Consulting the Gedolim
Hashem Holds the Keys
The Latter-day Biryonim
Miracles for the Wicked
Hashem is righteous, but I rebelled against His mouth. (Eichah 1:18)
The Gemora in Taanis 22b tells the story of how the righteous king Yoshiahu was killed in battle by the Egyptian soldiers. The king of Egypt was passing through Eretz Yisroel to fight against Assyria, and he had no intention to fight Yoshiahu. But Yoshiahu thought that his generation was worthy of the blessing, “No sword shall pass through your land” (Vayikra 26:6), which means even an army on its way to another land. This was a mistake – he himself was a tzaddik, but his generation was not worthy. Had he asked Yirmiyahu the prophet what to do, he would have told him that he was mistaken, and that he should not go to war. But he did not ask. He went out to fight the Egyptians, and they shot arrows into him until his body was full of holes like a sieve. As he lay dying, Yirmiyahu saw his lips moving, and he bent over to see what his last words would be. Yoshiahu said, “Hashem is righteous, but I rebelled against His mouth.” His neglecting to consult with the greatest sage of the generation was considered rebellion against Hashem, and for this he was punished.
Rabbi Avigdor Miller once told this story, and then commented that not only must one ask the gedolim, but one must know how to ask. This was the lesson the Jewish people learned from the war of Pilegesh Bagivah (the concubine at Givah). Before each of the three days of battle, the tribes consulted with Hashem through the Urim Vetumim. But on the first two days they lost to the tribe of Binyamin, and on the third day they won. Why did they lose on the first two days? Because they did not ask the Urim Vetumim the crucial question: whether or not they would win. The first time, they asked which tribe should go into battle first, and Hashem said, “Yehuda.” The second time, they asked whether they should go into battle at all, and Hashem said, “Go.” The third time, they finally learned that they had to ask if they would win, and Hashem replied, “Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hand.” (Shoftim 20:28, Shevuos 35b)
The reason it is so important to ask whether one’s plan will be successful is because without that, the question becomes a mere formality. The asker is saying, “I have already decided that this is the best plan. I’m not coming to ask you whether this plan is the most likely to succeed. I’m just asking you for permission to do it.” If the rabbi says yes, it could mean, do it and go bankrupt, or do it and risk your life. Rabbi Miller concluded, “You see a remarkable thing from here. Very many people ask, and they pride themselves on their virtue, but it’s evident from the way they ask that this is what they wish. I won’t mention the name of a good Orthodox organization that has a company of sages whom they consult. They really consult them. But they consult them in such a way that the sages see that’s the only way. And so when the sages say yes, it’s like forcing them in one direction. The proper way would be, not that these people should initiate the plan and then go to the sages to have it approved. They should ask their sages, what plans should we initiate? That’s the way to ask. You draw up a whole plan, a whole outline, and then you bring it to your group of sages and you say, what do you say to this? What, are they going to fight with you? They’re happy to have Orthodox Jews who are loyal to them. They might even lose these. So they say yes. That’s not asking. You have to go to them and be explicit: what do you say? What should be done? Not, do you approve of this? What should be done? And the sages should draw up the plan. And if they don’t want to draw up the plans, it means no plans should be drawn up.” (Tape #74)
The prophecy of the valley of vision: What troubles you, then, that you all go up to the rooftops? (Yishaya 22:1)
The Gemara (Taanis 29a) says that this verse refers to the destruction of the Temple. The “valley of vision” is Jerusalem, about which many prophecies were said. When the Temple was burning, the young kohanim went up onto the roof of the sanctuary with the keys to the sanctuary in their hands. They said, “Master of the World! Since we did not merit to be trusted custodians, we are handing over the keys to You!” They threw the keys upwards, and a hand came out of heaven and accepted them. Then the young kohanim leapt into the flames.
Rabbi Avraham Lichtenstein was an eighteenth-century rabbi of Prassnysz, in the region of Plotzk, Poland, and author of Kanfei Nesharim. In his commentary Migdenos Avraham on Shir Hashirim, he uses this story to explain the oaths with which G-d adjured the Jewish people not to force the end of exile and not to go up as a wall.
