Kinah 44-O How The Mighty Have Fallen
“The staff of the wicked, when it was raised to hang princes by their hands; your happiness is ended, your joy and the instruments of your song.” (See, “Lamentations-First Kinah-Lines 23 & 24-Part One.”)
This is based on: “God has broken the rod of the wicked, the scepter of the rulers, which in anger struck down peoples with unceasing blows, and in fury subdued nations with relentless aggression. All the lands are at rest and at peace; they break into singing. Even the junipers and the cedars of Lebanon gloat over you and say, “Now that you have been laid low, no one comes to cut us down (Isaiah 14:5-8).”
The Talmud explains: Rabbi Melai said in the name of Rabbi Eleazar son of Rabbi Simeon: What is meant by the verse, “God has broken the staff of the wicked, the scepter of the rulers”? ‘God has broken the staff of the wicked’ refers to the judges who become a staff for their sheriffs (They support their underlings in evil; or, support them in their refusal to summon the defendant to court or to enforce the court verdict unless they are well-paid for it [Rashi]) ‘the scepter of the rulers’ refers to the scholars in the families of the judges (unfit judges appointed by the scholars of their family) Mar Zutra said: This refers to the scholars who teach the laws of the public (laws concerning communal matters, the imposition of taxes for communal and charitable purposes) to ignorant judges (Shabbat 139a).
The Yerushalmi comments: Rabbi Levi said, “God has broken the staff of the wicked,” refers to the First Born sons who were the first to make offerings to the Golden Calf, and therefore forfeit their role as Kohanim to the tribe of Levi (Megillah 1:11).
The opening line of this Kinah offers a thematic connection between the two approaches above: “Zion, once you were mistress over the kingdom that now oppresses you.” The anonymous author begins by describing how, the once great and powerful, are ruled by those who, at one time, were their subjects.
Whether Isaiah is addressing judges who misused their power over the people, or, the First Born sons, who were to guide the people in serving God but chose to lead them in worshipping the Golden Calf. Those who abuse or misuse their power are condemned to submit to their victims.
The author complains, “If this is true, as happened to the First Born and to corrupt leaders and judges, why is it not true of those who oppress us, abuse us in their power?”
I add the following selection from the Talmud that includes a similar theme, and as we saw in Kinah 43 – “Sorcerers As Leaders.”
It was taught: Rabbi Yosi ben Elisha said: If you see a generation overwhelmed by many troubles, go forth and examine the judges of Israel, for all retribution that comes to the world comes only on account of the Judges of Israel, as it is said, “Hear this, I pray you, you heads of the House of Jacob, and rulers of the House of Israel, that abhor judgment, and pervert all equity. They build up Zion with blood and Jerusalem with iniquity. The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money; yet will they lean upon God (Michah 3:9-11).” They are wicked, but they place their confidence in Him Who decreed, and the world came into existence.
Therefore the Holy One, blessed be He, will bring three punishments upon them answering to the three sins which they cultivate, as it is said, “Therefore shall Zion for your sake be ploughed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of a forest. (Verse 12).” And the Holy One, blessed be He, will not cause His Divine presence to rest upon Israel until the wicked judges and officers cease out of Israel, for it is said, “And I will turn my hand upon you, and thoroughly purge away your dross, and will take away all your tin. And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you will be called the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City. Zion will be delivered with justice, her penitent ones with righteousness (Isaiah 1:25-27).” [Shabbat 139a]