Jews with Views – Tisha B’Av Edition 5782
What do you think about during the moments before we read Eicha?
BY RABBI YA’AKOV TRUMP
It’s a time of complex emotions. I think first about the unnecessary tragedies that unfolded during the final years before the destruction of the first Beit HaMikdash. It was a tumultuous time, when the last kings of Israel reigned in quick succession and Judea plunged into a futile war against the Babylonian empire that could only end in destruction. I think of Yirmiyahu’s pain, how he was chosen to become a prophet against his will to warn a nation that was unwilling to hear his criticism, a generation incapable of self-reflection. I dwell on the tragic moment when King Yehoyakim publicly threw Yirmiyahu’s Megillah of Eicha into the fireplace to silence his message, and how the rabble flung Yirmiyahu into the pit as his prophecies began unfolding.
But then I also remember that Yirmiyahu refused to give up on his people. I remember his love for those who refused to heed his warnings. I think of Yirmiyahu writing a letter to the Jews already in exile, giving them hope and direction, and bidding them to be active members of their host societies.
As Eicha begins, I try to channel the emotions of Yirmiyahu – his pain and exasperation on the one hand, and his compassion and understanding on the other. Yirmiyahu saw, firsthand, that our people sometimes act as its own worst enemy, and yet he never lost faith in them. I ask Hashem to have compassion on us as a community and for us, in turn, to learn the lessons of the past so we may soon be redeemed, together.
Rabbi Ya’akov Trump is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Lawrence-Cedarhurst, New York.
BY SHOSHANA JUDELMAN
A lifetime ago, at sleepaway camp, we sat on the outdoor basketball court and read Eicha by candlelight. I remember the somber tone of the evening but also the poignant beauty of hundreds of Jewish teens sitting together to read this scroll of agony and yearning. It connected us to each other and to our collective past in a unique and empowering way. Modern kids reciting ancient words, together.
I continuously seek that kind of connection, the feeling of being a link in the chain of Jewish practice and community that has stretched on for millennia. At the intersection between history and memory the past becomes personal and each one of us can tap into the strength of our people.
One of the most precious items I own is my grandmother’s rolling pin. I never met her, but I think about her often. She passed away just a few years after immigrating to America from war-torn Europe. When I use her rolling pin, I feel her presence, her hands over mine as I roll out the dough. I imagine her davening to Hashem for her family’s safety and health, for faith to see her through the challenges. In my mind’s eye, I see countless generations of Jewish women doing the same thing. And I join them.
In the moments before Eicha, I imagine the collective energy of these tefillot going up to storm the heavens and beseech Hashem to take us out of darkness and bring us close to Him, with the geulah shleimah.
Shoshana Judelman teaches Chassidut for Shiviti Women’s Institute in Jerusalem and in the Shirat David Community in Efrat, and is a guide at Yad Vashem.
BY RABBI DORON PODLASHUK
With a body as supple as a tree trunk (I can hardly touch my knees when bending!), I only have one thought in mind during the moment before Eicha: how am I going to get through this excruciating exercise of sitting cross-legged on the hard floor?
Once I finally settle into a semi-comfortable position, I hear the words of Yirmiyahu: Eicha yashva badad, “How the city sat alone”. But instead of feeling morose, my mind wanders to the daily traffic jam I sit through while trying to enter Jerusalem. I daydream about another entrance to the city cutting through a mountain that will open soon and cut my travel time by twenty minutes. And then I feel guilty that I cannot connect to the tragic words of the prophet. As we read the depressing descriptions of Jerusalem, it becomes harder and harder to get into the mood. I just can’t see Jerusalem that way!
Reading Eicha and mourning for Jerusalem today is not a simple task. I am blessed to work in the city, in a kollel where words of Torah are heard all day. Seeing its tremendous development, both spiritual and physical, the destruction of Jerusalem described by Yirmiyahu seems far away. Yet with all that we have, we must remember that the crown jewel is still missing. The Beit HaMikdash, the home of the Shechinah and the center of our national consciousness, remains in ruins. I remind myself that although we have come a long way, we are still lacking what’s most important.
With G-d’s help, next year we will have a Beit HaMikdash. And then, most importantly, I won’t have to sit in this excruciating position ever again!
Rabbi Doron Podlashuk is the Director of the Selwyn & Ros Smith and Family Manhigut Toranit Program, and the Director of the English Tzurba M’Rabanan Series.
BY RABBANIT SALLY MAYER
Before Eicha, I find myself thinking of the bitter arguments that tear families and communities apart.
The Talmud (Gittin 56) relates that during the Roman siege against Jerusalem just before the destruction of the Second Temple, the zealots wanted to fight to the death while the Sages wanted to surrender to salvage what they could. The zealots burned down the storehouses of grain in the besieged city to force a fight, and the city descended into a terrible famine. When Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai asked his nephew, Abba Sikkara, leader of the zealots, why they wanted to kill the people with famine, Abba Sikara answered that if he publicly disagrees with the zealots, they will kill him. Together they devised a plan for Rabbi Yochanan to secretly leave the city to make a deal with Vespasian, ending the siege and saving the people.
The zealots were so fanatical that even their leader feared them and couldn’t reason with them. This inability to talk with one another, to calmly consider the other’s view and come to a compromise is a malady affecting us today as well. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai was somehow able to bridge these gaps, by maintaining familial connections even with those with whom he bitterly disagreed and working together to devise a creative solution.
Rabbi Yochanan was not only a giant of Torah knowledge but also humble and kind, always quick to extend a greeting to people approaching him, whether Jews or gentiles. His humility and respect for all people were the keys to his success in bridging the gaps during that challenging time – and these qualities are the secret to greater understanding and unity in our generation as well.
Rabbanit Sally Mayer is Rosh Midrasha at Ohr Torah Stone’s Midreshet Lindenbaum.
BY RABBI BINNY FREEDMAN
My mind wanders to a story I heard years ago. During the summer of 1942, on a train to Treblinka, a father is overheard telling his young son: “You see? That’s a tree!” He must have told his child stories in the ghetto, but the boy had never actually seen a tree…
Such stories tear at your soul. On a train to Treblinka, crushed into a cattle-car with no food or water, after years in the ghetto, this father still wanted to teach his son! We Jews always focus on the future, never losing hope despite the pain.
But then I hear: Eicha? How did it come to this? How could a civilized world allow one-and-a-half million children to be murdered? How could our world sink to such depths of evil? How could Cossacks literally ride through human beings tied to trees in 17th century Ukraine? How could the Catholic Church burn our ancestors alive at the stake in 15th century Spain?
As the reading continues, I try to put aside theology and philosophy and focus on that first word: “Eicha?” How can we even begin to comprehend what we have been through? “Ayekah?”, “Where are You Hashem?” But then I remember this question was first asked of humanity, when G-d said to Adam in the Garden: “Where are you? Yesterday we were so close, but you have lost your way…” I realize I must ask a different question; not ‘where was G-d?’ but ‘where was man?’
Rabbi Binny Freedman is Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshivat Orayta.