Religion & Beliefs

Masada Is Falling?

Via SoMA Review, I discover that Masada is falling! Masada, one of Israel's biggest tourist attractions and a symbol of the country's struggle for survival, is in danger of collapse after heavy rainfall four years ago damaged some of its … Read More

By / March 12, 2007

Via SoMA Review, I discover that Masada is falling!

Masada, one of Israel's biggest tourist attractions and a symbol of the country's struggle for survival, is in danger of collapse after heavy rainfall four years ago damaged some of its supporting walls.

The 1,400 meters (4,600 feet) of wall damaged by the water must be fixed before irreversible harm is done, Zeev Margalit, head of the preservation department at the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority, said by telephone.

“What collapses today will be gone forever,'' he warned. “Masada could fall tomorrow, or it could fall a year from now, or even 10 years from now.

And while this may not affect your personal religious journey in any dramatic way, it hit me like a ton of bricks, because I did, in fact, have a pretty dramatic experience visiting Masada.

Maybe it was the altitude that affected me that day, or maybe I’d just been in Israel the right amount of time to have “an experience” but I remember distinctly that it was startling for me to be there, and revisit the story of Masada—the story of how a band of Jews committed mass suicide rather than be taken by the Romans. 

Committed suicide?  Yeah…

Because Judaism strongly discourages suicide, however, Josephus reported that the defenders drawn lots and slain each other in turn, down to the last man, who would be the only one to actually take his own life. The storerooms were apparently left standing to show that the defenders retained the ability to live and chose the time of their death over slavery. This account of the siege of Masada was related to Josephus by two women who survived the suicide by hiding inside a cistern along with five children and repeated Elazar ben Yair's final exhortation to his followers, prior to the mass suicide, verbatim to the Romans.

Now…

Why does this story affect me so strongly? I’m not sure.  I know that, at the time, it seemed wrong to me.  I’d heard the story before, and in my head I’d filed it away with all the other mythic tales of battle-as-faith, but standing there at Masada, it seemed totally messed up.  Suicide, however we sugarcoat it, seemed wrong. Seemed not-so-Jewish.

And yet—I felt conflicted because I was also overwhelmed by the history and power of Israel.  I felt part of a flawed culture, something I couldn’t understand, but also couldn’t dismiss.  The power of the place and the wrongness of the deed seemed to be, in that moment, one feeling.

I don’t know if I can fully explain this, but it was a big part of me becoming who I am right now. A big part of me learning to be a good Jew by becoming a more critical Jew. Not turning away, but facing the flaws in my tradition and faith, and asking them for better answers.  Because there is such a power in it all, undiminished by the flaws.

And the idea that this place is falling.  That it will disappear…upsets me.  It was a big huge physical symbol for me. It still is.

And sometimes we need our symbols.