Excerpted from The Koren Mesorat HaRav Kinot: The Lookstein Edition, co-published by OU Press and Koren Publishers Jerusalem
“People respond to the story of an individual personal tragedy more readily than to a national tragedy on a large scale.” (Commentary on Kina 23)
The placement of this kina in the sequence of the kinot initially appears odd. The order of “החרישה ממני” following “ארזי הלבנון” is logical and proper. However, one would have expected that the kina following “החרישה ממני,” which commemorates the martyrs of German Jewry, would have been “מי יתן ראשי מים,” the second kina pertaining to the Crusades in which Speyer, Worms and Mainz are mentioned by name and the dates of their destruction are recorded. Instead, the story of the death of Rabbi Yishma’el’s son and daughter is interjected, interrupting the series of kinot about the destruction of the Jewish communities in Germany. To compound the question, one could also ask why it is necessary to interrupt the description in the kinot of major national catastrophes with a story of a young man and woman who suffered as a result of the Hurban of Jerusalem, but whose deaths did not change the course of Jewish history or the routine of daily Jewish life. The narrative flow of the kinot mourns the destruction of the state, the land and the Beit HaMikdash – all of which changed Jewish history – then the martyrdom of the ten greatest scholars of the Talmud, and then the massacre of thousands of people and the destruction of the most important communities in the Middle Ages, both spiritually and numerically. In the midst of this national commemoration of the tragedies that befell the community, the sequence of kinot is interrupted with the story of the death of two individuals.
The answer is that Judaism has a different understanding of and approach to the individual. We mourn for the individual even if he or she was not a significant person. Rabbi Yishma’el, the father of these youngsters was already killed, and they were orphans. In light of the major calamities, who is responsible to remember a story about an individual young man and woman who were taken captive by some slave merchants? The answer is that we are. We have a special kina dedicated just to them, as if one hundred thousand people were involved, not just two individuals. Their life and their death may not have changed Jewish history, but we suffer and remember. We do not forget the faceless, nameless individual even in the midst of national disaster and upheaval, even when telling the story of the greatest of all the disasters in our history, the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash. In this kina we mourn not for the Jews of Worms or Mainz, not for the Hurban Yerushalayim, and not for the Beit HaMikdash. We mourn for a boy and a girl who were not leaders or scholars and who did not play any major public role. They are as important as the greatest leaders. Sometimes we become so engrossed in the national tragedy that we forget the individual, and the sequence of the kinot is interrupted to highlight the worth of the individual.