The Disciples of Akiva (chapter 5 of Akiva and Ephraim)
Why could 12,000, as stated in Aggadah (Gen. R. 61.3), or 24,000 (Yebamoth 62b), or 48,000 (Nedarim 50a) disciples of R. Akiva not handle the main principle of their master, â€˜Love your fellow man as you love yourselfâ€™? They perished as a result. It is easy to say that the disciples died because of their ego, jealousy, and not being able to â€˜accord honor to one anotherâ€™, along with other imperfections. This however ignores the role in their horrible fate of their spiritual leader and mentor, - R. Akiva. There were many tragic events in Jewish history that resulted in far more deaths numerically, like the Spanish Inquisition, the Khmelnitsky pogroms, and the Nazi Holocaust. None of these disasters are commemorated by even one day of mourning. Meanwhile, the mysterious death of Â R. Akivaâ€™s disciples is commemorated every year by thirty two days of mourning from the first day of Passover to the beginning of the joyful holiday named Lag Baâ€™Omer, the thirty third day of the counting of the Omer.
The Shulchan Arukh (493) writes:
"The custom is not to marry a woman in between Pesach and Shavuot, until Lag Baâ€™Omer, as during this period Rabbi Akiva's students diedâ€¦â€
What is so significantly important about R. Akivaâ€™s students and their death? After all, they were punished by God and perished in a mysterious plague for their sins, basically described as â€˜they did not accord honor to one another.â€™ Does this violation warrant such a terrible penalty from a Just and Merciful God? Apparently, it does. Anyone who perceives himself as better than others, who makes his ego, pride, and arrogance a purpose of existence and is not able to honor his fellow man, this person ultimately rejects the entire Torah. God says of such an egotistic person, â€œHe and I cannot dwell in the same worldâ€ (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sotah 5a; Erchin 15b). You either serve God or you serve yourself -- and there is no middle ground. You simply cannot have it both ways!
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â When one wants to point out the role of the leader in the failure of his leadership the most appropriate phrase is the proverb, â€˜The fish rots from the headâ€™. In the past and in the generations following after R. Akiva there have been many spiritual leaders of the Jewish nation, many different schools of thoughts, academies and religious movements with thousands upon thousands of disciples and adherents, but we have never heard of a such terrible fate as that which happened to the masses of disciples of R. Akiva. Some scholars say that the vast numbers given of the students of R. Akiva who perished is merely haggadic exaggeration: It was not the actual numbers of his political followers as evident from a passage in Ketubot 106a.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
The best examples of spiritual religious leadership may be seen from the personalities of two great scholars, R. Hillel and R. Shamai.Â
Â â€œMake the study of the Torah your chief occupation; speak little, but accomplish much; and receive every man with a friendly countenanceâ€, said Shamai (50b.c.-30c.e.), the most eminent contemporary and Halakhic opponent of Hillel. He was a Jewish Sage, an important figure in Judaismâ€™s core work of rabbinical literature, the Mishnah.
â€œThat which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. This is the whole Torahâ€ (Talmud, Tractate Shabbos 31a). â€œBe of the disciples of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving your fellow creatures, and bringing them near to the Torah" (Pirkei Avos 1:12).
These words belong to the famous Jewish religious leader Hillel the Eldest (110 BCE-10 CE). Gentle and patient, Hillel loved his fellow man. He pursued peace and tolerance. Most importantly, Â he taught the students to love Godâ€™s Torah. This is the spiritual basis for unconditional love of our fellow creatures. There is a huge difference between the teachings of Â Hillel and those of R. Akiva. The precept, â€œLove your fellow as yourselfâ€ was adopted by R. Akiva from R. Hillel and made the great principle of Â Torah. He simply did not say anything new but only what R. Hillel had already said. What is missing here is R. Hillelâ€™s additional exhortation, â€œBring them near to the Torahâ€. This means that real love for your fellow man is only possible if one loves Torah and is spiritually uplifted to its heights of holiness and righteousness. One who understands and loves Torah feels no limitation to spiritual and physical love not only for his fellows in the House of Israel but for all mankind, no matter how great or small, wicked or righteous they may be. If R. Akiva had followed the teachings of R. Hillel with the first priority being to â€˜Bring them near the Torahâ€™ this would have empowered his disciples to truly love their fellow men with the revealed Divine essence of Godâ€™s love. An example is the love of Joseph towards his brothers (Genesis 45:1-15). Â Â R. Akiva treated this â€˜Great Principle of the Torahâ€™, as an important Torah mitzvah [commandment] but with physical limitations of the body and various directives. This alone could not prevent animosity, hatred, jealousy, egoism, anger and other kinds of imperfections from entering the heart and mind and leading to the horrible fate of his multiple disciples Â â€“ Â death by the plague (Tanya, chapter 12). R. Akiva accepted the Torah command, â€œThou shall love thy neighbor as thyselfâ€ (Leviticus 19:18; Sifra, Kedoshim 4) as the greatest principle of Judaism. Meanwhile, R. Hillel thought that the execution of this command is equivalent to the performance of the whole Law. The principle of Â R. Hillel operated on the pure spiritual level of â€˜Bring them near to the Torahâ€™. When the Israelites become a righteous and holy nation of Â Priests, a Light to the Gentiles, they will bring the Glory of the Lord to the ends of the World (Exodus 19:6; Isaiah 42:6-7). Through Godâ€™s love to all people on planet Earth the Israelites will change mankind from being violently evil to a point of the highest level of spirituality, righteousness and holiness, enabling them all together to inherit the wonderful Divine Kingdom of the Almighty, the purpose of all Creation, the World-to-Come.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â We think that Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld of Torah.org is right when he speaks of R. Akiva and the terrible fate of his 24,000 students:
â€œWe continued with the historical account of the death of the students of R. Akiva on account of not showing proper respect for one another. To this we asked why of all people were Â the students of R. Akiva -- a great proponent of "Love your fellow as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18) -- to fall short in such an area. Finally, we contrasted R. Akiva's principle of "Love your fellow" with that of his colleague Ben Zoma: All human beings are created in the image of G-d (based on Genesis 5:1). Whereas R. Akiva's principle begins with love of self -- and only then (hopefully) concludes with love of all, Ben Zoma's both begins and ends with the love of the entire human race. Focusing first on yourself may engender a form of self-centeredness. A narcissistic love of self may inhibit rather than foster love of others. This, we may suggest, caused the downfall of R. Akiva's studentsâ€.
The chief Rabbi of Great Britain Jonathan Sacks says it this way:
â€œLeadership is not about status, popularity, and glory; the function of the spiritual leader in Judaism is to serve God.Â It is not a pride valued, but humility in a manner of a real leader Moses. The less there is of self in one who serves God, the more there is of Godâ€.
If R. Akiva would have followed these principals and had been a good shepherd to his flock (like R. Hillel and R. Shammai), 24,000 disciples would not have perished with such a terrible fate.
These men had organized two schools of thoughts, the Academy of Hillel and Â the Academy of Shamai. Each school assumed the personal characteristics of its founders, with Hillel representing the ideals of kindness, love, and conciliation; and Shamai, their opposites. Each of them served as a President of the Sanhedrin. Despite many significant differences, controversies, and bitter fights over matters of Jewish Law, they got along pretty well, displaying love, mutual respect, friendship, and tolerance toward one another. The two groups even intermarried. Both schools greatly contributed to Halakha and Rabbinical Judaism.
The students downfall had begun way back in the time when R. Akiva returned to his hometown having 12,000 pairs of disciples. They saw a poor woman (who happened to be R. Akivaâ€™s wife, Rachel) coming through the crowd to see their famous master. They did not let her come closer. When R. Akiva realized what was going on, he said to them: â€œMake way for her! For my learning and yours are hersâ€ (Nedarim 50a).
