It Is Obvious!

By Moshe Lerman

We keep certain mourning customs until day 33 of Sefirat Ha'Omer because 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva died. Surely, it was a big disaster for Israel, a blow to the world of Torah. How could so many students of rabbi Akiva die in such a short period? If there was a plague, did other people not die of it? How come that we mourn for the students of Rabbi Akiva, but not for the enormous disaster that happened in the years of Rabbi Akiva, which cost many more than 24,000 lives - the defeat of Bar Kochba?

The Talmud hides the true reason of the death of the students of Rabbi Akiva. They died at the hands of the Romans, during Bar Kochba's rebellion. The Babylonian Talmud systematically avoids explicit mentions of Bar Kochba. The reason is that after the defeat the Sages ruled that great care should be taken in actions to bring the redemption. The three oaths of Ketubot 111a are a reflection of this. Their decision led to a status quo of centuries.

But around the year 5,000 there was a turn-around. We see a revival of the wish to return to the Land. We see that Yehudah HaLevi denies the relevance of the three oaths and argues for a massive Aliya to prepare/bring the redemption. We see that the Rambam bases his psakim regarding Moshiach on the example of davka Bar Kochba. And so forth, until the Gra who sent his talmidim to the Land to prepare/bring the redemption, and the talmidim of the Besht and many more doing the same.

Making Aliyah in the face of diseases and Arab murderers, clearly many endangered themselves. There were some spiritual losses also. We had Shabtai Tzvi and similar cases.

There always was the other approach, the one of the oaths. Let us wait, wait for Moshiach. It naturally tends to get stronger when it becomes clear that the Land is acquired through yissurim, suffering.

What is the answer? Who is right? How can HaShem put us in such an awkward position? We have no prophets. How can we know what to do? Should we be Bar Kochba, or Yochanan ben Zakai? The GR"A or the Satmar Rebbe? Meir Kahane or Aharon Lichtenstein?

My answer is that obviously we should be Bar Kochba (not repeating his sins of course). This is what is behind what the Rambam writes. Moshiach does not need to do miracles, teaches the Rambam. He will come in a natural way, step by step, in the way of Bar Kochba. In other words, the redemption depends on our actions.

The psak to stay put was valid only for a limited time. It was Et La'asot L'Hashem. The holy principle is opposite. In the name of this principle, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai should not have given up Yerushalayim, and our sages make this clear (Gittin 56). Only, there was a g'zera: The Temple was to be destroyed. Rabbi Yochanan was forced, by Heaven, to make a mistake. His decision does not change the holy principle.

Judaism is not like Christianity. Christians wait for their Moshiach, passively. Nothing in the daily life of the Christian can bring his Moshiach closer. For the Christian this is natural. Daily life is mundane. But we think different, opposite. For a Jew, everything he does is spiritual. Nothing is mundane. The physical is sanctified, through the Mitzvot. By moving to the Land we bring Moshiach closer. Is it hard, dangerous even? Yes, and this must be so. It is the price of what is acquired.

In discussions about Eretz Yisrael, often the Halacha Shulchan Aruch O"C 329 is thrown in by those who oppose concessions of the Land-for-peace type. This Halacha rules that Shabbat should be violated if an enemey comes to steal from a border city, because even the stealing might lead to future Pikuach Nefesh. Halachot like this do not decide this issue. It is not really related to Eretz Yisrael, and Pikuach Nefesh depends on circumstances.

Also the very often cited Minchat Chinuch on the Mitzvot regarding killing seven nations and Amalek is not conclusive in itself (the Minchat Chinuch rules that these Mitzvot are not pushed aside by Pikuach Nefesh). The case is not the same as the issue of Eretz Yisrael, and besides the Chinuch rules differently.

Rather, it is obvious.

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