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A place of great holiness, a tolerance of bloodshed


So goes the legend in Jewish tradition: There were two brothers who together worked the earth on a piece of land they had inherited from their father. The brothers loved one another dearly. When harvesting season arrived, they divided equally the sheaves they had cultivated.

The younger of the two brothers was blessed with a wife and a large family, while the elder sibling remained single. After the harvest had been divided, the younger brother couldn’t sleep. He kept thinking to himself: I have been blessed with children, they will take care of me in old age. But what about my older brother? He is all alone, who will care for him? I will bring him more of the wheat harvest. He will need it. On the spot, in the middle of the night, he arose to execute his idea as quietly as possible. He’ll add from his portion of the harvest to his brother’s.

That same night, lying in bed in his home, the elder brother also couldn’t sleep. He thought to himself: I’m single. My needs are limited. My younger brother is blessed with a large family and consequently much added responsibility. He can use a larger portion of the harvest. Then he rose in the dark of night and took from his bundle of sheaves and placed them on his younger brother’s harvest.

The next morning, to the surprise and confusion of the brothers, despite each acting to increase the harvest of the other, the original amount they had divided equally remained intact.

Night after night, the brothers continued to get up to try to help the other. And morning after morning, they were surprised anew. Then, one night, as each brother was on his way to discreetly give of his harvest to the other, the brothers encountered one another. They immediately understood what had transpired. In that moment they fell upon each other’s necks in embrace and tears.

In that moment and on that sacred space, symbolic of brotherhood, tradition has it that the ancient Holy Temple, the Beit Hamikdash, would be built.

What has always been a symbol of holiness in recent weeks turned into a space of bloodshed and a trigger for even more bloodshed: the cold-blooded, brutal, primitive butchery of a Jewish family.

To justify butchering a family sitting around their Shabbos table is heinous, subhuman, depraved; but to do so in the name of a holy place is anathema, absolutely antithetical to the foundational teaching of the essence of our holiest place, the Temple Mount. The love of brothers.

Our Temple Mount is the Muslims’ al-Aqsa. Last Shabbat, a Jewish family was brutally butchered at home in Neve Tzuf “for the sake of al-Aqsa.”

I remember my first visit to Neve Tzuf. Friends of our family were one of the founding families of the settlement. We spent a Shabbat there when it was just an outpost. On Saturday night, on the dark road back to Jerusalem, as my father was driving, up ahead there was a ring of Arabs preventing us from continuing. Sitting in the back seat of our small car, squished among my siblings, I saw and heard my parents quickly exchange some intense and quiet words. My mother instructed us to be quiet.

Although I didn’t quite understand what was happening, the tension was palpable. It was clear there was fear for our lives. All I remember was my father casually and calmly getting out of the car with the words: “Salam aleikum.” They talked for a few minutes and then my father was back in the car, the Arabs dispersed, and we drove off. This time, we had, literally, dodged the bullet. Just as the tension was so palpable, the relief was equally so.

That was also the last time I was in Neve Tzuf.

I had forgotten about the incident, but it came back rushing back to me after the horrific Shabbat news.

When I was little, the word for a terrorist attack was petsatsa, bomb.

In my 20s, I was on a visit to Israel, when a friend of mine had informed me of a terrible pigua that had taken place. What’s a pigua? I thought to myself. It was clear from the context as well as the etymology that it was something bad. But exactly what? A pigua, I learned, is a terrorist attack, but not necessarily by means of a bomb.

When I was living in Israel during the second intifada, there was the term pigua yeri, a terrorist attack by gunfire. As part of the Oslo peace accords (early 1990s), the Palestinians were to be supplied with guns. The result? Terrorist attacks changed from primitive but lethal Molotov cocktails (rimonim, pomegranates) to shootings.

A few years ago, a new term entered modern Hebrew: pigua drisa, a car ramming terrorist attack. And now, pigua sakeen, a knife stabbing terrorist attack.

What ought this Friday night’s attack be called? A slaughter attack? Pigua zevicha? Because that is what took place. A Jewish family was slaughtered like animals, in their own home (with apologies to animals because they shouldn’t be treated this way).

I’m not interested in hearing that Neve Tzuf is a settlement. Human beings are human beings. Not to mention, the same type of gory slaughter of human beings took place in 2014 in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Nof, in a house of worship, a synagogue; and also in a yeshiva in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Kiryat Moshe in West Jerusalem, inside the pre-June 5, 1967 border.

Let’s call the bluff for what it is. For these radical murderers, the issue is Jews living anywhere in Israel, not just in West Bank settlements.

Why was this latest bloodshed committed? Over the placement of metal detectors at al-Aqsa? Really?

When Jews want to enter the Temple Mount, the location of al-Aqsa, whose jurisdiction is under that of The Wakf of Jordan, no Jewish prayer books are allowed because Jewish prayer is denied there — and Jews must pass through metal detectors! The double standard is galling and outright discrimination. As a Facebook friend wryly noted: “The definition of irony: Refusing to go through metal detectors when you are the primary cause of eight million airline passengers per day waiting in line to go through metal detectors.”

The truth is, the Muslims are right. How we approach this holy place should matter. But not the mechanics of it; rather, the substance of it. How are we prepared to enter this holy of places?

In Jewish tradition the steps to the temple are called ma’alot. In a famous play on words, our rabbis read the word as me’ilot, desecrations. The message is: When you ascend to the temple, be sure not to enter it in desecration. The message is: Be careful, be cautious in a holy place. To enter a temple or a mosque such as al-Aqsa ought to require spiritual preparation, not calculations about machines, whose purpose is ironically only to ensure the safety of all worshippers in a holy place that, after a 50-year status quo, was tragically altered by last week’s murder on the Temple Mount of two Israeli Druze security officers by Muslim terrorists. That is how the status quo was altered. The metal detectors were just a response.

Remember: The Temple Mount, Har Habayit is our har, our mountain, and our bayit, our home. Once upon a time, there were two brothers so full of love for one another that what kept them up at night was how they could sacrifice to help each other.

That is the kind of action our Har Habayit ought to inspire, not the hate-filled murder that transpired at al-Aqsa, and in the name of al-Aqsa at Neve Tzuf.

And that’s a message for us Jews, too.

Copyright Intermountain Jewish News