Lamentations – Chapter 3

Autobiographically Speaking

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Jeremiah laments the destruction of Jerusalem, saying: “I am the man who has seen what G-d has done in His anger.” By this the prophet means that he had the misfortune of actually witnessing the destruction of the Temple, unlike earlier prophets, who merely foretold it.

“G-d has caused me to walk in darkness,” Jeremiah continues, “turning His hand against me all day long.” (Jeremiah lived a particularly trouble-filled life, more so than other prophets.) “G-d has caused my flesh to rot and my bones to break. He gathered forces against me and surrounded me with trouble. I live in perpetual darkness, like a dead man. I am trapped by walls and chains. Though I cry out to Him, G-d refuses to hear my prayers. Instead, He has made my path difficult, like an obstacle course. G-d aims His bow at me like I’m a target; His arrows pierce me. Everyone mocks my misfortunes and I am bitter all day long. I can’t even remember what goodness is like. I’ve given up all hope.”

Jeremiah continues: “My soul is familiar with suffering and it is humbled within me. I strengthen my resolve and tell myself to have hope, since G-d’s mercies never end. He renews them daily and His faithfulness to keep His word is great.” (That is the meaning of the phrase “rabbah emunasecho,” “great is Your faith,” used both here and in the daily prayer upon awakening, Modeh Ani.) “My soul knows that G-d is my portion, so I place my hope in Him.”

“G-d is good to those who seek Him, so we should wait for His salvation. It is also good for a person to accustom himself to doing G-d’s will while he is still young. Let a person bear life’s pains and the abuse of others. He may suffer now, but he can anticipate his later reward.” (Verse 30 says that a person should actually offer his cheek to the one that slaps him. This may be a familiar image, but most people would be surprised that this is its actual source.)

“G-d doesn’t punish people because it pleases Him; actually, it pains Him to do so! Our sins ‘force His hand,’ as it were.” (All this is metaphorically speaking, of course.) “But don’t delude yourself into thinking that it’s not from G-d and that it ‘just happened.’ Nothing in this world, good or bad, happens unless it comes from Him. The only thing we can complain about is our own actions, which determine our fates.” (Rashi cites the Midrash, which refers us to Deuteronomy 30:15, in which G-d lays before us the choice between good and evil.)

Next, Jeremiah encourages the people to repent and pray to G-d, confessing their sins. They have acted rebelliously, so G-d “put on” His anger; this acted as a barrier between G-d and Israel, so that He would not have mercy on them. No prayer can penetrate that shield, so G-d treats them as the scum on the Earth. The enemy forces swallow them up and they only know terror and ruin.

Jeremiah weeps over over the plight of his nation. He won’t be able to stop until G-d looks down on them. Jeremiah has had a tough life; his enemies persecuted him for no reason and he was imprisoned. (According to Rashi, Jeremiah also foresaw what would happen to Daniel.) But Jeremiah called to G-d from all his troubles and G-d answered him. Won’t G-d please do likewise now? G-d knows all the injustices that have been perpetrated, so Jeremiah asks that he be avenged. May G-d curse them and destroy them from under His heavens. (That last verse is recited as part of Passover Seder in the Ashkenazic tradition, along with verses from Psalm 97, after the third cup of wine.)

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