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Rabbi Joshua Ben Hannanya

Rabbi Joshua Ben Hannanya

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Rabbi Joshua ben Hannanya was one of Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai's most prominent disciples. He was born several decades before the destruction of the Second Beth Hamikdosh (3828), and he was one of the-Levite singers in the Beth Hamikdosh.

Even when he was still in the crib, he used to hear the words of the holy Torah in the Beth Ha-Midrash. His mother used to take him there so that from his earliest infancy he should absorb the Torah into him. Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai once said in reference to him: "Blessed is his mother!" (for causing him to become such a great and holy man).

Rabbi Joshua ben Hannanya went to Yavneh after the destruction of the Beth Hamikdosh and became a very attached friend of Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrkanos. Later on he became head of the Sanhedrin (Court) at the time that Rabbi Gamliel was the Nassi ("Prince") in Yavneh.

Rabbi Joshua ben Hannanya was one of then greatest Tannaim of his time. He is mentioned in the Mishnah very often as Rabbi Joshua, without his father's name being mentioned. Apart from his great knowledge of the Torah, he was also famous for his knowledge in other fields, such as astronomy. One and all admired his great wisdom, so one exclaimed: "How is it that such a great scholar as yourself should be such a poor man?"

Rabbi Joshua was indeed an extremely poor man. He was a smith, and he hardly managed to make ends meet on his earnings.

Because of his great wisdom he was a welcome guest at the home of the Roman Governor, who very often had discussions with him about the Jewish religion. Rabbi Joshua always managed to convince him of the truth of the Jewish faith.

In contrast to his great "beauty" in Torah and wisdom, his outward appearance was by no means handsome. Once the Governor's daughter asked him: "How is it that such beautiful wisdom should be stored in such an ugly vessel?!"

In reply Rabbi Joshua said to her: "In what kind of vessels does your father keep his wine?"

"In earthen vessels," she replied.

"How is it fitting for a king to keep his precious wine in earthen vessels?" Rabbi Joshua called out. "Would it not be more appropriate to keep the wine in golden and silver vessels?"

The princess gave orders to have the wine transferred from the earthen vessels into golden and silver ones. The wine became sour in a short time and had to be thrown away. Only then did the princess realize what Rabbi Joshua had been trying to convey to her. Wisdom and outward beauty do not always walk hand-in-hand. Wisdom is often entrusted to the person who is as humble as an earthen vessel, just as wine is kept better in earthen vessels than in golden and silver ones . . . .

The Emperor once promised that the Jews would have permission to rebuild the Beth Hamikdosh. The Jews greatly rejoiced but their happiness was short lived. The Samaritans, for long the enemies of the Jews, persuaded the emperor that if the Jews were permitted to rebuild their temple, they would then seek ways and means of entirely throwing off the Roman yoke. The Emperor withdrew his promise. The disappointment of the Jews was so great that some Jews actually had intentions of inciting a rebellion against Rome. The Sages, however, knew that the time was not yet ripe for the rebuilding of the Beth Hamikdosh, and an open rebellion against mighty Rome would have catastrophic results. They called upon Rabbi Joshua ben Hannanya to calm the stormy feelings of the Jews. Rabbi Joshua comforted them with a wise parable, which has become very famous:

"A lion once tore an animal to pieces and devoured it. A bone stuck in his throat in such a position that he was unable either to swallow it or spit it out. He therefore made an announcement that whosoever would remove the bone from his throat, would be richly rewarded. A stork came along, stuck its long beak into the lion's throat and after much effort succeeded in extracting the troublesome bone. Upon claiming the promised reward, the lion said to the stork: "You have already received your reward. You had your head in a lion's mouth and you remained unharmed!"

Rabbi Joshua thus calmed the Jews, saying that they should be thankful to G‑d, that in spite of their being in exile they were still alive. When the proper time would come, the Beth Hamikdosh would be rebuilt, he assured them. The Jews should take advantage of the freedom given them and serve G‑d with all their hearts.

In his later years, many edicts unfavorable towards the Jews were issued, and Rabbi Joshua used to go to the Emperor to beg him to ease the position of the Jews.

Rabbi Joshua died at a ripe old age.

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