As I write these words, listening to the disputing voices on the news arguing about the tense situation on and around the Temple Mount, my heart is full of despair.
As I listen to them, I think about how this week is Tisha B’Av, which marks the destruction of the Temple due to baseless hatred. I also think about the famous and ancient story of the two brothers and the founding of Jerusalem, which goes more or less as follows:
“Long ago lived two brothers who shared a field whose crops they used to divide equally. One brother was a bachelor; the other a married man with many children. Once, during the harvest, each of them felt pity for the other. The bachelor was worried that his brother did not have enough to feed his household while the bachelor had concern for his brother’s solitude. In the dark of the night each of them would carry some sheaves of produce to the other’s house, and in the morning each would be astonished to discover that their own supplies had not diminished. This went on for several days and nights until the two met tearfully during one of their nocturnal errands. At that point, it was decreed from above that this was the place upon which it would be fitting to establish God’s Holy Temple.”
As I read over this story of brotherly love and unilateral acts of kindness and respect, and listen to the voices arguing over today’s story of hatred and disdain, I feel even greater despair as the distance widens between the two sides. How do I reconcile this gap between legendary ideals and harsh realities?
The answer can be found in identifying the ambiguity in the story, which is who exactly are the two brothers? Are they two Orthodox Jewish men? If so, there is no gap between the values of the legend and the realities of today. But could they also be an Orthodox and Secular Jew, or perhaps an Orthodox man and Liberal Jewish woman? Could the brothers be expanded to cousins, grandchildren of Abraham, one a Jew and one a Muslim?
This story is often referred to as an ancient Jewish legend found in the Talmud; however, if you search for it there you won’t find it since it’s not there. This led Prof. Eliezer Segal to research the source of the story. He discovered that it is not an ancient Jewish legend at all, but rather an ancient ‘Palestinian Midrash’ that was “converted” into being a Jewish legend in the mid-19th century.
Pointing this out might cause even greater tension as to whom the story of brotherly love and the founding of Jerusalem belong! It could lead to Jews and Muslims each claiming the story to be exclusively theirs! However, this can also be an important opportunity and offer a glimpse of hope.
If we can learn to share the story, expanding our own identities to allow for the identities of the two brothers to be all those who love and feel connected to Jerusalem and the mountain, perhaps one day the ancient legend can become a reality. If we can’t expand the identities and share the story, and each side continues to claim the story and it’s mountain as exclusively their own, often through words and acts of baseless hatred, no political or security arrangement can ‘solve’ the tension between them. The conflict between the various brothers on the mountain is not due to the lack of physical space on the mountain, but the lack of space in our identities to allow in the other to exist and be respected and perhaps one day even be embraced and loved as a brother.
Pardes 360 is a series of responses to world current events by Pardes faculty in 360 words (or sometimes a few more). The views expressed in the articles are those of the author and do not reflect and institutional stance. To read other Pardes 360 articles, click here.