Haftarah Parshat Devarim
July 13, 2002
One special word links the three books associated with this special Shabbat and Tisha B’Av – the day on which we mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. This word is “Eicha” and it appears in the Torah reading, in the haftarah, and is also the opening word of the book of Lamentations which we read on Tisha B\’Av.
The following midrash examines the relationship between these three passages in the Tanach: “Three prophets offered prophecies using the word “Eichah”: Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah. Moses said: “How can (Eichah) I bear unaided the trouble of you, the burden, and the bickering.” (Deuteronomy 1:12) Isaiah said: “Alas (Eichah) she has become a harlot, the faithful city [Jerusalem] that was [once] filled with justice. Where once there was justice, there are now murderers.” (Isaiah 1:21) Jeremiah said: “Alas (Eichah)! Lonely sits the city [Jerusalem]. Once great with people, she that was great among the nations is become like a widow. The princess among the states has become a thrall. (Lamentations 1:1) Said Rabbi Levi: To what should this be compared? – To a noble woman who was accompanied by three different servants – one saw her in her splendor and dignity; the second saw her when she was overcome by sin; and the third saw her dealing with the consequences of her sins. Moses who saw the people of Israel in their glory [at the beginning of their history as a people] said: “How can I contend with the problems of such a great people”; Isaiah, who saw the people of Israel when they were overcome by sin, said: “Alas, they have become like a harlot.” Jeremiah, who saw them dealing with the consequences of their sins, said: “Alas! Lonely sits the city.” (adapted from Lamentations Rabbah 1:1)
This midrash recognizes the greatness and dignity of the people of Israel. Their strong willed behavior was a gift, but it also held the seeds for their possible downfall. Moses, as Israel’s greatest prophet, wanted Israel to recognize this problem before they suffered from its consequences. The downslide of the nation toward disaster was a gradual process. At any point, its problems could have been noticed and corrected and disaster averted. Isaiah urged his people to examine their behavior and correct it before it was too late. All that was left for Jeremiah was to bemoan the unheeded warnings. The midrash urges us to examine carefully who we are as a people and what we do because our actions have the potential to bring about our redemption but equally could produce another Tisha B’Av.