Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Yirmiyah and the Galus
(cont. from last year)

When Yirmiyah returned from Anasos and discovered that, in his absence, the Beis Hamikdash had been destroyed and Yisrael sent into Galus, he was devastated. He immediately began to search for the route that they had taken, wishing that he had gone with them into Galus. He soon found the path along which they had been led, strewn with blood, the bodies of the dead piled up at the side. He placed his face close to the ground, and when he saw the footsteps of the toddlers and the little children on their way down to Bavel, he bent down and kissed them.

He then followed them into Galus. When he caught up with them, he embraced them and kissed them, and wept together with them. 'My brothers, my people', he exclaimed, 'look what happened to you because you ignored my prophesies'.

*

Nevuchadnetzar ordered Nevuzraden, his general, to see to it that no harm befalls Yirmiyahu, and that his every personal need should be met. As far as his people (Yisrael) was concerned however, he was to treat them as he saw fit, and to ignore all Yirmiyahu's pleas for mercy.

*

When the enemy entered the Beis Hamikdash, they seized the boys and tied their hands behind their backs, before marching them to Bavel into exile, naked like animals and in chains. As they marched in the heat of summer, their tears rolled down their faces, and, unable to dry them away, their wet faces became burned by the sun.

Yirmiyah saw a group of boys with chains around their necks. When he placed his head with theirs as a sign of sympathy, Nevuzraden led him away. And when he saw a group of old men chained together, the incident repeated itself.

*

At first, Yirmiyahu refused Nevuzraden's offer to go to Bavel under his protection, or even to return to Eretz Yisrael. He insisted on accompanying the exiles and sharing in their grief, until G-d came to him with an ultimatum. Either he (Yirmiyahu) would return to Eretz Yisrael, to comfort the remnant that was left there, and G-d would accompany the exiles to Bavel; or he would accompany the exiles, and G-d would remain with the remnant in Eretz Yisrael.

'And if I go down to Bavel with the exiles', replied Yirmiyahu, 'how will I be able to help them?

Far better that You, their King and Creator, accompanies them, for there is much that You can do to alleviate their suffering'.

The exiles looked up and saw Yirmiyahu departing, and they burst into tears once again. That is what the Pasuk means when it says "By the Rivers of Babylon there we sat and wept" (Tehilim 137:1).

*

'The G-d of these people', Nevuchadnetzar told Nevuzraden, 'accepts Teshuvah'. Consequently, he commanded him that, under no circumstances, was he to allow the captives to pray, and arouse the Divine mercy. Therefore, he was to show them no quarter despite their suffering. Otherwise, all his efforts would have been in vain, to return to Bavel in disgrace.

Sure enough, once they fell into Nevuzraden's hands, that's what he did. He forced them to march without a rest, and when he saw a man stop to pray, he would cut him to pieces, which he would toss in front of his fellow captives. And so they marched to Bavel without a break. Nevuzraden was known as 'Aryoch' (meaning a lion), because as he would roar at the captives like a lion to keep them on the march, until they reached the River P'ras (the Euphrates).

Once they reached the Euphrates, he figured, their G-d was unlikely to take them back, and so he ordered his troops to let them rest. That is why the Pasuk writes "there (by the Rivers of Babylon) we sat", but until there, we were not allowed to sit from the time that we left Yerushalayim.

*

Why did the exiles cry when they reached the Rivers of Babylon?

Rebbi Yochanan explains that the water of the River P'ras killed off more of them than Nevuchadnetzar. In Eretz Yisrael, they were used to drinking pure rainwater and water that flowed from the springs. So when in Bavel, they were forced to drink heavy water from the river, their stomachs could not take it, and many died.

*

When they were still in Eretz Yisrael, Yirmiyahu warned the people to prepare themselves drinking utensils and kneading troughs to take with them into exile. But they only laughed at him.

Later, when they were kneading dough, they had no utensils in which to work. So what did they do? They kneaded it in pits that they dug in the ground. And when they came to eat their bread, it was full of little stones. That is why Yirmiyahu lamented "And He ground my teeth in grit" (Eichah 3:16).

***

FROM MEDRASH EICHAH
(adapted from the Torah Temimah)

Eichah- Ayeka

Rebbi Avahu would begin Megilas Eichah with the following thought "And they, like Adam, transgressed the covenant" (Hoshei'a 6).

Like Adam ha'Rishon. I placed Adam ha'Rishon in Gan Eden, G-d said, he transgressed My command and I expelled him and lamented on him "Ayeka" ('where are you'?). And the same happened with his children. I took them into Eretz Yisrael, and they too, transgressed My commands. So, like Adam, I expelled them from the land and lamented on them "Eichah".

The Torah Temimah elaborates on the comparison between Gan Eden and Eretz Yisrael, both of which signify the epitome of goodness. Both Adam and Yisrael experienced the ultimate goodness of Hashem, both received instruction from G-d on how they must respond to that goodness (how to behave in His palace), and both contravened those instructions. Consequently, both needed to suffer the consequences, and so, both were banished from the royal palace (from the source of goodness).

*

What Might Have Been

Rebbi Yitzchak would begin Eichah with the Pasuk "Because you did not serve Hashem your G-d with joy and with a good heart, you will serve your enemy (Ki Sovo)". Had you merited, you would have read in the Torah "Eichah eso levadi ... "; but now that you didn't, you will have to read "Eichah yoshvoh bodod".

