The Two Brothers

by Rabbi Israel Rubin

In the days preceding Tisha B'Av, the day on which the Holy Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed, I like to tell the story of "The Two Brothers."

This year the story has added significance in view of the unfortunate schism and religious strife that has divided the Jewish people everywhere. This beautiful story from the Midrash, gives us the background as to why G‑d chose Mount Moriah in Jerusalem as the site of the Holy Temple.

Two brothers had each inherited half of their father's farm. One of the brothers was married and had a large family; the other brother was single. They lived on opposite sides of a hill.

One night during harvest time, the single brother tossed about in bed. "How can I rest comfortably and take a full half of the yield, when my brother has so many more mouths to feed?" So he arose, gathered bushels of produce and quietly climbed the hill to bring them over to his brother's barn.

Meanwhile, his brother across the hill also could not sleep. "How can I enjoy my full share of the produce and not be concerned with my brother. He is alone in the world, without a wife or children; who will support him in his old age?" So he arose in the night and quietly brought over bushels of produce to his brother's barn.

When the next morning dawned, each brother was surprised to find that what they had given away had been replenished. They continued these nocturnal treks for many nights. Each morning they were astounded to find that the bushels they had removed had been replenished.

Then one night it happened. The brothers met on the top of the hill during their evening adventure. And there, they embraced.

G‑d looked upon this expression of brotherhood and said, "On this spot of mutual love I wish to dwell. Here My Holy Temple will be built."

This Midrash is indeed a touching, traditional Tisha B'Av story. But I would like to pose the following questions and offer insights about the two brothers and their personalities.

Did these two brothers always think and act alike? Did they ever have disagreements and differences? Did they always approve of each other, always share the same ideals, values and goals?

I suggest that it was not exactly an idyllic situation; perhaps the two brothers did not live in harmony. They may have lived at the base of the same hill, but they may not have had very much in common. One brother was married and the father of a large family; the other was single. They probably pursued different goals and might likely have had contrasting personalities. Perhaps the hill separating them was a physical manifestation of their up-and-down relationship.

The single brother may well have enjoyed the bachelor's life. What did he understand of child rearing, pediatricians, schooling and other parental concerns? These were not relevant to him. What then, aside from the farm, did he and his brother have in common?

On the other hand, the "family man" may have been totally in the dark about his single brother's lifestyle. Perhaps he could not even comprehend such an existence, let alone condone it! And yet, these two brothers were sensitive to each other's needs despite their differences. Rather than increasing the friction because of differing philosophies of life, they tried to fill each other's special needs, the very lifestyles they were not in touch with. They may have had strong ideological, philosophical or even religious differences. Yet they remained caring and empathized with each other's opposing lifestyle.

I will not pretend that this simple story has all the solutions to what is taking place in the global Jewish community today. But it certainly does teach us what our general attitude must be. For once we have a positive attitude toward each other, and a willingness to work things out, the details tend to fall into place.