Lamentations: First Kinah – Line 17; Part One
“With our lives we win our bread…for we have shut our hands against the needy.” Eicha Rabbah 5:10: Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said; although the former generation experienced only part of what is inflicted on us by the foreign kingdoms they became impatient. In connection with our forefathers it is written, “And the soul of the people became impatient because of the way .” Daniel said, “As for me, Daniel, my spirit was pained. ” Isaiah said, “Therefore are my loins filled with convulsion. ” Jeremiah said, “We get our bread with the peril of our lives.” But we, who are set in the midst of the four kingdoms, how much more should we complain!
How are we, who live with such abundance, to understand the above selection? Although we must work for our living we do not suffer for our food even as they did just one generation ago. Even the poorest among us have food stamps and charity. They do not purchase their bread at the peril of their lives.
A story is told about a meeting between Napoleon and the Czar of Russia and their debate regarding how best to “deal with the Jews.” The Czar favored oppression and separation from Russia in order to crush the Jewish spirit. Napoleon disagreed. He advocated acculturation. “Expose them to modern culture. Allow them to become part of society and they will lose their Jewish identity.” Napoleon’s approach was far more effective than the Czar’s. As soon as the ghetto walls were broken we lost generations of Jews.
The loss continues in our time. We continue to lose children who are exposed to modern society and cannot connect to the lessons of the Torah which seem distant and inapplicable. Thousands of Jews who studied in Yeshiva lose more and more of their connection with Torah as they go out into the world to work and are exposed to modernity and its temptations. We literally purchase our bread at the peril of our spiritual lives.
We can choose to hide from modernity in order to protect ourselves. But then we are saying that Torah is not Torat Chayim, a Torah of life that can deal with any issue. Once we take that approach to Torah it will not apply o our world and we will lose even more of our connection to our heritage. We will lose more children who don’t understand the applicability of Torah to our society. We must be involved.
We must learn to use Torah to guide us as we live in modernity not to hide from it. Our Torah is not quaint, meant for other generations, not ours. Torah is meant for our generation. It provides the direction to live in modern society, to thrive in it and live as passionate Jews. This stanza weeps over the loss of our ability to live with modernity and thrive as Jews. We are acquiring our bread at the peril of our spiritual lives.