Shofetim: Who goes first?

Justice, justice you shall pursue. (Devarim 16:20).
The laden camel
lumbers slowly, up
the steep ascent
to Beth Choron:
the man alongside
eyes the jagged path.

A shadow falls
across the trail:
he lifts his gaze
as to a mirror;
another camel,
another man.

If all ascend
the narrow way
abreast,
they plunge
together
to the depths.

One camel laden;
the other, further
from journey’s end;
true justice calls
each man
to see the other.


Biblical commentators discuss the meaning of the duplication of the word tzedek – justice. The Hertz commentary offers two further translations of this phrase, tzedek tzedek: “that which is altogether just,” and “justice, and only justice,” commenting, “The duplication of the word “justice” brings out with the greatest possible emphasis the supreme duty of even-handed justice for all.”
Bachya ben Asher* comments, “Justice, whether to your profit or your loss, whether in word or in action, whether to Jew or non-Jew.”
Rashi explains that this duplication means one should seek out a reliable court. Ibn Ezra notes that the command “you shall pursue – tirdof” is phrased in the singular so maintains that it is incumbent on every judge individually to uphold righteousness. Nachmanides agrees but adds that the judges should also seek out the advice of sages greater than themselves.
Rabbi Simcha Bunim (Bonhart) of Peshischa teaches, “Pursue justice with justice. Also the pursuit of justice should be through honorable means, not through deviousness.” Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel** sharpens up this point, “Justice alone is not enough, because from the human view-point there are many kinds of justice, just as there are many kinds of truth…every regime has its own “justice”. Therefore it is written, “Justice, justice you shall pursue,” that is the justice of justice. That also the purpose and also the means will come from an ethical source.”
In the Talmud (Sanhedrin 32b), we find the following:
It has been taught: Justice, justice shall you follow; the first [mention of justice] refers to a decision based on strict law; the second, to a compromise. How so? Where two boats sailing on a river meet; if both attempt to pass simultaneously, both will sink, whereas, if one makes way for the other, both can pass [without mishap]. Likewise, if two camels meet each other while on the ascent to Beth-Horon; if they both ascend [at the same time] both may tumble down [into the valley]; but if [they ascend] after each other, both can go up [safely]. How then should they act? If one is laden and the other unladen, the latter should give way to the former. If one is nearer [to its destination] than the other, the former should give way to the latter. If both are [equally] near or far [from their destination,] make a compromise between them, the one [which is to go forward] compensating the other [which has to give way].
[Soncino translation]
In an article on Parashat Shofetim, entitled Pursuing Justice for All, http://www.myjewishlearning.com/texts/Bible/Weekly_Torah_Portion/shoftim_hillel2002.shtml?p=2 Rabbi Marc D Israel suggests that the passage from the Talmud is teaching that true justice is reached when all members of the group’s needs are taken into consideration, not only the individual’s needs.

*Bachya ben Asher ibn Halawa, also known as Rabbeinu Behaye (1255 – 1340), was a rabbi and scholar of Judaism. He was a commentator on the Torah.
He is considered by Jewish scholars to be one of the most distinguished of the Biblical exegetes of Spain. He was a pupil of Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet (the Rashba). Unlike the latter, R’ Bachya did not publish a Talmud commentary. In his biblical exegesis, R’ Bachya took the Ramban, who was the teacher of the Rashba, as his model. The Ramban was the first major commentator to make extensive use of the Kabbalah as a means of interpreting the Torah. R’ Bachya was a darshan – a preacher – in his native city of Saragossa, a position he shared with several others. He received a meagre salary, scarcely enough to support him and his family. However, neither his financial straits nor the reverses that he suffered (to which he refers in the introduction to his commentary on the Torah) diminished his interest in Torah study in general, and in Biblical exegesis in particular.
In the preparation of R’ Bachya’s commentary on the Torah, he thoroughly investigated the works of former Biblical exegetes, and used all the methods employed by them in his interpretations. R’ Bachya believed that the method of the Kabbalah, termed by him “the path of light,” which the truth-seeking soul must travel, facilitates the revelation of the deep mysteries hidden in the Torah. However, he does not reveal any of his Kabbalistic sources, other than generally referring to Sefer ha-Bahir and the works of Nachmanides. He only mentions the Zohar twice.
R’ Bachya’s commentary is considered to derive a particular charm from its form. Each parashah is prefaced by an introduction preparing the reader for the fundamental ideas to be discussed; and this introduction bears a motto in the form of a verse selected from the Book of Proverbs. Furthermore, by the questions that are frequently raised, R’ Bachya invites his readers to participate in his mental processes.
The commentary was first printed at Naples in 1492 and became very popular as evidenced by the numerous supercommentaries published on it (at least 10). Owing to the extensive allusions to the Kabbalah, the work was particularly valuable to Kabbalists, although Rabbi Bachya also availed himself of non-Jewish sources.
His next most famous work was his Kad ha-Kemach – Receptacle of the Flour (published in Constantinople in 1515.) It consists of sixty chapters, alphabetically arranged, containing discourses and dissertations on the requirements of religion and morality, as well as Jewish ritual practices. Kad ha-Kemach is a work of Musar literature, the purpose of which is to promote a moral life. In it, R’ Bachya discusses belief and faith in God; the divine attributes and the nature of providence; the duty of loving God, and of walking before God in simplicity and humility of heart; the fear of God; Jewish prayer; benevolence, and the love of mankind; peace; the administration of justice, and the sacredness of the oath; the duty of respecting the property and honor of one’s fellow man; the Jewish holidays, and halacha.

**Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel (1883-1946) was an orthodox rabbi, author, orator and philosopher. He was born in Porozov in Russia. He studied in the local Talmud Torah until age 13 when he went to study in the Telz Yeshiva. Three years later he moved to Yeshivat Brisk and learned under Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik. One year later, he went to learn under Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski in Vilna. At age 18 he received Semichah and at age 23 he was appointed Rabbi of Swieciany, where he established a large yeshiva. In 1913, he became Rabbi of Grajewo, a town on the Russian-German border. It was during this time that Rabbi Amiel was acknowledged as a great public preacher with outstanding oratory skills. He became one of the first rabbis to publicly join the Mizrachi movement and Zionist organization, applying his speaking and writing abilities to the cause of Religious Zionism and national questions. In 1920 he was elected as one of the delegates to represent Mizrachi of Poland at the Mizrachi World Convention in Amsterdam. There he made such an impression upon the Jewish community that he was given the post of Rabbi of Antwerp, one of the largest and richest Jewish communities of the time. He set up a system of lower yeshivot for girls and boys by creating the Jewish Day School (as it came to be known in America), as well as religious institutes of higher learning.
In 1936 Rabbi Amiel made aliyah in order to serve as Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv which encompassed the largest concentration of Jewish population in the yishuv. This demanded the need to maintain harmonious relations between the religious and non-religious segments of the community. During his leadership he set up a yeshiva high school (the first modern high school yeshiva) which taught religious subjects in the morning and secular in the afternoon. This yeshiva, named Yeshivat Ha’Yishuv HeChadash, was used as the pattern for the B’nei Akiva yeshivot which were subsequently established. After his death the yeshiva was renamed Yeshivat Ha’Rav Amiel.
Rabbi Amiel drew on his extensive background in Talmud, Halachah and Midrash in his analytical writings. He authored several books, among them: Derashot el Ami (Sermons to my People); Am Segulah (A Treasured Nation); L’Nevuchai HaTekufah (Light for an Age of Confusion); HaMidot L’Cheker HaHalachah (Ethics and Legality in Jewish Law).

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Re’eh: At the crossroads

See, I place before you today blessing and curse. (Devarim 11:26)

Standing at the bifurcation
looking down each path,
beset by doubt.
Knowing that the route
plagued by brambles
may yet be the right one,
that the beckoning sun-lit way
may end in darkness.
Impelled endlessly
towards further crossroads,
where the trails, again, diverge.


This Parasha, named like many others after its opening word, starts as follows, “Re’eh anochi noten lifnechem ha’yom berachah u’klalah – See, today I am setting before you blessing and curse.”

