Rebbe Yehoshua and Rabbi Gamliel
Rabbi Yaacov Haber
In the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos where Yochonon ben Zakai describes the main attributes of his top five talmidim, Rebbe Yehoshua is described as, “Blessed is the mother who gave birth to him.”  It’s a strange expression.  The Gemorah says that when Rebbe Yehoshua’s mother was pregnant with him, she would go to a Bais Medresh so he could soak up the learning, and after he was born, she would bring him in his infant seat to the Bais Medresh for the same reason.  We see that it worked.
One thing that the Gemorah says about Rebbe Yehoshua was that he wasn’t good looking.  The Caeser’s daughter once asked Rebbe Yehoshua, “Why did Hashem put such wisdom in a person who is so bad looking?”  It’s hard to know how to respond to that – thank you? He responded by saying, “You’re a princess, and your wine is now in earthenware and wooden casks. Someone of your stature should put the wine in silver vessels.”  She did it, and the wine spoiled.  When she came back, he explained that wine is made better by being in old vessels that are not attractive.  She then asked, “But why are many of the other of the Chachomim good looking?”  He said, “Imagine how much wiser they would be in they weren’t so good looking.”
When Yochonon ben Zakai brought the Chochomim to Yavne, he wasn’t just starting a Yeshiva.  He was establishing a new era of the Jewish people – a system of learning and deciding Halachah that the Jews could bring with them to Bavel, Europe, and beyond, wherever they would go in the world.  He had also asked Vespation to bring back Rabbi Gamliel as Nasi of the Jewish people.  Rabbi Gamliel was a descendent of Hillel, who was in turn a descendent of Dovid Hamelech.  This kind of Malchus had been seen as a threat by the Romans, and Yochanon ben Zakai felt that the Jews needed this kind of authority as they moved to the new Yavne paradigm.  So Rabbi Gamliel became the Nasi in Yavne, and Yochonon ben Zakai retired to a small town nearby, so as not to interfere with the new authority of Gamliel.
The Gemorah in Kedushin 32b describes a scene where Rabbi Gamliel’s son was getting married.  At one of the tables were sitting Eliezer ben Hurkanis, Yehoshua, and Rebbe Tzodok.  Rabbi Gamliel came to the table, and starting pouring wine into their glasses.  Rebbe Eliezer refused the wine, saying that it’s not dignified for a Nasi to pour wine in our cups – to meshamesh us.  Yehoshua said, “I don’t think its inappropriate, I don’t mind – after all, Avraham Avenu, who was the Godol Hador, served people who he thought were Arabs.”  Rebbe Tzodok said, “Even more so, Hashem serves us by making the sun shine, the wind to blow, and the rain to fall – He’s like the Maintenance Man in the world.”  It’s an interesting dialog.  Whenever you go to a Chasunah, try to sit at the table where the Chochomom are sitting – you can get a lot out of listening to what they are talking about.
We’ve seen before an interaction between Eliezer, Yehoshua, and Rabbi Gamliel.  When Eliezer threatened to bring down the walls of the Bais Medresh of Yavne, Yehoshua said “Torah lo be Shamayim he”, and talked to the walls and kept them from falling down.  Afterwards, Rabbi Gamliel put Eliezer in Cherem.  He felt that if we are to make progress in Yavne, formulating the new system of discussing and taking votes, we can’t have Eliezer always stopping everything saying, “I know what the answer is, just ask me.” 
We saw how after Rabbi Gamliel put Eliezer in Cherem, a storm arose and threatened the boat that Rabbi Gamliel was on.  Rabbi Gamliel lifted his arms to Heaven, and said, “Hashem, I didn’t do this for my coved or the coved of my fathers. I did this to lessen machlochet in Israel.”  He convinced Hashem not to sink the boat, and the storm subsided.
Now let’s look at the Gemorah in Brochos 27.  It begins with someone asking Yehoshua, “Is Maariv a chiyuv or a reshus?”  Yehoshua replied, “It’s a reshus”.  The person then went over to Rabbi Gamliel, and asked, “Is Maariv a chiyuv or a reshus?”  Rabbi Gamliel answered, “It’s a chiyuv.”  The person then did something strange – he said to Rabbi Gamliel, “But Yehoshua said it’s a reshus.” 
Rabbi Gamliel then assembled the Chochomim, and asked, “I say that Maariv is a Chiyuv – is there anyone that disagrees with me?”  Yehoshua said, “No, I don’t disagree.”  Rabbi Gamliel then asked Yehoshua to stand up, in a form of indignity, and said, “But this person claims that you said it was a Reshus.”  He then continued speaking, and forced Yehoshua to remain standing. 
The other Chochomim didn’t like the way Rabbi Gamliel was treating Yehoshua.  This was the third time that Gamliel had made an example of Yehoshua.  In another incident, there was a dispute over which of two days Rosh Chodosh Tishrei was.  The main issue was when Yom Kippur would fall, and Rabbi Gamliel insisted that Yehoshua come to him on the day that Yehoshua’s Yom Kippur fell, with food and a wallet full of money. 
