When the Romans wanted to destroy the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, they sent Nero Caesar to attack the Jews. When he arrived at Jerusalem, he wished to test his fate. He shot an arrow to the east and it turned course and landed in Jerusalem. He then shot another arrow to the west, and it also fell in Jerusalem. He shot an arrow in all four directions, and each time the arrow landed in Jerusalem.
Nero understood this to be a sign from Above of his impending success in destroying the Temple, yet desired another test. He saw a child walking home from school, and asked him, “What verse did you learn in school today?”
The boy replied, quoting Ezekial 25:14: “And I will lay My vengeance upon Edom by the hand of My people Israel.”
Since the Romans are associated with Edom, Nero understood the verse to be a reference to himself, and declared, “The Holy One, Blessed be He, wishes to destroy His Temple, and He wishes to wipe his hands with that man [i.e., with me].”
Nero ran away, converted to Judaism, and the great Talmudic sage Rabbi Meir descended from him.
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Every detail of the Talmud is relevant. What is the significance of the fact that Rabbi Meir descended from Nero? Wouldn’t it be equally impressive if any sage descended from this former enemy of the Jews?
Yet contained within this name is a profound message of hope:
You see, the word Meir means light. It was specifically Rabbi Meir who descended from Meir, to teach us that even within the destruction, there is light.
As I heard from my colleague Rabbi Aryeh Weinstein (Chabad of Newtown, PA) last Shabbat: The darkest part of the body is the pupil — but it also allows the light in.
This year, Tisha B’Av is on Shabbat, so instead of fasting, we eat and drink wine (the fast begins only when Shabbat is over), thereby revealing the light within the darkness. May it be Hashem’s will that Mashiach arrive before then, and we will not fast on Sunday either!