Tisha B'Av- Megillat Eichah Topsy-Turvy World

הרב שבתי סבתו
ח אב תשעו
לרשימת השיעורים לחץ כאן
There is no doubt that the Prophet Yirmiyahu, author of Eichah, did this purposely, wishing to teach an important lesson. As we have explained several times in this work, wherever we find al


Aug. '16

מנחם אב ה'תשע"ו

Tisha B'Av- Megillat Eichah

תשעה באב – מגילת איכה

Rabbi Shabtai Sabato

הרב שבתי סבתו




עולם הפוך

Topsy-Turvy World




The Reversed Letters

Megillat Eichah, the Scroll of Lamentations that we read on Tisha B'Av, presents us with a very piercing question in its very first word: Eichah? How?


How could we have reached the lowest of the low? How could the unbelievable have happened?


לֹא הֶאֱמִינוּ מַלְכֵי אֶרֶץ כֹּל ישְׁבֵי תֵבֵל כִּי יָבֹא צַר וְאוֹיֵב בְּשַׁעֲרֵי יְרוּשָׁלָםִ.

All the kings of the land did not believe, nor the inhabitants of the world,
that a foe or enemy could enter the gates of Jerusalem.
(Eichah 4,12)


Does the Scroll of Eichah also have the answer? Is there a central axis in Eichah that can perhaps reveal a hint of a resolution to this painful problem? Let us see.


In the Hebrew alphabet, the letter ayin precedes the letter peh. Why, then, does ayin follow peh time after time in the Book of Eichah?


There is no doubt that the Prophet Yirmiyahu, author of Eichah, did this purposely, wishing to teach an important lesson. As we have explained several times in this work, wherever we find alphabetical or other order in the Scriptures, we must look for that which is out of order in order to understand the intended message.


Yirmiyahu arranged four of the five chapters in Eichah according to the alphabet - and in three of them, he placed the verse starting with the letter peh before the verse of ayin. The fact that in the first chapter, the verse beginning with the letter ayin comes before the verse of the letter peh, exactly as it is supposed to be, only makes our question more poignant: Why did he change the order in the other three chapters?


Three of the four alphabetical chapters have exactly 22 verses, one for each letter. But Chapter 3 has 66 verses - three verses for each letter. The first three verses start with aleph, the next three start with bet, and so on. Let us take a look, for instance, at Chapter 3, verse 46 - the first of the three verses that start with peh - and then at verse 49, the first verse starting with ayin. Verse 46 states:


פָּצוּ עָלֵינוּ פִּיהֶם כָּל אֹיְבֵינוּ.

All our enemies have opened their mouths wide against us.


Verse 49 reads:

עֵינִי נִגְּרָה וְלֹא תִדְמֶה מֵאֵין הֲפֻגוֹת.

My eye trickles down with tears and does not stop.


We should note that the letter peh is the Hebrew word for 'mouth,' while ayin is the Hebrew word for 'eye' – and both of these are mentioned in these two verses. In fact, the idea of 'mouth' and 'eyes' is the key to understanding why the order of the letters was changed.


The Talmud explains:

Rava said in the name of R. Yochanan: Why does peh come before ayin in Eichah? Because of the Twelve Spies, who were sent by Moses to scout out the Promised Land and spoke badly of the Land: they spoke with their mouths what their eyes did not see. The letter peh (mouth) before ayin (eye) alludes to this. (Sanhedrin 104b)


But this explanation seems quite strange. What is the connection between the Sin of the Scouts and the order of the verses in the Book of Eichah?



The Scouts in the Desert

The scouts sent by Moses to the Land of Israel were given a broad but clear mandate:


וּרְאִיתֶם אֶת הָאָרֶץ מַה הִוא וְאֶת הָעָם הַיּשֵׁב עָלֶיהָ הֶחָזָק הוּא הֲרָפֶה הַמְעַט הוּא אִם רָב.

See the land and what it is, and the people living there:

are they strong or weak, numerous or few.


... וּמָה הֶעָרִים אֲשֶׁר הוּא יוֹשֵׁב בָּהֵנָּה הַבְּמַחֲנִים אִם בְּמִבְצָרִים,
וּמָה הָאָרֶץ הַשְּׁמֵנָה הִוא אִם רָזָה...