“Heaven forbid for Israel in exile to make any effort with a strong hand, whether through the gentile kings and ministers, or to go up as a wall, all together, each one strengthening the other, saying, ‘Let us go to Jerusalem with a strong hand and build the Temple,’ or ‘Let us pay off the king of Turkey until he sells us all the state of Eretz Yisroel to be ours like it was in ancient times, and we will build the Temple and offer sacrifices.’ Heaven forbid for us to do this! We will wait until G-d pours out His kindness from above and sends our redemption through his moshiach, with permission from the King Who sits on high.
“This is the meaning of the hand that came out of heaven and accepted the keys. It can be compared to a person who wants to enter a house, but the house is locked. It appears that the house is ownerless. He wants to break down the door, but we tell him, ‘Fool! Stop!’ The house does have an owner, the keys are in his hand, and you want to enter by force? You will be considered a burglar! Wait till the owner comes and gives you the keys, and then open the door. Here too, since G-d accepted the keys, how could it occur to us to go up by force without receiving permission from G-d? We must wait until the Owner of the key comes and gives us the key, and then we will go to Zion with song.
“At the same time, G-d warned the nations of the world not to make the exile too difficult for Israel. This is the meaning of the verses in Shir Hashirim (2:6-7) from which the oaths are derived. Israel says to G-d, ‘Let His left hand be under my head (i.e. prophecy), and let His right hand embrace me.’ G-d replies, ‘Look what I have already given you during this exile, and see My great love for you. I have adjured the daughters of Jerusalem – the nations – not to afflict you. So why do you pray so persistently for the return of My love and prophecy – better to wait until the proper time, when it is desired.’
During the Roman siege of Jerusalem, there were among the Jews some biryonim (zealots). Rashi says that the zealots were warmongering empty people. The rabbis said to them: “Let us go out and make peace with the Romans.” But the zealots did not allow them to do that, saying instead, “Let us make war with them!” The rabbis said, “It will not be successful.” (Gittin 56a)
The Gemara later tells that when Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakai smuggled himself out of Jerusalem and came before the Roman general Vespasian, Vespasian said to him: “If a poisonous serpent coils itself around a keg of honey, do we not break the keg in the process of killing the serpent?” He meant that despite Rabbi Yochanan’s desire for peace, he could not call off the war because he had to defeat the zealots, and it would be impossible to do so without destroying Jerusalem and the Temple. We see from this that Vespasian did not really want to destroy the city and the Temple, and only did so to defeat the zealots. Had these zealots joined Rabbi Yochanan in surrendering, the Temple would never have been destroyed.
This point is made by the Sforno on Bereishis 33:4. He says that although Esav had originally been coming to destroy Yaakov and his family, his heart was turned around by the humble approach Yaakov took. If only the zealots of the Second Temple had followed this example, the Temple would not have been destroyed, as Rabbi Yochanan testified when he said, “The zealots among us did not allow it.”
The Satmar Rebbe once compared the Zionists to the biryonim at the time of the Second Temple: “At the time of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, there were also biryonim, but the difference was that then, all the holy Tannaim were on Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai’s side; the biryonim were a fringe group. Today, however, most rabbis unfortunately support the biryonim.” (Rabbi Yishai Buchinger, p. 23)
Titus took a sword and stabbed the curtain of the Holy of Holies. A miracle happened and blood came gushing out… (Gittin 56b)
When the Satmar Rebbe visited Eretz Yisroel in 1959, he spoke in public for two and a half hours in reference to the Sinai War, bringing proofs from the Bavli, Yerushalmi and Midrashim that Hashem does not make miracles for the wicked. Afterwards, a rosh yeshiva asked the Rebbe, “Doesn’t the Gemara in Gittin say that when Titus entered the Holy of Holies and stuck his sword into the paroches, a miracle happened and blood came gushing out?” The Rebbe replied, “The Shlah Hakadosh (Taanis, Inyanei Tisha B’av) says that this was not a miracle; it was the absence of a miracle. Every year on Yom Kippur, the Kohein Gadol would sprinkle blood on the paroches, and it would miraculously be absorbed in the floor. Now that the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, that miracle stopped, and all the blood that was in the floor came gushing out.” (Tiferes Yoel v. 3 pp. 66-67)