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Seeing light where others see darkness

  • Ilan Herrmann
The Talmud tells us that Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, Rabbi Joshua, and Rabbi Akiva went up to Jerusalem. When they reached Mt Scopus, they tore their garments as an act of grief and mourning for the Temple that had been destroyed there. When they reached the Temple Mount, they saw a fox emerging from the place where the Holy of Holies was situated.
by Rav Ilan Herrmann | Aug 15, 2019

The others started weeping while Rabbi Akiva laughed. Startled, they asked him, “Why are you laughing?”

He responded, “Why are you weeping?”

They answered, “This is the holy place of which it is said of it, ‘The stranger that approaches it shall die,’ and now foxes traverse it, and we shouldn’t weep!?”

Rabbi Akiva replied, “That is why I laugh, for now I see that the prophecy of the destruction of the Temple has taken place,” (Micah 3:12: “Tzion shall be plowed as a field and Yerushalayim shall become heaps of ruins, and the Temple Mount a shrine in the woods”), “most certainly now the prophecy of the rebuilding and ever greater third Temple is ready to be fulfilled.” (Zechariah 4-5: “There shall yet be old men and women in the squares of Yerushalayim. The city shall be crowded with boys and girls playing in the squares.”

With these words, they replied, “Akiva, you have consoled us!”

As an aside, news outlets in Israel reported that in the days before Tisha B’Av this year, a previously unseen site was witnessed. A half dozen foxes were seen walking in the southwestern area of the Western Wall in the early hours of the morning over a period of few days

We see in this Talmudic passage that the very same vision that caused the sages to weep was the vision that caused Rabbi Akiva to laugh. The difference was that the sages saw despair and darkness in it, while Rabbi Akiva saw hope and light.

Today, we witness the coming to fruition of numerous prophecies foretold by our great sages. These prophecies describe the manifestations that will arise in the time soon before the arrival of moshiach (Talmud sanhedrin). Many of these are signs of hardship and difficulty, the maladies of a world and society in many ways bereft of virtue, perhaps much like the generation before Noah’s flood.

Those who are close to the teachings of Torah, however, recognise in them the beginnings of the birth of a new era. The same visions that show darkness and difficulty are the ones that also signal the long awaited arrival of moshiach. Where others saw only decay, Rabbi Akiva saw the promise of redemption.

The same Talmud (sanhedrin), describing these signs as the world’s experience of “birth-pangs” before the birth of the messianic redemption ask, “What is man to do to be spared the birth-pangs of Moshiach? The Talmud answers, “Engage in Torah and acts of loving-kindness!”

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