Rabbi Elazar of
Rabbi Yaakov Haber
Elazar Hamodai said: One who:
- desecrates sacred things,
- who disgraces the Festivals,
- who humiliates his fellow in public,
- who nullifies the covenant of our forefather Abraham,
- or who perverts the Torah contrary to the halachah –
he may have Torah and good deeds, he has no share in the World to Come.”
will try to find the common thread that connects the five things that Rabbi
Elazar Hamodai mentions. Rabbi Elazar
Hamodai, as his name implies, came from Modiin.
He was a contemporary of Rabbi Akiva, and also of Hadrian ha Rasha, the
author of the Hadrian decrees. When
Hadrian, the Roman general, first came to power, he was seen as a potentially
good force. But then things
deteriorated, and he disbanded the Sanhendrin, and outlawed Bris Milah and
learning and teaching Torah, making them punishable by death. Rabbi Elazar Hamodai was also the uncle of
Bar Kochba, who killed him.
read from the 4th Perek of Taanis, in the Gemorah Yerushalmi. The events it describes took place about 80
or 85 years after the Churban Bais Hamikdosh. It says, “Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai
says, my teacher Rabbi Akiva said that Bar Kochba was Moshiach. He quoted the posuk from Bilaam, “A star has
issued from Jacob” (Rabbi Akiva gave him the name Bar Kochba because the root
of the name is Cochav, star). Rabbi Yochonon of Toldai said to Rabbi Akiva,
grass will grow on your face before we see this, Bar Kochba is not
Moshiach.” We’ll return to the Gemorah
later, but let’s look at the Rambam who learns Halachas about Mochiach from
Rambam says, “Moshiach will not have to perform miracles. Anyone who thinks this is a Tipish (a
fool). Rabbi Akiva declared Bar Kochba
to be Moshiach., and Rabbi Akiva carried the Kelim of Bar Kochba.” This either can be taken literally, that he
carried the armor of Bar Kochba, or figuratively that he supported Bar
Kochba. Bar Kochba was a large, strong,
general. Not the kind of person we are
brought up to think of as Moshiach. From
the fact that Rabbi Akiva declared Bar Kochba as Moshiach, the Rambam learns
that Moshiach does not have to be someone who performs miracles. According to this, the coming of Moshiach
doesn’t mean that money and clothing will grow on trees. The main effect of Moshiach will be that the
Jews will not be subject to Shibud Amim, the subjugation of the nations. The Jews won’t have to answer to the nations
of the world or the UN.
look at what the Vilna Gaon has to say about this. The Gra quotes the whole posuck said by
Bilaam (Bamidbar 24:17): “A star has issued from Jacob, and a shevet has risen
from Israel.” He says the two phrases
indicate that Moshiach will come in two stages.
“A star has issued from Jacob” refers to the first stage, Moshiach ben Yosef.
“A shevet has risen from Israel”, refers to the second stage, Moshiach ben
ben Yosef can be someone who doesn’t perform miracles. Yosef in the Chumash saved the Jewish people
through natural means. Yosef was backed
up by the power of Pharoah, by means of which he provided the Jews with
food. The Gra says that the word star,
Cochav, is composed of two parts. The
first two letters refers to Hashem’s name, and the second two letters refers to
the 22 letters of the alphabet, from which the natural world was made. This
implies that Moshiach ben Yosef will not come to power through miracles, nor
will he perform miracles. The Gra says that gematria of Cochav and the gematria
of Shevet add up the gematria of Moshiach.
And he says that the Gematria of Yosef is equal to the Gematria of
Tzion. That’s as political as I’m going
Gra then refers to Messechet Brochas, where Shmuel comments on this. Shmuel throughout Shas is known as an expert
on astronomy and medicine. Shmuel says,
“I know the Maarechet (system) of the Cochavim like I know the Maarechet of my
streets in Nehardah”. Nehardah was not a
large town, and just as he knew the streets in his town, he knew the system of
the stars. If you look up in the sky
tonight, you’ll see that the big dipper and the North star are in the same
place as they were last night. Shmuel
then says, “But I don’t know what a Shevet is”.
