Rabbi Yaacov Haber's
for the Week
Jerusalem and the Temple had fallen, but there was new
hope. A warrior by the name of
Bar Kochba arose
and took the world by storm. He assembled four
hundred thousand Jewish soldiers in Israel. Only
the strongest and mightiest qualified for the Jewish army. The Talmud
recounts that Bar Kochba instituted a test of strength. In order to
qualify for battle every potential soldier had to
cut off one of his fingers with his sword. Two
hundred thousand men stood up to fight with their sign of commitment
a missing finger. The Rabbis discouraged this system. They wrote a
petition to Bar Kochba saying that he was making all of Israel
crippled. (JT Taanis 4;5) In response to the
Rabbinic request Bar Kochba instituted a new test,
where a soldier was required to rip a cedar tree out of the ground
while riding on a horse. Two hundred thousand more soldiers stepped
up to this test. Under the military leadership of
Bar Kochba, and the approval of Rabbi Akiva, the
Jews conquered fifty fortified cities and 951 smaller towns.
The Jews created an independent government and began to restore
Jewish life to Jerusalem and Israel. Fifty-three
years after the destruction of Jerusalem we
became one of the strongest armies in the known world. The Romans were
defenseless against us, their decrees against the practice of
Torah and Mitzvos were overturned and a powerful Israel was created.
declared Bar Kochba the
But somehow everything started to turn around. In the year 135 the Romans
brought in their best general, Julius Severus, and we started to lose
ground and people. The Talmud describes a battle
in which two rivers were filled up with Jewish
blood: two thirds blood and one third water. (Gittin 57) The
mood of Israel fell, and for two and a half years we spiraled
downward. Our last stronghold was
Beitar. Rabban Shimon
Ben Gamliel described Beitar as a city with 500
Jewish schools, the smallest of which had 500 children.
G-d just couldn't let us down! In the year 138 we lost Beitar as well
and found ourselves in the Golus we are in today.
It was Tisha B'Av all over again. Hadrian
reenacted decrees on the Jewish people that were even
harsher than the first decrees. Most of the ten martyrs were killed
during this period. The Rabbis began to institute
rules of mourning. We must not build homes or
plant vineyards, they said, we must not play music or sing songs.
It was prohibited to smile or certainly to laugh. Rabbi Yishmoel Ben
Alisha said "we can no longer marry and we can no
longer have children."
It was the fifteenth of Av when the great Rabban Shimon be Gamliel said'
"Stop! If we continue to mourn we will
destroy whatever little bit we have left. Build
houses, get married and build your families. For a few years our
strength was in our army - now our strength must be in our hearts."
It was on that
Tu B'Av that
we found a new inner strength and that we learned how to
go on. We were a crippled people, yet we started to marry and where
possible we built homes and planted new fields. (Bava Basra 62)
Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel taught "There has never been a greater Yom
Tov for the Jewish people than the fifteenth of Av... (Taanis 26).
There are two kinds of Gevurah. There is the strength of arms and the
strength of soul. When we experience our might we can walk proud and happy.
When we are defeated we find a strength even greater that the first -
the strength to survive. It is that strength that has given us the
longevity to last until today.
Rabbi Yaacov Haber
Spiritual Leader, Congregation Bais Torah, Monsey NY
Message or Fax (212) 656-1399
"A tree of life for those who embrace it"
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