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â This simple episode already gives us a hint that these students in their academic achievements and amassing knowledge of the Torah, being privileged students of the famous Sage, were behaving so proudly and arrogantly towards the unlearned, poor, and particularly towards women that they had forgotten the principles of Torah to treat people with respect and not to separate themselves from the poor and unlearned, especially if they happen to be women. As true Torah scholars they should have treated the poor woman with courtesy and humility.Â
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Why were the disciples arranged in pairs? There are opinions that R. Akiva knew of imperfections among his students and tried to fix them by matching the strong and weak in couples to balance each other so that proper Torah behavior could be achieved. This did not help. The situation became worse. The students did not share their accomplishments in Torah studies with each other. Each concentrated on his own achievement and spiritual growth, everyone thinking that he knew Torah better than the other. They became jealous, arrogant, and showed no respect to their fellow students. â€œThey treated each other stingily and selfishlyâ€ (Bereishit Rabba 61:3).
It seems that the Talmud does not tell all the story of the Bar Kokhba Revolt, the role in it of R. Akiva and his â€˜spiritual armyâ€™ of disciples, how exactly they died and many other details of political character. But what the Talmud does tell us is why the 24,000 disciples died, which was the failure on their part to accord honor to one other or, to be more precise, â€˜they did not treat one another with respectâ€™.
The Roman Government was very sensitive on political issues. Punishment for criticism or any challenge to Imperial Power and Prestige such as downplaying their role in history was severe. Roman censorship has been felt in the writings of the Jewish-Roman historian Josephus Flavius, particularly in his record of the first Jewish Rebellion and destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem by Titus in 66-70 CE. The authors of the Talmud were obliged to follow the same pattern.
One of the few scholars who thinks that R. Akiva and his numerous disciples were actively involved in political armed struggle against the Roman Empire and were important participants of Bar Kokhba Revolt, is Rabbi Pinchas Stolper. That is what he writes in his Article â€˜The Mystery of Lag Baâ€™Omerâ€™,
â€œOne of the greatest Torah teachers and leaders of all time,Rabbi Akiva added a new, spiritual dimension to the war of liberation. He attempted to merge the soldiers of the sword with the soldiers of the Book - his twenty- four thousand students - each a great Torah scholar and leader. Bar Kokhba trained an army capable of igniting the powder keg of rebellion and Rabbi Akiva lit it with one of the most dramatic proclamations in Jewish history - he proclaimed that Bar Kokhba was the long awaited Messiahâ€.
This author clearly stated that R. Akiva and his students were among the freedom fighters of the Bar Kokhba army. He thinks that the failure of the Bar Kokhba Messiah-ship lies heavily on the shoulders of R. Akiva and his disciples who would not accord honor to each other, "because they did not treat each other with proper respect" (B.T. Yebamot 62b)!, or on the failure of Bar Kokhba himself â€˜to rise to the spiritual heights expected of the Messiahâ€™.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â â€œIt is not enough to wait for the Messiah's coming; we must toil to perfect our Torah lives if we are to bring about his speedy arrival. Only if we learn from the lesson of Rabbi Akiva's students will we understand that the coming of the Messiah depends on usâ€, concluded R. Stolper.
The Talmud does not say much about the nature of the plague which caused the death of so many students of R. Akiva. Not one contemporary historian, including the most famous Josephus Flavius, mentioned any deadly plague breaking out in Palestine at this time. However, it is hard to imagine that this plague struck R. Akivaâ€™s disciples only.
According to R. Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810 CE), the immediate cause of the students death was a plague named by a foreign word â€˜askeraâ€™ which Rashi translates as diphtheria, whooping cough. Some scholars translate askera as sword or sicarus.
R. Hai Gaon, (939-1038 A.C.), a well known rabbi and theologian who served as Gaon of the Talmudic Academy of Â Pumbedita (Fallujah, Iraq), expressed an opinion that the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva did not die from the mysterious plague â€˜askeraâ€™, but from the Roman sword in the battlefield in the course of defeating the freedom fighters of the Bar Kokhba Revolt. In other words, this great scholar is telling us that R. Akiva and his spiritual followers were essentially a part of the Bar Kokhba rebellion in the struggle against the Roman Empire for the political independence of Judaea.
Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin enumerates â€˜quite a few modern scholars who maintain that 24,000 Jewish soldiers (R. Akivaâ€™s students) were killed by the Romans between Pesah and Shavuot, except on Lag Baâ€™Omer which was a military victory. This was the opinion of R. Nahaman Krochmal, Joseph Derenbourg, R.Yitzhak Nissenbaum, and Professors Shmuel Safrai, Aaron Oppenheimer and Haim Lichtâ€™
We have discovered another modern day theologian, Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel, who is convinced in his Article â€˜Why did 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiba die?â€™ that, â€œOf all the explanations that seems to make the most amount of sense, Rabbi Akiba not only offered moral support to Bar Kochba, a man he believed to be the Messiah, he also encouraged his vast number of students to join in the apocalyptic battle against the Evil Empire of his day â€” Rome, as was first suggested by Rav Hai Gaon back in the 9th century C.Eâ€.
This scholar has no doubt in his mind that R. Akiva and his â€˜rabbinic cohortsâ€™ had taken an active role in the political struggle against Rome, and the â€˜Romans regarded them much like we view Bin Ladenâ€™ and his fanatical terrorist organization Al Qaeda. The author even went farther suggesting that â€˜Roman leaders hunted the rabbis, especially Rabbi Akiba, since he was in their eyes the chief instigator of the Revolt.â€™ He also thinks that the reasons for failure of the Revolt against the Romans included the inability of R. Akivaâ€™s disciples â€˜to treat one another with respectâ€™ which in turn could catalyze into baseless hatred, mistrust and sectarian rivalry among the freedom fighters and bring political differences within Bar Kochbaâ€™s ranks.
â€œPerhaps the above historical tragedy may also serve as a grim reminder that religious leaders within the Jewish community should never have tried to politically or militarily realize their fantasies about the Messiahâ€, concluded R. Samuel.
Apparently the Jews came very close to winning the war. Why did they lose in the end? The Sages say they lost because they were too arrogant. Having tasted victory, they adopted the attitude of, â€œby my strength and my valor I did thisâ€ (Deut. 8:17).Â This was exactly the attitude of Bar Kokhba and his soldiers!
The generation of R. Akiva by all means was not perfect. There was a huge gap in relationship between the masses of the unlearned Jewish community and the academics of the Â scholarly community. During this time a few scandals erupted among the rabbinic aristocracy: the trial and excommunication of the great Rabbi Eliezer, the former teacher and mentor of R. Akiva, (Bava Metzia, 59b), and the impeachment of Rabban Gamliel II from his position as Nasi (Berakoth, 27b).
A few contemporaries of R. Akiva, great scholars of the Sanhedrin and Academy were very critical of generation of the Bar Kokhba Revolt.
It was taught that Rabbi Tarfon said, "I would be surprised if anyone in this generation can take rebuke. You tell a person to take a stick out of their mouth and they'll tell you to take a board between your eyes." Rabbi Eliezer Ben Azarya said, "I'd be surprised if anyone in this generation knows how to criticize" (Arakhin 16 b).
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Is this not a good explanation as to why the spiritual army of R. Akivaâ€™s students ended so terribly? These disciples would not bring themselves to love and take care of their fellows as this story reveals:
Â â€œDid it not once happen that one of Rabbi Akiva's disciples fell sick, and the Sages did not visit him? So Rabbi Akiva himself entered [his house] to visit him, and because they swept and sprinkled the ground before him, he recovered. 'My master,' said he, 'you have revived me!' [Straightway] Rabbi Akiva went forth and lectured: 'He who does not visit the sick is like a shedder of bloodâ€ (Nedarim 40a).
