O how has the city that was once so populous remained lonely! She has become like a widow! She that was great among the nations, a princess among the provinces, has become tributary. (Megilat Eichah 1:1)
Hashem’s bewilderment over the destruction of Jerusalem
Our Sages attribute the authorship of Megilat Eichah to the prophet Yirmiyahu – Jeremiah.1 Eichah opens with the above passage. How is it possible that Yerushalayim – Jerusalem – dwells alone! The prophet is expressing his wonder over the thorough destruction of Yerushalayim and the Beit HaMikdash – the Sacred Temple. He cannot reconcile himself to the reality of its utter demise. He cries out, “How is this possible!”
The midrash makes a strange comment on this passage. According to the Sages of the midrash, Yermiyahu is not expressing merely his own astonishment; he is paraphrasing the bewilderment of Hashem. Hashem is observing His ruined city and voicing wonder.
The midrash continues and compares Hashem’s reaction to Yerushalayim’s devastation to His response to expelling Adam and Chavah from Gan Eden – the Garden of Eden. The midrash describes Hashem as declaring, “How could I have brought Adam and Chavah into this garden and now expelled them!”2
The comments of the Sages are difficult on many levels. First, in both instances discussed in the midrash, Hashem is expressing wonderment over His own actions. He brought about the destruction of Yerushalayim and the Beit HaMikdash. He expelled Adam and Chavah from the Garden. How can Hashem be astounded by His own actions?
Second, it is important to note that the Sages are suggesting an interpretation of the opening passage of Megilat Eichah that is very different from its simple meaning. Let us identify this simple meaning and compare it to the interpretation suggested by the Sages. Yermiyahu lived through the destruction of Yerushalayim. He experienced the complete devastation of this great city. He struggled to reconcile himself to the new terrible reality confronting him. He gave voice to his confusion. How could this great city be reduced to ruins!
Our Sages are suggesting an alternative interpretation to the prophet’s words. Yermiyahu is not expressing his own astonishment; he is speaking for Hashem. Hashem is bewildered by the destruction He has wrought. We can understand Yermiyahu expressing his own disorientation. Human beings become accustomed to the familiar. We imagine that the familiar is somehow permanent or immutable. If the world we take for granted should – G-d forbid – crumble, we struggle to reconcile ourselves to the loss and to the new altered reality that confronts us. Hashem does not have these human limitations and is not subject to our self-delusions. What is the meaning of the Sages description of Hashem’s bewilderment over Yerushalayim’s destruction?
Third, our Sages are comparing the destruction of Yerushalayim to the expulsion of Adam and Chavah from the Garden. Hashem is described as responding to both events with astonishment. How are these two events comparable? What is the shared characteristic of these events that provokes from Hashem this expression of bewilderment?
Apparent Contradictions in Hashem’s Will
Let us begin with the first and second of the above questions. As we will discover, the meaning of the midrash is not that Hashem actually experienced astonishment over His own actions. The midrash is communicating to us a number of ideas. First, we are being told to understand Yermiyahu’s astonishment as not merely the reaction of a limited human being to a calamitous change in his circumstances. The midrash explains that even Hashem, Who is all-knowing and unlimited, was astounded – so to speak – by the event. Second, the midrash is alerting us to the nature of this mystery or paradox presented by the demise of Yerushalayim. To paraphrase the midrash, Hashem says, “How is it possible that I did this!” The midrash is communicating that the destruction of Yerushalayim and the Temple represents an apparent inconsistency in Hashem’s behavior.
In short, the midrash is telling us that the destruction of Yerushalayim is not only a calamity. It is also a mystery. It represents an apparent inconsistency in Hashem’s behavior. What is the inconsistency? In order to respond, we must return to the comparison suggested by the midrash between the expulsion of Adam and Chavah from the Garden and the destruction of Yerushalayim and the Bait HaMikdash.
And Hashem, the L-rd, formed man of dust from the ground, and He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living soul. And the Hashem, the L-rd, planted a garden in Eden from the east, and He placed there the man whom He had formed. (Sefer BereSheit 2:7-8)
The Paradox of the Expulsion of Adam and Chavah from the Garden
The Torah describes Hashem creating the universe. The process is completed with the creation of humanity. Humanity is not only the final element of the process; humanity is presented as the purpose and reason for creation. Adam and Chavah are placed in the Garden. The Garden provides for all of their needs. Adam and Chavah are to live free from the toils of material existence. They are empowered and encouraged to develop spiritually. In other words, this first episode in the history of human existence reveals Hashem’s intentions for us. We are to devote ourselves to our spiritual development and to drawing close to Hashem.
However, Adam and Chavah sin. They are expelled from the Garden. Their expulsion is not only a relocation. Their lives are forever altered. Now, they must struggle to provide for their material needs. Their existence is not assured. It is secured only through their diligent, consistent labor.
