“I love humanity! It’s just people I can’t stand.”
We can defend Israel, wear a ribbon for AIDS sufferers, feed the needy, visit the sick, or demonstrate for Save the Whales. We just can’t see eye to eye with our sisters-in-law.
We have just entered the Jewish calendar period known as the Nine Days. They lead up to Tisha B’Av—the ninth of Av—the saddest day in our history and our national day of mourning. On this day, both of Jerusalem’s Holy Temples were destroyed and many other calamities occurred. Over the nine days, the mourning intensifies and concludes with the Fast of Tisha B’Av.
The story is told of the 19th-century Polish scholar Rabbi Yehoshua of Kutna, who was renowned for his love of Israel. He once traveled to the Holy Land and when he returned to Poland was asked to describe what he saw.
He said, “I found the land desolate. Jerusalem is in ruins, and of our glorious Temple, only one stone wall remains standing.”
“But there is one thing that has not changed,” he added. “One thing that has survived intact and remains the same in the Holy Land today as it did when the Temple stood.”
“And what is that?” the people asked curiously.
“Baseless hatred and animosity between Jews, which as the Talmud states was the cause of the Destruction. That, I am afraid, has remained unchanged!”
A sad story indeed, but let’s be honest: Can we say it is a story of old, or is it not true of our own times today?
Sometimes people have reason to be angry with one another: A wrong was perpetrated, a nasty word said, or a request for help unanswered or rejected outright. But often, there is no good reason. In fact, often there is hardly even a bad reason.
“He’s a nerd, and he gets on my nerves!”
“She’s ugly, and her mother dresses her funny.”
This is especially true in school, where students form their own little cliques and one individual is deliberately left out. The circle of friends is closed, and he or she is not welcome. The excluded one is hurt, devastated and may even become suicidal.
Is there a good reason for this? Has the rejected one done anything tangibly wrong to deserve such painful exclusion? Usually not.
Sometimes an argument or disagreement occurs between people and a family feud and grudge—or as we call it in South Africa, a faribel—remains for years and years. Usually, the original reason for the dispute has been long forgotten. Nobody even remembers what it was all about. But the feud continues unabated nevertheless.
So what if he’s a nerd? So what if she dresses funny? So what if his nose looks different from yours? These are reasons for resentment and rejection? Come on!
There is a well-known legend (whose origin is uncertain) of two brothers who lived on a hilltop. They were farmers who always shared everything equally between them. One was single and one was married with children.
On a certain night, the single brother decided that, since his married brother had more mouths to feed, it wasn’t fair for them to divide the crops equally. So, late at night, when all were asleep, he went to the granary and took some measures of his own grain and moved it from his side to his brother’s.
Meanwhile, the married brother was also rethinking their financial arrangement. He decided that, since his brother had no wife and children and thus no one to look after him in his old age, he surely needed more than the married brother did. So, he, too, went out in the middle of the night to move some grain from his own portion over to his single brother’s side.
This went on for a long time. Neither brother could understand why the piles of grain still seemed the same.
Until, one night, as they were each going to help their dearest sibling, the two brothers bumped into each other. Caught in the act, they suddenly realized what had been happening and fell into each other’s arms in a loving embrace.
Seeing this beautiful expression of brotherly love, God Almighty decided that on that very hilltop His Holy Temple should be built.
A touchingly beautiful story indeed.
But then there is the contemporary version of the story: Here, the single brother thinks to himself that it isn’t fair that he should only have the same as his married brother. After all, who will look after him in his old age? So, he takes some of his brother’s grain for himself.
The married brother thinks that he has many more mouths to feed than his single brother. So, he, too, goes out in the middle of the night and moves some of his brother’s grain to his own side. Until, one night, the two brothers meet in the granary and have a right royal fight.
And it was on that very same hilltop that God Almighty decided to build the Knesset!
A sad, cynical story indeed.
I pray that, as brothers, we can all get along with each other, even if we may disagree on politics. We are still brothers and have no others. We need each other. Our enemies only gloat when they witness our own infighting.
As we say in the Sim Shalom prayer, may God see us as kulanu k’echad —“all of us as one”—and then bless us accordingly. May these days of sadness be transformed into gladness and joy with the rebuilding of our glorious Third and final Holy Temple in Jerusalem, even before Tisha B’Av, speedily in our day.