… And what of the land they inhabit? Is it good or bad?
And what of the cities in which they reside…
(Bamidbar 13,18-20)


Their mission was both military and economic. They were first charged with checking the might of the Canaanite enemy and the strength of their fortifications, both in quality and quantity. Secondly, they were charged with checking the quality of the fruits of the land and its produce. Their purpose was to obtain intelligence information so that the entry and the conquest of the Land could be planned out carefully and effectively.


Ten of the spies, however, deviated from their mission. Instead of merely submitting the information that they gathered, they also expressed their own private opinions. They reported to the hopeful Israelites that the peoples then living in the Land of Israel were apparently stronger than them, and that it would be impossible to defeat them.


This was their very grave sin. Instead of believing in G-d Who had led Israel out of many impossible situations before, they chose to view the situation "realistically." They ignored the fact that Hashem had led the Children of Israel with a pillar of fire and cloud against the strongest nation in the ancient world, Egypt. They also seemed to forget that Hashem had led them through an actual ocean, as well as through the Sinai desert and its lack of water and minimal life conditions.


This is what R. Yochanan meant when he said that the spies used their mouths but not their eyes. Instead of submitting the dry facts as their eyes saw them, they expressed with their mouths their personal and fearful pessimism about the chances for victory.


Their sin entrapped nearly the entire nation, which immediately began to cry out and complain about having left Egypt. The punishment for this was 40 years of wandering in the desert for that entire generation. In addition, the day of their crying - the ninth day of the month of Av - became engraved on the Jewish calendar as the most traumatic day of the year. On this day, both Holy Temples were destroyed, and Beitar fell. In addition, in 1290, the Jews of England were expelled on this date, and the Jews of Spain were kicked out of their homes the same day in 1492.


In our times, as well, it has happened again, unbelievably enough. Not only did the Warsaw Ghetto fall so tragically on Tisha B'Av in 1943, but it was also on this very date in 2005 that IDF forces served some 10,000 heroic Jews of Gush Katif and northern Shomron with eviction papers, leading to their forcible expulsion from their homes in the Land of Israel.



The Destruction of the Beit HaMikdash

The Holy Temple in Jerusalem was designed to be a center of spiritual inspiration, a place from which we would nourish holiness, purity, and fear of G-d. The Torah tells us:


בְּבוֹא כָל יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵרָאוֹת אֶת פְּנֵי ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ בַּמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחָר...

לְמַעַן יִשְׁמְעוּ וּלְמַעַן יִלְמְדוּ וְיָרְאוּ אֶת ה' אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם וְשָׁמְרוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת.

When all of Israel comes to be seen before Hashem at the place He has chosen...
so that they may hear and learn, and fear Hashem,
and observe all the precepts of this Torah.
(D'varim 31,11-12)


Note the order: "to be seen… hear… learn… fear." Seeing and hearing leads to learning and acquiring fear of Hashem. The seeing must be perfect, and for this reason, only one who can see with both eyes is obligated to visit the Temple in Jerusalem on the festivals. The hearing must also be perfect; the deaf are also exempt. From this place, the Beit HaMikdash, comes Torah, and prayer, and awe of G-d.


What did the People of Israel do that caused the destruction of this holy center, the Beit HaMikdash? The prophet Yirmiyahu tells us:


הֲגָנֹב רָצֹחַ וְנָאֹף וְהִשָּׁבֵעַ לַשֶּׁקֶר... וּבָאתֶם וַעֲמַדְתֶּם לְפָנַי בַּבַּיִת הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר נִקְרָא שְׁמִי עָלָיו
וַאֲמַרְתֶּם נִצַּלְנוּ, לְמַעַן עֲשׂוֹת אֵת כָּל הַתּוֹעֵבֹת הָאֵלֶּה?

Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely…
and then come and stand before Me in this house,
upon which My name is called, and say, "We are saved,"
in order to commit all these abominations?
(Yirmiyahu 7,9-10)


Instead of the Beit HaMikdash being a source of inspiration to teshuvah and righteousness, it turned into an umbrella under which sinners feel they can take shelter and carry out their evil acts. The Holy Temple became an insurance policy, enabling people to act freely without fear of punishment.


