The Romans decreed that any rabbi who ordained students, or any student receiving the ordination would be killed, and the city he was found in would be razed to the ground. Fearing what this decree would mean for the future of the Jewish people, a rabbi named Yehuda ben Bava secretly gathered together five of his students, and travelled to a remote spot between two mountains. There he conferred Semicha onto these men.
Suddenly they looked up and saw a legion of Roman soldiers running toward them! “My sons, run!”, he shouted to his students. As they were about to flee, they realized their teacher wasn't moving from his spot. “Our Rabbi, what about you?”. Rabbi Yehuda wanted to give these last five rabbis, the future of the Jewish people a chance to escape. He was going to remain in his place, allowing the soldiers to capture him, letting his students run for their lives. “I am going to be placed before the soldiers like a rock that cannot be overturned,” he proudly told them.
As the students fled, the Romans surrounded Rabbi Yehuda. The Talmud concludes by telling us that the soldiers did not leave that spot until they had pierced the elderly rabbi 300 times with iron spears.
These sorts of incidents are not uncommon in our history. In these week’s Torah portions, we read of Moses putting his life in danger to ensure a future for his people. Thank G-d, throughout most the world Jewish people do not need to to worry about being killed for their beliefs. But when confronted with a world that sometimes threatens us by other, non-violent means, it is vital to remember that it is in our DNA to stand up for what we believe in, and to never be ashamed of our Jewishness.
Rabbi Akiva Hall