An Excerpt from Lamentations Rabbah

Rabbi Samuel bar Nahmani said, “When God contemplated destroying the Temple and sending the Israelites into Exile in Babylon] I, Abraham, forthwith commenced speaking before the Holy One, blessed be he, saying to him, ‘Lord of the world, when I was a hundred years old, you gave me a son. And when he had already reached the age of volition, a boy thirty-seven years of age, you told me, ‘Offer him up as a burnt-offering before me’ [see Genesis 22].

‘And I turned mean to him and had no mercy for him, but I myself tied him up. Are you not going to remember this and have mercy on my children?’

Jacob forthwith commenced speaking before the Holy One, blessed be he, saying to him, ‘Lord of the world, did I not remain in the house of Laban for twenty years [Genesis 29–30]? And when I went forth from his house, the wicked Esau met me and wanted to kill my children, and I gave myself over to death in their behalf. Now my children are handed over to their enemies like sheep for slaughter, after I raised them like fledglings of chickens. I bore on their account the anguish of raising children, for through most of my life I was pained greatly on their account. And now are you not going to remember this and have mercy on my children?’

Moses forthwith commenced speaking before the Holy One, blessed be he, saying to him, ‘Lord of the world, was I not a faithful shepherd for the Israelites for forty years? I ran before them in the desert like a horse. And when the time came for them to enter the land, you issued a decree against me in the wilderness that there my bones would fall. And now that they have gone into exile, you have sent to me to mourn and weep for them.’

Then Moses said to Jeremiah, ‘Go before me, so I may go and bring [the people] in and see who will lay a hand on them.’

Jeremiah said to him [Moses], ‘It isn’t even possible to go along the road, because of the corpses.’

He [Moses] said to him, ‘Nonetheless, [go].’

Moses forthwith went along, with Jeremiah leading the way, until they came to the waters of Babylon.

They [the people of Israel] saw Moses and said to one another, ‘Here comes the son of Amram from his grave to redeem us from the hand of our oppressors.’

An echo [God] went forth and said, ‘It is a decree from before me.’ [The harsh judgment will not be alleviated.]

Moses then said to them, ‘My children, it is not possible to bring you back [now] for the decree has already been issued. But the Omnipresent will bring you back quickly.’ Then he left them.

Then they raised up their voices in weeping until the sound rose on high: ‘By the rivers of Babylon there we sat down, yea, we wept’ [Psalm 137:1].

When Moses got back to the fathers of the world [the patriarchs], they said to him, ‘What have the enemies done to our children?’

He [Moses] said to them, ‘Some of them were killed, the hands of some of them were bound behind their backs, some of them were put in iron chains, some of them were stripped naked, some of them died on the way and their corpses were left for the vultures of heaven and the hyenas of the earth, some of them were left for the sun, starving and thirsting.’

Then they began to weep and to sing dirges: ‘Woe for what has happened to our children! How you have become orphans without a father! How you have had to sleep in the hot sun during the summer without clothes and covers! How you have had to walk over rocks and stones and without shoes or sandals! How you were burdened with heavy bundles of sand! How your hands were bound behind your backs! How you were left unable even to swallow the spit in your mouths!’

Moses then said, ‘Cursed are you, O sun! Why did you not grow dark when the enemy went into the house of the sanctuary?’

The sun answered him, ‘By your life, Moses, faithful shepherd! They would not let me nor did they leave me alone, but beat me with sixty whips of fire, saying, “Go, pour forth your light.”

Moses then said, ‘Woe for your brilliance, O Temple, how has it become darkened? Woe that its time has come to be destroyed, for the building to be reduced to ruins, for the school children to be killed, for their parents to go into captivity and exile and the sword!’

Moses then said, ‘O, you who have taken the captives! I impose an oath on you by your lives! If you kill, do not kill with a cruel form of death, do not exterminate them utterly, do not kill a son before his father, a daughter before her mother, for the time will come for the Lord of heaven to exact a full reckoning from you!’

The wicked Chaldeans [Babylonians] did not do things this way, but they brought a son before his mother and said to the father, “Go, kill him!” The mother wept, her tears flowing over him, and the father hung his head.

And further Moses said before him, ‘Lord of the world! You have written in your Torah, “Whether it is a cow or a ewe, you shall not kill it and its young both in one day” [Leviticus 22:28]. But have they not killed any number of children along with their mothers? And yet you remain silent!’

Then Rachel, our mother, leapt to the fray and said to the Holy One, blessed be he, ‘Lord of the world! It is perfectly self-evident to you that your servant Jacob loved me with a mighty love and worked for me for my father for seven years. But when those seven years were fulfilled and the time came for my wedding to my husband, my father planned to substitute my sister [Leah] for me in the marriage to my husband. Now that matter was very hard for me, for I knew the deceit. I told my husband and gave him a sign by which he would know the difference between me and my sister, so that my father would not be able to trade me off. But then I regretted it and I bore my passion, and I had mercy for my sister, that she should not be shamed. So in the evening, for my husband they substituted my sister for me. And I gave my sister all the signs that I had given to my husband, so that he would think that she was Rachel. And not only so, but I crawled under the bed on which he was lying with my sister. While she remained silent, I made all the replies so that he would not discern the voice of my sister. I paid my sister only kindness; and I was not jealous of her; and I did not allow her to be shamed— and I am a mere mortal, dust and ashes. I had no envy of my rival, and I did not place her at risk for shame and humiliation. But you are the King, living and enduring and merciful. How then can you be jealous of idolatry, which is nothing, and so have sent my children into exile, allowed them to be killed by the sword, permitted the enemy to do whatever they wanted to them?’

Forthwith the mercy of the Holy One, blessed be he, welled up, and he said, ‘For Rachel, I am going to bring the Israelites back to their land.’

That is consistent with this verse of Scripture: ‘Thus said the Lord: A cry is heard in Ramah—wailing, bitter weeping—Rachel weeping for her children. She refuses to be comforted for her children, who are gone. Thus said the Lord: Restrain your voice from weeping, your eyes from shedding tears; for there is a reward for your labor—declares the Lord: they shall return from the enemy’s land and there is hope for your future—declares the Lord: your children shall return to their country.’ [Jeremiah 31:15–17]”

Lamentations Rabbah, Petihta, 24.2, 3. Translated by Jacob Neusner (Atlanta: Scholar’s Press, 1989), pp. 74–79.