What's so wonderful about the Pasuk "Eichah eso levadi ", asks the Torah Temimah? After all, we even read it to the Eichah tune, due to its sad connotations?

When Yisrael do not behave as they should, they earn the reprimand of their leaders, and they revert to the right path once more.

But when they find serving G-d a bore, and cease to find serving Him a pleasure, a reprimand will not suffice to achieve that, and they need to go into Galus to serve their enemies. Only then, when they are faced with the contrast between the two masters, do they finally realize how foolhardy they were in their failure to serve G-d with joy.

*

Seven for Seven

The Torah writes in Bechukosai "And I will continue to chastise you seven times for your sins". 'For the seven sins that you transgressed', G-d told Yisrael, 'Yirmiyah will come and chant lamentations consisting of seven times 'Aleph, Beis'.

The seven sins, explains the Torah Temimah, are those listed by Rashi in Bechokasai: 'They did not learn, they did not keep, they despised those who did, they hated the Chachamim, they stopped others from observing, they denied the Divine source of the Mitzvos, they denied G-d Himself. And the seven times 'Aleph, Beis' refers to the first and second chapters of Eichah, the three times 'Aleph, Beis' in the third chapter, the fourth chapter and the fifth chapter, which does not follow the 'Aleph, Beis' like the others do, yet it does comprise twenty-two Pesukim, as if it did.

*

The Hand of G-d

Rebbi Aba bar Kahana would begin Megilas Eichah with the Pasuk in Yirmiyah (15) "From before Your Hand I sat in solitude!" K'nesses Yisrael says to G-d 'Ribono shel Olam, when the hand of Par'oh struck me, I did not sit in solitude; when the hand of Sancheriv struck me, I did not sit in solitude. But now that Your Hand struck me, I sit in solitude'.

What does this mean, asks the Torah Temimah? Was it not Nevuchadnetzar who destroyed the Beis-Hamikdash? Why is Nevuchadnetzar considered G-d's Hand more than Par'oh and Sancheriv?

Perhaps, he answers, this Medrash refers to the Pasuk later "From on high He sent fire ... ". And do we not say in Nachem "Because You set it on fire and You are going to rebuild it"? Indeed, the Medrash describes how the Babylonian leaders were sitting in the Beis-Hamikdash discussing how to destroy it, when they saw four angels descend from Heaven and proceed to set fire to the four corners of the Beis Hamikdash.

And besides, he adds, Nevuchadnetzar is described as "Avdi" ('My slave'), and have Chazal not stated that the hand of a slave is like the hand of his master?

*

We recite in Musaf of the Yom-Tov Amidah "And we are not able to ... and prostrate ourselves before You in the great and holy house ... due to the hand that is stretched out against Your Mikdash'.

In explaining 'hand', the Ya'avetz refers to the Gemara in Ta'anis. The Gemara describes how, when the young Kohanim saw the burning Beis Hamikdash, they gathered together holding the keys of the Heichal. Then, after declaring their untrustworthiness in their capacity as custodians of the Beis Hamikdash, they threw them in the air, and a Hand came down and caught them. (See 'A Tale of Two Kings', part 1, for a slightly different version of this Medrash).

Perhaps that is the Hand to which we refer in the Amidah. Perhaps that is the Hand to which Rebbi Aba bar Kahana was referring, too.

*

Lament or Rebuke - That is the Question

When Rebbi Yehudah explained that Megilas Kinos (Eichah) was said in the days of Yeyoyakim (many years before the Churban), Rebbi Nechemyah queried his statement 'Since when does one mourn a person's death whilst he is still alive?' So Yirmiyah must have said it after the Churban, he concluded.

The Torah Temimah connects the dispute between the two Tana'im here to another Medrash, where they argue over the connotation of the word "Eichah".

Rebbi Yehudah interprets it as 'Tochachah' (a rebuke), whereas Rebbi Nechemyah interprets it as 'Kin'ah' (a lamentation). With this as an introduction we can easily understand their dispute here. Because if, as Rebbi Yehudah maintains, "Eichah" is a rebuke, then it was appropriate to have said it before the Churban. But according to Rebbi Nechemyah, it is a lament. Consequently, he is perfectly justified in asking 'Since when does one mourn a person's death whilst he is still alive'?

*

Eminent Exiles

The Pasuk in Eichah describes Yisrael as 'a princess among the Nations'. Although the Pasuk appears to refer to Yisrael before the exile, the Medrash interprets it differently. The Medrash comments that even in exile among the nations, Yisrael retains its dominance. Wherever they go they are princes to their masters. Avraham in Cana'an, Yitzchak in P'lishtim, and Yosef in Egypt, gained tremendous prestige even when they were in exile. And taking our cue from them ('the deeds of the Avos are a sign for the children'), Jews have always been lords and leaders in the societies in which they set themselves up.

*

Subservient

"She became subservient", the Pasuk concludes. Yisrael transgressed their undertaking at Har Sinai to be subservient to G-d (to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, and to keep Torah and Mitzvos, as the Torah reiterates on numerous occasions). And they also served other gods (Eichah was written at the end of the first Beis-Hamikdash, where the predominant sin was Avodah-zarah).

That is why they had to become subservient to others. Nor is this punishment coincidental to the sin, for the numerical value of Sinai and of Semel (image, which they placed in the Heichal, and which led to the Churban) happens to be 130, the equivalent of that of 'lo'mas' (subservient).

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