[ by Charles Cameron — from Gaza to Mt Sinjar and beyond, the universality and singularity of grief ]
One grief at a time is enough. It is “unbearable”, meaning that it arrives at the limit of what we single humans can possibly endure.
How can one match this father’s face at the funeral of his son — one of the four boys killed while playing on a Gaza beach — caught here (above) by photographer Hosam Salem?
How can one match these words of Yassin Suliman, speaking of his cousin, also killed in Gaza?
We buried his legs this morning and we will bury his body this afternoon.
Do the fathers and mothers of the Israeli dead feel any the less grief?
The Talmud, at Sanhedrin 37a, tells us:
For this reason was man created alone, to teach thee that whosoever destroys a single soul of Israel, scripture imputes [guilt] to him as though he had destroyed a complete world; and whosoever preserves a single soul of Israel, scripture ascribes [merit] to him as though he had preserved a complete world.
The mention here is of a single soul “of Israel”, a phrase that many contemporary Jewish sources omit — perhaps because the immediate context indicates a that it should be taken in a universal sense, since those particular words are immediately followed by the observation that the very diversity of HaShem’s creation of humanity is evidence of his greatness:
Furthermore, [he was created alone] for the sake of peace among men, that one might not say to his fellow, ‘my father was greater than thine, and that the minim might not say, there are many ruling powers in heaven; again, to proclaim the greatness of the holy one, blessed be he: for if a man strikes many coins from one mould, they all resemble one another, but the supreme king of kings, the holy one, blessed be he, fashioned every man in the stamp of the first man, and yet not one of them resembles his fellow. Therefore every single person is obliged to say: the world was created for my sake.
Qur’an 5.32 picks up the idea and continues it:
On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.
Likewise, Qur’an 49.13 celebrates human diversity as evidence of the merciful intentions of the Merciful at ):
O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).
Somewhere in my recent readings — on Gaza, Hamas, Iraq, Syria, the caliphate, the Yezidis — I found a sentence to the effect that one person’s grief is about as much as we can savor. It was a casual observation, but the same idea has been stated as a philosophical and theological proposition by Wittgenstein, CS Lewis and others: I catalogued those I knew in Of Quantity and Quality II: Holocaust, torture and sacrament.
Matthew Barber, blogging about Sinjar and the Yezidi at Joshua Landis‘ Syria Comment in a post titled Sinjar Was Only the Beginning, tells us:
In my conversation with Osman, it struck me that I was encountering the pain of just one man among several hundred thousand new refugees in the Dohuk governorate, each with a unique story.
I ask again, how can one fully and richly feel the utmost grief of a single person, and multiply it? And in circumstances where so many are bereaved at once, how can one not attempt to multiply their individual griefs?