/ Notes for the Field

Notes for the Field

Suffering and Resilience: A Midrash on Love in a Time of War

Dr. Elana Stein Hain is the Rosh Beit Midrash and a senior research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, where she serves as lead faculty and consults on the content of lay and professional programs. A widely well-regarded thinker and teacher, Elana is passionate about bringing rabbinic thought into conversation with contemporary life. To this end, she hosts TEXTing a bi-weekly podcast that considers issues relevant to Jewish life through the lens

There is a saying attributed to David Ben-Gurion from Israel’s War of Independence: “The whole country is the front; the whole nation is the army. Sadly, this rings true even today. 

At this difficult time, while people are still processing the trauma of the October 7 Simchat Torah massacre, so many have had to send their loved ones off to war. There are Israeli families sending multiple children to the front; parents are leaving children and even babies at home. No one is immune from the heartbreak of this separation, and the uncertainty it brings about the future.  

And yet, a new people who are being called up to the Israeli army for this war are getting married to their sweethearts, days or hours before they show up for duty; or on a two-hour furlough from the army; or on their army bases surrounded by members of their platoon. This phenomenon is a testament to the Israeli people’s belief in a brighter future. 

The following exposition, echoing the literary style of rabbinic midrash, builds on a line from the Mishnah in an attempt to canonize both the suffering and the resilience of the Israeli people through the lens of suspended and accelerated marriages. This midrash is dedicated to the couples referenced in the midrash and to so many others. 

But in an obligatory war all go forth, even a groom from his chamber and a bride from her bridal canopy.” (Mishnah Sotah 8:7)This mishnah from tractate Sotah explains that while Deuteronomy 20:1-8 exempts certain people from fighting in a war, including someone who is betrothed but has not yet married, obligatory wars such as those waged to repel an enemy attack require every able-bodied person’s participation regardless of their personal circumstances, including a would-be bride and groom. See Maimonides/Rambam Laws of Kings 5:1 for further explication. אבל במלחמת מצוה, הכל יוצאין, אפילו חתן מחדרו וכלה מחפתה 

 (משנה סוטה ח:ז)

How so?  ?כיצד
The worried massesRather than attributing each perspective to a particular rabbi, this midrash attributes each opinion to rabim, multitudes, meaning the multitudes of people who are impacted. say: These are the brides and grooms like Uri and Elinor, who stood beneath the chuppah after the slaughter, and drafted together into combat. This is the meaning of the verse, “I remember for you, the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, when you did go after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown.” (Jeremiah 2:2).This verse appears towards the beginning of the book of Jeremiah. It describes the closeness between God and the Israelites as the people trusted in God and traversed a desert at God’s command after the Exodus. And yet, as Jeremiah continues, he describes a distancing that has taken the place of that close covenantal bond in the time since the Exodus. Here, the verse connotes both the faith that a newly married couple has in going forward to unknown and dangerous expanses together, while recognizing how lost so many people feel, how distant from the covenantal relationship between God and the Jewish people.    רבים הדואגים אומרים: אלו חתן וכלה כאורי ואלינור שנכנסו לחופה אחר הטבח והתגייסו יחד לקרב הדא הוא דכתיב זכרתי לך חסד נעוריך אהבת כלולתיך לכתך אחרי במדבר בארץ לא זרועה (ירמיה ב:ב)
Another interpretation. The mourning masses say: These are the fiancés, like Maya and Eliran from Petah Tikva, who got engaged and went to the music, and the unholy war went out and found them, and they will never stand beneath a chuppah. This is the meaning of the verse, “my young women and my young men are fallen by the sword” (Lamentations 2:21).Jewish history has often been seen not only through the particularities of its moment, but through other major paradigms that loom large in Jewish collective memory. In this case, we pull from the lament of Jeremiah over the fall of the first Temple as a paradigm for this moment of deep tragedy in the Jewish homeland.  דבר אחר. ר’ המתאבלים אומרים: אלו ארוסה וארוס כמאיה ואלירן מפתח תקווה שיצאו למוזיקה ויצאה מלחמת הזוועה אליהם , ואף פעם לא יכנסו לחופה הדא הוא דכתיב בתולותי ובחורי נפלו בחרב

(איכה ב:כא) 

Another interpretation. The despondent masses say: These are the boyfriends and girlfriends, like Adi and Nevo, who were not yet engaged, and he kneeled by her grave, pulled the ring out of his pocket, and proposed. This is the meaning of the verse, “I will turn your celebrations into mourning

(Amos 8:10).This verse expresses the very depths of destruction, where good is turned on its head. In context, the verses level harsh criticism of the Israelites, but it is not my intention—God forbid—to draw upon those verses or to draw their meaning into my midrash, but only reference the harshness of the destruction, with its mention of the horrors of strewn corpses and wailing singers. Its imagery is eerily reminiscent of October 7.  

דבר אחר. ר’ הנדכאים אומרים: אלו חברה וחבר כעדי ונבו שעדיין לא התארסו, הוא כרע אצל קברה והוציא את הטבעת מהכיס והציע. הדא הוא דכתיב והפכתי חגיכם לאבל

(עמוס ח:י) 

Another interpretation. The waiting masses say: These are the countless who are engaged but have not yet stood either in the line of duty or under the chuppah, for there is “a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:8). Oh, that it were a time to love! Alas, it is a time of war.Ecclesiastes is most sobering in its recognition of how unfair and incomprehensible life can be. The context of this citation— to everything there is a season—is excavated beautifully by T. Anthony Perry. He notes that some verses in Eccl. 3:1-8 begin with the positive and move to the negative (e.g., a time for love, but then a time for hatred), while others begin with the negative and move to the positive (e.g., a time for war, but then a time for peace). He describes these as dueling perspectives between a realist and an idealist. In this moment, it seems there is no trajectory from good to bad or bad to good, but only bad to worse. Would that it could be reversed.   דבר אחר ר’ המחכים אומרים: אלו אינספור שהתארסו ועוד לא נכנסו למילואים ולא לחופה הוי ״עֵת לֶאֱהֹב וְעֵת לשנא עת מלחמה ועת שָׁלוֹם״ (קהלת ג:ח) הלואי עת לאהב אך במקומה עת מלחמה
Another interpretation. Those pleading masses say: These are the brides and the grooms like Shlomo and Lana, who turned their army base into a chuppah – the groom dressed in his uniform, the wedding party like armed guards, singing and dancing with tanks all around. This is the meaning of the verse, “I will turn their mourning to joy, and will comfort them, and make them rejoice from their sorrow

(Jeremiah 31:13).This verse brings us full circle, where Jeremiah promises comfort to the Israelites. After the death and destruction, after the decimation, there will be a reunion, return, and rebuilding. The same prophet who declares the destruction promises healing and return. The prophet who begins his book with commemorating the innocence of our youth—full of trust and closeness—and then laments the loss of said innocence now returns to ensure that we will once again be restored. 

דבר אחר ר’  המתחננים אומרים: אלו חתן וכלה נדב ונעם, שהפכו את הבסיס הצבאי לחופה – החתן לבוש במדים עם שושבינים מלווי נשק, שירה וריקודים עם טנקים מסביב הדא הוא דכתיב וְהָפַכְתִּי אֶבְלָם לְשָׂשׂוֹן וְנִחַמְתִּים וְשִׂמַּחְתִּים מִיגוֹנָם

(ירמיהו לא:יג 

So may it be Your will, and let us say, “Amen.”This expression is one of prayer: may it be God’s will that indeed the time of mourning will eventually give way to a time of joy for Israel and the Jewish People.   וכן יהי רצון ונאמר אמן 

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