Out of all the stories of the destruction of the Temple brought in Gittin 55-59, I think the following story - of the woman and her seven martyred sons - is the most powerful.
They brought the first before Caesar and said to him, "Serve the idol." He said to them: "It is written in the Torah: I am Hashem your God." So they led him away and killed him.
They then brought the second before Caesar and said to him, "Serve the idol." He replied: "It is written in the Torah: You shall have no other gods before me." So they led him away and killed him.
[And so on for all the sons, each son quoting a different verse, until the last son.]
They brought the [last] and said to him, "Serve the idol." He replied: "It is written in the Torah, 'You have designated Hashem this day... and Hashem has designated you this day.' We have long ago sworn to the Holy One, blessed be He, that we will not exchange Him for any other god, and He also has sworn to us that He will not change us for any other people."
Caesar said: "I will throw down my seal before you and you can stoop down and pick it up, so that they will say of you that you have accepted the king's command."
He replied: "Poor Caesar, poor Caesar; if your own honor is so important, how much more the honor of the Holy One, blessed be He!"
They were leading him away to kill him when his mother said: Give him to me that I may kiss him a little. She said to him: "My son, go and say to your father Avraham, You bound one [son to the] altar, but I have bound seven altars."
Then she also went up on to a roof and threw herself down and was killed.
A voice then came forth from heaven saying, "A joyful mother of children."
The entire story is a poignant example of our continued commitment to God in trying circumstances. But I think the most moving part is at the end. Why does the mother herself not go to Avraham and say that she has outdone him? Surely she knows she is about to die too, after all it is her decision to die! I think the answer is that she knows suicide is unacceptable in Judaism. She is in so much pain that she cannot keep herself from it, but she presumes her share in olam haba will be lost as a result.
As it is, God does not blamed her for a decision made under such duress. Thus, the last line of the story is a confirmation that she will in fact inherit olam haba.
In a story in which Jews have suffered so incredibly for their faith, when the Divine protection which characterized earlier eras has so glaringly disappeared, the last word is a quiet but clear response by God to their sacrifices. The last son's claim ("He also has sworn to us that He will not change us for any other people") has, despite the extreme circumstances, been reaffirmed.
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