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Lamentations: Kinah 8: Line 1

“Would that I could soar to the sphere of the heaven.” This phrase is usually understood to be based on: “Behold, like an eagle the enemy – Babylon – will swoop down and spread its wings against Moab.” (Jeremiah 48:40) Moab, an ancient enemy of Israel, was confident that, because there were no indications that the Babylonians were planning to attack them, rejoiced at the vulnerability of Jerusalem. The prophet, in a vision in which he saw the future great achievements of Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians (Vayikra Rabbah 13:5), envisioned their armies swooping down on Moab in a shock attack, much as an eagle swoops down on its prey.

This vision of Babylon’s great future is part of the idea that God will only allow a great nation to conquer Israel. God wants people to have the opportunity to understand that the success of the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans against Israel was a gift from God. They were being used as God’s tool.

The Babylonian’s military successes were almost otherworldly. They were as swift as eagles.

The author of this lamentation is describing how he would need such miraculous assistance from God to be able to express the full extent of his lament over the destruction and exile.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin) describes the scene of the Babylonians successful breach of Jerusalem’s walls as one in which the army had almost given up on successfully breaking into the holy city. Rabha said: Three hundred mules loaded with iron saws which cut iron were given to Nebusaradan by Nebuchadnezzar while going to attack Jerusalem. And all of them were broken at one gate of Jerusalem, as it reads [Ps. lxxiv. 6]: “And now they hew in pieces the carver work thereof altogether with hatchets and hammers.” Seeing this he thought to return, but a heavenly voice was heard: “Jumper, the son of a jumper, O Nebusaradan, jump now, and thou wilst succeed, as the time for the destruction of the sanctuary and for the burning of the Temple has arrived.” And one saw remained with him, and with it he struck the gate, and it opened, as it reads [ibid., ibid. 5]: “(The enemy) is known as one that lifteth up high axes against the thickets of a forest.” Then he slew every one coming under his hand till he reached the Temple and kindled it. However, the Temple wanted to fly away, but it was prevented by Heaven and was trodden down, as it reads [Lamentations, i. 15]: “A winepress hath the Lord trodden over the virgin, the daughter of Judah.” Nebusaradan became proud of all this, and a heavenly voice was heard saying: “You slew a killed nation, a burnt temple have you burned, grind flour have you grind.”

The walls, miraculously fell without resistance only at the final moment so that all would know that the Babylonians were simply God’s tools.

The Talmud (Gittin 56a) describes a similar situation during the Roman attack in Jerusalem: He [the Emperor] sent against them Nero the Caesar. As he was coming he shot an arrow towards the east, and it fell in Jerusalem. He then shot one towards the west, and it again fell in Jerusalem. He shot towards all four points of the compass, and each time it fell in Jerusalem. He said to a certain boy: Repeat to me [the last] verse of Scripture you have learnt. He said: And I will lay my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel. He said: The Holy One, blessed be He, desires to lay waste his House and to lay the blame on me. So he ran away and became a proselyte, and R. Meir was descended from him.

Whomever the Nero , described in the story, was (we know that Nero never traveled to Jerusalem), he did not want to be God’s agent of destruction, only to be punished.

The Kabbalists associate wings with Din – God’s Attribute of Judgment. The eagle mentioned above, does not fly, as Din, when expressed as destruction, does not come from Above: It is the result of the destructive influences created by human beings, on earth.

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