The Vilna Gaon parses this sentence word by word. He notes that the injunction starts with the singular “Re’eh – see,” (although it continues with “lifnechem – before you,” in the plural). He teaches as follows, “”See” in the singular, so that a person will not say: What am I, that I should choose for myself a good path if most of the world is behaving wickedly. That is why it is written: “See” in the singular, see what is before you; you do what you need to do and do not take notice of the world.”
He expands his theme by suggesting that the word “anochi – I – (God in this instance)” is a hint to the person who asks, “How will I withstand the evil inclination and its tricks? The answer is that “I, God will be with you and help you,” as it is written in the Talmud, (Kiddushin 30) “Each day the evil inclination would overcome a person, were it not that the Holy one Blessed be He helps him [withstand it].”
The Vilna Gaon continues: “noten – am setting before you” – it does not say, “did set before you”, so one will not think that if once he chose a bad path, he has no way to correct it. It says “noten” in the present, so he always has the option to choose a good path, as it says, “And until the day of his death He will wait for him to return, and if he returns, He will receive him immediately.”
He then addresses the word “lifnechem – before you,”: And if one would say: How could I know which is the good path and which is the bad path, because everything is obscure and hidden – so it is written “before you” – consider and examine, listen and see with a critical eye, the history of the people [what has transpired before you – in the past] and everything will become clear.
And regarding the word, “hayom – today”, the Gaon of Vilna concludes: And should a person say, “What remedy have I – if I am tainted by sin, what can I do with all the misdeeds I have done until now, so the scripture comes to say, “today” – each day will be in your eyes as new and you can start from there, and a penitent is like a newborn baby.”

The Sefat Emet also comments on the use of the present tense, “I set before you today…” saying that these two paths actually stand before a person at all times. He says that the righteous (whom Rabbi Arthur Green* interprets here as morally courageous – meeting each situation, making a decision and progressing to the next challenge) earn their blessing by always leaving the wicked path and choosing the good. The Sefat Emet quotes the Sifre telling a parable of an elder who stands at the crossroads warning those who pass, that the paths may appear deceptive, and the thorny path may end up straight and the straight path, thorny.

The Chatam Sofer also addresses the transition from the singular “see” to the plural, “before you”, saying that Chazal in Kiddushin 40 hint at communal responsibility: how one person, by his actions can redeem himself and the world around him , bringing blessing; or the opposite, condemn himself and those around him, bringing curse. He says, “The Torah is saying, See, by your thoughts, your vision, it is as though you are saying in your heart, – I am placing before you – before all the world, by my deeds – blessing or curse…”

The Sforno teaches on this verse, “Blessing and curse are two extremes. See that your deeds are not between them, that you do not compromise your behaviour, for there is only blessing and curse, no middle way.”

And in a blogpost in 2009, http://parshathoughtsmore.blogspot.co.il/2009/08/parashat-reeh-big-choice.html Dr Rachel Anisfeld notes that the Parasha begins with a frequent theme in the book of Devarim – the choice between good and bad, between life and death, or, as the parasha opens, with the choice between a life of blessing and a life of curses. Dr Anisfeld says, “The question of leading a moral life, of choosing good over evil, is a popular one and a universal one. But what makes the Torah’s version of this question special is that it is framed as an issue of relationship, specifically as an issue of the relationship between God and the people of Israel. The parsha does not begin with the words: “These are the blessings and these are the curses.” It begins with a statement of relationship: “See this day I give you blessing and curse.” What makes this blessing and curse important is that I give it to you. And how does one earn this blessing or this curse? Again, through the relationship, either by being faithful to the relationship and obeying God’s commands, or by reneging on one’s relational duties and disobeying Him.” She cites a later prohibition in the parasha (against self-mutilation or shaving the front of the head) which is prefaced by, “…banim atem lashem elokeichem, – you are children of the Lord your God.” (Devarim 14:1). She notes, “the good and the bad, the right and the wrong, are framed as questions of our relationship to God.”
Dr Anisfeld points out that the relationship between God and Man is a theme recurring frequently in the Midrash, and she cites the midrash in Devarim Rabbah on Parashat Re’eh which compares both the Torah and the human soul to a ner – a light or a candle. In this midrash, when the Holy One blessed be He charges the people to observe the Torah, He says to them, “Neri beyadecha venercha beyadi – Your light is in My hands, and My light is in your hands. If you keep My light [the Torah], then I will keep your light [the human soul].”
Dr Anisfeld writes, “How deeply intimate and inextricable is such a relationship! Each of us holds a piece of God in our hands and God holds a piece of each of us in His… We carry a piece of Him, through the Torah, and He carries a piece of us, through our souls.
“Nor is it just any piece. It is the light…” Dr Anisfeld concludes that the true blessing being set before us is the choice to carry that light which is both God’s and our own.

*In The Language of Truth the Torah Commentary of the Sefat Emet

Ekev: If you listen, really listen

If you listen, really listen to My commandments…(Devarim 11:13).

Moses descends the mount
face aglow, tablets held aloft.
Worshipping the calf,
we never hear God’s words
call to us.

