debe Eliyyahu (lit.
The Lore of the School of Elijah) is a midrashic work thought
to have been composed between the third and the tenth centuries.
Unlike all the other Midrashim, it does not consist of a compilation
of individual homilies but is unified work shaped with a character
of its own.
This Midrash is distinguished by its didactic and moral aims.
The authors deals with the divine precepts and the reasons for
them, and the importance and knowledge of Torah, prayer and repentance.
He is especially concerned with the ethical and religious values
that are enshrined in the lives of the patriarch. In the eyes
of many students and scholars, it is a unique masterpiece of Jewish
Except for an abridged translation into Yiddish, the work has
never before been translated from the original. A new translation
from the Hebrew by William G. Braude and Israel J. Kapstein and
based on the critical edition prepared by Meir Friedman, was published
by Jewish Publication Society in 1981, and was recently issued
in a paperback edition. This book makes accessible to the English
world a Jewish text of major interest, one that has influenced
generations of students and that still has the power to move the
In the following passage (ch. 30), God is described as grieving
sorely for the martyrs and the exiles of Israel. During both nights
of the exile the one following the destruction of the First
Temple and the one following the destruction of the Second
When the Holy One grieves, He strikes both hands together, clasps them
over His heart, then folds His arms as He weeps over the righteous, sometimes
secretly, sometimes openly. Why does He weep over them secretly? Because
it is unseemly for a lion to weep before a fox, unseemly for a Sage to
weep before his disciple, unseemly for a king to weep before the least
of his servants, unseemly for a householder to weep before a hired man,
as it is said: "So that you will not hear it, My soul shall weep in secret
for your pride" (Jeremiah 13:17)....
In still another passage in Scripture, the Holy One is described as weeping
for Israel, and so set the example of weeping for Israel's generations in
the night. "[The presence] will continue to weep in the night, and her tears
continue on her cheeks" (Lamentations 1:2). But is it only in the night
that Israel weep? Do they not also weep during the day? By night, however,
is meant the long night of exile which set in with R. Akiba's death, a death
which appeared to mark the crushing of all hope for the restoration of the
kingdom of Israel.[*] From the
time when the decree was issued against R. Akiba and his companions, Israel's
green branches were utterly broken, and hence God "will continue to weep
during the night."
As Israel went into the night of the exile, they went, every one of them in
silence, without weeping, as if unaware of the cause of the exile
their offense against God. But God came to them and said: "My children, why
do you remain silent? Why do you not weep? It is not for the merit of the two
tears that Esau wept before his father that I have come to show the graciousness
of My sovereignty in Se'ir [ a land where the rains of blessing never cease]?
Hence, "throw off the burden of silence [and weep]. My God calls me to remember
Se'ir (Isaiah 21:11).
The Babylonian exile in 586 BCE lasted only seventy years, and Jerusalem
burned by Roman emperor Titus in 70 CE, appeared to be free again
in 132 CE under [rebel] Bar Kokhba, one of whose strongest backers
was R. Akiba. [Back]
Tanna debe Eliyyahu (The Lore of the School of Elijah), Translated
from the Hebrew by William G. Braude and Israel J. Kapstein. © JPS,
Braude translated The Midrash on Psalms and Pesikta Rabbati
for the Yale Judaica Series and The Book of Legends (Sefer ha-Aggadah)
by Bialik and Ravnitzky. Israel J. Kapstein, late professor emeritus
of English at Brown University, was the author of numerous scholarly
articles, stories, poems and a novel, Something of a Hero.
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