So the Chochomim in Yavne rose up, and decided to depose Rabbi Gamliel, to choose a new Nasi.  They discussed who they should choose as the new Nasi.  Someone suggested Yehoshua, but they rejected that idea because Yehoshua had been involved in the dispute that brought this about.  Another person suggested Rabbi Akiva, but that idea was discarded because he didn’t have Zchus Avos – he was a Baal Tshuva, or according to others, he was the son of a Ger.  Then they suggested Elazer ben Azariah.  Even though he was only 18, he was a Talmud chachum, and from an illustrious family – he traced his ancestry back to Ezra – that’s where the name Azaria comes from.  And he had good connections to the Roman government.
Elazer ben Azariah said, first I have to ask my wife.  He was young.  His wife said, you’re taking a big chance, because just as they are demoting Rabbi Gamliel today, tomorrow they might demote you.  But Elazer ben Azariah said, even if I’m the Nasi for only a day, that would be good – it’s like having good wine for a day. 
He accepted the position, and as we know from the Hagaddah, a Nais happened and his beard turned white – “I am like someone 70 years old”.  Actually, whenever someone accepts the yoke of being a manhig of Klal Yisroel, he hears so much Tzoris, it’s not really that much of a Nais that their beard turns white.
That was a very eventful day.  In fact, whenever the Gemorah refers to ‘that day’, it refers to this day.  The Gemorah says ‘on that day’ the guard that had kept people out of the Yeshiva was fired.  He had been told by Rabbi Gamliel to keep people out of the Yeshiva whose inside was not like their outside.  I’ve always wondered how the guard could tell whose inside was not like their outside – did he have Ruach Hakodesh, or did he have some beeper that went off?
The Gemorah says that ‘on that day’, 100 benches were filled with new people, some people say 400 benches.  And a bench held several people.  The doors were open, and hundreds of new people came.  I suspect that many people hadn’t come before because of what they perceived as Rabbi Gamliel’s exclusive attitude.
It says that ‘on that day’, there wasn’t an issue that wasn’t discussed.  For example, one person said he was from Ammon and Moav – today’s Jordan – and he said that he wanted to become a Jew.  Rabbi Gamliel – who stayed around to join the discussions when he saw that it was good that things had opened up – said, it’s clear from the Torah that any man from Ammon and Moav can’t become a Jew.  Yehoshua said, “How can we know if he’s really from the people that the Chumash calls Ammon and Moav.  Sancheriv mixed up all the people.”
Rabbi Gamliel saw that opening up the Yeshiva was good, and what he had done to Yehoshua was wrong.  So he went to Yehoshua’s house to ask for mechila.  When he got there, he saw that the walls were black.  He asked, “Are your walls black because you’re a blacksmith?”  Yehoshua replied, “Woe to a people that you are the leader of”, because how could Gamliel have thought that he was a blacksmith.  He should have known that Yehoshua’s walls were black because he had no money to live on.  This showed that Rabbi Gamliel had no idea how the individual people lived.  Gamliel asked for mechila, and at first Yehoshua said no.  Gamliel said, please give mechila for the honor of my grandfather Hillel, and then Yehoshua agreed.
At the end of this Gemorah, it tells us who the person was that had asked Yehoshua and Rabbi Gamliel whether Maariv is a chiyuv or a reshus.  That person was Shimon Bar Yochai.  Wow.
We have to try to understand Rabbi Gamliel’s viewpoint.  He felt that it was crucial for Klal Yisroel to have a clear authority that wasn’t always being challenged.  That’s why he put Eliezer in Cherem, and that’s why he made an example of Yehoshua.  He felt that for the sake of the Klal, for the sake of the future, some individuals would have suffer.  I can’t judge anyone, but I once heard that after the war, a Godol said that for the sake of Klal Yisroel, certain actions would have to be taken – and if we have to lose certain people, so be it.  In Anivas Dati, even though I can see that times may require those types of decisions, my inclination is to side with the attitude of Yehoshua.
Eliezer was married to Rabbi Gamliel’s sister.  The Gemorah in Baba Metzia says that Eliezer’s wife would always distract Eliezer from saying tachanun, out of fear that there might be negative result towards Gamliel her brother.  When a person says tachanun, and puts their head on their arm – there can be a nullification of self that enables a direct communication with Heaven, so that his will becomes Heaven’s will.  One time, Eliezer’s wife thought it was Rosh Chodesh, so she thought there would not be any tachanun that day.  But it really wasn’t Rosh Chodesh, and for the first time in a long time, Eliezer said Tachanun.  A little while later, someone came to the door to tell her that Rabbi Gamliel her brother had died.
This shows that it’s dangerous to hurt the Chachomim.  Even when you’re right, your wrong.  Rabbi Gamliel was focused on the Klal, on the future, and felt that certain people would have to suffer for the greater good.  As it turns out, the Yeshiva at Yavne reinstated Rabbi Gamliel, and he shared the post of Nasi with Elazer ben Azariah – some say they alternated weeks.