God sighs
over His stiff-necked people
and gives us
yet another chance 
to get it right. 

We assemble
at the brink of the land.
In the slander of the spies
we never hear God’s words
call to us.

God sighs
over His stiff-necked people
and gives us
yet another chance 
to get it right. 

It takes time to grasp the message:
we have to listen, really listen
until we truly hear.


In her blogpost on Parashat Ekev from 2011, entitled, On Repetition, http://parshathoughtsmore.blogspot.co.il/2011/08/parashat-eikev-on-repetition.html, Dr Rachel Anisfeld points out that the book of Devarim, of which Parashat Ekev is the third parasha, is a retelling by Moses of earlier parts of the Torah. The name Deuteronomy, like the rabbinic name for the book, Mishneh Torah, means “the second law.” Dr Anisfeld ponders why we need a “second” Torah? She replies, “Its very existence tells us something about the Torah’s attitude toward life and learning – that repetition is essential. Human beings don’t generally understand things the first time they hear them. We are slow learners. Hence in the first paragraph of the Shma, read in last week’s parsha, we say, Veshinantam levanekha – “you should repeat them [these words] to your children.””. Dr Anisfeld continues, “We were slow learners back in the days of the desert, too…” and she points out that we were called an “am keshei oref– a stiff-necked people,” an obdurate people who needed learn and re-learn the same lesson over and over.
Dr Anisfeld notes that at two of the most critical events that fashioned us into a people – the giving of the Torah and entering the land – we fell short and had to try again. She says, “Sometimes people can’t do things right the first time round. God doesn’t give up on us but merely tries again.” And she adds, “The message is that these things are not really one-time events at all, but works in progress. We are strivers, learners, always receiving the Torah and always on the cusp of entering the land.”

On the above phrase, Vehaya im shamo’a tishme’u – If you listen, really listen…) Rashi comments on the repetition of the word to listen (often translated “if you listen diligently”). He advocates hearing again what has already been learned, and repeatedly studying the old lessons. Regarding the first word of the verse,”Im – if” there is a strong sense here of choice: to listen or not to listen, to accept or not.
On this, the Sefat Emet comments that we have to choose to hear and then accept God’s word each day. He says that the words are really already imprinted within us, we have to answer their call. Rabbi Arthur Green, in his book The Language of Truth*, expands, “How is it that we are capable of hearing God’s word? What is it about the human being that gives us the consciousness with which to respond to the divine command? The Hasidic tradition answers that it is the Torah within us, the divine letters implanted within the human soul, that respond to those same letters when they arrange themselves as divine commandment The voice of Torah beyond calls forth to the Torah within. Our response brings about a renewal of life that affects not only us but all the world around us.”

In an article on Parashat Ekev 2014, To Lead is to Listen http://www.rabbisacks.org/eikev-5774-lead-listen/ Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out, “…in Judaism listening is a deeply spiritual act. To listen to God is to be open to God. That is what Moses is saying throughout Devarim: “If only you would listen.” ”

*The Torah Commentary of the Sefat Emet

Vaetchanan: When the words enter

And you shall place these words that I command you today upon your heart. (Devarim 6:6)

Evanescent as gossamer floating on air,
the words drift past when my heart is distant.

Elusive as the sun on a cloudy day,
the words are obscured when darkness shades my heart.

Colliding like stones against a fortified wall,
the words pound fruitlessly when my heart is embattled.

But in moments of grace, my heart opens
and the words, waiting steadfastly, trickle in.


The Shem Mishmuel* cites the Kotsker Rebbe who addresses why we are instructed to place these words “upon” and not “in” our hearts. He says, “The words should be placed upon the heart like a stone, and when the heart opens, at a special moment, the words will enter it. This means: the heart is mostly shut so the words do not enter it. But one should not get excited about this. One should not desist from serving God. The words will be resting on the heart like a stone on the outside. And in a moment of awakening, when the heart will be opened, the words will enter inside.”

Earlier in the same Parasha, the Kotsker offers another teaching on connecting with God. On the verse: If you seek there for the Lord your God, you will find Him, if only you seek Him with all your heart and soul. (Devarim 4:29) The Kotsker links the word “u’matsata – and you will find, ” with a verse in B’midbar (11:22): Could enough flocks and herds be slaughtered to suffice them? In this verse the unusual word to convey “suffice” is “u’matsa” from the same root “to find”.
So the Kotsker Rebbe says, “The idea is: If you seek there for the Lord your God – the very act of seeking – the yearning and longing for God – u’matsata that is enough.” The Kotsker equates the longing itself with the finding.

