Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tisha Bav 2010 -The Cause of Churban part 1

Gittin 57b
דף נז,ב גמרא  אמר רבי חייא בר אבין אמר רבי יהושע בן קרחה סח לי זקן אחד מאנשי ירושלים בבקעה זו הרג נבוזראדן רב טבחים מאתים ואחת עשרה רבוא ובירושלים הרג תשעים וארבע רבוא על אבן אחת עד שהלך דמן ונגע בדמו של זכריה לקיים מה שנאמר (הושע ד) ודמים בדמים נגעו אשכחיה לדמיה דזכריה דהוה קא מרתח וסליק אמר מאי האי אמרו ליה דם זבחים דאשתפוך אייתי דמי ולא אידמו אמר להו אי אמריתו לי מוטב ואי לאו מסריקנא לבשרייכו במסרקי דפרזלי אמרי ליה מאי נימא לך נבייא הוה בן דהוה קא מוכח לן במילי דשמיא קמינן עילויה וקטלינן ליה והא כמה שנין דלא קא נייח דמיה אמר להו אנא מפייסנא ליה אייתי סנהדרי גדולה וסנהדרי קטנה קטל עילויה ולא נח בחורים ובתולות קטל עילויה ולא נח אייתי תינוקות של בית רבן קטל עילויה ולא נח א"ל זכריה זכריה טובים שבהן איבדתים ניחא לך דאבדינהו לכולהו כדאמר ליה הכי נח בההיא שעתא הרהר תשובה בדעתיה אמר ומה אם על נפש אחת כך ההוא גברא דקטל כל הני נשמתא על אחת כמה וכמה ערק אזל שדר שטר פרטתא בביתיה ואגייר
R. Hiya b. Abin said in the name of R. Joshua b. Korhah: An old man from the inhabitants of Jerusalem told me that in this valley Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard killed two hundred and eleven myriads, and in Jerusalem he killed ninety-four myriads on one stone, until their blood went and joined that of Zechariah, to fulfil the words, Blood toucheth blood (Hosea 4:2). He [Nebuzaradan] noticed the blood of Zechariah boiling and bubbling, and asked what it was. They said: It is the blood of the sacrifices which has been poured there. He had some [animal] blood brought to make a comparison, it was different from the other. He then said to them: If you tell me [the truth], well and good, but if not, I will tear your flesh with combs of iron. They said: What can we say to you? There was a prophet among us who used to reprove us regarding issues of Heaven, and we rose up against him and killed him, and for many years his blood has not rested. He said to them: I will appease him. He brought the great Sanhedrin and the small Sanhedrin and killed them over him, but the blood did not cease. He then slaughtered young men and women, but the blood did not cease. He brought tinokot, students of Torah and slaughtered them over it, but the blood did not cease its boiling. So he said; Zechariah, Zechariah. I have slain the best of them; do you want me to destroy them all? When he said this to him, the blood came to rest. Straightway Nebuzaradan began reflecting on his derech in teshuva.  He said to himself: If such is the penalty for slaying one soul, what will happen to me who have slain such multitudes? So he fled away, and sent a deed to his house disposing of his effects and became a convert.

History vs Heuristic

Clearly, Rabbi Hiyya’s report, is not meant as a historical account. As R. Chait points out, a killing event of such magnitude, would be common knowledge, it would not be a secret known only to a particular old man. But, if it is not a historical account, what then is the nature of this narrative? R. Hiyya, was sufficiently detached from the tragedy of the Churban, to be able to comment upon its significance, as a case study in Israel’s relationship with the Creator.  It would seem then, that story has a heuristic character, rather than a historic one. The story is then a metaphor, a Mashal created to create a basis, for reflecting upon the horror of Churban, in a productive way.

The issue then, is not whether these events happened exactly as they are recounted. No doubt,  Nebuzaradan was responsible for the death of masses of Jews. What is at issue, is how to glean the moral of the story underlying the Churban as depicted by the great R. Hiyya, in the  Mashal. As R. Rosenthal points out, this is much like Sefer Iyov, as the Gra said Iyov Lo haya Vilo Nivrah,ela limashal. Iyov only existed, in the sense of being a mashal. Another example of this is Plato’s Republic, where actual historic characters are used, to illustrate certain ideas Plato wishes to work through.

To do gain access to R. Hiyya’s perspective then, we must seperate the themes being illustrated from the characters being used as a Mashal vehicle. To do this, we will scrutinize the narrative, in order to tease out the underlying themes. Specifically, in our next post, we will scrutinize the passages marked in red.