The Jewish month of Av brings with it a season of mourning for the destruction of the Temple. The rabbis of the Talmud, anticipating this time of sadness, offered stories to bring comfort and inspiration in times of need. Dr. Tamar Kadari, Dean of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies and lecturer for Midrash and Aggadah, tells the story of Yehoshua bar Chananya who asked: “Where is God during times of trouble?”
Full transcript below:
When we want to remember we tell stories. Stories help us and remind us of people we loved and of places we adored. The Rabbi’s told stories about Jerusalem and about the destruction of the temple. In a beautiful story, Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Hananiah arrives in Rome and the Romans tell him there is a boy a Jewish boy in prison: “He looks just so beautiful, he has curly hair, he has beautiful eyes, you must go and see him.” Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Hananiah goes to prison and tries to see the boy.
He talks to him through a wall but he can’t see him. The boy is with all the other prisoners but they have a discourse through the wall of the prison. Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Hananiah shouts and says: מִי־נָתַ֨ן לִמְשִׁוסָּ֧ה לִמְשִׁיסָּ֧ה יַעֲקֹ֛ב וְיִשְׂרָאֵ֥ל לְבֹזֲזִ֖ים: “Who is the one that brought us to this kind of situation where there is a Jewish boy in prison!” Then suddenly he hears the voice through the wall of this boy answering and saying the end of the same verse from Isaiah. He answers him and says: הלא ה‘ זו חטאנו: “It is God because we sinned.”
Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Hananiah understands that this boy is very smart, he is a talmid chacham. He decides to free him and pays a very high ransom. The boy is freed.
Actually, what Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Hananiah or this story is trying to tell us is that the beauty that the Romans admire is something of secondary importance. The more important thing is the Torah – knowing its verses, understanding what they say. The wisdom of the people of Israel and their Torah is actually the most important thing that will help them under Roman rule.
This is the way they understand the time of the destruction. Yes, the Romans are now up high, but we will find our way back with our beauty and with our Torah.
Shavua Tov from Schechter.
Tamar Kadari is the Dean of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies and a lecturer for Midrash and Aggadah. She received her PhD in Midrashic literature from Hebrew University and was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at The University of Pennsylvania. In 2009 Dr. Kadari received a grant from the Israeli Science Foundation (ISF) to head a research group preparing a critical edition of Song of Songs Rabbah. Her research interests include biblical women in the eyes of the rabbis, aesthetics and beauty in rabbinic literature and literary readings of midrash. Dr. Kadari is also a sculptor whose work has been exhibited in galleries in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.