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â The other story is about R. Tarfon, a well known and respected Tanna of the generation, who was engaged in a theological polemic with one of the disciples of R. Akiva, Yehudah ben Nehemiah. After the disciple had finished his rebuttal, during which R. Tarfon remained silent, his face shined with victorious joy and satisfaction. Thereupon R. Akiva said to him, "Yehudah, your face has brightened with joy because you have refuted the Sage; I wonder whether you will live long." Said Rabbi Yehudah ben Ila'i, "This happened a fortnight before Passover, and when I came up for the Azeret festival I enquired after Yehudah ben Nehemiah and was told that he had passed away" (Menachot 68b).
Â Rabbi Yochanan ben Torta, a Tanna of the same generation, and one who was the biggest opponent of Simon Bar Kokhba and his Revolt against the Roman Empire, also argued against the decision of R. Akiva to announce the Messiah and the Messianic Era. He is famous for having Â said: Â "Akiba, grass shall grow from your jaws and yet the son of David shall not appear" (Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Taâ€™anit, 4:8, 68d).
â€œThe first Temple, why was it destroyed?â€ asked R. Yochanan ben Torta and answered, â€œBecause of idolatry, sexual licentiousness, and the spilling of blood within. But this previous Temple (the second Temple) we knew the people of that era. They were diligent in Torah study, and careful with tithes. Why were they exiled? Because they loved their money and [every] man hated his neighbor." (Tosefta Menachot 13:22).
In the time of the second Temple the Jewish People, actually, was engaged in study of the Torah, keeping the Commandments, and performing deeds of loving-kindness. â€˜They were careful with tithesâ€™; they would follow the letter of the Law, trying to observe Commandments formally, but missed the essential part of the Law â€“ its spirit, Godâ€™s love to fellow man. Where there is no spirit of Godâ€™s love among the Jewish nation, there is no respect for one another, and as a result of it, the evil roots of jealousy, unreasonable, senseless hatred, and sectarian rivalry claw away. That is why the second Temple was destroyed. The Sages teach that every generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt is as wicked as the generation in which it was destroyed. Had we been worthy, the Temple would have been rebuilt in our days. TheÂ Â rabbis see the destruction of the Second Temple not as a failure of the Jewish people to study Torah, but to live Torah.
With the students of R. Akiva the situation was not different. The Jewish wisdom says: "Jealousy between scholars increases wisdom" (Bava Basra 21a). This is not what happened with the 12,000 pairs of disciples. They were not happy with the success and academic achievements of others; their jealousy did not add more wisdom. On the contrary, they gradually lost respect for one another, each one thinking that he Â had attained more knowledge of the Torah than his colleague and that his spiritual accomplishments were more complete and higher than those of the others. R. Akivaâ€™s disciples had forgotten the words of the great teacher R. Johanan ben Zakkai who the Talmud called â€˜The father of wisdom and the father of coming generationsâ€™: "If thou hast learned much of the Torah, do not take credit for it; for this was the purpose of thy creation" (Ab. 2:8). There is Midrashic tradition that God made a condition that if Israel does not study Torah, He will wipe the world out of existence. If a person has learned much Torah, he should not give credit to himself; rather he is obligated to teach others, - this is the purpose of his creation. Their lack of respect to one another manifested itself in a careless attitude towards each other, not sharing the knowledge of the Torah and stop visiting sick comrades. They studied Torah not mainly to know God and His love for men and how to establish a proper spiritual relationship among themselves and the community. For many of them there were different reasons â€“ to enhance their status in the eyes of others, to become the most famous and respected scholars and religious leaders. In this kind of environment the great principal of Talmud: "Torah scholars increase peace in the world" (Berakhot 64a) could not possibly find its fulfillment.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â In the opinion of Rabbi Yochanan ben Torta, the generation of the Bar Kokhba Revolt was not better than the generation which suffered the destruction of the second Temple in 66-70 CE, therefore, he concluded, this generation had not merited the coming of the Messiah and the Redemption.
â€˜Man hated his neighborâ€™, they died because they â€˜did not honor each otherâ€™, they did not want to share their knowledge of the Torah, and they were academically proud, egoistic, and arrogant, - with all these negative characteristics and imperfections, how could the disciples of R. Akiva please God and honor their fellow men?
