`278 Pangar's Trap
Chananya Weissman

July 20, 2023


One of the many Midrashim we learned in this week's Torah class (available here) discusses the Roman invasion of Jerusalem. Eicha Rabba 1:31 recounts that Vespasian besieged Jerusalem for three and a half years, and with him were four generals from neighboring lands: Arabia, Africa, Alexandria, and Palestine. The only general whose name is recorded for posterity is the one from Arabia. There is a dispute as to whether his name was Kilus or Pangar, but subsequently the Midrash refers to him as Pangar.

You'll see why his name is worth recording and even arguing over.

The Midrash then recounts how Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai faked his own death so he could be smuggled out of the doomed city, in a desperate attempt to negotiate with Vespasian. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai earned Vespasian's favor, and Vespasian invited him to make a request. According to the Gemara in Gittin 56, Rabbi Yochanan was afraid that if he asked Vespasian to spare Jerusalem he would have gotten nothing, so he hedged his bets and made other requests – for which he was criticized. However, the Midrash has a very different version of events, which leaves no room for criticism. (That is not our topic at the moment, so look it up yourself or listen to the class.)

According to the Midrash, the four generals and Rabbi Yochanan debated before Vespasian while the fate of Jerusalem hung in the balance. The generals said that if a snake is inside a barrel of honey, one should kill the snake and destroy the barrel. Rabbi Yochanan countered that he should charm the snake and save the barrel. In other words, the generals urged Vespasian to utterly destroy the city and everyone in it, while Rabbi Yochanan argued that he should destroy what was necessary to conquer the city, but spare the rest.

The general who argued most vociferously for total destruction was Pangar the Arab (how little things have changed). Rabbi Yochanan told him that people who perpetrate evil against their neighbors are harming themselves as well; eventually it will come back to haunt them. It was bad enough that Pangar, representing Israel's Arab neighbors, was not advocating mercy for Jerusalem, but he had to prosecute as well?

Pangar replied that he was only seeking what was best for the Jews. As long as the Beis Hamikdash was standing, the kingdoms of the world would start up with the Jews. If the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, the Jews would be able to live in peace.

Again, how little things have changed.

Rabbi Yochanan was not fooled by this distorted rationalization, as so many are today. "The heart knows if you are being straight or crooked," he retorted, which, as we shall see, was a veiled threat.

The Midrash later recounts that when Vespasian invaded the city, he charged each of the four generals with destroying one of the city's gates. The western wall was given to Pangar to destroy. However, Hashem decreed that the western wall would never be destroyed, because His presence is manifest there. This is yet another reminder, as events unfold before us, that Hashem is running everything, not people who imagine themselves to be gods.

The other generals destroyed their gates, but Pangar left his standing. Vespasian summoned him and asked him why he did not fulfill his command.

Pangar said as follows: "[I swear] by your life that I did this for the glory of the kingdom. Had I destroyed it, no one would know what you destroyed. When people see this, they will say, 'See the might of Vespasian, what he destroyed!'"

Vespasian replied: "By your life, you have spoken well. However, because you transgressed my command, this man [Pangar] shall go up to the roof and cast himself off. If he lives, he shall live, and if he dies, he dies."

The Midrash concludes that Pangar met his death, whereby his evil intentions against the Jews were confirmed, and the curse of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was fulfilled.

Of the many things we learn from this Midrash, Rabbi Yochanan's unheeded warning to Pangar is especially relevant in our time. Pangar urged Vespasian to show no mercy to the people of Jerusalem, to utterly destroy everyone and everything regardless of merit. This very trait of cruelty came back to haunt Pangar. He acted in the best interests of the kingdom and spoke well, but Vespasian coldly held him to the letter of the law, resulting in Pangar's death.

Many people continue to make Pangar's mistake, urging extreme measures to be taken against certain segments of society – their own neighbors – that they disfavor. During the covid era we saw great malice and cruelty toward those who, with great wisdom and nobility, refused to just follow orders. The hysterical virtue-signalers, who lacked any semblance of virtue, outdid each other calling for retribution against the despicable "anti-vaxxers".

Many of the former have died of coincidences since then, but those who remain are reaping what they have sown. The rights and freedom they eagerly surrendered to the government for their own safety and protection are not being returned. On the contrary, covid was just an appetizer for the total enslavement of humanity and the elimination of much of it, all for the sake of saving it.

Kind of like destroying Jerusalem to save the Jews, as Pangar cynically argued.

Pangar urged Vespasian to show no mercy, and this came back to haunt him when the shoe was on the other foot.

When you urge the government to pass laws against a certain segment of society, eventually they will use those very laws against you.

When you urge the government to pass special laws against amorphous "hate crimes", you've opened the door for them to charge you with one when it suits them.

When you urge the government to censor speech and thoughts that you dislike, eventually they will dislike your speech and thoughts.

When you allow the government to persecute some people for "the greater good", eventually they will do the same to you.

Even if you serve them faithfully and argue well on your behalf, they will show you no warmth.

To paraphrase a saying, borne out by Pangar, be careful what you wish for others. You might just get it yourself.



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