A Shevet is a shooting star. It’s
not part of the regular system of the stars, so it’s hard to know where it’s
going to come from, and where it’s going to.
other words, the Gra is saying that Moshiach ben Yosef will be part of the
natural non-miraculous order of things, like the Maarechet of the stars, while
Moshiach ben Dovid will be more like a Shevet, a shooting star, outside of the
Maarechet of the stars.
the Hadrian decrees, Rabbi Akiva declared that Bar Kochba was the
Moshiach. As we said, the root of the
name Kochba is Cochav, star. This wasn’t
his real name. His original name was Bar
Kosba, after the town he came from.
After he failed, the Gemorah called him Bar Koziba, means means ‘false
to even non-Jewish sources, Bar Kochba had an army of 200,000 men. By comparison, the IDF today in Israel has
176,000 active duty soldiers. (I don’t
know if Bar Kochba also had Milium, reserves.)
The Gemara says that all the Chachomim in Yavna supported Bar Kochba and
joined his army. When Bar Kochba said
that everyone in his army should bite off a finger to show their strength and
determination, many of the Chachomim withdrew their support. They said he was making Klal Yisroel Balei
into Mumim, and that there are other ways to test these qualities.
Gemarah in Avodah Zara says that history is divided into three periods, each
lasting 2000 years. The first 2000 years
is called Tohu veVohu, confusion. This
is when the world just started to learn how to function. Avraham was born in the year 1948. He began teaching Monotheism when he was 52
years old. That was the beginning of the
second 2000 years, called the period of Torah, which includes Matan Torah. Rebbe Hakodosh redacted the Mishnah in the
year 3880. The third and last 2000 year
period is called the period of Moshiach.
Rabbi Akiva knew that he was about to enter the period when the world
could be ready for Moshiach. We are now
in the year 5770. According to some
opinions, due to a possible error in the calendar, 160 years may have been
lost. So we are getting close to the end
of the 3rd period.
Kochba’s fight against Hadrian lasted a number of years, and culminated in
Hadrian laying siege to Bar Kochba and his troops in Betar, which is close to
where Betar is today – just south of Yerushalayim. The Gemarah Yerushalmi in Taanis that I
started before continues to tell us what happened. It says that Bar Kochba said to Hashem,
“Don’t help us, but just don’t curse us.”
It may seem strange to us that the person who Rabbi Akiva called Moshiach
told Hashem that he didn’t need or want Hashem’s help. This alienated many of the Chachomim.
says that Elazar Hamodai, his uncle – the author of our Mishnah - had a different opinion. Elazar Hamodai sat in sackcloth and ashes,
and all day would cry, “Hashem, please don’t sit today in Judgement, in
Din”. This was a machloket between Bar
Kochba and Elazer Hamodai Bar Kochba
felt he was Moshiach – as declared by Rabbi Akiva – and as Moshiach he felt he
shouldn’t ask for Hashem’s help. Elazar
Hamodai felt that it was essential to beseech Rachamim from Hashem. Bar Kochba regarded Elazar Hamodai’s attitude
as a kind of Morad Bemalchus, rebelliousness against the king, because it
seemed to cast doubts on his claim that he was Moshiach.
Hamodai is not found that often in the Gemorah, but there is another Gemorah where
he says, Why did the Mon fall every day in the Midbar? He answers because Hashem wanted the Jews to
pray every day for the Mon. Elazar
Hamodai believed in the power and necessity of praying every day for Rachamim
Gemorah continues that after 2 ½ years, Hadrian realized that the Jews in Betar
were not going to give up, so he decided to leave. Then a Cusi spoke up, and said, “Don’t give
up, I have a plan, and I ask you to let me try it.” The Cusi used the sewage system to sneak
into Betar. Then he stood behind Elazer
Hamodai, and pretended to whisper in his ear.
