Friday, February 6, 2009

Hadran alach, chelek rishon!

Today we complete the first book of Sefer Ha-Aggadah! There will be festive siyyumim at the NHC Chesapeake Retreat, Kol Zimrah, and perhaps elsewhere as well.

My grandfather, Rabbi Dr. A. Stanley Dreyfus z"l (1921-2008) died shortly before we began Sefer Ha-Bloggadah. As I mentioned at the beginning, I have been reading from his copy of Sefer Ha-Aggadah every day, and dedicating my learning in his memory. When we started going through his extensive library, we found a bound collection of papers he had written as an undergrad at the Hebrew Union College and the University of Cincinnati. In addition to "Hamlet: Sane or Insane?", "Greek Religion in the Homeric Period", and "The Religious Message of the First Isaiah", the collection includes "A translation of the chapter The Destruction of the Second Temple and the Land in the Sefer Ha-Aggadah by Ravnitsky and Bialik". It is dated December 21, 1939, a month shy of my grandfather's 19th birthday, and many decades before any English translation had been published. It received a grade of "VG" and the comment "Well done". It is fortuitous that we have been reading this chapter over the past week, which included what would have been his 88th birthday.

In honor of our completion of Book I and in memory of my grandfather, I am posting the last section of his translation. It seems appropriate because aggadah is a tradition passed down through the generations. When my grandfather typed these words on his typewriter in 1939, he could not have fathomed this blog and our virtual learning community (and perhaps he would have had difficulty fathoming it even in 2008), and similarly we have no idea how what we say and do will be remembered in 70 years, but we continue to add our piece to the chain of Torah.



"He that kindled the fire shall indeed make restitution." (Exodus 22:5) The Holy One said: "I must put out the fire which I have kindled, for I set Zion on fire as it is said: "The Lord hath kindled a fire in Zion which hath devoured the foundations thereof (Lamentations 4:11). And I shall rebuild it with fire, as it is said: And I shall be to it, saith the Lord, a wall of fire round about and a glory in its midst."

Rabbi Gamliel and Rabbi Eleazar were walking on the way when they heard a din in the market place of Rome, a hundred and twenty miles distant. Rabbi Eleazar began to weep and Rabbi Gamliel to laugh. "Why do you weep?"

"Because those nations that serve idols abide in security and rule, and we -- even our Temple is burned; should we not weep?"

"That is why I laugh: If those who transgress God's world enjoy such happiness here, what shall we who keep His law enjoy in the world to come?"

Once Rabbi Gamliel and Rabbi Eleazar and Rabbi Azariah and Rabbi Joshua and Rabbi Akiba returned to Jerusalem. When they reached Mt. Sofim they tore their garments. When they reached the Temple mount, they saw a fox come out of the ruins of the Temple. They wept, but Rabbi Akiba laughed. "Why do you laugh?" "Why do you weep?", he answered.

"Because Scripture says: The stranger that draws near to the Temple shall be put to death (Numbers 1:21), and now even foxes comehither. Why should we not weep?"

"That is why I laugh, for it is said: And I will take unto Me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest and Zecheriah the son of Jeberechiah (Isaiah 8:2). Why is Uriah linked with Zecheriah? Was not Uriah connected with the first Temple and Zecheriah with the second? But Scripture puts the prophecy of Uriah together with that of Zecheriah. In Uriah it is said: Therefore shall Zion for your sake be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of a forest (Micah 4:12). But in Zecheriah it says: And there shall yet old men and old women sit in the broad places of Jerusalem (Zecheriah 8:4). Now if Uriah's prophecy has been fulfilled, it is therefore certain that the prophecy of Zecheriah will be fulfilled." And with one tongue they said to him: "Akiba, you have made us change our minds, you have made us change our minds!"

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