When In Rome, Do As G-d Does!

Friday, 27 January, 2023 - 12:55 pm

Following the failed Bar Kochba revolt in the second century, there was a period of intense persecution of the Jewish people at the hands of the Romans. One of the great sages at the time was Rabbi Masia ben Charash. He elected to move to Rome and establish a yeshiva there, which attracted a very large number of students from all over the world, including the holy land.

Rashi cites a popular teaching that Rabbi Masia would share often as a commentary on the Exodus narrative. When the time came for G-d to fulfill his promise to Avraham of Redemption for his descendants from Egypt, the children of Israel had no merits by which to be redeemed. As Ezekiel states, “but you were naked and bare.” In response, G-d gave them two mitzvot, the blood of the Passover offering and the blood of the circumcision. In the merit of these two mitzvot they were redeemed.

Why was this such an important teaching to share “often” to these students of Torah in Rome? Why would a Rabbi move to Rome altogether and establish a Yeshiva there? He was trying to convey a powerful lesson from which we can take inspiration until this day.

One might think that G-d only desires the deeds of the those who are living righteous lives in a righteous environment. On the other hand, a Jew who wandered off to “Rome” is a lost cause. So, the Rabbi emphasized that when G-d saw his children naked and bare of merits, He gave them Mitzvot with which to cover themselves. To stay in a holy environment and be a good Jew is insufficient. One must go to Rome and do as G-d does. Find a Jew who is “naked and bare” and clothe him with good deeds.

The Rebbe shared this interpretation and added that his father-in-law, the Previous Rebbe, once commented on the verse in Isaiah, “If you see your fellow bare, you shall cover him,” if you see a fellow Jew who is spiritually bare, cover him with Tefillin, cover him with Tzitzit.

As we mark the Yahrtzeit of the Previous Rebbe next Wednesday, along with the day that our Rebbe assumed the leadership of Chabad, we reflect on just how much they embodied this approach. The Rebbe sent thousands of couples to “Romes” all over the world to ensure that no Jew would be “naked and bare” of merits in anticipation of our imminent Redemption. The Rebbe echoed Rabbi Masia and declared, “No Jew will be left behind.” When Mashiach comes very soon, Jews in every nook and cranny of the globe will have been touched by this effort to lovingly reach each of them.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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