Posts Tagged 'Tragedy'

Holding It All Together: Reflections After Recent Tragedies in Jerusalem

This week has been filled with more heart wrenching stories from the ongoing tragedies in Israel. In this context someone shared with me a poem of Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai. The poem is called “The Diameter of the Bomb”.

The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
with four dead and eleven wounded.
And around these, in a larger circle
of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
and one graveyard. But the young woman
who was buried in the city she came from,
at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
enlarges the circle considerably,
and the solitary man mourning her death
at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
includes the entire world in the circle.
And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans
that reaches up to the throne of God and
beyond, making a circle with no end and no God.

What is the full impact of violence? Is anyone truly spared from the effect of destruction in the world? The words “no end” in the last line in Hebrew אין סוף- ein sof  is one of the ways we refer to God. So in some sense this violence itself might impact God or even be an act of deicide . Does violence know any limits? In a very poetic way Amichai is describing the etiology of tragedy inside the “thirty centimeters” of a bomb.  What did this world look like before this big bang?

I was thinking about this when reading Toldot, this week’s Torah portion, when we read about the pregnancy of Rivka. There we read;

And the Lord said to her: Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples shall be separated from your bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger (Genesis 25:23).

At the simplest level Rivka learned about her discomfort with being pregnant with twins. The prophecy did not just warn her about carrying two fetuses in her womb; she had “two peoples” in her body. There is no wonder that she is not comfortable; she was to give birth to entire nations with her body being transformed into a proverbial clown car. On a deeper look, while this might have been said to allay her biological fears of a difficult pregnancy, she is left with the psychological horror of having to parent two children who will be at each others’ throats. Her womb is holding together a history of war similar to  Amichai’s bomb.

While we are all God’s children, God is alone in seeing the unfolding of our history of bloody sibling rivalry. The pregnant Rivka embodies the internalization of the pain of the clash of civilizations. She represents the discomfort of knowing that there will be strife in the future between two people who share much in common and should love each other as brothers. I am not saying that Rivka and Yitzhak were the best parents, but I do want to connect with her fear for the future. This reminds me of what Golda Meir said to Anwar Saddat, “We can forgive you for killing our sons. But we will never forgive you for making us kill yours.” When will we both be ready to struggle together to achieve a lasting peace? I hope that we can keep the hopes and aspirations of a pregnant mother in mind.

 

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Too Soon

In the Gemara we read:

Rabbis  Gamliel, Elazar ben Azariah, Yehoshua, and Akiva were once walking along the road when they heard a great cry of joy coming from the Roman camp 120 miles away. They all cried and Rabbi Akiva laughed. They asked him, “Why are you laughing?” Rabbi Akiva responded, “And you, why are you crying?” The answered saying, “These heathens who bow down to idols, they sit safely and comfortably, and as for us, the house of God is burnt; should we not cry?” Rabbi Akiva said, “For that reason I am laughing. If for those that go against God’s will it is so, how much more so for those that abide by God’s will.”

On another occasion they went up to Jerusalem. When they got to Mount Scopus they tore their clothes and when they got to Mount Moriah, they saw a fox coming out of the Holy of Holies. They all cried, and Rabbi Akiva laughed. They asked him, “Why are you laughing?” He responded, “Why are you crying?” They said, “Foxes are now walking in the place about which it says, ‘the stranger that comes close shall die’ (Numbers 1:51), shall we not cry?” “For that reason I am laughing,” he ( Rabbi Akiva) said. “There is a verse that states, ‘I brought faithful witnesses, Uriah the Cohen, and Zechariah ben Berachiyah’ (Yeshayahu 8:2). What is the connection between Uriah and Zechariah? Uriah lived during the first Temple and Zechariah during the second, but the verse implies that the prophecy of Zechariah is dependent on the prophecy of Uriah. Uriah says, ‘Because of you, Zion will be plowed over like a field’ (Michah 3:12). Zechariah says, ‘Once again old men and women will sit in the streets of Jerusalem’ (Zechariah 8:4). Until the prophecy of Uriah was fulfilled, I was worried that the prophecy of Zechariah will never happen. Now that the prophecy of Uriah has been fulfilled it is certain that the prophecy of Zechariah will surely be.” They said to him, “Akiva, you have comforted us, Akiva, you have comforted us” (Makkot 24a-24b).

Quoted in the name of Carol Burnett, Steve Allen, Lenny Bruce, and Woody Allen, we all know that , “comedy is tragedy plus time”. Rabbi Akiva had the vision to see the comedy of the tragedy before his peers. You can almost hear Rabbis  Gamliel, Elazar ben Azariah, and Yehoshua saying, ” Too Soon”.

This is Shabbat Hazon, the Shabbat preceding Tisha B’Av during which we will have the vision of our future destruction. We should all be blessed to have a Rabbi Akiva in our lives. He had a capacity to foresee a time in the future when we will be able to look back at the worst tragedy and laugh. Rabbi Akiva teaches us that laughing does not make it light and surely is not about forgetting. Life is too short. I enjoy laughing over crying any day.

– Have a meaningful Fast


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