Tisha B’Av is a tribal day of mourning for the Jewish people. We remember on that date the destruction of the first and second Temples as well as a myriad of other tragedies that have befallen our people. Yet when most Jews think of Tisha B’Av we remember the oppression of the Romans. The slaughter of hundreds of thousands of our people, the destruction of our Sacred place of worship and the carting off of the treasure that was kept there. That treasure was used to build the coliseum in Rome where thousands of people lost their lives on the altar of blood lust that was the Roman Empire.
This year, just before Tisha B’Av, in the Old City of Jerusalem next to an ancient drainage channel that led from the Temple to the pool of Siloam, two artifacts were found. It is not unusual to find ancient bits of pottery and other evidence of life 2000 years ago in that ancient land.
I had a friend who found a pottery shard on the beach and decided to smuggle it home to the United States. He was, needless to say, caught at the airport by security guards who thought that he looked suspicious. When they discovered the artifact they began to laugh. After all, it was only 600 years old, three times older than the United States and hardly worth mentioning. They patted him on the head, gave him back his ill gotten booty and sent him on his way.
But these finds were striking, all the more so because of the day on which they were found. The find and the date call out to us through time via the medium of synchronicity. The two artifacts are believed to be from the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, which we commemorate on the 9th (Tisha) of Av (B’Av). So what were these curious artifacts?
One was a Gladius the standard side arm of the Roman legions. It is, at least to me, a symbol of the inhumane Roman oppression to my people. It is a vicious weapon, made of iron, relatively short with a sharp edge on both sides for slashing and a point for stabbing. It is an effective close combat weapon and is a recognized symbol of Rome.
The other was a stone approximately 7 inches by 4 inches and upon it was carved a crude representation of the Menorah, the seven branched candelabra that is the oldest symbol of the Jewish people. The Menorah is a symbol of light and life while the gladius is a symbol of destruction and death. They have lain peacefully near each other for almost two thousand years.
What does it mean? One is the sign of the sanctity and the other, oppression and cruelty. Is it the Holy and the profane, good and evil, hope and despair?
Is there a story behind the find? We will never know for sure. I have been asking people what story they would create around the discovery of the Menorah and the sword. My grandson, Gage said that a Roman was chasing Jews through the channel and one of the fleeing Jews held up the stone and the image of the Menorah killed the Roman and the others turned back in horror.
Others say that it was dropped by a fleeing group of Jews and a Roman, so touched by the image that he threw away his sword. Yet another is that the stone was hurled as a helpless gesture but it struck its mark. As the Romans pulled their fallen comrade from the channel, his sword fell by the stone that had felled him and was left unnoticed for two thousand years.
Maybe there was an uncommon flash of compassion when Roman met fleeing family. Maybe in that moment the stone dropped unnoticed as the sword was thrown away.
What would you like the story to be? The story will not tell you what happened but it will tell you a little about yourself.
My story? I see a Roman soldier winded from the slaughter and a Jewish family winding their way through a water channel. Their eyes meet, he the epitome of Roman might, and they, the beaten in flight. The Jews first look upon the sword and hold up a stone in hopeless defense. The Roman sees the crude carving on the stone. Then the hunter and prey look beyond attack and defense, winning and losing, life and death. They look upon each other and their eyes pierce the prejudice and avarice, the hatred and the fear. They see each other as Bnay Adam, earthlings, human beings sharing a world of wonder. The Roman puts down his sword and the Jew drops his stone. The stone clangs as it falls on the sword, the sound reverberating off the walls as the sword is beaten, if not into a ploughshare, at least into an inert object without threat. The Roman reaches into his pack and gives to the Jewish family a piece of bread. In trembling hands they take it. Both the soldier and the family turn away in tears, tears of pain on one side and shame on the other. On the one side gratefulness at the compassion offered by the other, the enemy and on the other side the need for one small act of humanity amidst the fire and smoke and horror and death. The moment is only that, a moment. The family of Jews turns and continues their flight to safety or to slaughter. The Roman turns back to his comrades and the captured plunder that awaits. And maybe, just maybe later on, as he watches the large golden Menorah carried on the backs of Jewish slaves, he thinks of the stone in the water channel that broke his sword and the family whose plight broke his heart. And maybe, just for a moment, he weeps in a world of conqueror and conquered and just for a moment thinks that this is not the way it has to be.
Isaiah 2:4וְכִתְּתוּ חַרְבוֹתָם לְאִתִּים, וַחֲנִיתוֹתֵיהֶם לְמַזְמֵרוֹת–לֹא-יִשָּׂא גוֹי אֶל-גּוֹי חֶרֶב, וְלֹא-יִלְמְדוּ עוֹד מִלְחָמָה. } and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.