The Cusi suspected that the defeat of the Jews was being held at bay by
the prayers of Elazar Hamodai, so he wanted to cause him to come under
Kochba’s men caught the Cusi, and brought him to Bar Kocha, who asked him what
he was talking about with Elazer Hamodai.
The Cusi said he was talking about surrendering to the Romans. When Bar
Kochba heard about this, he called in his uncle, Elazar Hamodai. He asked, “What did you and this person talk
about?” Elazar said, “Nothing”. Bar Kochba got angry, kicked him, and killed
him. In terms of the Machloket between
Bar Kochba and Elazer Hamodia, this was the straw that broke the camel’s
back. The Gemorah says that without the
davening of Elazar Hamodai, Betar was soon conquered and its inhabitants,
including Bar Kochba, were killed.
let’s go back to our Mishnah in Pirkei Avos.
Elazar Hamdai says that there are many cases when the Kedushah of
something is not evident, and that in these cases we must be especially careful
to respect its Kedushah.
first case talks about desecrating sacred things. It’s easy to make something Hekdish. This can
be done in a second. Just point to
something and say “This is hekdish”. The
object looks just as it did before, only now it has Kedushah. If you make a pickle hekdish, it still looks
like a pickle. If you point to a cow and
make it hekdish, it still looks and smells and moos like a cow – only now it is
holy and must be treated as holy.
second case talks about disgracing Festivals. The meforshim say that this is
talking about Chol Hamoed. It’s easy to
treat Chol Hamoed like a weekday – to work and act as though it is not holy. Elazar Hamodai is saying that it is precisely
because it looks like an ordinary day that we must be extra careful to respect
third case mentions humiliating a fellow in public. After a person is embarrassed, after he turns
red, he turns white. The Gemorah says
that the blood draining from his face is like killing him. It says we should rather throw ourselves into
a fiery furnace rather than embarrass another person in public. You can say to
yourself that that you’re just doing it to an ordinary person, but that ignores
the fact that each person is a Tzelem Elokim, full of Kedushah.
The fourth case refers to nullifying the covenant of our
In the times of the
Greeks, men would add skin to themselves so as not to appear like Jews in the
But meforshim say that this
even refers to someone coming over to you and asking you if you are a Jew.
According to this, we must be willing to give
up our lives rather than deny the fact that we are Jews.
This respects the holiness of the Jewish
the last item talks about perverting the Torah contrary to the Halachah. This denigrates the Holiness of the
these tie directly into our story of the Machloket between Elazar Hamodai and
his nephew Bar Kochba, and possibly with Rabbi Akiva. Bar Kochba claimed that once he was declared
Moshiach, he does not have ask for Hashem’s Rachamim. Moshiach – and according to the Gra Moshiach
ben Yosef – is part of the natural order of things, like the Maarechet of the
stars. This stage of Moshiach works Al
Derech Ha Teva, without miracles.
our Mishnah Elazar Hamodai lists five things that look ordinary, but where it’s
crucial not miss a dimension of Kedushah that it has. He also felt that this was true for the
approach of Bar Kochba, and perhaps also Rabbi Akiva, towards the concept of
Moshiach, even Moshiach ben Yosef.
Though even this first stage of Moshiach can come by natural means, and
look totally ordinary, one is missing the point entirely if he doesn’t see the
spiritual and holy aspect of it. Just
like a chair that is hekdish, or Chol Hamoed, looks ordinary, it is not
ordinary because it is holy. To not see
the holy aspect of it is to miss what is essential in it. It is precisely
because Moshiach ben Yoseph can, as Rabbi Akvia said, look like an ordinary
person, that we have to be especially careful to make sure we regard him as
having a very high intrinsic level of Kedushah.
is a Machlochet that remains today.
Namely, how much Kedushah should we see Moshiach ben Yosef – the first
and natural stage of Moshiach - as having?