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Heinrich Graetz (1817 - 1891) was amongst the first historians to write a comprehensive history of the Jewish people from a Jewish perspective. Concerning the disciples ofÂ R. Akiva, he wrote that the term "the students of Rabbi Akiva" does not literally refer to the students of his Torah, but to ones who fought alongside him in the Bar Kokhba rebellion.
In contrast, there were some wise men of Israel in the past who knew how to rebuke others and how to react when they are criticized.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Rabbi Yochanan Ben Nuri said, "I swear that when Akiva and I were before Rabbi Gamliel, I would accuse him, but he even showered me more with love, as it is written "Do not rebuke a fool for he will hate you, rebuke a wise person and he will love you."
The generation of R. Akiva, including the spiritual army of his disciples and followers, did not uphold the principals of the Torah such as â€œJudge every man favorablyâ€ (Torat Kohanim, Kedoshim 19, 15); â€œWhat is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. This is the entire Torah, the rest is the commentaryâ€ (Shabbat 31a); and especially those principles about love, respect, and honoring each other.
It is for violation of these principles that the God of Israel was displeased with them, and they were killed as a punishment by the Roman sword. It is also on account of the sin of the Jewish rebels that the Romans were able to capture the last strong hold of the Revolt, the city of Bethar, and Bar Kokhba was slain.
It was taught: Rabbi Simeon ben Gamliel says, â€œThere were 500 schools in Bethar and the smallest of them had no fewer than 500 children. The children used to say, â€˜If the enemy comes upon us, we will go out against them with our quills and poke out their eyes.â€™ And as a result of the sins of Israel, the Romans wrapped each one in his book, and they burned them. From all of them none remained but meâ€ (Y. Taâ€™an 4:8, 69a). He applied to himself the verse, â€œMy eyes have caused me grief from all the daughters of my cityâ€ (Lam. 3:51).
â€œWhosoever destroys a single soul of Israel, guilty as though he had destroyed complete world; and whosoever preserves a single soul of Israel, Scripture credits him as though he had preserved a complete worldâ€ (Babylon Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 37a).
Â â€œLet your fellow-man's honor be as dear to you as your ownâ€ (Babylonian Talmud, Avot 2: 10). â€œWho is honored?Â One who honors his fellow human beingâ€ (Babylonian Talmud, Avot 4: 1)
Just as students are obligated to honor their teacher, a teacher is obligated to honor his students and encourage them. A teacher should take care of his students and love them, because they are like sons who bring him pleasure in this world and in the world to come. Our Sages declared: "The honor of your students should be as dear to you as your own." As a shepherd of his flock, R Akiva should have led sheep not in the direction of blindness and ignorance of Godâ€™s love to each other just to fulfill Â one of the commandments of Torah, but rather in a manner of the great spiritual teachers Hillel and Shamai, Johanan ben Zakkai, Eliezar the Great, Joshua ben Hananiah and many others, whose students enjoyed a peaceful environment and love firstly to the God of Israel and His Divine Torah and then brotherly love to their fellow men as direct consequences of it. Otherwise, as Proverbs 14:12 say, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death."
R. Akiva was well aware that his generation had many sinful imperfections towards God and their fellow man, and did not merited the advent of the Messiah and Godâ€™s Redemption. But, being optimist by his nature, he was convinced that the Jewish People would change spiritually to the level of Torah requirements; that the Revolt would be successful and bring freedom and independence to his people and the Messianic Era to the World. He dreamed that the Third Temple in Jerusalem would be built by Bar Kokhba, the Messiah, after a victorious war against the Romans. He remembered the prophecies of Jeremiah 25:12; 29:10; Daniel 9:2; Ezra 1:1, of seventy years of Babylonian Exile and rebuilding the Second Temple. And he knew that since the destruction of this Temple in70 CE another seventy years were approaching. After the liberation of Jerusalem, R. Akiva, indeed, directed Bar Kokhba to begin construction of the Third Temple, which task could not be completed due to Roman military pressure, internal dissent, and sectarian rivalry. If R. Akiva could have foreseen the grave consequences of the Revolt, he initiated and actively supported, he would have prevented it and not have let it happen at all. Without enthusiastic support from the religious authorities of the Sanhedrin and Academy, without the spiritual leadership of â€˜the Father of all Sagesâ€™ and legions of his disciples and followers, the Bar Kokhba Revolt would not have been possible and could have been prevented.
