About 200 years later the second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed by the Romans. The Romans were powerful and they exiled the Jewish people to all over the Roman Empire. You would think history is going to repeat itself. There was an army led by Bar Kochba, 200,000 men, ready to challenge the Roman Empire. Bar Kochba himself was declared “Moshiach” by non-other than Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva himself had 24,000 students that were ready to spread the Torah all over wherever the Jews were in the Roman Empire. But it didn’t happen. You would think history would repeat itself and the Roman army would have been defeated and the third Beit Hamikdash would have been built and remain that way forever. But no, that didn’t happen. Something happened and Hashem changed His mind. Bar Kochba and all of his soldiers were defeated by the Romans. They were slaughtered in one day—their blood ran like a river! The 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva all died in an epidemic and only a handful of them survived after Lag B’Omer.
What caused Hashem to change his mind?
About that time Christian anti-Semitism began. The newly converted Christians took delight in reporting and informing the Roman authorities about a Rabbi who was teaching Torah. How dare anybody say that there is a power greater than the Roman Emperor! The Christian anti-Semitism continued through all ages until the present time. About 1,000 years later, about the 10th century of the Common Era, the Crusaders came in and destroyed whatever there was of a Jewish presence in the Holy Land. It remained that way for about 100 years. The Jews trickled back to claim the land to be part of the Jewish Heritage.
About 500 years after that the Inquisition began. Jews from Spain and Portugal were exiled. Many of them were killed, simply because they were not Catholic, and the rest scattered. Some went to countries in Europe and Asia, and some went to established communities like Baghdad, Aleppo, Damascus, Cairo or other places. That was about the 15th Century.
And then we go to the 20th Century. We had the worst tragedy that ever happened: the Nazi Holocaust. The Encyclopedia Britannica will tell you that before the war, about 1938, the Jewish population of the world was 18 million and after the war, about 1947, the Jewish population of the world was down to about 12 million. One out of every three Jews in the world lost his life in the Holocaust!
Now we wonder what is it that caused Hashem to change his mind and why does he not respond to the needs of the Jewish people. For the answer, or at least my theory of the answer, it comes out in Gemorrah Baba Metzia, page yud tet, amud sheini (sheet 59, second page). We find that the Rabbis had a controversy about an oven that had become tamei (ritually impure) because a dead animal fell on top of it. The Rabbis said in order to clean it you can do nothing with the oven: you have to destroy it completely and you have to build a new oven. Ovens in those days were made up of stones and mortar with a fire at the bottom. They would use the heat from the fire on top to cook, heat water, and whatever else was needed. Now that was the opinion of the Rabbis. There was one dissenter, Rabbi Eliezer Horcanos who said, “You don’t have to do all that. All you have to do is change one stone of the oven. Put a new stone and mortar or mud to hold it in place, and then it will be kosher.” A lot of people who had tamei ovens followed Rabbi Eliezer because it was so attractive, and they kashered their oven by only changing one stone.
The other Rabbis did not like that and the controversy raged. Rabbi Eliezer was very insistent that he was correct, and he told the Rabbis, “You see that stream over there? The stream will testify for me.” The stream turned around and started flowing backwards. The Rabbis said, “We don’t take Halacha (the ‘way to go’, i.e. Jewish Law) from a stream.” [At that time they were still refining many of the laws of the Torah.] So Rabbi Eliezer told them, “In that case, this carob tree will testify for me.” The carob tree picked itself up with its roots, moved about 50 cubits, and replanted itself. The Rabbis said, “We don’t take Halacha from a carob tree.” Rabbi Eliezer was still insistent and he said, “The walls of this building will testify for me.” And the walls of the building started to cave in towards each other. One of the Rabbis spoke to the walls, “If the Rabbis are having a controversy, what business is it of yours?” He told the walls to stop collapsing and they did stop, but they didn’t go back to their original position. And again the Rabbis said, “We don’t take Halacha from walls.”
Rabbi Eliezer still insisted: “OK, the word of G-d from Heaven will come down and testify for me.” A bat kol (a word from Heaven that only certain Rabbis qualified to hear will hear it) came down and said, “Halacha k’rebi Eliezer bechol makom. (The Halacha is like Rabbi Eliezer in every place.)” Now ‘in every place’ means not only in this particular case, but in every case you should interpret the laws of the Torah according to lighter, more lenient interpretation rather than a strict chumrah. A chumrah is what the Rabbis like because when they describe it as a chumrah, they’re safe, nobody can criticize them. If they interpret it lightly, in a liberal way, somebody can criticize them, point out little technicalities why it’s wrong. So the Rabbis ever since then have been defining all the laws according to chumrah, a strict interpretation.
Rabbi Yoshua at that time stood up and said, “Lo b’shamayim hee. (It is not from Heaven.)” This is a quotation from Parsha Nitzavim and it was saying if we have a controversy or something we don’t understand, who will go up to Heaven and get the answer for us, bring it down, let us hear it and we will do it. But the parsha said Lo b’shamayim hee—it is not in Heaven. In other words, for ordinary controversy you have to settle them by yourself. However this does not mean that Hashem Himself cannot tell us how to interpret His own Torah, but that’s the mistake the Rabbis made. They said, “We don’t listen to bat kol—we don’t listen to the voice from Heaven.” How can they say that? Here is Hashem Himself talking, and we dedicate ourselves to listen to Hashem in every way and do His bidding. He’s the One we pray to every day, and here He is saying something about Halacha and they didn’t want to listen to it, they didn’t want to listen to the bat kol.
I believe this is the big mistake the Rabbis made that caused Hashem to change His mind.
