There was a video clip circulating last year about a pack of foxes running around the Temple Mount. I can’t vouch for the authenticity of this clip, but it reminds me of multiple cases where foxes are mentioned in association with the time period of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash
There’s a Gemara that mentions the Roman decree of capital punishment for anyone teaching Torah. Rabbi Akiva continued to teach publicly, and his colleague Pappus ben Yehuda reminded him he was risking his life teaching publicly. Rabbi Akiva replied with an analogy. A fox was eyeing a fish swimming in the water, trying hard to evade the fishermen’s nets. “Why not come up on the banks and I will guard you?” asked the sly fox. The fish replied, “Because then I will surely die, as I need water to live.” Rabbi Akiva said the Jewish nation is like the fish. We might get caught by the fishermen/Romans and be killed, but if we leave Torah study, we will surely perish.
But what about Pappus? Did he not understand the importance of Torah study? Rav Baruch Ber Lebovitz explains that Pappus was only questioning why Rabbi Akiva was assembling his many students publicly, as opposed to teaching a small group in secret. To that, Rabbi Akiva responded that Torah study is so critical to klal Yisrael, we can’t contain it or hide it; it’s our life force.
Shlomo Hamelech depicts this importance of Torah study when he refers to foxes that destroy a vineyard. I believe the vineyard refers to the yeshivos, as the yeshiva that was established by Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai after the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash was in Keren B’Yavneh—in a vineyard.
At the end of Megillas Eicha we read about foxes running around the Temple Mount. “For Har Tzion that lies desolate, foxes prowled over it.” Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues were walking by the ruins of the Beis Hamikdash and saw a fox run out of the holy of holies. The great sages started to cry and Rabbi Akiva laughed. Why these different emotions? This is the place of the holy of holies and only the kohen gadol could enter this area once a year. Now foxes are running wild here!
Rabbi Akiva said he was laughing because he recalled two prophecies. Uriah described the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash in detail, while Zecharia described the return and settlement of Yerushalayim with the Beis Hamikdash. If Uriah’s prophecy of the destruction came true, said Rabbi Akiva, then he is equally confident that Zecharia’s prophecy of the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash will also come true!
How is the future redemption alluded to by foxes prancing around the Temple Mount? The Chasam Sofer gives a novel explanation. As illustrated in the analogy of Rabbi Akiva, foxes attempting to ensnare the fish represent the yetzer hara. The general rule is that the greater the person, the harder the yetzer hara works to ensnare him. People with a low status are not such prime targets. In Eicha, klal Yisrael asks Hashem why foxes—the yetzer hara—is running rampant and presenting us with great challenges when we are spiritually in such a low state. To that Yirmiyahu replies, “You, Hashem, always dwell on your throne.” And since Hashem always dwells within klal Yisrael, making us holy even when we sin, therefore the yetzer hara is still interested in ensnaring us.
As we sit on the floor on Tisha B’Av in a low state, we appear as a boxer who has been knocked out. Let’s remember Eicha. As low as we get, Hashem is always with us in our challenges. The yetzer hara continues its efforts because of our holiness and our inner potential. The foxes are there because, with Hashem’s blessings, we are worthy of attention.
Our ability to win and outsmart the fox is in making sure we always stay in the water (in the wells of Torah). We must keep our yeshivos teaching Torah and we must diligently study Torah. A win is achieved only if the opponent stays knocked out. After Tisha B’av, we, as klal Yisrael, will arise to signify we have inner strength and are not knocked down for good. Rather, with our continuing efforts, Hashem will restore us to the original state of spiritual greatness that we inherently possess.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Paramus, Fair Lawn, Livingston and West Orange. He initiated and leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. He has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beis medrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in Livingston, Fort Lee and a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its full offering of torah classes visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.