NOTHING TO SAY
Rabbi David Walk
As a rabbi I'm often asked questions. Periodically I'm actually asked a question to which I have an answer. However, very often I don't really have anything significant to respond. Sometimes that's fine, because I can say with sincerity, I'll look it up for you or I'll look into it. But many times it's the kind of question that has been asked so many times throughout Jewish history; rabbi, why did this or that happen to me or to my family or to our people. I have no answer. Perhaps, there is no answer. So, what do you say when there's nothing to say? Mary Poppins would declare: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, there's no need for dismay. Just summon up this word, and then you've got a lot to say. In rabbinic tradition there's another word to use when there's absolutely nothing to say: eicha. This word connects our Torah reading to this week's Haftorah and to next week's commemoration of Tisha B'av.
Moshe used it: Eicha can I bear your trouble, your burden, and your strife all by myself (Deuteronomy 1:12)? Isaiah used it: Eicha has she become a harlot, a faithful city; full of justice, in which righteousness would lodge, but now murderers (Isaiah 1:21). And Jeremiah used it: Eicha has the city that was once so populous remained lonely! She has become like a widow (Lamentations 1:1)! It's usually rendered into English as 'How,' but it could just as easily be translated as O, woe is me, or OMG. It's what the great prophets said when encountering the imponderable. The Midrash tries to make these three exclamations a continuum in this famous parable: Three prophesized using the word 'eicha': Moshe, Isaiah and Jeremiah….' R. Levi said: This may be compared to a bride who had three attendants. One saw her at peace, one saw her in her wantonness, and one saw her in her disgrace. Thus, Moshe saw
You may have noticed that the three uses aren't exactly parallel. Isaiah and Jeremiah exclaim it when observing the desolate state of
This powerlessness of expression on Tisha B'av leads the Rav to conclude that unlike other fast days Tisha B'av is not primarily about Teshuva. It is mourning and grief, pure and simple. Our tradition says that the mourner has no mouth. The Rav notes a shift in emphasis after mid-day, when the custom is to rise from the floor and sit on chairs, then we rise to the challenge of Teshuva and find our voice of prayer.
This brings us to the saddest aspect of Tisha B'av. It's not the lack of a building, no matter how magnificent. It's not the lack of the
We mourn the lack of the holy
Only after we've mourned and lamented this separation from the Godly as reported by Isaiah and Jeremiah, can we begin the Teshuva process. We repair the rift, and reestablish the lines of communication. We go back to Moshe's message that all the material stuff of this world is only to help us connect to God. Then we can use these physical objects around us to start rebuilding the
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