About a hundred years before this event, there were groups of Rabbi’s who were defining halachah: Bet Hillel and Bet Shamai. A bat kol came out and said, “Bet Shamai ‘machmirim’ (they interpret the laws strictly) and Bet Hillel ‘makilin’ (they interpret the laws lightly). Halacha K’bet Hillel”. This shows that G-d prefers the light interpretation of the laws rather than the chumra.
Right after this somebody met Eliyahu HaNavi, Elijah the Prophet, and asked him, “How did it go up there?” And Eliyahu HaNavi answered, “Hashem was saying ‘banai nitzhuni, banai nitzhuni!’ (My children triumphed over me!)” When the Rabbis heard that, they were very encouraged in what they were doing: they thought they were right. They went out and destroyed every oven that was kashered according to Rabbi Eliezer’s standard. Then they turned around and decided to put Rabbi Eliezer in cherem (excommunication). He was not allowed to mix with people, and no one was allowed to talk to him or have anything to do with him. But they said that Rabbi Eliezer was pretty powerful; who should they send to tell him that he’s been put in cherem? Rabbi Akiva said, “I will go.” He volunteered and went down and told Rabbi Eliezer that he had been put in cherem. Now for Rabbi Eliezer, being in cherem is like a death sentence. He cannot participate any more in the debates, the controversies, which have to do with the laws that we follow every day. He loved that, but he was not allowed to participate. So to him it was like a death sentence. He had to restrict himself to his home and could not mix with the public whatsoever. He considered himself an onen (a person who had a death in the family and the dead person was not yet buried).
Now the scene on that page takes us to a ship at sea where Rabban Gamliel, the Chief Rabbi of the time and the head of the group that decided not to listen to the voice of Hashem, was. A storm was brewing and a very large wave was coming toward the ship. The wave would have destroyed the ship and drowned everybody in it. Rabban Gamliel prayed to G-d for it and said, “After all, we are doing what You told us. The Torah said, ‘aharei rabim l’hatot (You should go after the majority.)’ We had the majority, and Rabbi Eliezer was a minority and therefore that is what we did, we did it according to the Torah.” With that the storm subsided and the wave dissipated and did not destroy the ship or Rabban Gamliel.
The scene changes back to Rabbi Eliezer’s home where he had to pray alone. He couldn’t go and pray with a minyan in a synagogue so he had to pray at home by himself. Whenever he reached the part of the prayers called Tachanun (pleading to G-d), his wife kept interrupting him and distracting him so he couldn’t concentrate. One day a poor person knocked on the door and Rabbi Eliezer’s wife went to take care of and feed the poor person. When she came back, she found Rabbi Eliezer deeply concentrating in the Tachanun. She said, “Stop! You are killing my brother!” Her brother happened to be Rabbi Gamliel, the Chief Rabbi at the time. A little later word came that Rabbi Gamliel had died. Rabbi Eliezer asked his wife how she knew. She said she learned from her father that the gates of Heaven are open to an onen and G-d will listen to his prayer. Rabban Gamliel died because of this.
The scene of the ship at sea indicates that Hashem was angry at both the decision not to listen to the bat kol and also the decision to put Rabbi Eliezer in cherem. Now we see that Rabban Gamliel died when Rabbi Eliezer was saying Tachanun.
After that Christian anti-Semitism began and the newly converted Christians took delight in informing the Roman authorities whenever there was a Rabbi teaching Torah: how dare they say that there is a power greater than the Roman emperor! The Romans then took the Rabbi and executed him with a very severe painful torturous death. Rabbi Akiva was so killed—a painful torturous death. Also Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, the son of Rabban Gamliel, was also executed by the Romans in a long-lasting painful torture that only the Romans could think of and delight in—they made a big show of it for both of them. Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel died in that way.
This shows that Hashem changed His mind about saving the Jews and starting a Beit Hamikdash Hashlishi (Third Holy Temple). What came out were all the tragedies that came against the Jewish people for the last almost 2,000 years that Hashem was not responding to the needs of the Jewish people. What He saw was they told Him Lo b’shamayim hee. They mistakenly thought that it means that they were not going to receive any word or advice from Heaven, from Hashem. In that case Hashem felt they broke the covenant and He has no more obligation to defend them or do anything for them. As it was said, “I will send them with the freedom of their hearts, they shall go with their own advisors.”(T’hilim 81) And that’s what happened for the last almost 2,000 years, that Hashem was not responding to the Jewish people.
Now what can we do about that? If this theory is true then there is something that can be done, but it has to be done by the Chief Rabbis of Israel. They are the ones that are equivalent to the Rabbis who said they will not listen to a bat kol. The Chief Rabbis of Israel must confess that they made a mistake and beg for forgiveness, pray to Hashem. They will know how to do that and promise from here on to listen to Hashem’s voice, if it’s a voice from Heaven or a prophet that’s proven to be a legitimate prophet, of course, that they would listen to it. Secondly, they will also have to adhere to the principle of defining all the Laws in a light, liberal way rather than the strict chumrah.
There were originally 613 Laws and now there are thousands of Laws, mostly chumrah. So it means Hashem wants the Laws to be interpreted in a light way so that Judaism is not a private club for those who can and are willing to obey the very, very strict Laws that the Rabbis have been defining ever since then.
The Rabbis themselves know how to pray and what to do to ask Hashem to forgive them and to come back and to save and take care of the Jewish people. The Torah shows what to do when a leader makes a mistake.
And let us hope that that means that we will see the Moshiach in our time. Amen!
This Discussion was written by my Unle Abe Gindi, who should be blessed with health. Many remember him as a Pioneer of Electronic Memory, Other’s know him as the inspiring man from the Synagogue in San Jose.