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   by Jacob Solomon

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'How can I (Moses) alone carry your contentiousness, your burdens, and your quarrels?' (1:12)

The Hebrew word for 'how' is eicha - the expletive opening the Book of the Lamentations of Jeremiah. It is read on the Ninth of Av, which always falls in the week after this parasha.

In terms of the Five Books of Moses, the word eicha occurs in the Book of Deuteronomy only, and there just four times.

The Meshech Chochma (to Lam. 1:1) has a slightly different rendering of the word eicha. It is not a gasp of exasperation, but something deeper. It is an expression of contrast, of something surprising happening against all likelihood and expectations. For the city of Jerusalem which within Jeremiah's lifetime enjoyed prestige, renown, and prosperity had been turned into a mere shell of its former self: a destroyed, disheveled, vassal entity under Nebuchadnezzar, King of the Babylon. In short - 'How the mighty and the venerated have fallen'.

This explanation may be applied to four instances where eicha is used in Deuteronomy, the first being in this Parasha. There, Moses recounts how in a few generations the Israelites were blessed and 'as numerous of the stars' (1:10, c.f. Gen. 15:5), yet instead of that being a source of pride, it became - counter-intuitively - a source of vexation, sometimes verging on despair. As he put it: 'How can I (Moses) alone carry your contentiousness, your burdens, and your quarrels?' (1:12)

Later on, Moses braces the Israelites for the task ahead - taking possession of the Land. And he reminds the Israelites: 'You might think to yourselves - how - eicha - can I dispossess the numerous (Canaanite). Eicha - counter-intuitive, against all reasonable expectations. But this time, the word of eicha goes from despair to hope. As Moses encourages them: 'Do not fear (the military campaign will succeed against all odds) - just remember what G-d did for you as you left Egypt (7:17-18). Thus as the Book proceeds, eicha turns from an expression ushering despair to an expression ushering hope.

However, success may lead to a breach with the Holy Source. Moses warns the Israelites about declaring their future success in the Holy Land to 'the strength and might of my own hand' (8:17), telling them that they should remember that 'it is G-d who gives you victory' (8:18). It can also tempt them to believe that it came from local idolatry. That is also an expression of contrast - against all expectation based on past experiences. To that end, Moses again uses the word eicha (12:30) - where he laments in the future on how the Israelites can willfully turn back on their own encounters with G-d and join in the paganism of the neighboring people.

And the final eicha is when they receive another communication from the Source - this time from a prophet (18:21-22). Is the message received truly the word of G-d as claimed, or is the prophet deliberately deceiving the people? The people will ask: eicha - faced with a 'possible contrast' - is truth or falsehood being borne by the prophet in the name of G-d? How will they know for certain? Behind that question is the background of the Israelites genuinely striving for the truth.

That is the sequence of the four eichas in the Book of Deuteronomy. They go from sudden change to sudden change: from despair to initial victory to temptation to stray from the path, to a deeper desire to search the Truth. May Tisha B'Av, whose reading opens with despair, lead to a genuine will to tread the challenging path towards learning from one's shortcomings and searching for the Truth.

For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at and on the material on the Haftara at .

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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