Daf Yomi Yevamos 108
The times were terrible for our people. The Romans had destroyed the Holy Temple and were occupying the Land of Israel. They enacted decrees prohibiting Jewish practice, including injunctions against circumcision and Torah study. Despite the threat of capital execution, Rabbi Akiva would not be deterred. He offered the following parable:
A fox approached the water’s edge and began chatting with a small fish.
‘I know you are afraid of being eaten by the big fish. How about you come out of the water and protect yourself on the land. You will be safe out here.’
‘What use is it to be on the land?’ the fish replied, ‘True, I’d be safe from the large fish, but I would not survive very long without water!’
Rabbi Akiva concluded: If we were to forsake the study of Torah, we might be saved from the clutches of the evil Romans. But outside of our natural habitat of Torah, how long would we survive?
In the Book of Lamentations, the prophet proclaims, “Our water we drank for silver, our wood came at a price.”
Rabbi Judah quoted Rav: What is the meaning of this verse? During dangerous times for the Jews, they needed to know a certain halacha: A young maiden was released from her first marriage with a gett. She then remarried and was released with dissolution. May she remarry the first husband? They hired a fellow for found hundred zuz to infiltrate the prison where Rabbi Akiva was being held (for teaching Torah) to ask him their legal query. He declared the marriage forbidden.
Listen to the lengths to which our forebears would go for their Judaism. They were willing to risk their lives to ensure that Judaism would survive! When they had a question about Judaism, they didn’t do whatever was easiest; they were willing to pay exorbitant amounts to find the answer! And you can imagine how they felt when the answer was ‘no.’ All that money, effort and risk down the drain. But do you think they then just did what they felt like? Of course not! They believed in their Judaism and did what was right, even if it wasn’t the most comfortable outcome.
Whatever happened to sacrificing ourselves for what we believe in? How many people today would be willing to put their lives on the line for a halachic question? Sadly nowadays most people don’t even bother asking the questions. When they do, they go online and ask Rabbi Google. There’s no effort, no sacrifice for Judaism. If it doesn’t come easy, people opt out.
Are you willing to risk everything for your Judaism? Do the ideals of Torah and Jewish continuity trump everything else in your life? Or will you do it just as long as it comes easy without any major effort? Are you asking questions to make sure you’re doing it right? Would you follow the Torah if the answers to your questions weren’t comfortable? And knowing that sometimes the answer will be a flat out ‘no’?
Not only are the ancient Romans long gone, but tragically, so are the people who weren’t willing to give Judaism their all. If you believe that Judaism and the Jewish people are worth saving, you must be willing to make sacrifices where necessary. Most things that come easy in life are not particularly valuable. If you value your Judaism, you will do whatever it takes to make it happen – even the uncomfortable, uneasy aspects.
May you merit the belief and emotional strength to make the right choices in your life and never opt for the path of least resistance! May you be remembered forever as a Rabbi Akiva – someone willing to risk it all and make the tough decisions to perpetuate Judaism for all generations!