The Lesson of R. Akiva
הרב זכריה טובי
The Gemara in Berachot (61b) relates:
Our Rabbis taught: The [Roman] government decreed that Jews should not learn Torah. What did R. Akiva do? He went and gathered large crowds and sat and taught. Papus b. Yehuda found him. He said to him: Akiva, are you not afraid of this nation? [R. Akiva] said to him: I will provide you a parable to what this is comparable. To a fox that was walking on the riverbank. He saw fish that were running here and there. He said to them: Why are you running? They said to him: Because of the nets and snares that come upon us. He said to them: Do you want to come up onto the land, and we will live together, as my ancestors lived with your ancestors. They said to him: Are you the one about whom is said "the clever of animals?!" You are not clever, but rather you foolish. If in our natural habitat we are afraid, in our place of death all the more so!
We, too, are so. When we are involved in Torah, about which is said, "For it is your life and the length of your days" (Devarim 30:2) we are afraid; when we refrain from Torah, all the more so! It was said, shortly afterwards R. Akiva was arrested and imprisoned, and Papus b. Yehuda was arrested and imprisoned next to him. [Papus] said to him: Fortunate are you R. Akiva, that you were arrested because of Torah; woe to me that was arrested for insignificant matters.
Rav Kook zt"l explains in Ein Ayah that the aforementioned Gemara applies to the situation in which we live now.
The disagreement between Papus and R. Akiva was how Am Yisrael should act when non-Jews pass decrees against Am Yisrael to prevent them from their Torah and heritage, and the situation is life-threatening. Should we take their threats into consideration, make up with them, draw close to them and try not to confront them. Or, despite the danger, we should not cease the light of Torah from us, and we may not weaken the light of our life and the source of our existence.
Papus maintained that since the situation is life-threatening, we should stop learning temporarily until the fire of hatred extinguishes, and then return to learn Torah. Papus was a "cultured" "realistic" person, who also changed his name from "b. Yehuda" to a modern name, Papus, in order to find favor in the eyes of the government, and out of concern for the peace of Am Yisrael. He thought that after the hatred of Israel will be gone, we will return to the Torah. However, R. Akiva knew that the hated of the Jews to Am Yisrael is inherent, and their goal is to prevent the existence of Am Yisrael. The decree not to learn Torah flows only from hatred of Am Ysirael, and even if we stop learning, they will find other claims and other decrees to prevent our existence as a nation. The hatred of the non-Jews for Israel is a blind hatred with no reason.
The Midrash tells of Caesar Andrianus who traveled with his entourage, and on the way a Jew saw him and greeted him. The Caesar turned to him in anger, "How dare you greet me," and killed him. Another Jew who saw this, when the Caesar subsequently passed him - refrained from greeting him. The Caesar said, "How dare you not greet the Caesar," and killed him. The Caesar hates Jews, and will always find a reason to kill them. Thus, R. Akiva understood that the non-Jew's hatred in very deep to prevent our existence as a nation, and they will always find an excuse to destroy us. Therefore, we must strengthen ourselves in Torah, which is the source of our life and existence, and if we stop learning Torah, the decrees will increase and our existence will be in danger.
This is true in our days also, in which the nations are trying to detach us from our land and asking that we give over parts of Israel to our enemies who seek to destroy us. The "realists" like Papus certainly say there is danger; we should give over Israel to our enemies and then there will be peace in the land.
Here comes the teaching of R. Akiva and says that Eretz Yisrael is the source of our life, and if we leave it in the hands of our enemies, they will continue to rise against us and destroy us, and no promises and agreements of our enemies are enduring. We should no fool ourselves that is we just give in, there will be peace and quiet. R. Akiva was arrested for Torah, but woe to Papus who try to draw close to the nations who was arrested for insignificant matters. We should not be afraid. We should grasp the light of Torah and our Land because it is our life and the length of our days.
קוד השיעור: 3757
(Translated by Rav Meir Orlian)