An Extraordinary City
“The city that was great with people (Lamentations 1:1).” The Midrash goes to great lengths to describe the wisdom and wealth of Jerusalem’s inhabitants before its destruction by the Roman.
I appreciate the point of describing the wisdom, but why spend so much time describing the wealth? Does wealth make a city great? New York City has many wealthy people, but also many poor and homeless. Does its wealth make NY a great city?
Perhaps the issue addressed is the kind of wealth, and how it shaped peoples’ behavior. There is a difference between wealth and the projection of wealth:
“Increasingly over the last two decades, women and men with higher salaries and more college classes under their belt broke away from the sensible middle class and engaged in a new round of conspicuous consumption. … Yet they also wanted to show off their education and know-how. That is where the authenticity part mattered and where it became, under Starbucks and Whole Foods and so many other natural-looking chains, more about status and sophistication than it was about the counterculturally tinged consumption and rebellion against the fake that Jerry Baldwin and his fellow travelers favored. Post-post-hippies, like [Starbucks CEO] Howard Schultz, associated authenticity not so much with the search for more genuine products, wrote consumer behavior specialist Michael Solomon in 2003, as with a range of upscale values, ‘like a better lifestyle, personal control, and better taste.
“To display smarts, superior tastes, and even enlightened politics, the upper classes of the 1990s focused their buying on things that looked natural and rare but also required special knowledge to fully understand. They bought a California wine to demonstrate that they knew about exceptional vintages, or a Viking stove because they knew that real cooks used these oversized machines, or a bike trip through Provence because they knew from their college art history classes that the hills and sun there inspired pained and brilliant painters. … Buying in post-Reagan America was not about keeping up with the Joneses; it was about separating yourself from the Joneses, the conformists in the middle.”
(Bryant Simon; Everything But The Coffee)
“It was about separating yourself from the Joneses, the conformists in the middle,” is a description of wealth as a source of disunity. Such wealth does not make a city “great with people.” Jerusalem’s wealth was different.
Of course there were the conspicuous consumers, as there always have been in every city in the world, but Jerusalem’s wealth, even as the people dealt with a different consumption; being consumed with Baseless Hatred, Sinat Chinam, was used to feed those who did not have the basic necessities. The wealth was used to make everyone benefit from the city’s greatness.
The tragedy was, “How could such a city of shared greatness fall so low?”
“Has become like a widow,” explains that people experienced the loneliness of a widow. The people of the city cared for the financial needs of the masses, but from a distance, through a government agency, but did not take the time to pay attention; “She sits in solitude.” Ironically, the same solitude as the people who live just to separate themselves from the Joneses.
We may not have the funds, but we have the phones. We can each call someone who lives alone just to wish them a Shabbat Shalom. We can stop and say hello to each person who is standing alone in the Synagogue.
This is a lesson we can learn on Tisha B’Av when we do not greet each other and experience the loneliness of the person to whom no one says hello. Just paying attention to the experience is a step forward; a fixing of the “city great with people,” that now, “sits in solitude.”
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