Rosh Hodesh Iyar
April 29, 2006
The last chapter of the book of Isaiah, which we read when Shabbat and Rosh Hodesh coincide, ends on an eschatological note, with a vision of the end of time. Isaiah\’s prophecy has both violent and idyllic elements. After recounting the miraculous restoration of the nation, likening it to a woman giving birth to a child without birth pains (Verses 7-9), God enjoins those who maintained their loyalty to Jerusalem to share in rejoicing over her restoration: \”Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her! Join in her jubilation, all you who mourned over her – that you may suck from her breast consolation to the full, that you may draw from her bosom glory to your delight\” (Verses 10-11)
The Talmud records the following account of the behavior of some Jews after the destruction of the Second Temple: Our rabbis taught: \”When the Temple was destroyed for the second time, large numbers in Israel became ascetics, refraining from eating meat and drinking wine. Rabbi Joshua felt compelled to deal with them: \’My children, why do you refrain from eating meat and drinking wine?\’ They said: \’How can we eat meat, when it can no longer be offered on the altar? Drink wine, when libations cannot be offered? He said to them: \’If so, how can you eat bread, when it cannot be offered on the altar?\’ [They replied agreeing with him:] \’So we\’ll eat fruit.\’ He said: \’Maybe we should not eat fruit, since the first fruits cannot be offered.\’ \’We\’ll eat other fruits.\’ [He said:] \’So how can we drink water, since water libations can no longer be offered on the altar?\’ They were silent [since he proved to them that their behavior was problematic.] Rabbi Joshua said to them: \’My children, come\’ and he said to them: \’Not to mourn at all is not possible for the Temple has been destroyed, but to mourn too much is also not possible, since we cannot make a law that people are incapable of fulfilling\’… so what did the sages suggest: \’When one paints his house, he should leave a bit unpainted… when a person makes a banquet, he should leave it a bit incomplete… Rabbi Isaac said: \’This refers to the ashes placed on the head of the groom at his wedding. Rav Pappa asked Abaye: \’Where are these ashes placed?\’ [He answered:] \’In the place where the tefillin rest.\’… All who mourn for Jerusalem – merit and see it in its rejoicing, as it is written: \”Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her… all you who mourned over her.\’ (adapted and abridged from Bava Bathra 60b)
This passage is striking. It is not surprising that people who immediately experienced the loss of the Temple should be so dramatically affected by the event, but even a generation or two later people still felt its loss so acutely that they had to be convinced not to mourn too much. Human behavior is usually the opposite. The further away from an event, the less it impacts on people. This is why people have to be reminded that they will only share in the joy of rebuilding if they are aware and pained by what was lost. This may be true of the significance of State of Israel as well. Only those who are aware of the impoverished sense of Jewish identity, the meekness of Jews in the world and the second class status of Jews even in places like America before Israel\’s appearance on the map, can be aware of the blessing of having a Jewish state. Only those who do not take it for granted and acknowledge its Jewish value, will ultimately share in its blessings. This is an important lesson as we approach Israel Independence Day next week.