Eichah, The Annual Search for Meaning and Introspection”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This week’s parasha, parashat Devarim, is the parasha which is always read on the Shabbat that precedes Tisha b’Av, the Ninth of Av, which this year will be observed on Saturday night, July 28th through Sunday night, July 29th.

According to the commentators, there is an allusion to the observance of Tisha b’Av in this week’s parasha. In Deuteronomy 1:12 we encounter the verse: “Ay’chah eh’sah l’vah’dee tor’cha’chem u’mas’ah’chem v’riv’chem?” How can I alone, Moshe asks, carry your contentiousness, your burdens and your quarrels? Unable to bear the responsibility alone, Moshe recommends that the people appoint for themselves men who are wise, understanding and well known who can serve as leaders of the tribes and at least partially relieve the burden from him.

Because of the allusion to Eichah” in this verse, and the confluence with the observance of Tisha b’Av, when the above verse is read by the Torah reader on Shabbat, it is read with the mournful melody of Lamentations, of Eichah. The Book of Lamentations, attributed to the prophet Jeremiah, is also known in Hebrew as Eichah, because of the first word of the first verse: “Eichah yash’vah va’dod ha’eer rah’bah’tee am, hay’tah k’al’mah’nah?” How is it possible, asks the prophet, that she, the city of Jerusalem, sits in solitude–the city that was once great with people has become like a widow?

The Shabbat which precedes Tisha b’Av is known in the Jewish calendar as Shabbat Chazon. Chazon,” which means vision, alludes to the first chapter of the Book of Isaiah that is read as the Haftarah, the prophetic message paralleling the Shabbat Torah portion. In the first chapter of Isaiah, which is the third and final of the Shalosh D’puranuta, the three Haftarot of affliction, the prophet Isaiah laments the underlying causes of destruction, which he attributes to the lack of sincerity in the Jews’ devotion to G-d. Once again, in the Book of Isaiah 1:21, we encounter the crucial word, “Eichah.” Isaiah cries out: “Eichah hay’tah l’zoh’nah, kir’yah neh’eh’mah’nah?” How is it possible that the faithful city [Jerusalem] has become a harlot? “M’lay’ah’tee mish’pat, tzedek yah’lin bah, v’ah’tah m’rahtz’chim.” G-d says, I filled Jerusalem with righteousness, but now she is filled with murderers.

It is no coincidence that on the Shabbat preceding Tisha b’Av the word Eichah is evoked again and again, as if it were a theme. “Eichah?” asks G-d, How is it possible? How did this all come about? Why do these resounding tragedies strike the Jewish people again and again? The rabbis of the Talmud tell us in Berachot 5a that when tragedy strikes a person, “Y’fash’paish b’mah’ah’sav,” the person should examine his deeds, look for what might be the underlying cause of the misfortune. This introspection and search is the precise theme of Tisha b’Av. It’s not so much the fasting, not so much the mourning, it’s really the self-evaluation that is essential. It is critical that at times of crises the Jewish people examine their deeds and see what they might have done to deserve the calamities that befall them, so they can learn to do better in the future.

In chapter 3 of Genesis, after eating of the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve hear the sound of the Al-mighty in the garden as they try to hide among the trees. Genesis 3:9, “Va’yikra Hashem Eloh’kim el ha’adam.” G-d calls out to the human being: “Va’yomer loh.” And He says to him: “Ah’yeka?” Where are you? Adam responds, “I heard your voice in the Garden, and I was afraid because I am naked, and I hid.” Obviously, G-d is not asking Adam and Eve where they are. He knows precisely where they are! G-d is asking them, Adam and Eve: ah’yeka? Where are you existentially? I endowed you with the gift of intelligence that no other creatures possess. I gave you everything and forbade just two little trees. How did you allow this to happen?

The word Ah’yeka is the exact same word, composed of the exact same letters as the word Eichah. How could this have possibly happened? Eichah and Ah’yekah are the themes of Tisha b’Av. G-d is asking the Jews: Where are you? What have you done with your lives? How could this have possibly happened? How can we improve ourselves?

If we focus on this message, then the fast of the Ninth of Av will indeed be meaningful. If not, then we will find that we’ve frittered away another great opportunity for self-improvement that G-d has given us–the gift of Teshuva.

Have a meaningful fast.

May you be blessed.