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Tisha B'Av, which begins on Monday evening and ends Tuesday night after dark, is the most solemn of the mournful fasts. Tisha B'Av (the fast of the ninth day of the month of Av) commemorates the destruction of both Temples, first by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E. and then by the Romans in 70 C.E. This fast also marks the end of the "Three Weeks" of mourning which began on the seventeenth of Tammuz marking the sieges of Jerusalem. It was designated by the Rabbis as a special time of reflection to rectify those shortcomings that led to the destruction of both Temples.
The Parsha of Devarim is always read the Shabbat before Tisha B'Av. One of the reasons for reading this particular Parsha every year is the similarity of words used in our Parsha and in the Book of Eicha (Lamentations). In fact, on Tisha B'Av when the Book of Eicha is read, it begins: "Eicha Yashva Badad Ha'ir... (How the city sits alone...) This verse is chanted with a haunting and sorrowful tune and begins a series of lamentations over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Most of these lamentations begin with the word "Eicha."
In our Parsha, a single phrase in chapter 1 verse 12 is chanted using this very tune. Moshe laments the difficulties that he encountered due to the contentiousness of the Jewish people. Moshe cries out: "Eicha Esa L'vadi... (How can I carry this alone...)."
There are two similarities in the phrases: first, the use of the word Eicha (how), second the use of the words L'vad and Badad (both with the same word root) meaning alone.
Though the end of the Temple era was full of unrest, the destruction of the Temple was not attributed to that, nor to assimilation, but rather to the lack of proper interpersonal relations. Similarly, there is a 33 day mourning period between Pesach (Passover) and Shavu'ot (Pentecost) that marks a time in which 24,000 students of Rebbi Akiva died in a plague. The source of that plague was the scarcity of Derech Eretz (respect) displayed among Rebbi Akiva's students.
The Talmud in Gitten (55b - 56a) teaches that our second Temple was destroyed (70 C.E.) because of Sinat Chinam (senseless hatred). A story is detailed of two men, Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, wherein a series of events was set in motion that eventually caused Caesar to lay siege to Jerusalem and burn the Temple to the ground.
The consequence of hatred is alienation. Senseless hatred means that one does not have to overtly cause someone else physical or emotional damage; instead, it divides us, and causes barriers to form between us, ending in destruction. Therefore the Book of Eicha laments: "Eicha Yashva Badad Ha'ir... (How the city sits alone...) And Moshe in our Parsha cries out: "Eicha Esa L'vadi... (How can I carry this alone...)." Each verse reflects upon how its particular form of alienation has come about.
The tool that we use for reflection is Aveylut (mourning). When a loved one is taken away, the community gathers around the bereaved friend or family member and sits with them and tries to dispel that feeling of alienation. That is why so many of us have difficulty visiting a mourner. We want to magically remove the pain from that person's life, when really all that is necessary is to sit with them and let them know that they are not alone.
Moshe was not lamenting the burden of leadership or complaining that it was too great for him to bear. Among the reasons that Moshe was chosen as the leader of Israel was that his shoulders were wide enough to bear the burden of leadership. His lament was that he had to carry that burden by himself, alienated from the rest of the people.
Four times in the first chapter of Eicha we find the words:
Jerusalem laments not only her destruction but that there is none to share her grief. Sura (Babylonia), Toledo (Spain), Vilna (Lithuania), Berlin (Germany), even Winnipeg (Manitoba) are cities among countless others that have been referred to as Jerusalem (of sorts). The real Jerusalem stands alone, forsaken, with her former glory but a memory.
And so, we read Moshe's lament and chant the tune of Lamentations. We repeat his words, and associate them with Jerusalem's loneliness. We abstain from meat, music, and parties like mourners so that we, as a people, can come and sit together and rectify both the lack of Derech Eretz and the Sinat Chinam that we continually display.
If we want to end this long and miserable exile, let us remind each other of the words of King David:
"...Heenay Mah Tov U'Mah Na'im Shevet Achim Gam Yachad -
Shabbat Shalom and have an easy fast,
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