As R. Shlomo Riskin, well known scholar of our days, put it:Â â€œFor reasons that will probably remain obscure, the students of Rabbi Akiva were not considered by Heaven to have reached the supreme spiritual heights necessary to bring about the Messianic Ageâ€. Very well said, and we fully share this idea.
Speaking of the tragic fate of the 24,000 disciples of R. Akiva, R. Riskin concluded: â€œAnother explanation of their death was that they died in the battlefield when Rabbi Akiva sent them to fight with the Bar Kochba rebellion. And we also see how the beginning of the end of any national uprising or even defensive war is when the people supposedly on the same side deflect their energy away from the enemy and towards their own internal dissensions; this is the causeless hatred which has always caused Israel to miss our chance for redemption!â€
These reasons may have contributed toward the failed revolt against Rome. The very same reasons resulted in the catastrophe of the First Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire in 66-70 CE.
R. Samuel understands that this Giant of the Talmud, R. Akiva, and his vast â€˜rabbinic cohortâ€™ by proclaiming the wrong man, Bar Kokhba, and in the wrong time, as the Messiah chosen by God, arousing the Judeans to revolt and taking an essential part in the military and political battles against the mighty Roman Empire, without approval and support from the Almighty God of Israel, they had made a huge mistake and brought upon the Jewish People such an unparalleled historical tragedy, the consequences of which we still suffer from in our days.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â â€œTalmudic wisdom learned some hard lessons from Jewish history. These lessons may have been directed at all future spiritual and religious leaders who might attempt to force the hand of God, in forcing the Divine to produce the Messiah. It may also be seen as a gentle reprimand to Rabbi Akiba.Some Jewish thinkers tend to gloss over the consequences of the failed rebellion against Rome, but many people died as a result of Bar Kochba and Rabbi Akiba. Historically, all human efforts to predict the arrival of the son of David are ultimately doomed to failure. Despite numerous predictions made about his â€œalleged arrivalâ€â€“ he has yet to appear and finish the job assigned to him by the prophetsâ€, wrote R. Samuel.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â In other words, as it was expressed by R. Yohanan ben Torta in argument with R. Akiva, â€œI do not believe that the Messianic age can begin prior to rectifying the cause of the destruction of the previous Temple."
We are in full support of his ideas, even to the point of â€˜a gentle (?!) reprimandâ€™ to R. Akiva as had been done earlier by the sages of the Talmud.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Unfortunately, the disciples of R. Akiva failed because they did not rise to the occasion, and instead of the Redemption and the Messianic Age, further catastrophic destruction ensued.
As Chabad.org put it, â€˜these underdeveloped students who have not gathered much Torah knowledge, seek to gain prestige in the eyes of the common people and the inhabitants of their city [by] jumping to sit at the head of all questions of law and Halakhic judgments in Israel. They spread division, destroy the world, extinguish the light of Torah, and wreak havoc in the vineyard of the God of Hosts. In his wisdom, Solomon alluded to them [as follows, (Song of Songs 2:15)]: "Take for us foxes, little foxes that spoil the vineyards, [our vineyards are blooming]" (Mishnah Torah, chapter 5:4).Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
While the people must make the effort, it is not their physical strength and human might which brings victories in the Messianic wars and Redemption, - God of Israel does it! The generation which cannot uplift itself to the level of love of fellow man and accord honor to one other, is not worthy of the Redemption.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â The very same situation concerning Jewish unity (probably, it would be more appropriate to say disunity), has existed in our days. At a time when Jews all over the world face rising waves of anti-Semitism, when de-legitimization and destruction of Israel is a goal of the enemies of the Jewish state, â€˜it is more than disheartening to see Jews themselves adding to the vilificationâ€™, when they embrace fanatical anti-Semites, causing shame and pain to our people, especially when it is done in the name of Judaism. There is no justification for doing this.
