This coming Monday marks the start of the ‘Three Weeks;’ an annual remembrance of the fragility of the Jewish State. Officially the Seventeenth day of Tammuz commemorates the breach of the walls of Jerusalem almost two thousand years ago. But one doesn’t need to look beyond the front pages to feel fragile, bruised and pained today. Yet again.
The terrible kidnapping and murder of the ‘three boys,’ the inflammatory calls for ‘revenge’ leading the terrible kidnapping and murder of a young Palestinian, the launching, yet again, of rocket after rocket from Gaza into Israel, and the response from the Israeli forces, yet again, ferocious and deathly.
Yehuda Amichai, the greatest modern Israeli poet, wrote this poem. I haven’t been able to find out exactly when. But I would imagine it would have been in a similarly bruised and scared time.
An Arab shepherd is searching for his goat on Mount Zion
And on the opposite hill I am searching for my little boy.
An Arab shepherd and a Jewish father
Both in their temporary failure.
Our two voices met above
The Sultan's Pool in the valley between us.
Neither of us wants the boy or the goat
To get caught in the wheels
Of the "Had Gadya" machine.
Had Gadya – the Passover tale of a goat, bit by a cat who is then bit by a dog, then and then, and then...
It’s the cyclical nature of what seems to be unfolding, yet again, that I find so dispiriting. As a six year old my son was in a play about a lion tamer who only knew one way to tame a lion – shout then if that doesn’t work shout louder. It was, in the morality offered to a six year old, a foolish way to try and create a new pattern of behaviour in the lion. I’ll be looking, over Shabbat, at some Biblical responses to violence, seeing what other options exist within our most sacred text for turning off Amichai’s Had Gadya machine. Someone has to be offering something different, quite literally, for God’s sake.