Captions: Reading The Kinot
The black and white photograph of a tree covered in snow is magnificent. It is even more powerful than a color picture. The stark contrast between the light and dark allows me to experience the chill of the snow. I can almost feel the powder that could be fresh white buds, in my cold fingers.
The snow is unmarked and reflects the shadows of the tree on either side. The light powder seems to be weighing the branches all the way down to the ground.
The tree is alive. The mountain in the background doesn’t seem real: it’s just slightly taller than the tree that is more branches and snow than trunk.
I was transfixed by the picture and, recognizing the mountain, felt transported to Yosemite National Park. It is a place of wonderful memories of a joyous unbounded spirit, free to celebrate the possibilities of life.
I read the caption: Ansel Adams: The Mural Project 1941-42 – “Snow Covered Apple Orchard”
One minute I am delighting in Yosemite, and the next, I am standing in an apple orchard in the spring, singing a blessing over the fragrance of the fruit, anticipating the first bite into a perfectly fresh apple. The caption changed my experience of the photograph.
I experience Tisha B’Av differently when I read the stories in the Bible, Talmud, and Midrash than I do when I read the Kinot – Lamentations. The words of the Kinot are powerful. They overflow with allusions to verses from all over the Bible, ideas from the Talmud and stories in the Midrash. The authors of the Lamentations create images that direct my feel of the Tisha B’Av stories. The Kinot post captions on the photographs in my mind. The Lamentations tell their tales. They imagine the scene for us. They were sufficiently powerful to be included by Jews all over the world, throughout the ages, as an official part of the Tisha B’Av service.
They are only captions. Each poem and eulogy is just one way of viewing the photograph. They are intended to stir our own internal machinery so that we can begin to picture each scene for ourselves.
What would it have been like to be just one person, among two million, and hearing the spies’ report through the grapevine? By the time I hear the report, I see and hear everyone else crying in fear. They people who pass the story along to me post their captions on the photograph, as the spies did on their trip to Israel photo collection. Before I can process what is happening, I hear that God is angry and has decided that we will all die out in the desert. There is no caption on that photograph!
I read that Jeremiah wakened the Patriarchs and Moshe so that they would advocate for Israel. How would I picture the scene without the guidance of the Rabbi Eliezer HaKalir in Kinah #26 (Artscroll Kinot: Page 278)?
I stood in Worms, Germany and could close my eyes and picture the massacre of 1096 during the First Crusade. The picture I had in my mind as I stood over an ancient Mikvah filled with garbage has a different caption than the scene in Kinah #25 (Page 270) or the scene in Kinah #33 (Page 316)
The captions help us, but we cannot allow them to limit us. I try to close my eyes after each Kinah to picture the scenes described and wonder how I would have felt had I been there. I try to create my own captions. They make my Tisha B’Av real.
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