In short, the world was turned upside down. Instead of having the eye see and absorb holiness, the mouth jumped out in front to extinguish the light and say, "We are saved! The Temple will save us!"


The prophet Yeshayahu brought out this point most clearly in his prophecy of doom:


הַשְׁמֵן לֵב הָעָם הַזֶּה וְאָזְנָיו הַכְבֵּד וְעֵינָיו הָשַׁע
פֶּן יִרְאֶה בְעֵינָיו וּבְאָזְנָיו יִשְׁמָע וּלְבָבוֹ יָבִין וָשָׁב וְרָפָא לוֹ

The heart of this people is becoming fat, and their ears are becoming heavy,
and their eyes are smeared over,
so that they will not see with their eyes, nor hear with their ears,
nor understand with their heart, and return and be healed.
(Yeshayahu 6,10)


If the order is correct – eyes, ears, heart – they can then understand, return, and be healed. But when the order is reversed, with the heart preceding the ears, and the ears preceding the eyes, then the people will remain forever mired in their sins.



The False Prophets

The false prophets, too, played a central role in the topsy-turvy world that led to the destruction of the Temple and the Exile. This is how Yirmiyahu describes them:


וָאֹמַר אֲהָהּ אֲדֹ-נָי ה' הִנֵּה הַנְּבִאִים אֹמְרִים לָהֶם

לֹא תִרְאוּ חֶרֶב וְרָעָב לֹא יִהְיֶה לָכֶם כִּי שְׁלוֹם אֱמֶת אֶתֵּן לָכֶם בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה.

And I said, "Ah, O Lord G-d, behold the [false] prophets say to them,
'You shall see no sword, neither shall you have famine;
I will give you true peace in this place.'"
(Yirmiyahu 14,13)


Hashem answers him:


שֶׁקֶר הַנְּבִאִים נִבְּאִים בִּשְׁמִי לֹא שְׁלַחְתִּים וְלֹא צִוִּיתִים וְלֹא דִבַּרְתִּי אֲלֵיהֶם חֲזוֹן שֶׁקֶר ...
וְתַרְמִית לִבָּם הֵמָּה מִתְנַבְּאִים לָכֶם.

The prophets say lies in My name. I did not send them, nor did I command them,
neither did I speak to them. They prophesy to you a false vision…
and the deceit of their own heart.
(verse 14)


G-d here sharply condemns those who lie, i.e., those who say with their mouth what their eyes did not see, or put their mouth before their eyes. When a structure is built on lies and deception, the foundation collapses, and the entire building falls.


This is what has happened here in Israel in the 20+ years since the signing of the Oslo Accords. The politicians promised the Jewish Nation peace, prosperity and security – but only in return for giving over parts of our Holy Land to the cruel Palestinian enemy. But this has turned out to be a lie, a false recipe for peace, and we now see it disintegrating into dust. Instead of peace, we have received murderous terrorism and 1,800 dead.


It is not for naught that Yirmiyahu's prophecy begins as follows:


וַיְהִי דְבַר ה' אֵלַי לֵאמֹר, מָה אַתָּה רֹאֶה יִרְמְיָהוּ? וָאֹמַר מַקֵּל שָׁקֵד אֲנִי רֹאֶה.

וַיֹּאמֶר ה' אֵלַי הֵיטַבְתָּ לִרְאוֹת כִּי שֹׁקֵד אֲנִי עַל דְּבָרִי לַעֲשֹׂתוֹ.

G-d said to me, What do you see? And I said, I see a rod of an almond tree.
And G-d said to me, you have seen well,
for I will hasten
[from the same root as the Hebrew word for almond]
my word to perform it.


וַיְהִי דְבַר ה' אֵלַי שֵׁנִית לֵאמֹר מָה אַתָּה רֹאֶה?
וָאֹמַר סִיר נָפוּחַ אֲנִי רֹאֶה וּפָנָיו מִפְּנֵי צָפוֹנָה.

Hashem then spoke to me again, asking, What do you see?
And I said, I see a boiling pot and its face is to the north.



