It's Earlier Than You ThinkBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Eicha (Lamentations) is an unusual Book. As you are probably aware, the Book describes the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians and it is read on Tisha b’Av, the day dedicated to commemorating that sorrowful event. What many may find surprising, however, is that the Book was actually written prophetically as a warning, in anticipation of the destruction. In chapter 36 of Jeremiah, the prophet was instructed to write the scroll as a warning King Yehoyakim. Jeremiah’s student Baruch read the scroll to the king, who had it destroyed. There is some discussion as to whether the scroll contained just the first chapter of the Book, or perhaps chapters 1, 2 and 4, but in any event, it contained the essence of Eicha. (The other chapters were added later, when the Book was recopied.) Eicha is also mentioned in II Chronicles 35:25, which describes Jeremiah mourning over King Josiah.
Jeremiah laments that Jerusalem, once so full of life, is now desolate; he compares her to a widow. Jerusalem, formerly a major world power, is now subservient to the other nations. Jerusalem weeps over the destruction and exile, but there is no one to comfort her, as former allies are now enemies. The nation of Judah was driven into exile for their sins. They were forced into other lands, where they found no rest. The roads to Jerusalem are overgrown because of the lack of traffic. The Jews used to come to the Temple regularly for the Festivals, but no longer. The kohanim (priests) mourn the discontinuation of the Temple services. The young women mourn, as does Jerusalem herself.
The enemies of the Jewish people were permitted to conquer the nation. The former relax while the children of the latter are taken away into captivity. The city has lost all her splendor; her princes were weakened like deer unable to find a place to graze. Accordingly, they fled without strength in the face of the enemy.
Jerusalem recounts her misfortunes, remembering “the good old days,” but the people fell into the hands of the enemy and there was no one to save them. The enemies gloated over Jerusalem’s downfall.
All this happened to Jerusalem because of the sins of the inhabitants. Those who used to admire Jerusalem now despise her because they have seen her shamed. Jerusalem herself sighs and turns away because of her misfortunes. The uncleanliness of Jerusalem can be seen on her skirts. (Rashi points out that the metaphor here is menstrual blood.) All this has happened because the people acted without considering the consequences of their deeds. They ask G-d to see their sorry state, under the heel of their haughty conquerors.
The enemy forces looted the silver and gold. The nations of Ammon and Moab burned the Torah scrolls because it was written there that the men of these nations may not marry into the Jewish people. The Jews heave heavy sighs as they search for bread; they traded all their riches for food to survive. The Jews warn the nations that see them in this state not to let this happen to them, since there is no pain comparable to that which G-d has sent them in His anger.
G-d sent fire from Heaven, which shattered their bones. He caught their feet in a net. He turned them back around and made them swoon. The yoke of their sins was marked on G-d’s “hand.” There were so many sins, all intertwined, that the weight of them on the nation’s neck was too heavy to bear and they fell before their enemies. G-d trampled all the warriors of Israel and called the enemy to crush them. He stomped on the women and girls like grapes in a wine vat. All this is why Jerusalem weeps.
Jerusalem calls for help but there is no one to come to her aid because G-d has decreed that the Jewish people would be an outcast, surrounded by enemies. G-d is righteous and the nation has earned this punishment for disobeying His Word. As a result, the young men and maidens have been carried off into captivity. The city calls her allies, but they have turned against her. The kohanim and elders of the city died before the siege, so they were unable to intercede.
Jerusalem mourns to G-d from her distress. She laments that which has occurred due to the sins of her inhabitants. She has no allies and her enemies rejoice in her downfall. G-d said this day would come and it has – if only it had happened to the enemy instead! May G-d make note of their sins and treat them like He did Israel.
The first four chapters of Eicha are alphabetic acrostics, with the third being a triple acrostic. Accordingly, chapters 1, 2 and 4 have 22 verses each and chapter 3 has 66 verses. (You will note that the three chapters that contain simple acrostics are the same as those that some opinions feel constituted the contents of Jeremiah’s original scroll.)