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The Sages in the Princess’s Chamber

The Sages in the Princess’s Chamber

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Photo: Ali Taylor
Photo: Ali Taylor

At the time when the Roman armies conquered and ruled the Land of Israel, they set forth three new decrees. Their intentions were specifically to target and destroy Jewish identity. The decrees were that no one can: keep Shabbat (Saturday) sacred; circumcise their sons; or keep the laws of family purity. They realized that if these decrees would be successfully enforced, this would destroy the Jewish people as a nation and assure their assimilation.

The sage Rabbi Reuven, deeply concerned with the situation, decided to take action. He had his hair cut in the same style as the Roman officials (which normally is forbidden), and then took a seat among officials participating in their discussions.

When these new decrees came up for discussion, he inquired, “Why should we make the Jews work an extra day (Saturday)? Another day of work creates commerce, and brings wealth and strength to them.” So, accepting the logic of his argument, they nullified the decree. Continuing to play on their prejudice and misconception, he added rhetorically, “Doesn’t circumcision weaken the body? Why should we strengthen our enemy?” This decree was likewise nullified.

He then used a similar argument: “Why are we seeking to multiply their numbers by forcing cohabitation even during the menstrual period?” They nullified the third decree as well.

The news spread quickly, and caused much relief and joy to the Jewish people. However, unfortunately, this joy was shortlived, for the Roman officials realized that this new official that no one really recognized engaged only in discussions concerning the Jewish people, encouraging arguments to nullify their decrees. They came to the conclusion that he must have been an imposter, a Jew who had the gall to disguise himself and fool them. Immediately they reinstated the decrees, with no more discussions to be held on this matter.

The sages of Israel had no other choice but to petition the emperor. However, now that the Roman officers were enraged at their audacity, this meant that the petitioners would be in danger of being penalized and harmed, even before having the opportunity of reaching the emperor and presenting their petition. They therefore chose to send as their messenger the great sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, for he was sustained by miracles for the 13 years that he fled the officials and was hiding in a cave. Perhaps in his merit another miracle would occur and the Jewish people would be spared. The custom was to send two petitioners, so they sent Rabbi Eliezer bar Rabbi Yosei to accompany him.

As they were entering Rome, an evil spirit greeted Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and inquired of him, “Should I join you?” Rabbi Shimon was pained, saying, “Why should the salvation of the Jews people come from this spirit and not from an angel?” but on the other hand he rejoiced, saying, “Wherever the salvation will come from, it is welcomed.” He then instructed the spirit to go ahead of them. The spirit entered the emperor’s daughter’s body, and she became demented. The only clear words that she said were “Bring the sage Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, that he may pray on my behalf.”

When he arrived at the palace, he was immediately taken to the princess’s room. He then instructed the spirit to leave her unharmed. In appreciation of having his daughter saved, the emperor offered to bring Rabbi Shimon into the private treasury room and grant him his any wish. Rabbi Shimon looked around until he saw the document bearing these decrees; he took the document and ripped it up, thereby nullifying the decrees.

We see to what great extent our sages went in order to preserve the commandment of brit milah.

(Talmud, Meilah 17a–b)

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JoDee Davis Baltimore March 26, 2014

ReiSages in the Princess...... Why was it alright for the Rabbi to use an evil spirit? Would there not be a backlash somehow?

Why is Brit Milah more important than Shabbat?

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Circumcision is the first commandment given by G-d to Abraham, the first Jew, and is central to Judaism.
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