It is incredible to see how often the regular Torah learning we do, whatever the format, tends to be so applicable to current affairs.
Yet it is particularly chilling, as my colleague Rabbi Johnny Solomon pointed out in his recent daf post, to begin the 9 days with Agadot that describe the destruction we are mourning right now.
This comes in addition to the fact that the parsha we are about to read, always occurring before 9 Av, is the parsha with the word איכה (“how”- the name of the Megila we read on 9 Av which describes the destruction) in it, where Moshe accounts how he asked how he can possibly bare all the squabbles of the people on his own- we all know that the Beis hamikdash was destroyed due to שנאת חינם (causeless hatred) and the resultant infighting that it bred.
The Gemara tells how when our sages entered Kerem b Yavneh, the place to which the Sanhedrin was exiled after the destruction of Yerushalayim, they predicted that there will be a time where Torah will be forgotten from the people of Israel.
|It should be noted that Kerem b Yavne was the direct result of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai’s request to the Roman leader he had charmed )Gittin 56a), something that came to symbolize hope and continuity of Torah after the destruction, yet in this very place, Chazal has no illusions that this would last forever- they knew that it was only a matter of time till the environment of the exile would take its toll on our spiritual existence.
It is also interesting to note that they based this prediction on a passuk from the Navi (|Amos 8) where Amos prophesies as follows:
“הנה ימים באים נאם ה’ אלהים והשלחתי רעב בארץ לא רעב ללחם ולא צמא למים כי אם לשמע את דברי ה”
Days are coming, say Hashem Elokim, and I shall send a famine in the land, not a famine for bread, and not a thirst for water, but rather to hear the word of Hashem.”
“ ונעו מים עד ים ומצפון ועד מזרח ישוטטו לבקש את דבר ה’ ולא ימצאו”
And they shall wander from sea to sea and from North to East they shall float to find the word of Hashem, and they shall not find it.
Let us recall that Chazal were aware that they were not prophets and could not make such predictions about the future except by using their mandate to interpret existing prophecies such as this.
Yet Chazal do tend to take such predictions away from their most obvious context, and apply them to later periods in history as well, perhaps on the basis of the principle מעשה אבות סימן לבנים (the deeds of the fathers are a sign for the children. [see Ramban Bereishis 12/6])
The prophesies of Amos, as most of those who prophesied during the first Temple period, were presumably directed primarily at the coming destruction, namely the scattering of the 10 tribes by the Assyrians, the conquest of Yehuda and burning of the first Temple by the Babylonians, the Babylonian exile that was to follow, and the eventual redemption from it.
Yet Chazal were sitting during the period of the destruction of the second Temple, many years later, in Kerem b Yavne, and interpreted this prophecy as referring also to a later time, when they feared Torah would be completely forgotten.
We see another example of this approach in Chazal in the famous dispute between Rav Yehuda and Rabbi Zeira about leaving Bavel to go to Israel (Kesubos 111)
Rabbi Zeira intended to go up to live in Israel and was avoiding Rav Yehuda who held that it was forbidden to leave the exile and return to Israel till the messianic era.
He cited a verse in support from the Navi (Yirmiyahu 27/22) “בבלה יבאו ושמה יהיו עד יום פקדי אותם”
– “they shall be brought to Babylon and there they shall until the day that I redeem them.”
The context of this passuk was a prophecy about the first exile to Babylon, specifically the vessels of the Temple, but Rav Yehuda interpreted it as also referring to the later exile, and generating a general ban on leaving the place of exile until the time comes, an interpretation Rabbi Zeira rejected- the ensuing debate in that sugya serves as the most important classical source for studying the contemporary controversy over Zionism in the Torah world.
Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai protests the prediction of his colleagues in Yavneh, and brings a support verse of his own (Devarim 31)- “כי לא תשכח מפי זרעו” – “For it will never be forgotten from the mouths of his descendants.”
It needs to be pointed out, that whether the prediction of the sages of Yavne was to come true or not, the simple meaning of the verses do indeed seem to indicate that it indeed already come true towards the end of the first Temple period, during the reign of the wicked kings Menashe and Amon.
So complete was the spiritual destruction that those two kings wrought, that we are told (Melachim II 22) how when the righteous Yoshiyahu succeeded his wicked father Amon, a surviving Sefer Torah was found, and that when it was read, Yoshiyahu and the people broke into tears and repented.
Imagine a time when not one Jewish child, including the righteous king who was only 8 years old when he became king and 18 years old when the Torah was found, had every experienced the reading of a Torah, and the atmosphere when this happened again for the first time?
It is true that there are views in the Rishonim who do not understand what happened in this way, and attribute the shock and resulting repentance not to this being the last remaining Torah found, but to its being found open to a specific verse about destruction (see Rashi there) or to it being the original Torah written by Moshe Rabbeinu (see Abarbanel,) but this is indeed how the Radak, famous for following פשוטו של מקרא (the simple reading of the verses) understands the situation at the time.
This approach has many difficulties which need to be resolved, but it remains an important and possibly the most literal interpretation of events.
Perhaps the Redak is consistent with the “realistic” view of the other sages of Yavne, who then take it a step further and apply the words of prophecy that predicted it to a later time as well, based on מעשה אבות סימן לבנים.
The Rishonim who prefer not to take this approach could then be consistent with Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s “optimistic” view that the Torah could never be forgotten from the Jewish people.
After all, if as the Radak claims, the Menashe/Amon years where so bad that the Torah had indeed been forgotten from the Jewish people, how are we able to reconcile this with our view of an unbroken mesora (chain of transmission?)
Alternatively, perhaps even the sages of Yavne, though believing that this could happen in principle, where not willing to accept that it had already happened.
We daven, that it will NEVER happen.