Avraham ben Yaakov
KNOW YOUR BIBLE
LAMENTATIONS CHAPTER 3
Like Chapters 1, 2 and 4 of EICHAH, Chapter 3 takes the form of an acrostic built upon the Aleph-Beis, except that in this case each of the letters of the Aleph-Beis is used in succession as the initial letter of three short verses or triplets.
"I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of His wrath" (v 1). Starting with this verse, the first six triplets in this elegy (vv 1-18) all pour forth from the heart of the Elegist himself - a righteous prophet - complaining that God has set him up as His target: "He is to me like a bear lying in wait and like a lion in secret places" (v 10). The entire passage is somewhat reminiscent of Job's complaints that God was tormenting him for no reason, and the rabbis of the Midrash point to a GEZERAH SHAVAH (identical phrase in two disparate texts indicating a midrashic connection between the two) between the first verse of our present chapter, "I am the man (GEVER).", and a verse in Job where his interlocutor Eli-hoo criticizes him, saying "Which man (GEVER) is like Job, who drinks up scorning like water?" (Job 34:7). "Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi commented: 'I am the man.' - I am the same as Job, of whom it is written, 'Which man is like Job, who drinks up scorning like water?' Everything You brought upon Job, You have brought upon me!" (Eichah Rabbah). The Elegist is simultaneously pouring out his own pain and giving expression to the national pain. Rashi on v 1 explains the pain of Jeremiah himself: Jeremiah was complaining that he "witnessed greater affliction than all the other prophets who prophesied about the destruction of the Temple , because it was not destroyed in their days but in mine!"
In Job's case it was Eli-hoo who brought him to understand that although he may have been righteous, he had perhaps not been righteous enough and that was why he suffered. But in the case of the present elegy here in EICHAH, it is Jeremiah himself who is in dialog with the thoughts in his own heart, and simultaneously with those in the hearts of his people, who felt that the cruelty of their plight meant that God had become their enemy. [Many have felt similarly about the Holocaust.] "And I said, My strength and my hope are perished from HaShem" (v 18). But immediately after this expression of despair, there is a change in the tone of the elegy in the seventh triplet (vv 19-21). Having given expression to the real feelings of despair in his heart, Jeremiah begins to pray to God to remember his suffering even as his soul is bowed down within him, and he discovers how to reply to that inner voice of despair: "With this shall I give an answer to my heart, therefore I have hope" (v 21).
The ensuing message of hope begins in the beautiful passage in vv 22ff: God's kindnesses and mercies are truly unending. They are renewed every morning! It is this gives the Elegist the courage to address God directly: "Great is Your faithfulness!" (v 23). Since we can rely on the constant renewal of God's kindness, there is always hope, and because there is always hope, it is fitting for man to bear his suffering patiently in the knowledge that God sends it for his own ultimate benefit. Having delicately reached this point, Jeremiah now teaches the suffering people the proper way to respond to their suffering.  We must always wait for God's salvation (v 26).  It is necessary to bear our suffering with patience (v 27).  We must "sit alone and keep silent"(v 28) - i.e. enter into deep personal self-reckoning without railing against fate. Here in EICHAH is one of the foundations of the pathway of HISBODEDUS - secluded meditation and prayer - that Rabbi Nachman of Breslov emphasized more than anything.  We must "put our mouths in the dust" (v 29). Dust or earth is =APHAR, the vessel that receives the three higher elements of Fire, Air and Water. APHAR is MALCHUS, the acceptance of God's kingship, which we do through prayer.  We must "turn the other cheek" to our detractors (v 30), for it is through the silence in which we bear their insults that we attain God's glory (Likutey Moharan I, 6).
Continuing on his delicate path of helping the people to accept and come to terms with their suffering, the Elegist explains beginning in the eleventh triplet (vv 31ff) that God will not reject Israel forever (v 31), and that if He has afflicted them, He will eventually have mercy (v 32), for His chastisements are not sent arbitrarily (v 33ff). Addressing deep questions about the justice of God's providence (which is also the subject of the book of Job) Jeremiah affirms that the Righteous God never twists any man's judgment, and that nothing in the world comes about except through the command of the King (v 37).