What service to the Jewish People are made by statements of the True Torah Jews against Zionism such as this: â€œWe American Jews are thankful to be living under the trustworthy government of the United States of America and our honorable President Barack Obama and not under this traitor Netanyahuâ€?!
The Ultra-Orthodox Jewish radical sect called Neturei Karta together with many elite intellectuals from the Universities and press, international â€˜activists,â€™ human rights protectors, and leftist peace loving demagogues within the State of Israel and in Diaspora unite with the Arabs and anti-Semite elements around the world in their efforts to delegitimize and destroy the Jewish state. They want to live under the Democratic Palestinian Authority. No less, no more. But what do they propose should be done about five and a half million Jews, the Israelis? Well, they answer, Jews will have to ask the lawful Palestinian government permission to live in their country or even become citizens of the Palestinian state. If not allowed to stay (as if there is any doubt!), the Jews must leave the Holy Land and return to the countries of their previous exiles (like those countries will allow Jews to return!), where they are supposed to live peacefully and in harmony with the nations, pray to God â€œfor the welfare of the cityâ€ (Jeremiah 29:7) and patiently wait for the coming of the Messiah. This is their official program, believe it or not. A weakened, disunited Jewish nation is easy prey for both anti-Semites and the enemies of Israel. Activities of these â€˜Orthodox Jews against Zionismâ€™ such as collaboration with the Palestinians and embracing open enemies of the State of Israel, racists and Jewish haters, publicly burning the flag of the Jewish State and demonstrating around the world against the State of Israel and its Government, have given an impression that these individuals are seeking a warranty for their future protection and well being from the Arab world, in case of Israel being dismantled or destroyed. They do not realize two things: Firstly, Israel cannot be destroyed, because God would not let it happen.
Â â€œBut Judah shall dwell forever, and Jerusalem from generation to generationâ€ (Joel 3:20); â€œThey and their children and their children's children will live there forever, and David My servant will be their prince foreverâ€ (Ezekiel 37:25); â€œI will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given themâ€ (Amos 9:15).
Secondly, for a new Hitler in the Arab world, be it Ahmadinejad or somebody else from Hamas, Hezbollah, Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda or the Palestinian Authority, there is no difference for them what kind of Jews they are facing: Zionists, Orthodox Torah Jews against Zionists, German patriots or Palestinian collaborators, university and press intellectuals, international activists, Jews from left or right, old or young â€“ Â like Hitler, they wish to kill all of them without discrimination.
The Jewish People are still bitterly divided into numerous political and religious parties. There is sectarian rivalry, unsolved differences within the Torah community, unreasonable hatred, evil speeches, no love of God and no honor to fellow men. We have not learned the tragic lessons of the past, particularly the first Jewish rebellion of 66-70 CE and the Bar Kokhba Revolt of 132-135 CE. If the Jewish People do not smarten up and this state of disunity not stop, the future prospect of the Jewish nation may be gloomed and doomed.
But we are optimists too, and believe that our generation will correct its imperfections and totally repent of their sins. At the appointed time God will send the real Messiah son of David. He will reunite the Ten Tribes of Israel with the rest of the whole House of Jacob and bring them to the Promised Land to be purified and redeemed by the Almighty. This Messiah chosen by God will not die or be killed until he does everything that has to be done, as perfectly outlined in the Hebrew Bible, Talmud, and the rabbinical literature. This is Godâ€™s Plan which also includes building the Third Temple with its sacrificial system and restoring the Land of Israel to its Biblical borders from the River Nile to the River Euphrates. Then, naturally, after a long and happy life, The King Messiah will die, but his son, grandson and the next of kin from his seed (genealogy), if needed, will accomplish whatever unfinished business remains to meet the spiritual standards of the holy Torah and prepare the inhabitants of Planet Earth for a future purely spiritual World-To-Come, the Purpose of all Creation.