רבן יוחנן בן זכאי קבל מהלל ומשמאי, הוא היה אומר: אם עשית תורתך הרבה אל תחזיק טובה לעצמך כי לכך נוצרת… הוא היה אומר: אל תסתיר במותיהם, שלא תבנם בידך. אל תסתיר [של לבנים, שלא יאמרו לך בא ועשם של אבנים]"
Rabban Yochanan ben (son of) Zakkai received [the transmission] from Hillel and Shammai. He used to say: If you have studied much Torah do not take credit for yourself because for this were you created.
Do not destroy their alters, so that you do not have to rebuild them with your own hands. Do not destroy those of brick, that they may not say to you, Come and build them of stone.
See: A Life of Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai (ca. 1-80 C.E.) Jacob Neusner 1962 pp 105-106
It was hunger that defeated them, a thing that could never have happened if they had not brought it about themselves.
In a letter to one of the founding fathers of the Zionist agricultural settlements in Palestine, Menahem Ussishkin, written on November 11, 1936, Ben-Gurion quoted a British friend who maintained that the Jewish people had shown prophetic capabilities but lacked those needed to maintain a state.
Ben-Gurion painfully accepted this critical historical comment, and then moved on to discuss the historical failure of ancient Judea to preserve its independence. He ascribed this turn of events to a lack of unity, to the failure to identify the approaching signs of danger, and to effectively organize to face them.
Finally, and most critically, he pointed to the absence of political skill and statesmanship that could have prevented the catastrophe - the destruction of the Second Temple and the independent Jewish state.
Ben-Gurion writes in this letter:
During the time of the First Temple we did not conquer the entire country, and we maintained our independence only for a few years because we were always divided and quarreled among our selves, and the nations around "ate us with every mouth." First Israel fell, and then came the turn of Judea, and only a few returned until Ezra and Nehemiah; and even then, we returned only to a small portion of the country and were not independent except for a brief period at the end of the Hasmonean era. Internal strife broke out immediately and the weaker party invited Rome, which has tened to our aid, took over the country and destroyed us all.
When the sword of destruction hung over Jerusalem - the Zealots slaughtered one another and Jerusalem turned into shambles. The legions of Rome would not have destroyed the country if the Jews had not prepared the ground for it. At the time of the gravest danger in our history - before the destruction of the Second Temple - the Jews did not know how to unite, did not identify the external dangers, and did not find in themselves the political talent to prevent the catastrophe, which would have been averted if such a talent had been found in the Jewish people at that time.
Even the few sages who could see into the future - or the one and very special among them - understood the importance of saving "Yavneh and its sages." "Yavneh and its sages" are important, but they do not constitute a Jewish state; and did we come over here, the people of Bilu, the members of the Second Aliyah and the New Aliyah - to build in this country "Yavneh and its sages?" And under the auspices of the Mufti?!
We want to build a state, and we shall not be able to do so without political thought, political talent and political prudence. High-flown phrases, vision and emotion alone are not sufficient to build a state; they may be sufficient for "Netsah Yisrael" or existence in the diaspora, for maintaining a yeshiva, a university and a rabbinical court - but not for the construction of a state.
No external danger, even the worst one, has frightened me, but I am horrified by the internal danger - the danger of political blindness, the light-heartedness with which we relate to dangers that threaten us; the naivete with which we attempt to solve complicated questions,...the lack of talent to understand each other and appreciate each other's difficulties; and lack of talent to act as one entity in which a single member bends his will to that of the majority.
We always behaved this way in difficult crises in our history. We did not disappear from the face of the earth as other nations did, but we failed to remain independent in our homeland we failed to save our state. This time our task is not to maintain a state but to build it; this constitutes a much more difficult political skill, and I do not see that we know it....
In the conflict of orientation symbolized by two historic Jewish leaders, Raban Yochanan Ben Zakai, who gave up hope in the great rebellion against the Romans in 70 AD, left the walls of besieged Jerusalem and established a religious center in Yavneh, and Bar Kochba, who led the second, futile, Jewish rebellion against the Roman Empire 62 years after the great rebellion, Ben-Gurion's heart was with a third leader, Rabbi Akiba, whom he described as "the greatest Jew after the destruction of the Temple/'
Raban Ben Zakai personified in Ben-Gurion's eyes the exclusive commitment to the spiritual element in Judaism; Bar Kochba personified the commitment to independence even against impossible odds; and Rabbi Akiba - the effort to reconcile between the two commitments. Rabbi Akiba actively supported Bar Kochba's rebellion, but still provided a desirable synthesis between the state-temporal and the religious-spiritual elements in Judaism.
The letter was written on the day of arrival of the British Royal Commission to Palestine. Ben-Gurion argued in it that the Zionist movement did not do enough to maintain the friendship of Great Britain. Ben-Gurion Archives, Sde-Boker.
4. David Ben-Gurion, Netsah Yisrael (The Eternity of Israel) (Tel Aviv:
Ayanot, 1956), p. 126.
Nathan Yanai, Jewish Political Studies Review, Vol. 1, No. 1/2 (Spring 1989), pp. 151-177 (27 pages), Published By: Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs