The very first piece in Eicha Raba begins:
שלשה נתנבאו בלשון איכה, משה ישעיה וירמיה, משה אמר (דברים א') איכה אשא לבדי וגו', ישעיה אמר (ישעיה א') איכה היתה לזונה, ירמיה אמר איכה ישבה בדד,
There were three prophets who delivered prophecy with the word “EICHA”:
The first was Moshe Rabbeinu: We read this morning: “Eicha esa levadi torhakhem u’masa’akhem ve’rivkhem?” “How can I alone bear your problems, and your burdens, and your quarrels?”
The second to use the term was Yeshayahu HaNavi: He was the one warning the people during the time of the first Beis HaMikdash of what would come if they would not change their ways:
“Eicha hayta le-zonah kiriah ne’emanah, m’leaiati mishpat zedek yalin bah v’ata meratzhim” He asked: “How has the faithful city become a harlot! It was full of justice, righteousness dwelled there, and now murderers.”
The third prophet who uses the word is, of course, Yirmiyahu HaNavi, who opens the book of Eicha which we will read on Wednesday evening with the words: “Eicha yashva badad, ha’ir rabati am” “How does the city that was full of people sit desolate.”
The medrash itself notes that these were three stages of history for Am Yisrael.
- Moshe Rabbeinu saw us at the dawn of our nationhood, as we prepared to enter Eretz Yisrael of the very first time!
- Yeshayahu saw us once we had already strayed, having left behind the life HKBH had wanted for us.
- And Yirmiyahu experienced WITH US the destruction of the community of Bnei Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael.
And yet, the medrash notes that ALL THREE of these Neviim somehow chose the SAME EXACT WORD as the launching pad for their message to us.
What is it about the word EICHA that made it the theme for our troubles as a nation for millenia?
Rav Adin Even-Yisrael Steinsaltz writes that in order to understand what makes this word so important, we have to understand what Moshe meant when he used it for the first time.
Moshe said: “Eicha esa levadi torhakhem u’masa’akhem ve’rivkhem?” “How can I alone bear your problems, and your burdens, and your quarrels?”
At first, it may sound like Moshe is complaining about the burden of being the ONLY ONE to answer all of Bnei Yisrael’s questions, to manage their fights with one another.
But that can’t be correct. After all, we know that back in Parshas Beha’alosecha Moshe made a similar sounding request, and Hashem responded by telling Moshe that He would elect 70 zekeinim, a group of 70 elders who would help Moshe carry the burden of managing such a large nation.
If that’s the case, then what does Moshe mean that he was carrying tochachem, Maasachem, v’rivchem? Their problems, burdens, and quarrels?
The Seforno writes something incredibly sharp: He says that Bnei Yisrael had been promised by HKBH that they would be able to entere Eretz Yisrael with little difficulty. They were promised national success with limited fighting. And yet, Moshe says to them, you can’t stop the internal squabbles. So much so, that we had to elect more and more judges to deal with all the interpersonal fighting.
Taking this idea a step further, Rav Steinsaltz writes that the concern that Moshe is expressing is NOT a concern that he couldn’t handle all the work. He wasn’t upset that the people at times had made terrible mistakes.
What bothers him is that with all that is going on nationally, with the great opportunity that lay in front of us as a people, he looked around and he continued to see that everyone was focused only on themselves and their challenges. And he asked himself, out loud, “EICHA ESA LEVADI!” – “Why am I the only one who is ready to bear the burden of others?! In fact, I can’t be the only one! Because if I am the only looking out for the wellbeing of others, then this isn’t going to work!”
And if the EICHA of Moshe Rabbeinu, then, is a concern even with all of the potential ahead for this nation, the people already then were too concerned for themselves and not ready to step up for others, now we understand the Eicha of Yeshayahu and Yirmiyahu.
Yeshayahu, speaking just one generation before the Churban tells the people, “Lama Li Rov Zivcheichem”. Hashem has no interest in your korbanos if you treat each other terribly. “Gam Ki Tarbu Tefillah Eineni Shomeia, yadeichem damim maleiu” You can daven all you’d like, but I won’t listen because you have blood on your hands!”
Such painful words, but such important ones. And they are echoed with the same word, EICHA. “If you will not shoulder the burden of other Jews”, says HKBH, “then don’t come to ME for a relationship either!”
