Sunday, April 7, 2013

Some thoughts on Megillat Eicha

 I'm currently copying Megillat Eicha (technical post with pictures to follow) and I keep coming across quotes that seem very out of place in the “Book of Lamentations”. Some of them are taken as the words to very happy and upbeat jewish songs. The second-to-last verse of the book is the well-known השיבנו ה אליך ונשובה. In Chapter 3 (which I am writing now) there is actually a good sized passage that sounds nothing like mourning: “This I recall and my soul is calm. I remind myself of this, therefore I have hope: That the kindness of God is infinite – that his mercy never ends...” and it goes on in this vein for a while. Megillat Eicha is composed of four elegies followed by a prayer for redemption. Each of the elegies contains verses like this, mostly towards the end. These are not lamentations. They are ecstatic praises that belong in one of the Hallelujah sections of Psalms.

I think these interjections can tell us something about the way Jeremiah viewed Jewish mourning. Eicha is the essential textbook on Jewish mourning much more so than Job. Job was a good man (or character, see Bava Basra 15) to whom bad things happened. Jeremiah is a prophet of Israel teaching us how to mourn. Job suffered in silence until he could no longer bear it and he broke down and challenged God angrily, who answered him in kind. Jeremiah cries immediately. The book begin with an expression of shock and loss – “how could this have happened”. That is the central theme from which Megillat Eicha takes it's name, literally The Scroll of “How?!”

Because Jeremiah begins with a human response to loss instead of trying to be superhuman and failing, his faith does not break like Job's does. At the end of each chapter he can still declare (1:18) צדיק הוא ה כי פיהו מריתי or pray for relief in 2:20 from the same God he calls an enemy in 1:4. Eicha, like a lot of things in Judaism is a paradox.

Next post will be less depressing, I promise.


  1. Your distinction between Job and Jerimiah is quite astute. Hatzlacha with you Blog!

    They human character is many and multivariate. It can be comprised of many and multiple emotions at the same time.

    SA quotes a halacha that if a person rich father dies and leaves him a large yerusha, he says Baruch Dayan HaEmes followed by HaTov ViHameitiv (I think that one and not SheHechiyanu). The ability to feel those two emotions at the same time was always shocking to me, but it is readily apparent to the observer of human nature.

    1. I always found it comforting that halacha recognizes both feelings instead of picking one and calling the other "bad."

      IIRC the Shulchan aruch says that in connection with a bechor's double share regardless of the father's wealth. Yeshiva started Yesh Nochlin today so we shall see.