Lamentations – Chapter 5

It's All Over Now (Or Is It?)

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

The people ask G-d to remember what has happened to them and to see them in their degraded state. Foreign invaders have captured the land and the Temple. (“Houses” – plural – in verse 2 refers to both Temples.) They have become a nation of widows and orphans. They must pay the occupying forces for access to river water and firewood, normally free. They work hard, but their conquerors enjoy the fruits of their labors. They have to turn to Egypt and Assyria for food. They are paying for generations of accumulated sins.

Former subordinates now rule over them and no one can help. Just getting bread to eat means taking their lives in their hands. The women have been molested by the invaders, nobles were hanged by their hands and the enemy didn’t even have mercy on the elders. (As in the last chapter, perhaps the verse means that the princes were hanged because they themselves did not respect the elders. It could go either way.) The young men struggled under burdens of wood and stone. There are no more elders in the city gates and no more young people rejoicing. There’s no joy left, only mourning.

The people are dejected that, since the Temple has been destroyed, there is no more service to G-d to be performed there. Their hearts feel weak and their eyesight grows dim. There are even foxes making their dens on the Temple Mount! But G-d is eternal. He can ride this out, however long it takes. The people only ask that He not forsake them for too long. Rather, He should restore them to Him and let things be like they used to. That is, unless He has become so thoroughly disgusted with them that this is impossible. (In order to avoid ending on a negative note, the practice is to repeat the penultimate verse, that G-d should restore the nation to their former relationship with Him.)

Speaking of foxes on the Temple Mount, the Talmud in Makkos (24b) relates how Rabbi Akiva laughed when he saw a fox emerge from the site where the Holy of Holies had previously been. He explained to his bewildered colleagues that the prophets had foretold both the Temple’s destruction and Jews’ ultimate redemption. Seeing the prophecy of the Temple Mount overgrown (Micah 3:12) fulfilled, he was rejoicing that the promise of redemption was equally reliable – speedily in our days!

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