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Kinah 36: A Poet's Response


Dedicated To Meir & Jenny Solomon: “Heading east” was the deed he chose to clothe himself in. Friends sought to dissuade Rabbi Yehuda Halevi. He argued with them. To one, he wrote an angry poem. “Your words were salved with smoothest myrhh,” it began with a touch of sarcasm, which quickly changed to the accusation that the friend’s remarks, while “sweetly stated,” concealed “stinging bees, their honeycomb a bed of thorns.” Although we are not explicitly told what these were, it is possible to reconstruct their two main points from Rabbi Yehuda’s reply.

The first was that it was foolhardy to put himself at peril by jounreying to a country that was in the hands of barbarians. Although the love of Zion was praiseowrthy, one had to be sensible. It was reckless to “seek the peace of Jerusalem” when the city belonged to “the blind and the lame” – an allusion to the Crusaders taken from the Book of Samuel, where the words contemptuously refer to Jeruslaem’s Jebusite rulers before King David’s conquest of the city.

Rabbi Yehuda made short shrift of this argument. Was Abraham being sensible, he asked, when he left everything at God’s bidding for a promised land? If personal safety came first, “our forefathers erred in being strangers” in a land in which “unjustifiably they built their altars/ and sacrificed upon them to no end.” To challenge his, Halevi’s, decision on such a basis was to accuse the biblical patriarchs of recklessness.

The friend’s second point concerned Spain. In no other country was Jewish life more thriving or secure. How could one abandon it for a wilderness where there was hardly a synagogue to pray in, much less the amenities of civilized life? How could Halevi reject the home in which his ancestors were buried and his family had lived for generations? Surely loyalty to Judaism and its traditions called for remaining in Spain, not leaving it.

The poem’s response to this was scathing. The dead, it declared, command our loyalty not by virture of being dead, but only by virtue of being models for the living, “Are we to haunt old wormy graves,” it demanded,

And turn away from life’s eternal source?
Are synagogues our sole inheritance,
And is God’s holy mount to have no heirs?
And where, in East or West, are we more safe
Than in the land whose many gates all face
The Heavens?

Hillel Halkin – Yehudah Halevi (Pages 131-132)

The friend’s arguments are still repeated in the minds of many of us who choose to remain distant from Zion. Rabbi Yehuda Halevi’s poems challenge us to ask ourselves:

“And where, in East or West, are we more safe
Than in the land whose many gates all face
The Heavens?”

Author Info:
Learn & discover the Divine prophecies with Rabbi Simcha Weinberg from the holy Torah, Jewish Law, Mysticism, Kabbalah and Jewish Prophecies. The Foundation Stone is the ultimate resource for Jews, Judaism, Jewish Education, Jewish Spirituality & the holy Torah.

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