In an extraordinary statement in the Talmud, we get a glimpse into the minds of the sages of Israel just after they witnessed the destruction of the Temple, the murder of millions of Jews, and the complete breakdown of Jewish life in the ancient land of Israel.
By right we should issue a decree that Jews should not marry and have children so that the seed of Avraham comes to an end on its own accord. (BabaBatra 60b).
No statement could better express total despair than these words. 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 judgment 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, the simple Jews decided not to listen to these sages, but to continue to build the people of Israel as they were taught to do by the very leaders who now despaired.
In a similar vain the book of Yirmiyahu (chapter 32) tells the story of the Babylonian siege of Yerushalayim. In its third year, the Babylonian army caused an unprecedented famine and many deadly plagues killed hundreds of thousands of Jews. After Yirmiyahu, the calamity prophet, predicted that the city would soon fall and that the king himself would be captured, King Zedekia threw him in jail.
While in the dungeon, and to his utter surprise, God appeared to Yirmiyahu and told him to buy a piece of land near Yerushalayim from a man named Hananel, who was Yirmiyahus cousin. Only a moment later Hananel indeed appeared and suggested that Yirmiyahu should buy this piece of land. Consequently the prophet signed a contract with his cousin and buried this document in the ground to preserve it from oblivion. Then he announced: 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)
It is utterly astonishing that under the disastrous circumstances in which the Jews lived at that moment, one simple Jew had the nerve to walk up to the very prophet who persistently prophesized that total calamity of the Jewish people was due to take place, and dared to suggest to him to buy a piece of land! No doubt this piece of land was surrounded by dead corpses and situated in a war zone that prevented the new buyer from visiting his property. Who would ever think of trying to sell, let alone buy in such a market?
Indeed, it is not Yirmiyahu who serves at the story’s hero, but rather his low-profile cousin Hanamel. After all, Yirmiyahu was told by God to buy the land, so how could he refuse? But from where did Hanamel (who had not heard the word of God telling him to sell) derive the courage even to suggest such a transaction?
Nothing would stop Hanamel from going on with his life. His faith allowed him to 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 there will be joy. This is the unprecedented emunah of Hanamel, which even Yirmiyahu had to acknowled