Jealous Sister, Jealous God -- and Healing Love

The deepest Rabbinic teaching for Tisha B’Av is in Midrash Eicha, calling for an act of love – not merely love as emotion, but love as action – as what is necessary for redemption.  The story of that empowering midrash is below.

In that wisdom, The Shalom Center and Coalition for the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL) are sponsoring a Webinar tonight, to teach and encourage loving action to help heal our deeply wounded Temple Earth as well as wounded, dying, human earthlings. To register, please click to:

WEbinar from 7:30 to 9 pm EASTERN TIME this evening --Sunday, July 18.

The Webinar will be recorded. If you can't make that time, register anyway and you can watch later.

Jealous Sister, Jealous God -- and an Act of Love

By Rabbi Phyllis Ocean Berman & Rabbi Arthur Ocean Waskow

[This story about jealousy and compassion, exile and redemption appears in our book TALES OF TIKKUN: NEW JEWISH STORIES TO HEAL THE WOUNDED WORLD (1995; new edition, Ben Yehuda Press, 2021). It draws on Midrash Rabbah for the Book of Lamentations, known as Eicha Rabbah (XXIV, pp. 44-49 in the Soncino edition).

[It ends with a midrash on the biblical story of the sisters Rachel and Leah and their marriage to Jacob (Gen. 29: 15-30).

[We have put the story in the mouth of a Jew living in exile in the Roman Empire because it emerges from a rabbinic midrashic commentary written about 200 CE, during the Exile after the Second Destruction of the Temple in 70 CE and the decimation of the Jewish community in the Land of Israel, after the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 135 CE. We view it as one pf the great midrashim, the “post-Holocaust theology" of the Rabbis.

[It makes clear how useless in such a moment of despair is any appeal to law or covenant. It makes clear the only healing response is love. Not love as only an emotion, but love encoded into action. For Mother Rachel’s healing example is an act of love. Only that can change the world. — Comment by POB & AOW. ]

It was a night of heat: dry, scorching, heat, the parching winds that dry their way across the Roman Sea. No rain, no water, no cooling breeze of life. In this village outside the Imperial City, a circle of people was squatting on the floor, already thirsting but tonight they could not drink. The oldest spoke:

Two hundred years ago tonight, on the Ninth of Av, our Holy Temple was in flames, and Roman soldiers were driving my own family into slavery.

Here we are, two hundred years in exile. We should have celebrated a Jubilee four times by now the year that comes each fifty years, when every family should have returned to the land-holding of its forebears, the year when all slaves should have been freed. But I no longer have any hope of Jubilee; I see no sign of our return to the land of our forebears. Though we are no longer slaves, we are not free. I have no hope that in my lifetime we will see Judea free or the Holy Temple restored.

What can we do, what else but sit each year in mourning and wail the Prophet Jeremiah's words of lamentation?

 Last night, I dreamed a dream. It is a day like this one: No rain, no water, no cooling breeze of life. Only heat: dry, scorching heat, the parching winds. The flames of the Temple, still visible behind us; before us, the world itself is burning. All I can see is shimmering waves of air, every breath a step into a furnace. Around me my friends are staggering, falling, dying. I try to speak, but my tongue is swollen; only a whisper comes forth. Yet the words burn like a fever in my bones. What my mouth cannot utter, my whole body, my whole being, shouts toward Heaven:

“Our father Abraham, awake! I, Jeremiah, I call you to awake! Cast but one glance upon your dying people, and speak to save us!”

And I realize that I am living in a body that has just seen the first Destruction, a body that is walking, limping, its path toward Babylon. So long ago that I could not until this moment have imagined it outside the pages of a book.

 Above us I feel a stirring. The clouds of smoke and dust thicken and darken on the desert. The clouds become a shape; the flickering thunder, voices.

“My God!” says Abraham: “What are you doing? You sent me on a journey; You and I, we made a covenant. You promised that my seed would be as numerous as the sand; I see them trampled as the sand is trampled, I see them thirsty as the sand is thirsty, but on this journey there is only death. You have broken the covenant; restore them to their land, just as you promised!”

