It's All in the Details

Many have noted the numerous parallels between Tisha B’av and the Seder. Here’s one that only occurred to me more recently: in both the Hagadah and the Kinnot we encounter a seemingly bizarre debate regarding the precise degree of thanksgiving or suffering we have experienced. Toward the end of Maggid, we cite the seemingly asinine argument among the rabbis as to just how badly the Egyptians were smitten at home and at the sea. In both the nighttime and daytime Ashkenazic Kinnot, HaKalir depicts the imaginary argument between Ohalah (representing the Northern kingdom) and Ohalivah (representing the Southern kingdom) as to which suffered worse during the First Temple period.

Both debates seem irrational. How can we possibly determine the precise extent of the makkot and therefore exactly how much thanksgiving is owed to God? And by what measure can we decide about the disputants, each claiming the mantle of having experienced the greatest torment?

And perhaps that irrationality is precisely the point, indeed the common denominator between the two. One who has experienced a dramatic experience, whether superlative or traumatic, tends to obsess over each and every element of the event in excruciating detail. To the outsider, such obsession makes no sense. Someone else, not having undergone the experience, cannot possibly get in in the mindset of the person who has suffered. But for those who have celebrated or survived such occurrences, such behavior is quite normal, and almost expected.

This particular parallel between Pesach and Tish’a B’av, then, is quite clear in its significance. The dates of the Exodus and Temple’s destruction are not merely days of remembrance. We carry within our lived historical memory indelible marks of soaring joy and searing pain. To the outsider, these seem like mere historical commemorations. For the Jew who relives the joyousness and tragedies of these reenactments, though, something much more profound – and personal – transpires. We relive the ecstasy and agony, reviewing the fine points of our national memories in excruciating detail. In the end, whether for good or bad, this is the common denominator of all Jewish holidays, these two in particular.

Together with the HaKalir at the conclusion of his lament, then, we too pray that our recollection of the untold suffering of the two kingdoms – as well as the endless details of our triumph in the story of the Exodus – foreshadows a time when we will ecstatically review the fine details of the ultimate redemption that is heralded by both the days of Pesach and the ninth of Av, the Messiah’s birthday.

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