The Jewish Eye
Story of The Churban - Part 16
Part 16: Am Yisroel Chai!
"Give me Yavneh and its Sages!" Nearly 2,000 years have passed since Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai stood before the Roman emperor and asked of him, not the preservation of the state, because it was no longer a state of the Torah, and not the preservation of the Bais Hamikdash, because Herod's name was associated with it - but the preservation of the Oral Law of the Torah, which depended on Yavneh and its Sages. He knew that if there was the Oral law of the Torah, there would be a people of the Torah; and if there was a people of the Torah, there would be a land of the Torah; and in the future - a state of the Torah. With "Yavneh" and its Sages, he saved everything.
Now this emperor, his people, his empire - Rome, the world power: where are they now? But the people of the Torah, the people of Yavneh and its Sages are alive and vigorous, every day awaiting the coming of the righteous Mashiach and the establishment of the state of the Torah in the land of the Torah. The towering personality of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai is likewise kept vigorously alive in the hearts of the people of the Torah, and every new generation learns to love and revere him, just as they do "Moshe and Aharon among His Kohanim, and Shmuel among those who call upon His name..." (Psalms 99:6)" (Iyunim by R' Eliyahu Dessler)
Ironically, it was Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, the greatest sage of the time, who was able to envision a future without the Bais Hamikdash and under foreign rule. The Zealots and others who refused to heed the wisdom of the Sages were the ones that refused to live under Roman rule, with tragic consequences. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai understood that the Roman conquest was inevitable, but he did not give in to despair. He realized that the Jews could survive under foreign domination, they could survive without the Bais Hamikdash, and they could even survive in foreign lands. However, Klal Yisrael cannot survive without the Torah, and therefore Torah had to be preserved at all cost. He and his students moved from Yerushalayim before its destruction, and settled in Yavneh.
Yavneh became the new spiritual hub of the Jews, and insured their survival. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai became the spiritual leader of the Jews in Eretz Yisrael, and all around the world. In Yavneh, he established a yeshiva, schools and shuls. New shuls were vital as davening replaced the korbanos in the Bais Hamikdash. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai also reestablished the Sanhedrin, which was essential for the proper observation of the Torah. The Sanhedrin determined the date of each new month, and the time of each leap year.
The foresight of Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai when he pleaded with Vespasian to grant him Yavneh, saved the nation from losing the light of Torah along with the loss of the Bais Hamikdash. Sadly, Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai remained in doubt the rest of his life over his decision to avoid requesting that Yerushalayim and the Bais Hamikdash be spared, a request that he was certain would be denied. On his deathbed, he cried as he said, "I don't know in which direction I will be taken." The remaining Sages had no doubt; they aptly called him, "the Light of Israel." (Berachos 28b).
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