Kinah 31: The Souls Of The Past
When we have passed a certain age, the soul of the child we were and the souls of the dead from whom we have sprung come to lavish on us their riches and their spells. Marcel Proust – In Search of Lost Time (The Captive)
This powerful Kinah contrasts our exodus from Egypt to our exile from the destroyed Jerusalem. (See Kinah 31: Egypt & Jerusalem) However, we do not remember the joy of the exodus on this, the saddest day of the year, only to magnify our sorrow; we reach back to what Jeremiah described as our childhood to reconnect with the soul of the child we once were. We reclaim the spirit of our youth to reclaim the magical spell of childhood:
“And the word of God came to me, saying: Go, and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying: Thus says God: I remember for you the affection of your youth, the love of your espousals; how you went after Me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown. Israel is the God’s hallowed portion, His first-fruits of the increase; all that devour him shall be held guilty, evil shall come upon them, says the God.” Jeremiah 2:1-3
The people of Beitar had a custom intended to remind a person, as he or she stepped over the lintel into adulthood, of the promise of his youth so that he would retain the magic of a child all through his life. This was not only a personal message, but a reminder that Israel lives on with, and through, that spirit of their youth:
‘Through the shaft of a litter Beitar was destroyed.’
It was the custom when a boy was born to plant a cedar tree and when a girl was born to plant a pine tree, and when they married, the tree was cut down and a canopy made of the branches.
One day the daughter of the Emperor was passing when the shaft of her litter broke, so they lopped some branches off a cedar tree and brought it to her.
The Jews thereupon fell upon them and beat them. They reported to the Emperor that the Jews were rebelling, and he marched against them. Gittin 57a
The Emperor’s daughter and her retinue needed wood, saw a tree, and cut it down. Why were the people of Beitar willing to risk total annihilation because of a single tree?
The trees of Beitar were the people’s symbol of the continuity of Israel and her youth. The trees were a constant reminder that we could always reclaim the magic of our childhood, the one we experienced as we left Egypt. Beitar fought on to live because that magical past of, “When I left Egypt,” was also a part of their future.
The Romans were not satisfied with a military victory over Beitar. Conquest was not enough. They wanted to destroy our childhood memories. They denied our magical youth. Their power was greater than Egypt’s. There would not be another magical exodus or redemption. Israel was gone. A distant memory that would never be recaptured.
Beitar was willing to risk all to send a message to Jews everywhere and across time that we do not battle only to survive; we fight against any and all who would deny the magic of our youth. We cannot allow anyone to claim that a magical Temple never stood in Jerusalem. We will fight to the death against those who ridicule our miraculous past as if there never was an Israel before it was “Palestine.”
We recall “When I left Jerusalem,” because the souls of the dead of Beitar, and the souls of all who lived in Jerusalem, Vilna, Slabodka, Cracow, Cordoba, Worms, Russia, Denmark and every other place on the face of the earth, “the souls from which we have sprung,” come to us when we remember them today, “to lavish upon us their riches and spells.”
“In the community house there was a parchment with a chronicle on it, but the first page was missing and the writing had faded.” Isaac Bashevis Singer, “The Gentleman from Cracow
Our first page is not missing; “When I left Egypt.” It’s right there before us in the words of our prayers, the Torah, even our lamentations. Our chronicle is not only complete; it is alive.
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