*Shem Mishmuel is the name of a nine-volume collection of homiletical teachings on the Torah and Jewish holidays delivered by Rabbi Shmuel Bornsztain (1855–1926), the second Sochatchover Rebbe, between the years 1910-1926. A major work in Hasidic thought, it synthesizes the Hasidism of Pshischa and Kotzk in the style of Sochatchov and is frequently cited in Torah lectures and articles to this day.
The first Sochatchover Rebbe, Rabbi Avraham Bornsztain, (1838–1910) who was known as the Avnei Nezer after the title of his major work, was the son-in-law of the Kotsker Rebbe. His son Rabbi Shmuel Bornsztain was a leading Hasidic thinker in early 20th-century Europe and Rebbe to thousands of Hasidim in the Polish cities of Sochaczew (Sochatchov) and Łódź.
The first eight volumes of Shem Mishmuel cover lessons on each of the parashot. In traditional Hasidic style, they are not printed according to the sequence of the parashot, but in the order in which the Rebbe delivered these lessons to his followers. The ninth volume deals exclusively with the Passover Haggadah.
In addition to displaying a thorough familiarity with Talmud, Midrash, Kabbalah, and other classic Jewish sources, Rabbi Bornsztain presents many of the ideas of his father who was his first teacher and with whom he was very close.
(The first edition was published by R’ Shmuel Bornsztain’s son and successor Rabbi David Bornsztain, the third Sochatchover Rebbe, between 1927 and 1932. R’ David Bornsztain perished in the Warsaw ghetto ten years later, and his brother Rabbi Chanoch Henoch Bornsztain, who had immigrated to Israel in 1924 and became the fourth Sochatchover Rebbe after Rabbi David’s death, published the second edition of Shem Mishmuel in Jerusalem in 1950.
Rabbi Chanoch Henoch’s eldest son, the fifth Sochatchover Rebbe, R’ Menachem Shlomo Bornsztain was killed in a car accident in 1969 at the age of 34 and his eldest son, Rabbi Shmuel Bornsztain who was 8 years old at the time, became the sixth Sochatchover Rebbe a few years later. He presently leads the Sochatchover dynasty from Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem, where the Sochatchov yeshiva, Yeshivat Avnei Nezer, is located.)

Tisha B’Av: We do not mourn alone  

We sit forlornly on the ground, lamenting,
yet we do not mourn alone.
God clothes the skies with darkness
and covers them with sack,
He clouds the light of sun and moon,
and dims the twinkling stars.
He rends His purple robes
and walks barefoot,
sits lone and silent as He weeps
and asks again, “Where are you?”


In an article entitled The Poetry and Theology of Tisha B’Av* Dr Ismar Schorsch looks at how the Rabbis invested the mourning of Tisha B’Av with meaning and hope. He points out that on the Shabbat before the fast, we read the opening chapters of Parashat Devarim which means “words”. This, he says, “emphasizes the key Jewish response to calamity. Historically, Jews rebuild their shattered worlds with words of high emotion and daring imagination. Like God at the dawn of creation, we bring order out of chaos through words…The worlds we inhabit are a construct of our minds.” He continues that it is not coincidental that this same Shabbat is called Shabbat Chazon (vision) after the vision of Isaiah which is the Haftarah we read. “Vision,” he says, “is the human projection onto a harsh reality. Without the capacity to generate perspective, to find meaning in the midst of catastrophe, to retain sight of the grand picture, we are doomed to succumb to our despair.” Dr Schorsch gives an example of how the Rabbis address this as he examines the midrash on Megillat Eichah (Lamentations) which we read on the night of Tisha B’Av. The word eichah is an exclamation meaning “how” or “alas“. A rare word, yet it does appear in both Parashat Devarim and its Haftarah as well as in Eichah. This repetition prompts a midrash to expand on its meaning:

Only three prophets – Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah (who authored Eichah) – used the word.
Moses: “How can I bear unaided your troublesomeness.”(Devarim 1:12)
Isaiah: “Alas, she has become a harlot, the faithful city.”(Isaiah 1:21)
Jeremiah: “Alas, lonely sits the city once full with people.”( Eichah 1:1)
 