"Out of the mouth of the Most High do not the bad things come and the good?" (v 38). The original Hebrew words of this verse are necessarily susceptible to a variety of interpretations that may even appear contradictory to one another. This is because the verse contains the mystery of how good and evil emanate from the One God, who is perfect goodness. Rashi (ad loc.) paraphrases: "If I were to come to say that it was not from His hands that this evil came upon me but that it was a chance occurrence that happened to me, this is not so. For whether bad things or good things occur, 'Who is this that spoke and it came to be if not that HaShem commanded it?' (v 37). 'Why then does a man complain while he yet lives, a man over the punishment of his sins?' (v 39). Each man must complain about his own sins because it is they that bring evil upon him. 'From the mouth of the Supreme it does not go forth' (v 38): Rabbi Yohanan said, From the day that the Holy One blessed be He said, 'See, I have set before you life and goodness, death and evil' (Deut. 30:15) [i.e. man has been given free will], 'the bad and the good do not go forth from His mouth', but rather, evil comes by itself to those who do bad while goodness comes to those who do good. Therefore what should a man complain and be upset about if not about his own sins?" (Rashi on v 38).
The moral is clear: "Let us examine and search out our ways and return to HaShem" (v 40). "Let us lift up our HEARTS to our HANDS to God in heaven" (v 41) - It is not enough merely to stretch out our HANDS in prayer: our HEARTS must be in our prayers - we must be sincere and mean what we say, not like those who "immerse in the mikveh while still clutching the defiling unclean creature in their hand", verbally expressing their intention to repent while still holding onto their bad ways (see Taanis 16a).
"We have sinned and rebelled, but You have not forgiven us" (v 42). This verse marks a transition from the Elegist's exhortations about prayer and repentance to a further outpouring of the pain, grief and tears caused by Israel's protracted suffering - for he knows that even his wise advice in the previous section (vv 21-41) cannot that quickly assuage the pain and hurt. Yes, we continue to weep -and we will weep "until Hashem will look down and see from heaven" (v 50). Again and again the Elegist delicately steers us back to knowing that we must turn only to God. "I called Your Name, HaShem, from the bottommost pit" (v 55). The following verse, "You have heard my voice; hide not Your ear at my sighing" (v 56) is among the six verses customarily chanted in unison by the congregation immediately prior to the blowing of the Shofar in the synagogue on Rosh HaShanah.
The final section of this elegy (vv 57-66) are a ringing affirmation of faith that God will redeem Israel and wreak His vengeance on their enemies for all their evil.
As discussed in the commentary on EICHAH Chapter 1, the elegy contained here in Chapter 4 was said by the rabbis of the Talmud to have been composed by Jeremiah on the death of the saintly King Josiah in Megiddo at the hands of Pharaoh Necho (II Chronicles 35:25; Rashi ad loc.).
"How is the gold become dim!" (v 1) - "This lament was said over Josiah, and with it he wove in the other children of Zion " (Rashi on v 1). Rashi here is explaining why it is that if this is an elegy for Josiah, almost all of its contents relate not specifically to the slain king but to the entire people. The elegy is truly about the loss of Josiah, whose importance lay in the fact that he "went in the ways of David his father without turning to the right or the left" (II Chron. 34:2). As such Josiah was the last hope of Judah - had he had time to complete his mission of bringing the people to genuine repentance, he could have saved Jerusalem from destruction, and thus he had the potential to be Mashiach (as he is indeed called here in verse 20). But he was cut down in his very prime and his death sealed the fate of Jerusalem , making the destruction of the Temple and the cruel exile all but inevitable.
Thus with the death of Josiah twenty-two years prior to the actual destruction, Jeremiah already prophesied the horrors of the coming calamity. "The hallowed stones are poured out at the top of every street" (v 1) - "these are the children, who radiated like precious jewels. And there is also a Midrash telling that Jeremiah gathered every cupful of blood that flowed out of each of Josiah's arrow wounds and buried it in its place, chanting, 'The hallowed stones have been poured out.'" (Rashi on v 1).
