“I am distressed for you my brother Jonathan;
Greatly beloved were you to me;
your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.”
Thus laments David on the death in battle of Jonathan and his father, King Saul. Jonathan and David were not actually brothers and it might actually have been better that way to judge from the succession of ‘brothers’ we come across in the Torah. The first ever siblings last only as long as it takes Cain to kill Abel in a rage of jealousy. Ham shames his two brothers, Shem and Japheth. Ishmael apparently taunts his half-brother Isaac. Jacob deceives his brother Esau and comes close to being killed by him in revenge. Jacob’s own sons are infected by rivalry and envy between the eldest ten and the second youngest which also lead the former close to murder. As for sisters, they fare little better in the case of Leah and Rachel. Nor do the rivalry and hostility end with Devarim. The throne of Israel, and later that of Judah, inspires war and fratricide. David’s own son, Absalom, has his brother Abner murdered for having raped his sister Tamar years before, then rebels against his own father. Another brother, Adonijah, tries to usurp Solomon’s place as David’s successor, as his father lies weak and helpless, close to death.
All this unbrotherly brotherness is not mythical stuff. History is full of royal families engaging in fratricide, patricide and filicide. Sadly, too, the world as a whole is full of families broken by jealousy and resentment. So are the patriarchs and matriarchs just like everyone else? Well, a bit yes and quite a lot no. What differentiates them from so many families of myth and history is that they learn moral wisdom, compassion and forgiveness. As we know, Ishmael and Isaac come together as adults to bury their father. Esau and Jacob are reconciled in a most moving scene of generosity and humility and later come together again to bury Isaac. Joseph and his brothers are not only reconciled but united in a spirit of humility, repentance and forgiveness. To return to Jonathan and David, the latter, once he is king, rather than having the former’s son killed as a possible rival to the throne, adopts him as his own.
It is possible to be brothers in arms without being up in arms.
This Saturday marks the return of one of our great service leaders: Adam Feldman. Come along and listen, learn, pray, sing and converse, as the best families should.