I heard the thunder roar: “I am a jealous God, and they were whoring after other gods. I will not tolerate this! Shout no more wails of lamentation in my ears.”

I heard a silence. And then another voice, thinner, more plaintive: “Awesome God, I faced You with no fear, ready to give my own life to honor you. Even when my father’s knife descended toward my heart, even when the angels tear scalded my eyes, I did not blink. You laughed with joy to see my faith and courage, and you promised that my people would not suffer this ordeal. You made a covenant with me; but now the knife Your knife descends on tens of thousands, and you strike each heart. You have broken the covenant!”

Again I heard the thunder roar: “I am a jealous God, and they were whoring after other gods. I will not tolerate this! Shout no more wails of lamentation in my ears.”

Silence, and then another voice: “My God! I wrestled You, and won Your blessing and the covenant of an endless future. For Your sake I walked limping all my life, but here! Your people have no strength to limp, they are falling dead. The name You gave us you have hollowed out. You have broken Your covenant!”

And the thunder rolled, the desert shook: “I am a jealous God, and they were whoring after other gods. I will not tolerate this! Shout no more wails of lamentation in my ears.”

And Moses spoke: “O God of freedom, You have broken Your covenant!” And Aaron: “O God of peace, You have broken Your covenant!”

And the Torah Herself, Oh Lover of Torah, I am Your covenant, it is me you destroy!

And the Holy Letters themselves, the Aleph and Bet, the Gimel and Dalet, spoke in the sounds of themselves: “With us You shaped worlds that now You destroy; You have broken Your covenant!”

But the desert shook as the Voice came again and again: “I am a jealous God, and they were whoring after other gods. I will not tolerate this! Shout no more wails of lamentation in my ears.”

Now there was silence, except for the quiet sounds of suffering around me: coughs of the dying, gasps of children, muffled sobs, murmured words of comfort. Out of these whispers rose another voice from Heaven, at last a woman's vpice, calm and assured:

 “You are a jealous God? I know, I understand; I was a jealous woman. When my beloved Jacob and I began to plan our marriage, I was afraid my father would play a trick on us. I knew that he would think my older sister Leah should be married before me; I was afraid that he would substitute Leah for me. I was frightened, crazed with jealousy and so I taught Jacob some secret signals so that he could know whether it was his beloved Rachel or someone else who came to the wedding bed.

“And then just moments before the wedding itself, when my father told me that it was Leah who would go to be with Jacob, my heart broke open. I realized how shamed my sister would be, discovered and exposed so cruelly when Jacob tested her. How shattering! So I taught her the signals. My love for my sister overflowed, and my jealousy was washed away.

 “Yes, I was a jealous woman and You, You are a jealous God? Jealous of what? — Dead sticks and stones and empty idols? For this you will destroy Your people? I was jealous of my living, breathing sister, and yet I could not bear to hurt and shame her.

"How dare You!

Once more there was a silence. And then the wind shifted. I felt a cooling breeze. Some drops of gentle rain began to fall, and I saw some of the sick around me turn their mouths upward, lick their lips to suck the water in.

And the Voice came gentle, sad: “Mother Rachel, for the sake of Your act of love I will redeem them. Where they are going, I will watch over them. I will help them to turn their lives once more toward Me. And in seventy years, I will return them to their homes.”

 The old man looked around the circle, quirked an eyebrow: “We — what can we learn from Mother Rachel? Does she teach us how to make redemption happen? Why does God respond to her, rather than the others who challenge God? If we ourselves act like her, is redemption already present — no matter where we live? What acts of love must we and those who follow us take, to change the world and make new every holy Temple, even the Temple we share with all of life, our Temple Earth?”

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To register for the Webinar on loving action to heal Earth and Humanity, 7:30-9 pm this evening, Eastern Time, please click to:



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