At this time of year in the Jewish calendar, I think of two stories, episodes in the life of two peoples. I will tell them without names and dates for you to contemplate the parallels.
Story #1: Once upon a time, a great empire expanded in a series of wars and battles. From the east a new and powerful monarch arose whose armies marched across the lands, bringing many weaker peoples under the empire’s control.
One particular country, however, resisted the conquest. At the beginning, the king of this country had quietly submitted, watching to see what would happen, but after a few years realized that the great empire would destroy the civilization of his ancestors, so he withdrew his support. Then the foreign armies poured forth, and he was killed.
His son, only 18 years old, was left to face the armies. He could not fight their power, and so was taken away into captivity, the land of the conqueror, along with all his princes and soldiers, with the women of the court and the craftsmen and smiths.
The young king’s uncle was appointed king in his place, as the puppet of the great emperor. He reigned eleven years and then rebelled, trying to establish independence. In battle he lost his eyes and was taken away into captivity also, and the capital city and its temple were burnt down.
The young king was not killed, however, and 37 years after being taken prisoner, when he would have been 55, he was released from prison by a new emperor, and was given a place of honor – still in the land of captivity, .
Yet he and his people did not forget their homeland, and waited to be allowed to return. It would be 80 years from the departure of the first exiles and 70 years after the destruction of the great capital city and temple, till a new king, a new dynasty would arise that would allow them to return.
Story #2. Once upon a time, a great empire expanded in a series of wars and battles. From the east a new and powerful leader arose whose armies marched across the lands, bringing many weaker peoples under the empire’s control.
One particular country, however, resisted the conquest. At the beginning of the invasion, the head of this country, a holy leader and monarch, had just been appointed head of state. He quietly watched to see what would happen and engaged in peace talks, but it became clear after four years that the talks would not be successful. Meanwhile, the great empire was forcing changes that he foresaw would destroy the civilization of his ancestors. Rebellions were beginning to spread to his capital in the mountains. As the foreign armies came nearer, he was warned that he was likely to be killed.
Only 24 years old, and in a country without strong armies, he knew he could not fight. With help from allies and friends, he fled into hiding in a safe country.
The head of another religious dynasty was appointed in his place, as the puppet of the conquering nation’s government, and that government has continued to control him.
In the land of captivity, the holy monarch spent years helping establish refugee communities and supporting his people. As he approached 40 years of age, his work began to gain international recognition; and by his early 50s he was an honored spiritual teacher worldwide and had gained international support for the cause of independence for his country.
Now, 68 years after the conquest and 58 years into exile, he and his people have not forgotten their homeland, and still await the freedom to return.
The first story is in the Bible (see 2 Kings 24-25). The second is the story of Tibet since 1950 (see, inter alia, Martin Scorsese’s 1997 film Kundun.)
As Jews, we spend three weeks each year contemplating the destruction of our homeland (and the time referred to in this story was not the only time). We entering into mourning, and discover in that emptiness the creative energy to move forward once again.
When we weep, let us weep and pray too for others in our world who have confronted the face of destruction and strive to revive and renew the treasures of their collective life.