DEVARIM (Deuteronomy, 1:1-3:22) — “How Did This Happen??!! (And How Do We Fix It?)”

Next Wednesday evening is Tisha B’Av.  We will sit on low chairs like mourners, and read the Book of “Eichah” — Lamentations.

The word “Eichah” is very uncommon.  In the entire Bible, it only appears sixteen times. “Eichah,” which literally means “how,” is considered by the Talmud (Yalkut Shimoni, Isaiah, 389) to be a form of lament.  Perhaps a better translation of the word is, “How could it be that this terrible situation has taken place?”

In the book by that name, the prophet Jeremiah cries, “Eichah — how can it be that the city once filled with people has become like a widow…?”  (Lamentations, 1:1) Jeremiah stares with disbelief as he sees the once-great city of Jerusalem lying in ruins.  It is almost beyond comprehension that he sees that the Temple has been destroyed and the royal house of Israel has been led, in disgrace, into captivity.

Jeremiah’s wail continues to this day.  Throughout the world, Jews will sit and read Jeremiah’s words and cry over the pains of our exile.  They will ask, “Eichah,” how can it be that our anguish continues unabated? “Eichah,” how many Jews died with the destruction of our two Temples on Tisha B’Av?  “Eichah,” how could it be that England and Spain expelled the Jews on Tisha B’Av?  “Eichah,” how could it be that the Jews of Warsaw were deported to Treblinka beginning on the eve of Tisha B’Av?  “Eichah,” how can it be that a world tolerates the wanton murder of innocent people by a nation that sacrifices its own children for the “Mitzvah” of killing Jews?  “Eichah,” HOW MUCH MORE CAN WE TAKE?!!

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The word “Eichah” first appears in this week’s Torah Portion.

As Moses prepared to say good-by to his people, he chastised them for their misdeeds of the past.  They had been difficult, to say the least.

Moses was very frustrated by the constant bickering of the Jewish nation:  “Eichah how can I alone bear your trouble and your burden and your quarrels?” (Deuteronomy, 1:12)

They didn’t learn their lesson when Miriam was struck with “leprosy” for gossiping.  They didn’t learn how harmful it is to speak negatively when they were condemned to wander for 40 years in the desert because they maligned the Land of Israel.  They didn’t learn when the earth opened up to swallow Korach and his cohorts, that it was wrong to challenge the prophecy of Moses.

We still don’t get it.  If Moses were alive today, would he see the unity that was lacking in his day?  Or would he see that we are more disjointed than ever?

This time of year is a time of mourning.  Mourning for a lost Temple and for lost opportunity.  Mourning for the harmony that should give us strength.  Mourning for the fact that we are sometimes our own worst enemy.

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It is customary not to eat meat or drink wine during the nine days leading up to Tisha B’Av.  But one of the dangers of religious customs is that it is very easy to fulfill the custom and forget about the reason behind it.

The Temple was not destroyed because people ate meat. The Temple was destroyed because people were nasty to each other.  The Temple was destroyed because people had no qualms about (figuratively) stabbing each other in the back.   It is much easier to be a vegetarian than it is to be nice!  If only we could find it as easy to avoid gossip as it is to avoid eating a salami sandwich!!

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Rabbi Avraham I. Kook was the first Chief Rabbi of what was then known as Palestine.  He was very closely aligned with the early Zionist leaders, many of whom were virulently anti-religious.  Many religious Jews found it difficult to understand how Rabbi Kook could associate with people who were so antagonistic to his beliefs.  His response was a classic message for Tisha B’Av and all year round.

“The Temple,” explained Rabbi Kook, “was destroyed because of baseless hatred. People hated each other for no reason.  They treated each other badly, although the recipient had done nothing to deserve it.

“Perhaps,” said Rabbi Kook, the way to induce G-d to end our exile and rebuild the Temple is by undoing the damage that is done by unwarranted hatred. Rather than HATING for no reason, why don’t we learn to LOVE each other, even when the other party doesn’t deserve it?  That’s the way to bring the Redemption.”

Amen, Rabbi Kook.  From your mouth to OUR ears!

Have a Good Shabbos, and a meaningful fast.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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From the Archives

“Dropping Hints and Lifting Spirits” (2011)

… I have a question.  Why is Moses beating around the bush?!  What’s with the hinting?  Why doesn’t the Torah describe Moses coming out with a shotguns-blazing, Fire-and-Brimstone reprimand?   Why doesn’t he say, “Listen Israel, your behavior has been horrendous!   You complained about the lack of food.  You worshipped Baal Pe’or.  You displayed a lack of faith at the Red Sea.  You listened to the lies of the spies.  You complained about the Manna and supported Korach’s rebellion.  You turned all that gold into a Golden Calf.  YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES!!!!!” …

Read more.

