Kinah 16 – The Greater Terror

Jul 15th, 2013 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays, Prayer
“The ocean is an object of no small terror. Indeed, terror is an all cases whatsoever, either more openly or latently, the ruling principle of the sublime (Edmund Burke).”

This Tisha b’Av Kinah – Lamentation mentions a famous story from the Talmud: On one occasion four hundred boys and girls were carried off for immoral purposes. They divined what they were wanted for and said to themselves, “If we drown in the sea we shall attain the life of the future world. The eldest among them expounded the verse, “The Lord said, ‘I will bring again from Bashan, I will bring again from the depths of the sea’ (Psalms 68:23).”

‘I will bring again from Bashan,’ from between the lions’ teeth (bein shain).

‘I will bring again from the depths of the sea,’ those who drown in the sea.

When the girls heard this they all leaped into the sea. The boys then drew the moral for themselves, saying, “If these for whom this is natural act so, shall not we, for whom it is unnatural?”

They also leaped into the sea. Of them the text says, “Yes, for Your sake we are killed all the day long, we are counted as sheep for the slaughter (Psalms 44:23).”21 [Gittin 57b]

Which was the greater terror for these young boys and girls? It was not the sea; it was the fear of being used for immoral purposes. Despite all the destruction they witnessed, they maintained an inner sense of dignity, and lived with great courage. Despite Titus violating God’s Home, they believed that the God would keep the promise made in Psalms. Titus may have ripped the curtain that covered the Holy of Holies, but he did not succeed in violating the internal holiness of these boys and girls.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The power which the sea requires in the sailor makes a man of him very fast, and the change of shores and populations clears his head of much nonsense of his wigwam.” Perhaps the Romans sailing these ships were as the sailors described by Emerson, but they were far lesser “men” than these young people who, in a world without structure, cleared their heads of all the wigwam, and had the clarity to live higher than the Holiest of Holies.

While we plead with God to remember Titus’ violence, we remind Him of that holiness to which we cling in every moment and every place.

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