And then, finally, Yirmiyahu HaNavi asks the question, “Eicha Yashva Badad” how could the city of Yerushalayim sit “ALONE”. And the answer, of course, is that just as Moshe Rabbeinu and Yeshayahu HaNavi had warned for so long, that leaving others to fend for themselves will be our downfall, now we, Am Yisrael as a nation have become BADAD, all alone.
The EICHA of Moshe Rabbeinu, and then later of Yeshayahu and Yirmiyahu, is not a question of why we make mistakes, give in to temptation, aren’t always motivated enough in our Avodas Hashem. That’s disappointing to HKBH, but He can tolerate all of that.
The EICHA is asking how can it be that we watch other Jews struggling, financially, emotionally, religiously, or even just watch other Jews FIGHT WITH EACH OTHER, and it DOESN’T BOTHER US! It’s NOT MY PROBLEM! How can that be!?
Don’t get me wrong. It’s hard. We all have so much going on in our own lives. It becomes difficult to pay attention to the needs of others, and certainly to go out of our way for those to whom we don’t feel particularly connected.
Yet, even while acknowledging that reality, if Eicha Esa Levadi is the beginning of a progression that leads to Eicha yashva badad, then the way back comes when we start to care about what happens to other Jews. ALL OTHER JEWS.
And over the past few weeks and months, even as we have watched Israelis marching against each other, threatening each other, and worse, there have been those Jews who have heeded the call of Moshe Rabbeinu, standing up and saying ENOUGH.
Before Pesach, as the protests pro and against Judicial Reform were raging, there was an anti-reformm protest scheduled to take place in HaBima Square in Tel Aviv.
Every year the Chabad of Tel Aviv packs boxes of Pesach food to be distributed to those in need. So, they decided to line up empty boxes ready to be packed in the same area, adjacent to the protests. As people were leaving the protests, they saw rows and rows of empty boxes and piles of food to be packed.
And, not surprisingly, Jews of all types began packing boxes together for other Jews they would never meet.
The feedback was amazing: "At first I thought in my heart, well, just like they 'stole' the state from me, now they are stealing Habima Square from me" said a woman at the scene, "and then I said to myself: take a breath, and see what it is first, before you express preconceived opinions and stereotypes. Then they brought me to pack canned food boxes etc... It's so hard to see our people so divided, it's very hard. And here we are and all types of Am Israel are standing and packing together… I am moved to tears".
Another person said, “"This is an opportunity to implement the well-known Hasidic saying: 'A little light repels a lot of darkness,' and we need a lot of light these days."
And then, a few weeks ago, another beautiful moment, this time on live TV.
There had been a terrible video that went viral of an anti-religious woman accosting and verbally attacking a Chabad young man who was helping two teenagers put on tefillin.
In response, TV personality Shai Golden, a secular Israeli who hosts Yisrael HaBoker on Channel 14, invited a Chabad Rabbi to help him put on tefillin on a live broadcast.
Just before he put on the tefillin, he said, “I want to say to you, you who may see this show and want to mock it, I want to tell you that we, here on Channel 14, are PROUD to be mekadeish Shem Shamayim, PROUD to put on tefillin on the show, PROUD to invite the Rav to speak about this important mitzvah. And if you think it’s strange? Deal with it. The State of Israel is a place for all Jews.”
Yes, we all have a lot going on, but we all have the opportunity, every day, to care for the needs of another person who we have little to do with.
- We have interactions all the time with Jews who don’t look like us, who may observe differently than us. And as that judgment starts to creep in, stop yourself. Remind yourself it’s not worth it.
- When we are getting ready to make a comment about another group in our community, or in another community, or in another city, STOP and ask, “am I promoting Ahavas Yisrael or am I doing the opposite?”
There is so much disagreement in the world, in the country, and certainly within the Jewish community. We can’t afford to wait for others to create an atmosphere of respectful disagreement. We need to promote it ourselves.
As Mahatma Ghandi once said: “Be the change you wish to see in the world”.
Moshe Rabbeinu lamented that he looked around and saw his fellow Jews obsessed with their own needs an unable to look beyond themselves to be mindful of others. It is THE ISSUE that remained the focus of neviim as we headed towards and even as we experienced Churban.
Let’s make it our mission, then, to reverse course. To become those who feel strongly and passionately about our positions. AND, those who feel just as strongly and passionately about our love and regard for EVERY SINGLE JEW.