The children are cast out like broken shards (v 2). Their starving mothers, who ignore their pleas for food in order to find something to eat themselves, have been reduced to a cruelty that even jackals do not show to their young (v 3, see Rashi). Those brought up in the lap of luxury are thrown out on the streets clutching at the garbage heaps (v 5). Even as Jeremiah depicts the horror, he weaves in his teaching about its cause: "For the sin of the daughter of my people is greater." (v 6). The fire that was to consume Zion was from God (v 11). The enemy was able to do the unthinkable and enter the gates of Jerusalem "on account of the sins of her prophets, the transgressions of her priests" (vv 12-13).
Verse 15 portrays the terrible victimization of Israel in their places of exile, rejected as an unclean caste by the sanctimonious nations. The face of anger God shows them in their exile is the penalty for their having failed to give the proper respect to their priests and elders in their time of tranquility (v 16, see Rashi).
"As for us, our eyes do yet fail for our vain help: in our watching we have watched for a nation that could not save" (v 17). The kings of Judah who followed Josiah expected that Egypt would intervene to save Israel from the clutches of Babylon , but in vain (see Rashi ad loc.). In our time it seems that many in Israel somehow expect the country they see as her closest ally to come to her defense, but as the threats around little Israel grow ever more menacing with the apparent complicity of her ally, it seems that any hopes that this ally will ever help may also prove to have been in vain.
After the Elegist's depiction of the horrors of the calamity that was to come as a result of the death of Josiah, we now understand why it was such a disaster that "The breath of our nostrils, HaShem's anointed, has been captured in their pits - he of whom we said, Under his shadow we shall live among the nations" (v 20).
The concluding verses of this elegy promise that God will take vengeance upon the nations that persecuted Israel and destroyed the Temple . Although Jeremiah was living at the time of the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians, he already sees prophetically to the eventual destruction of Edom , i.e. Rome , which perpetrated the destruction of the Second Temple .
Targum on verse 21 identifies "the daughter of Edom who dwells in the land of Ootz" with "KOUSTANTINA (=Constantinople), the city of the wicked Edom that was built in the land of Armenia with a great population from the people of Edom - upon you too is He destined to bring punishment, and the Persians will destroy you." Constantinople was indeed until its demise in the Middle Ages the center of the Latin Empire, which was actually called the Roman Empire . The Talmudic rabbis had a tradition that " Rome is destined to fall by the hand of Persia " (Yoma 10a) and "this will take place just before the coming of Mashiach" (Tosfos on Avodah Zarah 2b). Zion 's punishment will then be complete and they will know no more exile (v 22).
"Remember, HaShem, what has come upon us; look and see our shame" (v 1). The concluding chapter of EICHAH, unlike all the previous chapters, is not an alphabetical acrostic. It is a prayerful elegy enumerating the painful details of Israel 's terrible suffering at the hands of the nations throughout their various exiles.
"Because of this our heart is faint" (v 17). The Hebrew word translated here as "faint" has the connotation of menstrual impurity (cf. Lev. 12:2, 15:33 & 20:18). In the words of the Midrash: "On account of the fact that a menstruating woman has to separate herself from her house for a number of days, the Torah calls her 'faint'. How much more so are we - who have been separated from the House of our life and from our Temple for so many days and so many years - called 'faint', and that is why it says, 'Because of this our heart is faint'" (Eichah Rabbah).
"But You, HaShem, dwell forever. Why do You forget us forever and forsake us for so long? Turn us to You, HaShem, and we will return; renew our days as of old!" (vv 19-21).
With this prayer for God to turn our hearts to Him in repentance the Elegist concludes EICHAH - AYEKAH? "Where are you???" - a call to repent. Since verse 22 has a negative tone, it is customary to repeat verse 21 thereafter in order to conclude the reading of EICHAH on a positive note.
This final chapter of EICHAH is included in the readings included in TIKKUN RACHEL, which is the first part of TIKKUN CHATZOS, the Midnight Prayer, recited every night by the very devout. TIKKUN RACHEL consisting of laments over the destruction of the Temple is recited only on those weekdays on which Tachanun is recited but not on Sabbaths, festivals and other days with a semi-festive character. However, the second part of TIKKUN CHATZOS, known as TIKKUN LEAH, may be recited every night of the year (see "The Sweetest Hour" by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum, Breslov Research Institute).
BACK TO KNOW YOUR BIBLE HOMEPAGE
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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