Lamentations: First Kinah – Lines 23-24 Part One
“Leaders were hanged by their hand because they plundered and robbed the loot of the poor.” Midrash : “When a governor entered a city, he took its best men and hanged them. The elders would go to him and try to dissuade him from doing this to them, but he refused to listen to them. Therefore it is said, ‘Princes are hanged up by their hand; the faces of the elders are not honored.’
The Tosefot Berachah compares this to the verse in Koheleth 4:14 “For the former can emerge from a dungeon to become king.” He explains that someone fresh out of prison will bring all the cruelty of the prison with him. The governors who came were crueler because of their own experience in prison.
This stanza is obviously addressing our cruelty to those who are dependant on us. It is saying that we experienced the cruelty of hanging because of our own cruelty to the poor. How does this apply to our generation?
We, as a community, give massive amounts of Tzedaka. There are constantly people knocking at our doors or approaching us in shul asking for money. We are inundated with mail begging our financial support. And we respond. We give to as many people as we can. We provide money for weddings, for medical bills, for families out of work because of illness.
We build institutions of learning and chesed. We provide housing, food, medical supplies and clothing for the needy. We support Torah scholars, allowing them the opportunity to study Torah without having to worry about supporting their families.
We have organizations to visit hospitals and care for the families of those who are ill. We have homes for mothers who have just given birth to recover and relax. We take care of the mentally ill and support their families. We provide an education for all children, no matter how poor. We have summer camps that have financial aid for families that can’t afford the luxury for their children. We provide social services. The list does not end.
Even the poorest of families share what little they have with others. They will cook meals for their neighbors who are ill. They will baby-sit and clean the homes of the tired and sick.
Our Gedolim are on the forefront of every Tzedaka and every institution. Their names appear on every mail solicitation. How can we possibly say about our generation and its leaders that “They plundered and robbed the loot of the poor”?