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“Back to Normal?” (2009) 

…The people were concerned.  Sure, they had seen plenty of miracles.  But that was when Moses was around.  What would happen “post-Moses?”  Would the miracles still flow like the waters of the traveling well? Would Heavenly Bread still fall in front of their tents?  Would those pillars of fire and cloud still lead them?

Joshua was a fine student.  He was Moses’ best protégé.  However, to paraphrase  Senator Bentson:  “We served under Moses.  We know Moses.  He is a prophet of G-d.  Joshua, you’re no Moses!”…

Read more.

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“Wearable Clothes for Terrible Times” (2007)

… It must seem strange to envision people celebrating the Sabbath in a less-than-“Sabbatical” mode of dress.  Can you imagine sitting in Shul Friday night next to a carpenter in his overalls and the Roto-Rooter guy in his galoshes?

Actually, most people don’t follow that custom.  The Chofetz Chaim writes that the prevalent custom is that of the city ofVilnawhere they permitted the donning of Shabbos clothes on the Shabbos before Tisha B’Av …

One may be tempted to ask – Isn’t this rather superficial?  What difference does it make?  Why so much emphasis on what you’re wearing?  If you want to dress for Shabbos, dress for Shabbos!  If you want to wear weekday clothes, wear weekday clothes!  What’s the big deal?  And, as long as we’re on the topic, why don’t you rejoin the human race and take a bath?!!…

Read more.

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 “Torah Talk” (2006)

“Hey, how’d he do that?”

“How’d WHO do WHAT?”

“Didn’t you hear that speech?”

“Yes, of course, it was very inspiring.  But he is, after all, a great man.  So why are you surprised?”

Because he doesn’t know how to do that!!!”

It all started almost 120 years before.  The Talmud (Shemos Rabbah,1:26) describes how Baby Moses upset his adopted grandfather…

Read more.

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“Cry, O Zion …” (2005)

… “Cry, O Zion, and her cities, like a woman in the pains of childbirth, and like a young woman dressed in sackcloth, mourning for her young husband.”  (From the Tisha B’Av prayers.)

Imagine the agonizing physical pain of childbirth; what could be more painful?  Envision the emotional pain of a young widow; what could be more heartrending?…

Read more.

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“Selective Memory” (2004)

… Did Moses give a fair description of the events as they actually occurred?  Based on Moses’ version, it seems like the people heard a positive report and rejected it.  In reality, as we see from actually reading about it, there was a spirited debate.  Ten spies said it was bad; two spies said it was good… why did Moses change the story?  Why did he imply that there had been no negative report at all? …

Read more.

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 “How Did This Happen??!! (And How Do We Fix It?)”  (2002)

… In the book by that name, the prophet Jeremiah cries, “Eichah — how can it be that the city once filled with people has become like a widow…?”  (Lamentations, 1:1) Jeremiah stares with disbelief as he sees the once-great city ofJerusalem lying in ruins.  It is almost beyond comprehension that he sees that theTemple has been destroyed and the royal house of  Israel has been led, in disgrace, into captivity.

Jeremiah’s wail continues to this day.  Throughout the world, Jews will sit and read Jeremiah’s words and cry over the pains of our exile…  “Eichah,” how could it be that the Jews of  Warsaw were deported to Treblinka beginning on Tisha B’Av?  “Eichah,” how can it be that a world tolerates the wanton murder of innocent people by a nation that sacrifices its own children for the “Mitzvah” of killing Jews?  “Eichah,” HOW MUCH MORE CAN WE TAKE?!! …

Read more.

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“Tears of ‘OY’ and Tears of Joy” (2001)

… I had a very interesting experience this week … the prohibition of eating meat and drinking wine … doesn’t apply at a Bris… It was a strange inconsistency. On the one hand, we are in mourning for theTemple. On the other hand, we are having a party! Where is our concern for our people? Aren’t we supposed to remember our brethren who were burned at the stake inSpain?! Aren’t we supposed to lament the victims of the Holocaust and the Intifada?! How can we cry to G-d to rescue us from our anguish when we’re eating prime rib and parve ice cream?! …

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain inMonsey,New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on July 12, 2002 at 11:58 am  Leave a Comment  

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