Former Shaliach in Dayton
We are approaching Tisha B’Av, our national day of mourning, and I would like to try and understand the day’s essence – above and beyond its numerous mourning-related practices.
Surprisingly, Megilat Eichah’s name is taken from its very first word. In contrast, Megilat Ruth is named after Ruth rather than its first word, “vayihi”. And, of course, both Megilat Esther and Kohelet follow Megilat Ruth’s pattern. So, why is Megilat Eichah named after its opening word: “Eichah” (literally, “how can this be” – usually translated here as “alas”).
“How can (eichah) she sit in solitude, the city that was once so populous.” (Eichah 1:1)
Midrash Eichah explains that the word “eichah” denotes tochachah (rebuke or admonition):
“Three [nevi’im] prophesized with the language ‘eichah’: Moshe, Yeshayah, and Yirmiyah. Moshe said, ‘How can I (eichah) bear your contentiousness, your burdens, and your strife all by myself?’ (Devarim 1:12) Yeshayah said, ‘How can (eichah) she have become a harlot.’ (Yeshayah 1:21) Yirmiyah said, ‘How can (eichah) she sit in solitude.’”
In different periods, each one of these nevi’im uses the word, “eichah”.
As noted above, eichah means: how can this have occurred? We know (makirim) Yerushalayim. So, how then:
“Can she have become a harlot, the faithful city; she had been full of justice, righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers?” (Yeshayah 1:21)
We are familiar (makirim) with Yerushalayim’s hidden potential. So, what happened? How have we erred?
The anguished cry, “eichah,” is directed at each one of us individually, based on our own familiarity (hekeirut) with our personal worlds.
In order to better understand this idea, let us examine a fascinating Midrash:
“R’ Similai expounded, ‘What does the fetus in his mother’s womb resemble? To a notebook which is folded, and his arms are placed on his two sides… And a light is lit over his head, and he watches and looks from one end of the world to the other end… And there are no days when a person is immersed in goodness as much as during those days… And the entire Torah is taught to him…’” (BT Niddah 30b)
The Midrash Tanchuma tells us what happens to the baby after his birth:
“And when the time comes for him to exit to the air of the world, that same angel immediately comes to him and says to him, ‘The time has come for you to exit to the air of the world.’ And he says to him, ‘Why do you want to take me to the air of the world?’ The angel says to him, ‘My son! Know that you were created against your will; and against your will, you are born; and against your will, you die; and against your will, you are slated to give an accounting before the King, the King of All Kings, HaKadosh Baruch Hu.’ But he does not want to exit from there until [the angel] strikes him and extinguishes the light which burns over his head and removes him to the air of the world against his will. The baby immediately forgets everything that he saw during his exit and everything that he knows…
“And when his time comes, the same angel approaches him and says to him, ‘Do you recognize me (hatikareini)?’ He says to him, ‘Yes.’ And he says to him, ‘Why did you come to me today of all days?’ And the angel says to him, ‘In order to remove you from the world! Your time has come to die!’ Immediately, he begins to cry; and he sounds his voice from one end of the world to the other end; and mankind does not recognize (makirin) and does not hear his voice.
“And the angel says, ‘I have already removed you from two worlds, and I brought you into this world.’ And the angel says to him, ‘I have already told you that against your will, you were created; and against your will, you were born; and against your will, you live; and against your will, you are slated to give an accounting before HaKadosh Baruch Hu.’”
The angel turns to the person at the end of his life and manages to condense every admonition (tochachah) into a single word: hatikareini (“do you recognize me?”). You cannot have forgotten about the goals you had when you came into this world. After all, I know (makir) you. So, what happened to you? “How can (eichah) she sit in solitude, the city that was once so populous?” After all, we know (makirim) Yerushalayim and the monumental worlds concealed in its midst? How can we have erred to such an extent?
No other words are needed for this tochachah. We just need to recall Yerushalayim’s past and what it once was.
HaKadosh Baruch Hu asked Adam HaRishon the same question after his sin:
“And they heard the voice of Hashem God manifesting Itself in the garden toward evening; and the man and his wife hid from before Hashem God in the midst of the trees of the garden. And Hashem God called to the man; and He said to him, where are you (ayekah)? And he said, I heard Your voice in the garden; and I was afraid because I am naked, so I hid.” (Breishit 3:8-10)
Adam realizes that Hashem knows (makir) him, and therefore, he tries to hide. Obviously, Hashem knows exactly where Adam is. Yet, that single word – ayekah(which, without vowels, has the same spelling as “eichah”) – is worth more than a thousand words of tochachah. Where are you? Do you not realize that I know (makir) you? So, why are you hiding? How have you erred?
Tisha B’Av is a day when we must all ask ourselves: eichah?
Today, we are privileged to watch as Yerushalayim is being rebuilt, and therefore, we must return to our city and to our land with the willingness to return to ourselves and to our goals.
May we be consoled by the rebuilding of Yerushalayim.