In an extraordinary statement in the Talmud, we get a glimpse of the frame of mind of the sages of Israel just after the destruction of the Temple when millions of Jews had been murdered and the complete breakdown of Jewish life in the ancient land of Israel had taken place:
“By right we should issue a degree that Jews should not marry and have children so that the seed of Avraham comes to an end on its own accord.” (Baba Batra 60b)
Nothing will ever better describe a total despair than these words of the rabbis. Once they realized that the remaining small remnant of the people of Israel was exiled and forced to live among violent anti-Semitic societies, they concluded that there was no longer any hope for a better future. So why continue to suffer when “fading into oblivion” could be a salvation?
Still, and against their better knowledge – so the Talmud reports – the simple Jews of these days decided not to succumb to this state of despair. Instead, they opposed their leaders’ arguments and decided to rebuild Jewish life wherever possible and whatever the circumstances. This showed courage of an unprecedented dimension. Without country, army, finances and surrounded by millions, whose hate towards Jews was well known, these Jews found the strength to get married and raise families. Despite the total collapse of Jewish life, they opted for the seemingly impossible. Indeed, it were the simple Jews who at this time decided not to listen to their leaders but to continue to build the people of Israel as they had been taught by the very sages who now despaired.
In a similar vain the book of Yirmiyahu (chapter 32) tells the story of Yerushalayim which was under heavy siege. In its third year, the Babylonian army caused an unprecedented famine and many deadly plagues caused the death of hundreds of thousands. After Yirmiyahu, the “calamity prophet”, had predicted that the city was soon to fall and that the king himself would be captured, he was thrown into jail by King Zedikia. While in jail and to his utter surprise, God appears to Yirmiyahu and tells him to buy a piece of land near Yerushalayim. Yirmiyahu’s cousin Hanamel, God prophesied, would come to see him and offer him land and Yirmiyahu is told to buy. Only a moment later Hanamel indeed appears and Yirmiyahu buys the piece of land, signs a contract with his cousin and buries this document in the ground so as to preserve it from oblivion. After that he announces: “For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in the land.” (Ibid:15)
f this is not remarkable enough, it is utterly astonishing that under the disastrous circumstances in which the Jews lived at that moment, one simple Jew walks up to the very prophet who has persistently prophesized that total calamity of the people of Israel was due to take place, and dares to suggest to him to buy a peace of land! No doubt this piece of land was surrounded by dead corpses and situated in a war zone that does not even allow the new buyer to come and have a look for himself. Who would ever think of selling let alone buying?
Indeed it is not Yirmiyahu who is the hero of the story but all the more his all-unimportant cousin Hanamel. After all, Yirmiyahu was told by nobody less than God to buy the land, so how could he refuse? But Hanamel who had not heard the word of God telling him to sell, from where did he have the courage even to suggest such a transaction? Nothing, but absolutely nothing would stop Hanamel to go on with his life and buy and sell with the absolute knowledge that one day everything would fall in place and a beautiful Jewish life would start all over again in the land of our forefathers. Today it may be horrible but one day it will be joy. This is the unprecedented faith of Hanamel to which even Yirmiyahu had to agree.
And so today. After the Holocaust in which 6 million Jews died and an ongoing amount of violence in the Jewish land continues to plague its citizens, young Jews instead of falling victim to despair get happily married and build new families. They are the Hanamels of today. May they be blessed.