Here it is Tisha B’Av again. They are coming sooner and sooner it seems as I grow older. This is the day where we mourn the loss of both Temples destroyed on the same day of the year in history – the 9th of Av. We also mourn many other tragedies today, not the least of which is the Holocaust where more Jews were killed than in any other tragedy in history! …Many of them in torturous ways.
One of the most gruesome description of torture is contained in the Kinos of Tisha B'Av. Kinos is a group of Piyutim written mostly in medieval times. This description is also containd in Musaf of Yom Kippur.
The victims of these horrible torture/deaths were some of the greatest Jews who ever lived. None of whom deserved it. But God - for his own reasons- mandated it upon them. They are called the Asarah Harugei Malchus – loosely translated this means - the ten who were executed by the government.
Just to describe a few of them.
The Tanna R’ Yishmael had just witnessed his colleague R’ Shimon’s gruesome death by beheading. R’ Yishmael was to be next. The executioner’s daughter was in attendance and was attracted to his handsome countenance. She begged her father to spare him for her, but he refused. She then asked that his face be skinned while he was yet alive so she could stuff it and continue to gaze upon it. He agreed and skinned R’ Yishmael alive!
Another torturous death was experienced by one of the greatest and perhaps most famous Tannaim of all, Rabbi Akiva. Before he was killed they raked his body with a sharp steel comb.
And another cruel and torturous death was given to Chananya Ben Teradyon. He was dragged out of the Beis Hamedrash and his body burned together with branches. To insure a slow and painful death they saturated some sponges with water and placed them on his chest so he would burn more slowly and his death be delayed.
This story has always perplexed me. My sense of Divine justice and mercy cries out. How can such great people have been so savagely treated by the One whom they served the most? Why did they get this horrible fate? I know that there are rabbinic discussions about this issue. Tzadik V’Ra Lo. But I still cannot understand it.
Nor can I fully understand any of our torturous history. Jews have suffered greatly as a people whether it was at the hands of the Church during the Spanish Inquisition, the Cossack Massacres of the 17th Century, the European pogroms and of course the grand-daddy of them all – the Holocaust.
I think it is safe to say that as a people we have suffered the Tochacha, the curses described in the Torah – promised to the Jewish people for forsaking God. It started with the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem and has continued throughout the Diaspora culminating in the holocaust. And as if that weren’t enough many of our brothers and sisters in Israel still suffer at the hands of Islam.
When will it all end? It is my hope and prayer that it will all end soon with the coming of Moshiach Tzidkenu speedily and in our days. May we all celebrate Tisha B’Av - as Chazal tell us will be the case after Moshaich arrives - in joyous celebration next year in Jerusalem rebuilt.