The midrash [1] says that the Messiah will be born on Tisha b’Av:

“…a man was ploughing when one of his oxen lowed.
An Arab passed by and asked, ‘What are you?’
He answered, ‘I am a Jew.’
He [the Arab] said to him, ‘Unharness your ox and untie your plough [as a sign of mourning].’
‘Why?’ he asked.
‘Because the Temple of the Jews was destroyed.’
He inquired, ‘From where do you know this?’
[The Arab] answered, ‘I know this from the lowing of your ox.’
[Did it resemble wailing from grief?].

While he was conversing with him, the ox lowed again.
The Arab said to him, ‘Harness your ox and tie up your plough, because the Deliverer of the Jews is born’.”
[This 2nd time, did the ox’s lowing resemble the groaning of a mother giving birth?]

“The Arab” is called as such because this midrash was created before the rise of Islam.  There is a shared tradition that the Arabs are the descendants of Avraham’s son Yishmael/Ishmael. In Torah, Yosef is lifted from the pit into which his brothers have thrown him and carried off to Egypt by a caravan of “Yishma’elim” — “Ishmaelites.” [2] Thus, although Torah doesn’t go into further detail about it, Yosef is carried off by his own cousins!

In the Talmud, Arabs are spoken of as “neighbors” with whom the Jews interact. They are not the inveterate opponents designated as “Edom/Esau.” Yet, neither are they trusted friends.

So, “the Arab” in this midrash is a somewhat disinterested observer, but not an enemy per se. In his disinterest and detachment, though, he is the bearer of news from God:
He hears the bellowing of the ox, and intuitively understands that the Temple has just fallen. From where did that prophetic-seeming intuition arise? It can only have been inspired by God’s Presence in him — as are all intuitions.

He hears the ox bellow again only moments later and is inspired with an entirely different message; one of enormous hope to the Jewish man. Again — God is the only true source of such intuitions — just as God was the source of Yosef’s dream-interpretations.

I first thought of posting this with regard to the message of “hope” (the Messiah’s birth) that the midrash attaches to Tisha b’Av. Yet, as I thought about it further, I found it deeply significant that in the current era, “Arabs” — in a wider sense of the word as “Muslims” — are the major opponents of Israel. Even more, the recent assassination of two Israeli/Druze police officers, Command Sgt. Major Hayil Satawi and Command Sgt. Major Kamil Shanaan (a third was wounded), on the Temple Mount by Muslims (who were Israeli citizens), and the subsequent disquiet which refuses to subside, again focuses our attention on the Temple Mount just as Tisha b’Av comes close. 

Even so, I declare that in the midst of even the worst-seeming conditions, Torah tells us to always have nothing less than hope — even in our mourning. 

Who could possibly have predicted in 1938, as millions of Jews were beginning to be murdered, that 10 years later, the “reich” would lie in ruins, nazi leaders would be dead, scattered or in hiding,  and the world — in the forum of the U.N. — would declare there to be a “State of Israel?” 

There is a Hasidic story:

“[His hasidim] asked Rabbi Pinhas [of Koretz]: ‘Why should the Messiah be born on the anniversary of the destruction of the Temple…?’
He replied: ‘The kernel which is sown in earth must fall to pieces so that the ear of grain may sprout from it. Strength cannot be resurrected until it has dwelt in deep secrecy. To doff a shape, to don a shape — this is done in the instant of pure nothingness [which exists between one moment and the next]. In the husk of forgetting, the power of memory grows. That is the power of redemption. On the day of destruction, power lies at the bottom of the depths, and grows. That is why on this day, we sit on the ground. That is why on this day, we visit graves. That is why on this day, the Messiah is born’.” [3]

Rabbi Pinhas builds on the midrash.

Where the midrash teaches that there is reason for hope, even in disaster, Rav Pinhas declares that the disaster is actually a necessary step in the eventual revelation of Divine Goodness!

As another Hasidic story tells:

“At a time of great anguish for Israel, Rabbi Elimelekh [of Lizhensk] brooded more and more on his griefs.
Then, his dead master, the Maggid of Mezritch, appeared to him.
Rabbi Elimelekh cried out, ‘Why are you silent in such dreadful need?’
He [the Maggid] answered,
‘In heaven, we see that all that seems evil to you is a work of mercy’.” [4]   

So, for now, in these seemingly difficult times in which we live — both for what is happening in Israel, and for what is happening in the U.S. as well — let us show the necessary degree of concern, but let us never lack hope!


[1] Eichah/Lamentations Rabbah 1:51
[2] Bereishith/Gen.  37:25, 28; 39:1
[3] Buber, Martin and Olga Marx, trans. (English); Tales of the Hasidim: Early Masters; © 1975 by Schocken Books; vol. I, p. 123
[note: there is a later one-volume edition by Schocken as well]
[4] ibid. p. 112