The implications of these demands are not only practical. Adam and Chavah are not only deprived of time and energy that formerly was used for spiritual development. The greater impact is upon their perception of themselves. Before their expulsion, they gave little thought to the material element of their existence. Now, they must focus on the mundane if they are to survive.
We can observe in ourselves the impact this focus has upon our priorities. We are preoccupied with securing our futures. We spend most of our time and energy responding to our material needs. We are so much preoccupied with our material existence we can easily forget that we have enormous spiritual potential.
How far we have deviated from the initial design for humanity! The expulsion from the Garden completely altered the development of humanity and to this day we struggle to regain the spiritual riches of the Garden. We have discovered the paradox of the expulsion. Hashem created a universe in which He placed humanity. We were to enjoy expansive spiritual lives. Yet, Hashem diverted us from this path upon which He set us. He expelling us from the Garden. Hashem declares, “How can I have created humanity, placed Adam and Chavah in the Garden, and then expelled them – changing the very nature of the human experience!”
The one who brought his offering on the first day was Nachshon the son of Aminadav of the tribe of Yehudah. (Sefer Bamidbar 7:12)
Creation and the importance of the Tabernacle
The Sages of the midrash are suggesting that the destruction of Yerushalayim and the Temple present a similar paradox. What is this paradox? Perhaps, the answer is provided by a comment of our Sages on the above passage. The passage introduces the Torah’s description of the offerings that were brought by the princes of the tribes of Israel to initiate the Mishcan – the Tabernacle. It explains that on the first day the offerings were brought by the prince of the tribe of Yehudah – Judah. The midrash notes that this day is not described as “the day that the Mishcan was erected”. Instead, it is described as the “the first day”. The midrash explains that this description is used in order to connect this day to the first day of creation. In making this connection, the Torah is communicating that by bringing these offerings, this day was transformed. It became the equivalent of the first day of creation!3
And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst. (Sefer Shemot 25:8)
What do the Sages mean by equating this inaugural day of the Mishcan’s offerings with the first day of creation? Apparently, the Sages are describing to us the significance of the Mishcan. The establishment of the Mishcan introduced into the world something completely novel. Hashem’s presence or influence was represented in the Mishcan. Hashem took up residence – so to speak – within Bnai Yisrael. The Sages of the midrash are explaining to us that in this event creation found its meaning, purpose, and its objective was achieved.
Now, we can identify the frightening paradox Yermiyahu observed. How could Yerushalayim and the Sacred Temple be destroyed! This Temple was Hashem’s residence among Bnai Yisrael and humankind. Through it creation achieved meaning and purpose.
We are now left with these two awful paradoxes. How do we explain that expulsion of Adam and Chavah from the Garden and the destruction of the Bait HaMikdash? It is apparent from the Sages’ comments that these are paradoxes and that we should not expect to be able to completely resolve them. They are among the issues that are beyond the boundaries of human understanding. Yet, these paradoxes suggest an important conclusion regarding creation and humanity.
The Partnership Between Hashem and Humanity
These two paradoxes suggest that we are not merely passive objects in the creation process. We are participants or partners in creation. Humanity is unique. All other creations are objects of creation. The stars, the dust of the earth, the mightiest beast and the most insignificant insect are passive objects in creation. They are created, programmed by nature, and compelled to respond to the forces that affect them. Human beings are unique. We are not passive objects. We have the ability to select our path and Hashem responds to our choices and reinvents or reinterprets creation in response to our choices. Adam and Chavah sinned and Hashem responded. The plan for humanity and creation was amended. Our ancestors sinned and Hashem again revisited creation and His design for humanity. He destroyed His Temple.
There are two important outcomes from this discussion. One is that we – human beings – have enormous power. We are not passive players in the drama of history. We have shaped humanity’s destiny and even influenced the plan of creation. However, our influence comes with responsibility. If we have the capacity to influence Hashem’s plan for creation and for humanity, then we have also, the enormous responsibility to use that capacity wisely. When we consider the magnitude of human capacity, we must also accept the weighty responsibility that accompanies it.
Second, our Sages are expressing a perspective on creation and on the nature of humanity that is not easy for us to integrate into our outlook. We are preoccupied with our material existence. Much of our time and energy is devoted to securing our material wellbeing and the pursuit of material desires. It is easy to develop the view that we are fundamentally material creature and that spiritual growth and pursuits, although important, are secondary to our devotion to material ends. Our Sages are expressing the opposite perspective. They are declaring that we are intended to focus upon the development of our unique gift – our spiritual capacity. We must address the challenges of securing our material wellbeing, but regard those endeavors as means to a far more important end.
 Masechet Moed Katan 26a.
 Midrash Rabba, Eichah, Introduction, chapter 4.
 Midrash Rabba, Sefer Beresheit 3:9. See also Midrash Rabba, Sefer BeMidbar 13:6.