – Shimon bM
    Jan 31, 2017 at 21:48

I am not sure if you refer to the Medrash Rabba of Shir Hashirim perek 1: passuk 3 medrash 1: which is talking about the depth of the Torah in general and how Torah is infinite. Chazal use the metaphor "If all the seas were ink,and all the reeds writing pens,and the heaven and earth scrolls and the people of the world were scribes they would not be enough room to write all the Torah that I have learned (referring to Reb Eliezer and Reb Yehoshua) ,and I(Both Reb Eliezer and Reb Yehoshua) have not extracted from it (Torah) more than a man dips a brush into the sea." [loose translation]

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  • why the downvote?
    – sam
    Jan 31, 2017 at 14:18
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    I'm not the downvoter, but this is a totally different metaphor that you provided. It might convey a similar reality (Torah is deep/vast/impossible to contain), but it uses a different metaphor to express it. In my example, the metaphor is TALMUD = SEA. In this example there are several metaphors, one of which is SEA = INK. (Also, this passage appears in the gemara too, in the narrative concerning R' Eliezer's death.)
    – Shimon bM
    Jan 31, 2017 at 21:46
  • @ShimonbM ,got it,I wasnt aware of another source this source I knew but I do realize that its not the perfect match even though it does mention the vastness of Torah...
    – sam
    Feb 1, 2017 at 1:52

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