The Lowly Jew’s Fire for Jerusalem

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The Midrash Rabbah (Noach, 32) recounts a bizarre story about the great Tannaitic sage Rebbe Yonatan, who was a principal disciple of Rebbe Yishmael and lived shortly after the destruction of the second temple. 

Rebbe Yonatan and his donkey driver were traveling towards Jerusalem to pray at the site of the Beis HaMikdash’s ruins. They passed by a Shomrii, a Samaritan. [Originally brought into Eretz Yisrael by the conquering Assyrian armies of Sanheriv, the Samaritans initially adopted a corrupted form of Jewish practice but still maintained idol worship on Har Gerizim right outside Shehem. Throughout the second temple period, the Samaritans were antagonists of the Jewish people’s return to Jerusalem and Israel, as recorded in Tanakh and Hazal in numerous places.]

The Shomrii asked Rebbe Yonatan where he was headed. When Rebbe Yonatan responded that he sought to pray in Jerusalem, the Shomrii mockingly asked, “would it not be better to pray at the blessed mountain (Har Gerizim), than in that cursed house (the temple in Jerusalem)?” The Shomrii then claimed that Har Gerizim was the only mountain to not be covered by the cursed waters of the flood. The Midrash says that Rebbe Yonatan was speechless in the face of such blasphemy and could not formulate a counterargument on the spot. The uneducated donkey driver then asked for permission to respond and delivered a whirling scriptural rebuttal of the Shomrii’s misinformed argument. The Shomrii was stunned by the overwhelming and devastating refutation from this “ignorant” donkey driver and was himself left speechless.

After witnessing this scene, Rebbe Yonatan dismounted and insisted that his driver mount the donkey in his stead. The great sage then led the donkey for three mil (close to an hour of travel), calling out the great virtues of this “lowly” donkey driver. “כפלח הרמון רקתך, even the “empty” ones among Israel are packed with answers as a pomegranate is bursting with seeds!” 

This Midrash is a perfect expression of the hidden greatness of the seemingly “lowest” Jews. Packed deep within the Jewish soul is an innate connection to the Torah and a holy fire that burns with intensity when our enemies seek to disparage our uniqueness as a nation and our unique claim to our holy land.  When Jerusalem comes under attack, the “ignorant” and “uneducated” Jew arises like a lion to defend the very root of his or her soul. So ferocious is the response that our cowardly enemies are caught off guard. Where did this fiery passion come from? And where were these powerful and irrefutable arguments hiding in this Jew that seemed so disconnected?  

The Shomronim did not destroy the Beit HaMikdash, but they did seek to cynically use its demise as a proof to their positions and arguments against the Jewish people. Enemies of Klal Yisrael will always pounce when our weaknesses are exposed. But it is specifically then that the greatness of the Jewish people is revealed. All Jews, from all walks of life and practice, arise in a storm to seal the mouths of those who challenge our destiny. May we merit to see the permanent silencing of our enemies and the swift consolation of the Jewish people. 

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