Love of the Land

For the week ending 29 December 2018 / 21 Tevet 5779

Rabbi Akivas Parable

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
Library Library Library

When the Romans decreed that anyone learning Torah would be put to death, Rabbi Akiva defied the ban and continued to publicly teach Torah. Papus ben Yehuda criticized him for endangering himself and his students by thus ignoring the power of the Roman rulers to punish them.

“I will give you a parable,” replied the great Sage. “A fox was once walking alongside a river in which fish were frantically scurrying from one place to another. When he asked them for the cause of their flight they explained that they were escaping fishermen who were trying to catch and kill them. The fox suggested that they would be safe from danger if they joined him and all other animal life on dry land. To which the fish replied that the fox, reputed to be the cleverest of animals, was speaking utter foolishness. If they were so endangered in their natural habitat, they argued, what chance would they have for survival outside the water?”

We Jews, concluded Rabbi Akiva, face the same situation, for Torah is to us what water is to the fish. If while we are learning Torah, of which it is written “It is your life and length of days,” we are in danger, what chance do we have for survival if we abandon it?

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