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Beit Midrash Series Ein Ayah

condensed from Ein Ayah, Berachot 9:228

Dealing With the Hatred of Powerful Nations

Various Rabbis1 Shvat 5773
320
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Gemara:It happened that the kingdom (Rome) made a decree that the Jews must not study Torah. What did Rabbi Akiva do? He went and publicly gathered people and taught them Torah. Pappus ben Yehuda found him and asked him: "Akiva, aren’t you afraid of this nation?" Rabbi Akiva told him a parable of a fox that saw fish that were moving quickly from place to place. The fish explained to the curious fox that they were trying to avoid traps. The fox suggested that they come onto land to avoid them, where they could live in peace with the foxes. The fish responded that the fox was not as smart as purported, for if the fish felt in danger in the place they need in order to live, all the more so would they be in trouble in the place that they find death. Rabbi Akiva explained that if we are afraid when we are involved in Torah study, about which it is written that it is our life and brings us long days (Devarim 30:20), all the more so should we fear if we cease to study Torah.

Ein Ayah:Pappus thought that since the Romans displayed their hatred to the Jews only in relation to the Jews’ spirituality, it was worthwhile to hide the spiritual light so that the hatred would die down. When the Romans would then ease their harsh treatment of the Jews, they could return to their spiritual legacy over time.
However, Rabbi Akiva knew that the matters of Torah and spirituality were not the source of the hatred but a cover for a simple hatred of one nation toward another, as the Romans felt that "it is I, and there is no one but me." They wanted to take everything good for themselves. Thus, if they would not have the excuse of the Torah and religion, they would find another excuse for decrees. Even if all excuses would run out (which is unfeasible), they would be oppressive without a reason.
Therefore, said Rabbi Akiva, we need to strengthen ourselves on a true national level, which is achieved only through Torah. That is the message of the parable. If we have problems when we find strength in Torah, if we weaken our connection to Torah, certainly we are helpless. This is true throughout the ages. If we give up our strong connection to Torah and try to embrace other national values, which do not have the same fundamental ability to give us power, we certainly will not succeed in removing the hatred of other nations and will lack the power to oppose them.

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