Rabi Yosi ben Kisma was very ill. Yet, when Rabi Chananya ben Teradyon came to visit him, Rabi Yosi took the opportunity to strongly admonish his colleague for disobeying the Roman edicts.
“Don’t you know that Heaven has decreed that Rome shall reign?” he told Rabi Chananya. “True, this nation has destroyed the Beit Hamikdash and killed Hashem’s Sages, but Rome is firmly established! Yet, what do you do? You sit and occupy yourself with Torah, gather people together and publicly teach them Torah, and even keep a sefer Torah close to your heart.”
“Hashem will have mercy on us,” replied Rabi Chananya.
“I am speaking rationally and you answer me with ‘Hashem will have mercy on us’? I wouldn’t be surprised if the Romans burned you together with a Torah scroll” (Avodah Zarah18a).
As we know, Rabi Yosi’s words were fulfilled. Both the Talmud and the medieval piyyut Eleh Ezkerah, which we read on Yom Kippur during Mussaf, describe the fiery death of Rabi Chananya, one of the Ten Martyrs, at the hands of the Romans. Yet, this same Rabi Chananya, who fearlessly defied the edict of the Romans that forbade the teaching and studying of Torah, understood that not every Jew could be expected to have his courage.
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