From Jerusalem to Yavne and Back
By: Rav Aharon Friedman
From Jerusalem to Yavneh and Back
HaRav Aharon Friedman shlit"a
In his elevated mind's eye, HaRav Kook ztz"l foresaw the establishment of Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh and also delineated its spiritual direction in a letter from תרע"ג (Iggrot HaRaiyah, part 2, p. 136):
"There is one idea which is not far from actualization: a significant part of Yavneh, which is known for its belovedness, can now be purchased for average means in order to establish there at least a small moshava (settlement) together with a yeshiva splendid for its quality, which brings us as close as possible to that shining vision, which encourages all our living spiritual powers from the distant past, of "Kerem B'Yavneh" – which, despite our immeasurable smallness in comparison to those great (men) of G-d, we are their sons and we desire to walk in their footsteps."
The new Kerem B'Yavneh is based on the same "Kerem B'Yavneh" of the past, which Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai established at the time he departed from Jerusalem shortly before its destruction.
An immediate and perhaps somewhat superficial way to see this portrays Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai as succeeding in setting up "Kerem B'Yavneh" as a new center of national honor in lieu of the Temple. This outlook can be summed up in a rather blunt term: "Beit Midrash instead of Beit Mikdash."
But a deeper look reveals that not only did Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai teach the nation through his deeds the secret of the power of Beit HaMikdash, but also that the establishment of Kerem B'Yavneh was in essence the first step in the nation's long journey back to Yerushalayim and the rebuilding of HaShem's Temple.
The foundation for this is a quote of Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai in Avot d'Rabbi Natan (Nuschah bet, ch. 31):
If the children will say: let us go and build the Temple, don't listen to them. But if the elders will say: let us go and tear down the Temple, listen to them. Because the construction of children is destruction, and the destruction of elders is construction. A proof of this: Rechavam the son of Shlomo.
From this quote we can conclude that there were those who observed Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai, who left Jerusalem and established Yavneh, and regarded him as destroying the Mikdash and causing it to be forgotten. Opposite them stands Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai who says that the destruction of elders in truth is genuine construction.
The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple was the outcome of the corruption of the three great foundations of the nation's leadership: the Torah, the Kehuna (Priesthood) and the Malchut (kingdom). In his deep insight, Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai saw that reconstruction in the future required that these three foundations must be rebuilt properly. This is the reason that when he left Jerusalem, he made three requests of the Roman general and newly-appointed emperor Vespasian, as described in Gittin 56b:
He (Rabban Yochanan) said to him (Vespasian): Give me Yavneh and its sages, the lineage of Rabban Gamliel, and a doctor to treat Rabbi Tzaddok.
Yavneh and its sages – the pillar of the Torah is the first and central foundation upon which Beit Israel is built. The connection with the Torah and with its sages is the only way the life of Am Israel can continue. The verse in Shir HaShirim "Shlomo had a Kerem (vineyard)" is interpreted by the Midrash: these are Israel, as it says (Yishayahu 5) "As the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is Beit Israel." Perhaps this is one of the reasons that the convention of sages in Yavneh is called "Kerem B'Yavneh" – all of Israel is called a vineyard, and it was "replanted" in Yavneh, the Torah center.
Another purpose of the Torah of Yavneh was to remedy the antagonism between the masses and the Talmidei Chachamim, which sprang from the sentiment that the Torah scholars considered themselves superior to amei ha'aretz (the unlearned). We learned about this tikkun in Brachot 17a:
This pearl (of wisdom) was in the mouths of the Rabbis of Yavneh: I am a human being and my friend (the am ha'aretz) is a human being, my work is in the city and his work is in the field, I awaken to my work and he awakens to his work; just as he doesn't "cross the fence" to my profession, I don't "cross the fence" to his profession, and lest you say: I do much and he does little, (in contrast to this) we learned: one who does much and one who does little are equal (in their reward) as long as each one directs his heart to Heaven.
The lineage of Rabban Gamliel is the foundation of the kingdom and leadership of Israel from the seed of the House of David. It is the responsibility of the leadership of Israel to unite the nation under it. Out of this outlook, Rabban Gamliel of Yavneh made great efforts to galvanize a unified Halacha. In his days the Bat Kol (heavenly voice) declared that Halacha is according to Beit Hillel, and determined that whoever goes against the words of Beit Hillel is punishable by death. [See Yerushalmi Yevamot, at the end of chap. 1: "A Bat Kol came out in Yavneh" and perhaps the death penalty was the result of the authority of the Nasi which was given to the Bat Kol which put anyone who opposed the words of Beit Hillel on similar footing as a 'rebel against the malchut.'] The unification of the Halacha and the obligation to accept the authority of the majority was expressed sharply by Rabban Gamliel in the story of "tanur shel achnai" (an oven constructed of coils), in which Rabbi Eliezer was ostracized. (Babba Metzia 59b)
"Even so, Rabban Gamliel was aboard a ship, and a storm threatened to sink it. He said: it seems to me that this could be for no other reason than Rabbi Eliezer Ben Horkenus. He stood on his feet and said: Master of the world, it is revealed and known before you that I did this not for my honor, and not for the honor of my father's house, but for Your honor, so that disputes will not multiply in Israel. (Then) the sea calmed from its rage."
A doctor to treat Rabbi Tzaddok – Rabbi Tzaddok was a Kohen, as related in Bechorot 36a and in Avot d'Rabbi Natan ch. 16. [The name Tzaddok belongs to the Priestly families since the days of David and Shlomo.] In contrast to High Priests at the end of the Second Temple period, who used the priesthood as a means to gain personal benefit, Rabbi Tzaddok saw his role as a Kohen as a shaliach (emissary) for Am Israel – to pray for them, to entreat for them and to atone for their transgressions. In fact, Rabbi Tzaddok fasted forty years until the destruction in an effort to reverse the decree of the destruction [a fast by definition is accompanied by prayer and repentance]. Rabbi Tzaddok was an outstanding example of the moral fiber worthy of the Kohenim, and therefore he is included in the requests of Rabban Yochanan Bez Zakkai.
So we can state that in Yavneh after the destruction the leadership of Am Israel was built anew. The Torah, the kingdom and the priesthood recovered their proper place and character. In this sense, Yavneh prepared the groundwork for the rebuilding of Jerusalem.
These foundations, which Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakkai laid two thousand years ago, are the same ones that form the basis of HaRav Kook's vision for the new Kerem B'Yavneh.
Torah which is learned out of humility and deep connection with all of Am Israel.
Leadership with the vision of uniting all of Am Israel "as one man."
Living with the purpose of benefitting Am Israel and willingness to sacrifice for the nation, like the "mandate" of the Kohenim - the emissaries of Israel.
May we merit to be worthy of carrying out this great, extraordinary mission – to continue in the path of "Rabanan d' Yavneh."
Shiur ID: 9235