The Jewish Eye
Story of The Churban - Part 15
Part 15: The Tragedy Continues - Asara Harugei Malchus
On the 25th of Sivan, Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, the Prince, and Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha, the former Kohen Gadol, two of the ten great sages killed by the Romans, were captured. They were killed on the day the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed.
When Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Yishmael were imprisoned, Rabbi Yishmael began to cry bitterly. Rabbi Shimon said to him, "Soon you will reside among the tzaddikim in the next word. Why are you crying?"
"I'm not crying because of my imminent death, said Rabbi Yishmael, "but because I'm being led to execution like a criminal. What did we do to deserve this? Maybe we weren't careful in taking care of the poor? Did we think only of ourselves instead of the widows and orphans?"
When they were taken to the executioner, both of them begged to be killed first. "Let me be killed first so I should not have to see the death of my colleague." The executioner drew lots, and it fell on Rabbi Shimon. The executioner took his sword and cut off the head of Rabbi Shimon. Rabbi Yishmael bent down and lifted the head of Rabbi Shimon, placing his eyes against Rabbi Shimon's eyes, and his mouth against R' Shimon's mouth. "Holy lips! Lips that never spoke anything but the mysteries of the Torah now lick the dust!" He wept, and the sound of his weeping reached the heavens.
The daughter of Titus heard the crying and ran to see what was happening. She saw Rabbi Yishamel and was astounded; she had never seen such a handsome man. She ran to her father and begged him to save Rabbi Yishmael so she could save him for herself. Titus refused to allow him to remain alive, but he granted his daughter the skin of Rabbi Yishmael's face. He ordered that Rabbi Yishmael be skinned alive. When the executioner reached the place on his head where his tefillin had rested, Rabbi Yishmael screamed. "For my life, I do not cry, but for my tefillin, I cry." After they had skinned him, they cut off his head. His skin was preserved in basalm, and Titus' daughter placed it in a glass jar by her bed.
When Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yehudah ben Bava heard about the death of Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Yishmael, they tore their clothes, and donned sackcloth. They said, "If there was any good in the world, it was due to the merit of Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Yishmael. Much misfortune must be coming to the world. Hashem took these two chachamim so they won't have to suffer the future travails."
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