Kiddush Hashem - Asara Harugei Malchut
Group Size: 5-30
Estimated Time: 90 minutes
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Background: Last week we looked at Kiddush Hashem in regular times, when we must be willing to die instead of committing the three big sins of Avoda Zara, Gilui Arayot, and Shfichut Damim. This week we will look at Kiddush Hashem during times of religious persecution. During these times, when the entire Jewish faith is in danger, every Jew is called upon to resist with all their might, and if necessary to sacrifice their lives rather than to commit the slightest transgression against the Torah.
To study this concept, we will focus on a time period when Rabbis were hunted down by the Romans and killed for teaching torah, the time of the Asara Harugei Malchut.
During times of religious persecution, different rules for kiddush Hashem apply. Instead of only being willing to die for the three big sins, we must challenge any decree against mitzvot so that nothing is lost from Judaism.
Game 1: Red Rover
Divide the Chanichim into two groups. Each group lines up on one side of the room holding hands tightly. One team goes first and says “red rover, red rover, send _____ over.” That person then has to try to break through the other team’s line. If s/he succeeds, s/he returns to his/her team. If not, s/he joins the other team. Game continues until one team has everyone, or until interest wanes.
Discussion: In this game we try to create a line and hold off the other team’s attackers. In a number of situations in the Gemara, different Rabbis were put in situations where they were not allowed to teach Torah, but did so anyways. In these circumstances, they had to do so even though it endangered their lives and was not one of the three big mitzvot. The reason is because it was a time of persecution, and Judaism was in danger. If they had stopped keeping mitzvot because of decrees, everyone would have followed and Judaism would have disappeared. Instead, many brave Rabbis continued to teach Torah both in hiding and occasionally in public. Often when this occurred, the story ends sadly, with the Romans finding out and coming to kill those involved. In these circumstances, one of the most common things that happened was that the Rabbi attempted to hold off the Romans and allow the others, his students, to escape. Not only did they put their lives in danger al kiddush Hashem to teach torah, they actively gave their lives to allow others to escape, another kiddush Hashem. Particularly, Rabbi Yehuda ben Baba, one of the ten martyrs, was killed this way (Sanhedrin 14a).
Game 2: Hagoo
Divide the chanichim into two teams, and have the two teams line up standing opposite each other about three feet apart. Two players are picked, one from each team. They stand at opposite ends of the line. The two players step forward and face each other down the length of the rows. With a bow and the invitation, “Hagoo,” they walk towards each other, breaking neither their eye-contact nor their reserve. In the middle, they pass and continue to the end, determined to suppress their slightest smile or guffaw.
The rows, meanwhile, are alive with the opposite resolve, engaging in any form of facial calisthenics or titillating hullabaloo that might crack the icy determination of the players. (Physical contact, though, is not allowed.) A player who successfully goes through the rows without revealing the slightest sign of amusement rejoins his own team, free to appreciate his triumph with a smile. But if it’s all been too much to take, the challenger doubled up in hysterics get to contribute his talents to the opposite team by joining up at the end of their line.
The game ends when there’s only on team left, or when all players have run the giggling gauntlet, or when everyone decides they’re utterly heckled, cackled and stony-faced out.
Discussion: In this game players are forced to endure a lengthy walk in which their resolves and inner strength are challenged, as they try not to smile or laugh. During the time period we are discussing, many rabbis were tortured prior to their deaths. We are widely familiar with the story of Rabbi Akiva, whose skin was raked with metal combs. Rabbi Tarfon was set on fire, but with damp wool on his chest to keep him from dying to quickly. Despite this torture, they were able to stay true to their ideals and not to give in at all. Rabbi Akiva in particular died saying the words “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad.”
Game 3: Red Handed
The Kvutza forms a circle, with one person – the Roman Soldier– in the center. The Soldier leaves the room for a moment (or closes his eyes) and the madrich gives one of the chanichim in the circle a small item (a marble is good.) The person then returns, and the chanichim begin passing the item around. While some people are really passing the item, others pretend to pass it. The Soldier must detect where the item is. He has three chances to catch it. If he succeeds he wins, and otherwise the group wins.
Discussion: One of the reasons why so many Rabbis were martyred was because they insisted on teaching Torah. This was not really an option because they realized the importance of keeping a chain of mesora alive. Each rabbi had to teach his students enough torah so that nothing would be lost and no mistakes would be made. They had to quickly pass the learning on and hope not to get caught. Similarly in this game we try to pass the marble (symbolizing torah or smicha) on without getting caught by the Roman Soldier.
Alternate Game: We can also play games that have the same idea but different dynamics. For example, you could divide the group into two teams for a game of capture the flag. Rules are as normal, but one player on each team is given a marble. The marble can be passed from one player to another, but if anyone is caught with the marble, the other team automatically wins.