36 Rabbi Yochanan's Recollection
Chananya Weissman

August 26, 2020

And Rabbi Yochanan said, I remember when they would say in the Beit Midrash: One who concurs with them (the goyim) falls into their hands; one who relies on them, what is his will be theirs. (Bava Basra 91B)

Without any commentary, this teaching should rattle the overwhelming majority of Jews – religious and irreligious alike – who ingratiate themselves to the goyim and trust that they will protect them.

Rabbi Yochanan presents this teaching in a highly unusual way. We would have expected the Gemara to read as follows: “Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of so-and-so...” It is self-understood that the teachings of his colleagues and predecessors were discussed in the Beit Midrash.

This recollection of Rabbi Yochanan is the last of a series of recollections. For example, he recalled a time of extreme deflation, when food in Tiveria cost practically nothing, but many people died of hunger for lack of any money. He recalled when young men and women of 16 and 17 years of age could hang out together without sinning.

All of the recollections relate to societal conditions in earlier times; then we have this teaching from the Beit Midrash that doesn't seem to fit with the others. Surely Rabbi Yochanan recalled many things from the Beit Midrash. What does this have to do with his stories about the good old days?

It seems that this teaching, like the others, was a reflection of societal conditions. No longer did they say in the Beit Midrash that one who ingratiates himself to the goyim or relied on them would have a downfall at their hands. The Jews – even many of the rabbinic leaders – had come to believe that times were different, that these goyim were different, that they could play the game and things would turn out fine.

Rabbi Yochanan is reminiscing about when Jews knew better, when the dangerous fallacy of concurring with the moral and religious assertions of the goyim and cozying up to them was emphasized in Torah education and taught to the masses. He is lamenting that instead of learning from the Torah and their history, Jews continue to have to learn the hard way. Even then, most of them fail to internalize the truth.

Diaspora Jews obstinately cling to the false beliefs that it won't happen here, it can't happen here, this time it will be different, the goyim are basically good, the law will protect them, the government will look out for them, they get along with their neighbors, everything is fine, and everything will continue to be fine. Will they ever learn?

Jews in Israel continue to placate their enemies, desperately running after them to ingratiate themselves to those who despise them, and surrendering to vanquished foes. They are chained like heroin addicts to the belief that without foreign aid and protection we wouldn't last a day. Even the religious ones believe that God's protection is synonymous with and dependent upon the good will of the goyim, which must never be jeopardized.

Those who believe these false notions are destined to fall into the hands of their enemies, for this is the only way to rid them of these false notions. They leave God no other choice.

Rabbi Yochanan is not simply relating a Torah truth, but lamenting the fact that this Torah truth is no longer the parlance of the Beit Midrash, no longer taught to and understood by the masses. The Navi has many examples of Jews ignoring this message and being forced to learn the hard way. Jewish history is an endless repetition of the same story.

But all bad stories must come to an end. The arc of Jewish history is nearing a climax. Those who put blinders on their eyes will be forced to see the truth. Kowtowing to the false ideologies of the goyim is a prescription for falling into their hands. Relying on them to protect you is a recipe for losing everything to them.

The Jews are different, separate, and ambassadors of God's truth. We cannot run or hide from our purpose as a nation. Ingratiating ourselves to the goyim may win us short-term favors, but never long-term protection; certainly not respect or love.

The Diaspora is rapidly deteriorating into a clear battle between good and evil, and Israel will soon have to decide once and for all if it is an authentic Jewish homeland that relies on God, or a pet whose leash is held by its gentile masters. It will no longer be able to please everyone and straddle both sides of the fence. Everyone will have to pick a side and place everything on it.

I've chosen my side. What's yours?