Let us take careful note. This is the beginning of Yirmiyahu's prophetic path, and Hashem tests him carefully two times, asking him what exactly he sees. Hashem is teaching him to be very careful to adhere precisely to what his eyes behold. He must see the vision very well, exactly as Hashem presented it, and not make up a vision based on what he would like to see. Yirmiyahu is bidden not to slip into false prophesy, where one sees only what he wants while distorting the truth.



The Abomination of Idol-Worship

The advantage, for sinners, of idol worship is that it permits them to commit every possible abominable sin - as long as they come afterwards to the Temple of Baal and bring a sacrifice. If Baal receives something to eat and drink, the sinners believe, this atones for every negative deed, and everything works out. The idols do not demand moral behavior, or Torah study, or commandments, nor do they place restrictions. The only obligations are to honor the idols and bring them sacrifices.


The more they sank into this powerful falsehood, the more they were able to cover up any pangs of conscience, truly fooling themselves into believing that this system was morally acceptable.


This is what happened with G-d's first human creation, Adam. After eating from the forbidden fruit, he heard the call of G-d's voice – and ran away and tried to hide in the Tree of Knowledge. He sank deeper and deeper into his sin, in the hope that there he could hide from Hashem.


It is certainly harder, on one level, to serve Hashem, the G-d of Israel, than to worship idols. Hashem demands a high standard of ethics, deep study, and just behavior. One must overcome and subjugate his inclinations, not surrender to them.


לִמְדוּ הֵיטֵב דִּרְשׁוּ מִשְׁפָּט ... שִׁפְטוּ יָתוֹם רִיבוּ אַלְמָנָה.

Learn to do good, seek justice… perform justice for the orphan,
plead the case of the widow.

(Yeshayahu 1,17)


And so we read in Lamentations:


... אֵין לָהּ מְנַחֵם מִכָּל אֹהֲבֶיהָ כָּל רֵעֶיהָ בָּגְדוּ בָהּ הָיוּ לָהּ לְאֹיְבִים.

She has no comforter among all her friends.
All her friends betrayed her, they became her enemies.
(Eichah 1,2)


קָרָאתִי לַמְאַהֲבַי הֵמָּה רִמּוּנִי...

I called to my lovers, but they deceived me… (verse 19)


The world of deception onto which man grasps, hoping to be saved by it, turns into his own enemy. It falls apart like a house of cards the moment he needs its help, and the man collapses together with it – and thus the deception has become a death trap.


The only way out is for man to shake off this pagan, idol-worshiping world of deception and falsehood. Even if he finds himself mired deep in the mud and slime, he must call out from there to G-d, the Lord of truth and justice. In the words of Yirmiyahu in Eichah (3,55-56): "I called Your name, G-d, from the deepest pit. You heard my voice, do not ignore my cry and my pleading."


This same point is made in the Torah, which tells us what will happen when we are punished with Exile and have sunk to the depths of idol worship:

וּבִקַּשְׁתֶּם מִשָּׁם אֶת ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ וּמָצָאתָ כִּי תִדְרְשֶׁנּוּ בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל נַפְשֶׁךָ.

You shall seek from there the Lord your G-d, and find Him -
if you seek Him with all your heart and all your soul.
(D'varim 4, 29)


We need not fear that Hashem will continue to punish us, for He is merciful and will accept with love all those who return to Him with all their heart:

... ה' ה' אֵ-ל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן ...

Hashem, Hashem, benevolent G-d, Who is compassionate and gracious
(Sh'mot 34,6)


Why is Hashem's Name mentioned twice? The Gemara answers:

I am G-d before man sins, and I am G-d after he sins and repents. (Rosh HaShanah 17b)


This is to be understood as follows: "I have not disappeared," Hashem says, "and you, the sinner, can find Me waiting for you after you repent and return to Me in teshuvah."


And all this is in the merit of the great oath that Hashem made to our holy forefathers, and of the covenant He forged with them:


כִּי אֵל רַחוּם ה' אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ לֹא יַרְפְּךָ וְלֹא יַשְׁחִיתֶךָ
וְלֹא יִשְׁכַּח אֶת בְּרִית אֲבֹתֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לָהֶם.

The Lord your G-d is a merciful god, He will not forsake you,
nor will He destroy you, and He will
not forget the covenant of your fathers that He swore to them.
(verse 31)


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