Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Brotherly and Sisterly Love on Tisha B’av

The theme of “unconditional love” can be found in the Tisha B’Av kinnot, as the ideal that was absent during our history’s lowest moments.

In kinnah number 26, the author, Elazar HaKalir, invokes a Midrash (Eicha Rabbati, peticha 24) where the prophet Jeremiah, arouses the matriarchs and patriarchs from their eternal rest, begging them to intercede with God to prevent the utter destruction of the Jewish people. He approached Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, all of whom pleaded with the Almighty to spare their beloved Jewish children for the sake of their holy actions. “Is it in vain that I suffered ten trials?” cried Abraham. “Was it in vain that I was inscribed to be slaughtered?” offered Isaac. Jacob, Moses, and Leah too were unsuccessful in their entreaties. It was only Mother Rachel who aroused God’s mercy, for Rachel famously showed great unconditional love for her sister Leah. The Bible recounts that Jacob was slated to marry Rachel, but Laban, Rachel’s wily father, believed that Leah needed to be married first, as she was older than Rachel, and intended to deliver Leah to Jacob, during his wedding with Rachel. Knowing her father’s predilection for subterfuge, Rachel concocted a code with her beloved Jacob, to assure that Laban would not try to marry Leah to Jacob. When Rachel learned that Laban was indeed engaging in that deception, she had mercy upon her older sister, and revealed to her the secret code that she had set with Jacob, so Jacob would indeed marry Leah first.

Another kinnah, number 23, cites a tragic story recounted in the Talmud (Gittin 58a). At the time of the Temple’s destruction, seven Jewish slaves could be purchased for the price of one horse. The son and daughter of Rabbi Yishmael, the High Priest, who were both of attractive countenance, were sold to two separate Roman patrons, who, seeing their beauty, suggested breeding them. They were placed in a dark room together, each in his own corner, crying over their predicament. As the sun rose and they recognized one another, they died of heartbreak in each other’s arms. Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (1910-2012, Jerusalem) suggested that too often we remain in our own corners and label others slaves and maidservants. Only when the light appears do we see these slaves and maidservants as our own brothers and sisters.

It is clear that one of the most important takeaways from Tisha B’Av is that we destroy ourselves when we hate each other. Conversely, when we love one another, we rise and succeed.

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