Lamentations: First Kinah – Line 8
“We are pursued on our necks”: This is based on Eichah 5:5. The Midrash is bothered by the choice of neck as opposed to any other limb on the body. It answers that this refers to a decree by
Adrionus, at the time of the destruction of the second Beit Hamikdash that each Jew had to shave his hair and beard so as to appear as a slave. We experienced similar disgrace in the Holocaust when the Nazis would rip off beards and payos. They attacked what the Jews had as symbols of their being Jewish. The Midrash says we lose part of ourselves when we lose physical symbols of our identity as Jews.
The Midrash continues; at the time of the destruction of the first Beit Hamikdash, Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, instructed Nebuzaradan, his chief of staff, not to allow the Jews to rest as they were exiled to Babylon. He was concerned that they would repent and that God would save them. Nebuzaradan would chop to pieces any Jew who stopped to rest as a warning to the other Jews not to stop. Again, we experienced this in the infamous death marches of the Nazis. Jews were pushed to move forward, no matter how weak or sick. Any Jew who would stop would be summarily executed. The latter was actually far worse than the former. Nebuchadnezzar’s decree was based on his awareness of the power of the prayers of the Jewish People and of the potency of their Teshuva.
There was a respect for us in the horrible decree. The Nazis were motivated purely by their hatred of the Jews and their desire to kill as many Jews as possible. There is a difference between an enemy who respects your power as a nation and one who simply wants to destroy you. During the Holocaust the only respect that we would receive would be from ourselves, a far greater challenge. This is especially so under the horrible conditions with which we lived.
We live in a generation when Jews are ashamed of their Judaism. When we receive words of respect from other people, but all the words ring hollow. We live in a time when we want to be part of the society around us and we don’t want to standout. We are more desperate now for self-respect that at any other time in history. In previous Tisha B’Avs we had enemies who respected us and understood that the only way to defeat us was to destroy our identity. Now we are fighting our own sense of identity.
Yes, there are those who are willing to stand out from the crowd. We can see Chasidim in their distinctive clothes, Yeshiva students with their black fedoras. We see may who grow beards and payos. The identity issue is clearly addressed by many. However, we must beg the question; “What about self respect?” Are we raising our children with a sense of identity that comes with a clear sense of self-respect? Do they understand what they are doing and why? Is their sense of pride that “We are not like the goyim?” or does it derive from a clear and deep sense of what a Jew is and can be? We experienced an enemy who had tremendous respect for our spiritual strength at the time of the destruction of the first Temple. At the time of the destruction of the second our enemy understood that the fight against the Jews had to be against their identity as Jews. In the Holocaust our enemy attacked our sense of being human beings at all. Now the enemy is within. Ashamed, embarrassed, or, worse, unaware of what it means to be Jew at all.
In both of the two previous examples we read how an experience of almost 2,000 years ago and earlier happened again in recent history. This is one of the major themes of Tisha B’Av: The experiences of the destruction of the Temple occur again and again. We are not simply remembering something that happened a very long time ago. We acknowledge that whatever happened then continues to happen again and again.
This is why we do not have a separate day to remember the Holocaust. As horrible as it was, it was a continuation of a very long story. One that connects to the first and every Tisha B’Av that followed.