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   by Jacob Solomon

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"How can I (Moses) bear - alone - your contentiousness, your burdens, and your quarrels?" (1:12)

The Hebrew word for "how" is Eicha - the expletive opening of 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 a total of five 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 venerated have fallen".

And add to this: "being alone". On hearing news - good or bad - you strive to tell others, you need to hear what they say, you ache to share "the latest". The same happens if a burning question or idea occurs to you. You want to pass it on to others and find out what they have to say about it. That is perfectly natural. If it's something good, it greatly increases the pleasure. If it's bad, talking about it can take much of the pain away, and put it into perspective. Indeed, we as people are designed to communicate. We humans get our strength from talking to each other, including coping strategies when things go wrong.

But when Moses declared: "How can I bear - alone - your contentiousness, your burdens, and your quarrels?" he was indeed alone. Out a congregation of 600,000 souls, he could find nobody to share with. No one that would understand, no-one that he could trust, and no-one who would "get" his situation. Moses was alone.

And when for their transgressions the Israelites would fall into enemy hands, each person would find themselves in that lonely position when the facts speak for themselves and there would be nobody to turn to for comfort: "Eicha - how could one (of the enemy) pursue a thousand (Israelites), and two pursue ten thousand, but for the fact that G-d handed them over to the enemy" (32:30). The facts indeed speak for themselves. There is nothing to talk about. All are speechless. There, everyone is lonely. Defeat is defeat. Destruction is destruction.

Similarly, Jeremiah introduces chapters of the Lamentations with the same word and concept: Eicha.

And the three other occasions that Eicha occurs in the Torah are likewise exclamations that carry loneliness - that you can't talk it over with anyone else, because they won't see it the same way that you do. Their perception of the world is different to yours, and when you raise deeply fundamental, existential issues - fear of the unknown ahead (7:17), curiosity over the behaviors of successful and technologically-advanced (c.f. Jud. 4:3) neighboring societies (12:30), and the credibility of a person bearing prophecy (18:21) - the answers you get don't offer comfort, but make you feel either as being pushed a clich?d fob-off, or you feel all the more lonely because the other person just doesn't "get" you deep concerns the way that you do. But there, in each of the three cases G-d indeed responds with the implication of "you are not alone" - as in the text.

I know one person with whom only one being would listen and understand, and that was George, the household cat. George understood. George got it. George communicated that he was on the same page as you.

This conveys the message of Tisha B'Av, which at a deeper level represents the partial withdrawal of the Divine Presence from Jerusalem, and indeed from the planet. The sad and too-often tragic events that flowed from that withdrawal and the hester panim (G-d's hiding His Face - 32:18) and perhaps more difficult to access through prayer puts us towards the same position - Eicha.

May G-d restore the Divine Presence to Zion, as in the thrice-daily Amidah prayer.

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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