Home / Community / Torah PortionRSS Feed
Fight decadence and destruction with care and faith
June 1st, 2012
The Midrash collection Lamentations Rabba says, “There are three who prophesied with the word ‘eicha.’” Three Jewish prophets opened their hearts to their beloved nation using this unusual Hebrew word, which literally means “how,” but is used rarely in the Jewish Bible.
First, Moses declared to the Jewish nation (Deuteronomy 1:12), “How can I alone bear your problems, and your burdens, and your quarrels?”
Second, Isaiah (1:21) saw the moral decay of the Jewish population in the land of Israel prior to the destruction of the First Temple, and said, “How has the faithful city become a harlot? It was full of judgment, righteousness dwelled there, and now murderers.”
The third is Jeremiah, who according to Jewish tradition wrote the book of Lamentations. This book is read in the synagogue during the fast day of Tisha b’Av (this year falling on July 29) that commemorates the destruction of the two Temples. The book begins (1:1), “How does the city that was full of people sit desolate?”
Lamentations Rabbah states, “Moses saw Jerusalem in its peaceful state, and said, ‘How can I bear it alone?’ Isaiah saw it in its decadence, and said, ‘How has it become a harlot?’ Jeremiah saw it in its destruction and said, ‘How did it become desolate?’”
Why did all three use the same unusual term eicha? Clearly, this is no coincidence. The words of these prophets are connected.
Moses was not bemoaning that he had to work hard and couldn’t make time for a vacation. Rather, what troubles him is that he “alone” must bear the burden of Klal Yisrael:
“Why am I the only one who bothers with what is going on in Israel? Why is no one else troubled by what is happening with each individual member of our nation? Why am I the only one who loses sleep because of the troubles of our people?”
Everyone is preoccupied with their own circumstances. Why, thought Moses, am I alone in worrying about what goes on in the heart of a fallen Jew who finds himself on a dark street in an alien setting? Why are you indifferent to the troubles of even a solitary member of G-d’s people?
When only one person cannot sleep because of what is going on in the surrounding world, that is the incipient stage of the moral collapse that Isaiah lamented.
When Jews are indifferent to what is going on in their community, it is only a matter of time before the “faithful city” Jerusalem deteriorates and becomes “a harlot” and the playground of murderers.
And, finally, the inevitable dénouement: “How does the city that was full of people sit desolate?”
A caring personality
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson (1902-1994), whose yahrzeit is 3 Tammuz (falling this year on June 23), cared about what happened to Jews in every corner of the world — communities of Jews, and individual Jews; man, woman, and child.
It is doubtful there ever lived another Jew so intimately involved with the circumstances of every Jewish community across the globe.
The Rebbe cared that Jews in India should have a rabbi, and Jews in Afghanistan should have a mikve. That Jews in Greenland have matzah for Passover, and Jewish children in Peru should have a day school.
He spearheaded the rescue of Iranian Jewry and made sure indigent Jews would have food. He would not rest until Jews in Odessa had a mohel, and soldiers in the Israel Defense Force were served kosher food.
It made no difference to him if the Jew was Hasidic or not, Ashekanazi or Sefardi, religiously observant or non-observant. To the Rebbe, every Jew was a gem; a diamond to be cherished and polished, protected and treasured.
The Rebbe influenced Israel’s Ministry of Religious Affairs to subsidize schools for religious children with learning disabilities, and Jewish psychologists to develop meditation techniques free of the idolatrous elements integral to Far Eastern mediation practices. He supported a children’s educational weekly, so it could be published without interruption.
The Rebbe sacrificed his health in an effort to end the terrible mistakes that Israel’s leaders were making in their appeasement of the Arabs, which, he predicted, would result in the sacrifice of hundreds of victims of terror.
Above all, the Lubavitcher Rebbe could not sleep because the Jewish people still wander in the Diaspora, and Moshiach has yet to come.
There is a modern Hebrew word, ichpatiyut, meaning a profound, abiding concern. The Rebbe personified ichpatiyut. No circumstance concerning an individual Jew, let alone Judaism, was outside his purview and personal involvement.
He was committed to there never being a repeat of “How has the faithful city become a harlot?” His greatest ambition was to exchange Jeremiah’s sad prediction for the same prophet’s joyous prediction, “There will yet be heard in the cities of Judah and the street of Jerusalem the sound of merriment and the sound of joy, the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride” (Jeremiah 33:10-11).
It would be no exaggeration to state that the Lubavitcher Rebbe taught every Jew what it means to care.
No less noteworthy than his concern for and worrying about the Jewish people, was his faith in the Jewish people. He believed, body and soul, in the soul of each Jew. He would never tire of declaring that the “the Jewish soul of Israel is alive and awake; all it needs is a tickle.”
The Rebbe once commented on how Elijah the Prophet told the Jewish people (I Kings 18:21), “How long will you continue lurching between two options? If the L-rd is G-d, follow Him, and if it is Baal then follow him.”
How can a Jewish prophet offer his people the option of serving the idol Baal? Wasn’t Elijah afraid the Jews would respond, “We will serve Baal”?
As the Rebbe explained, Elijah knew very well that when push comes to shove a Jew will declare “Hashem is G-d” (I Kings 18:39).
With this ironclad faith, the Rebbe took an entire generation of Jews lurching between conflicting paths and gave them the pride and readiness to shout in the streets ”Hashem is G-d.”
Rabbi Yisroel Shmotkin is executive director of Lubavitch of Wisconsin.