Eichah & Tisha B'Av Part One (2000)
…You can be angry, just to get angry, or you can be angry because of a pattern in a relationship. So there is a difference between someone insulting me and someone preventing me from accomplishing something with my life. Hate comes from someone who wants to annoy me, from sin’at chinam. But someone who is out to prevent me from accomplishing my purpose in life, that is not sin’at chinam. The same thing is true with bichiya chinam. If I cry out in pain, there a cry for freedom. It is a loss of a sense of direction. That is to say, “Here I am functioning, trying to do everything I can, but I don’t feel that all my efforts are congealing. I’m not accomplishing what I think I can with my life.
The thing to keep in mind in the evening prayer before the reading of Eicha is to reflect on all those prayers that were not as good as they could be, and did not take us from one point to another. Then, on the positive side, is to understand that any prayer, even one that seems to accomplish nothing at all, does one thing – which is to connect with God. First, we reflect on why we go through these motions so often where we feel that our prayers aren’t getting us anywhere, three times a day, and then to turn it around while we are davening and to understand that by the very fact that I am doing so takes me one step closer to God. So I get to see what I am doing is chinam – without direction – and then I try to impose some sort of direction on it. This is a good way to begin Tisha B’av – both in the act of bechira chinam – the crying, the loss of direction, and then the fixing of it – giving it some sort of direction.
I would like to suggest an exercise. One of the major themes in the Midrash on Eicha is the idea of HaIr Rabti Am – “The city that was very great.” The Midrash tells these almost ridiculous stories about how fantastic, how brilliant, and how wealthy the Jewish people were before the destruction.
One of the most famous stories is that of Marta bat Beisus. She was incredibly wealthy and she wanted some bread. She sent her servant out to buy some wonder bread. The servant came back and said, “There is no more wonder bread. There is only barley bread.” “OK,” she replied, “go get me some barley bread.” By the time the servant went out again to search he discovered there was no longer any barley bread. He returned to report that there was only black bread. “OK, fetch me some black bread.” He again returned saying, “There is no more black bread, but there is some week-old spelt bread.” It never occurred to him, whenever he went out, to get the best quality of whatever bread was there. Finally, in desperation, she herself went out to buy bread. As she was walking through the street she stepped on a pit that had been sucked on by someone who was starving. Rabbi Tzaddok, who used to fast, spat the pit out and she stepped on it. She was so disgusted by the pit that she died. That is a story of how great Jerusalem was. Contrasted with how terrible it became. This is supposed to give us an idea of how terrible the destruction was, and our hearts are supposed to be broken.
Quite frankly, I have trouble relating to Marta bat Beisus. But I think that the Midrash is bringing a tremendous idea that goes the to core of Creation, all the way to the first hint of Tisha B’av, which occurred in the garden in time called Garden of Eden, when God says to Adam, ayeca – “Where are you?” The word ayeca is the same as eicha. This idea is that human beings have tremendous difficulty being great. Jews have the same history of doing this. For example, when the Jews had sovereignty over Israel, they had the Beit Hamikdash, the Temple in Jerusalem. They could see God’s presence play out right in front of them with the most unbelievable miracles. And they never noticed. Quite frankly, I don’t blame them. I remember, I would hesitate to go to spend time with my grandfather. It was great to see him; he was a great man. But I never realized that by being with him, I could be a lot better than I am. So I didn’t see him that often. I had the chance to go see some of the superstars of our generation with my grandfather. But I didn’t go, because I felt guilty. “I could be like Reb Moshe Feinstein, even taller!” But I was afraid. I don’t mean to categorize, but Jews in general have difficulty aspiring to greatness.
Greatness carries tremendous responsibility. There so many examples of this Tanach. Read the first chapter of Jeremiah. God says to him, “Listen, you’re a navi, you’re great. But the minute you accept your greatness, I want to let you know that you will be miserable. So you have a choice. You can be great and be miserable, or you can be comfortable.” This is a choice that confronts many people. And this really strikes at the core of what Tisha B’av is. All of us have this drive to accomplish great things. We all have potential to do so. But in acknowledging this potential, we realize the inherent responsibility. That’s where we get into trouble.
Sometimes we get so caught up in it, we can’t fix the situation. For example, look at Adam and Eve in the Garden. God said to Adam, “Where are you?” Why did they have to hide? All they had to say was, “We ate from the tree; we make a mistake.” Had they said this, they wouldn’t have been kicked out. Everything would have been hunky-dory. They didn’t because there was a set-up, and the set-up was called the Tree of Knowledge. If you read through all the rishonim, it’s quite clear. Basically, they were set up. A human being has tremendous drives. You can’t say to us that the whole world is ours, except for that one tree, and then command us to conquer the world, and not eat of that one tree. You can’t say that because he will go right after that tree – that is what the human being was created to do.
This is also hinted at in many Midrashim. Remember the story of the creation of the Sun and the Moon. They were both the same size. The moon said, “We have to be different.” So God said, “Make yourself smaller.” The moon responded, “Why should I make myself smaller? I didn’t do anything wrong. I just want to be different. I want to be me.” God appeases the moon by bringing a sin offering, to say that He needed the moon’s forgiveness for making the moon smaller. Yes, I created you with a drive to be different, but the moment you wanted to be different, I made you smaller.
There are certain basic contradictions in the world. Among the most painful is that we have a drive to accomplish, but we feel limited, and we limit ourselves. That is where we tend to trip up. And that is where the Jews tripped up in the desert. They were about to go into Israel and accomplish tremendous things. But they were terrified. It is easier in the desert, than when you have your own country. It happened at the First Temple, at the Second Temple, and by Bar Kochba. Imagine, you have the Messiah, right there. That’s where we trip up. We don’t appreciate our greatness. This is what we mourn for on Tisha B’av. We have tremendous potential that we don’t reach.
The best way for me to keep this in mind is to picture if I had everything I needed, if I didn’t need to work for a living, and all my needs were taken care of, and I could dedicate my life to one thing, what would it be? And if that picture fantasy that you have is something that changes the world and doing something really significant, then you know that you have that potential. Then you have to ask yourself, what am I doing about it? – At least on a smaller scale. And if I am not doing anything about it, then I know that I have what is called a “Tisha B’Av Issue.” There is one part of me that believes I have this potential, and there is another that isn’t really doing anything about it. That is the frustration that is related in the first part of Eicha.
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