The midrash records a discussion in Eichah Rabbah (1:1) between R’ Judah and R’ Nechemiah:
R’ Judah says, The word eichah implies nothing other than a reproof, as it says, How (eichah) do you say: We are wise and the Law of the Lord is with us? (Jeremiah 8:8).
R’ Nechemiah says, The word eichah implies nothing other than a lament, as it says: And the Lord God called unto the man and said to him, “Where are you (ayekah?) (Bereishit 3:9) [ayekah] meaning “woe to you – oi lechah.” Dr Schorsch points out that this latter proof text is unexpected. He says, “After Adam and Eve had eaten of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they hid in guilt. God sought them out, “Where are you?” Because the Hebrew word ayekah has the same consonants as eichah, the midrash feels justified in citing it to saturate the word eichah with grief. But the theological consequence of this exegetical move is enormous. The question “ayekah – where are you?” becomes laden with remorse. At the very outset of human history, then, God betrays angst at having created a species that would be a source of endless frustration. Did this initial act of human rebellion anticipate an ever-recurring pattern? Like their progenitors, would humans constantly abuse their free will to drive God to distraction? Implicit in this cryptic proof text is the conviction that we bear some responsibility for our fate and therefore can reverse it.”

The Mishnah records five calamities that befell our ancestors on Tisha b’Av, including the decision to delay the conquest of Canaan by forty years, as well as the destruction of the first and second Temples and the fall of Betar, ending the Bar Kochba rebellion (Taanit 4:6). Many further calamities devastated the Jewish people in later centuries and occurred on or close to Tisha B’Av, including:
The First Crusade which started in 1095. A total of 1.2 million Jews were killed and many communities in Rhineland and France were totally obliterated.
The Jews were expelled: from England in 1290; from France in 1306; from Spain in 1492.
Germany entered WW1 on August 1–2, 1914 (Av 9-10) which caused massive upheaval in European Jewry and whose aftermath led to the Holocaust.
On August 2, 1941 (Av 9), SS commander Himmler formally received approval from the Nazi Party for the “Final Solution” in which almost one third of the world’s Jewish population was decimated.
On July 23, 1942 (Av 9) the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto began, en route to Treblinka.

Dr Schorsch mentions that just as Yom Kippur concerns the fate of the individual Jew, Tisha b’Av concerns the fate of the Jewish people. He adds that this day also condenses the national calamities into one day so that the calendar is not flooded by commemorative days for each one, noting that the Jewish experience encompasses far more than oppression and devastation.
The ritual of the day is marked by mourning practices. We sit on the ground as we recite Eichah and other dirges.
But, says Dr Schorsch, “We do not mourn alone. Midrash and Talmud abound with images of God distraught by the destruction of the Temple.” He cites one midrash in Eichah Rabbah, in which God asks the angels repeatedly how a mortal king mourns. This is, then, the first time ever that God needs to express His grief. As the angels tell God how mourning is done on earth, God does the same: He sits silently in darkness, walks around barefoot, rips His robes and even weeps. The author of the midrash brings a biblical verse supporting his portrayal of God performing each act. (Eichah Rabbah 1:1 citing verses** from Isaiah, Joel, Nachum and Eichah).
Further midrashim represent God as weeping over the bitter grief of Israel, and being inconsolable over the loss of His earthly dwelling place. When the arch-angel Metatron offers to weep instead of God, God says “If you do not leave Me be, to weep now, I will enter a place where you cannot reach Me, and I will weep there!” (Eichah Rabbah 1:1 and Petichta 24). Finally, in the Talmud God is pictured at each of the three watches of the night audibly mourning that because of Israel’s sins, He had to destroy the Temple, burn its inner sanctum and exile and scatter His people. He is depicted as shaking His head and declaring, “Woe to the father who had to banish His children, and woe to the children who had to be banished from the table of their father!”(BT Berachot 3a). It seems as though God’s link to the world is severed.
However, Dr Schorsch concludes, “On the contrary, though, the import of these bold fantasies of God in mourning is precisely the opposite. The effusion of divine pathos keeps the connection alive. God continues to care passionately about the welfare of Israel. A sacred building is only a symbol for a deep and pervasive bond, which unbroken, holds out the possibility of reconciliation.”

*Posted on the Jewish Theological Seminary website just before Tisha B’Av, July 2004.
** I clothe the heavens with blackness and I make sack-cloth their covering. (Isaiah 50:3).
The sun and moon are become black and the stars withdraw their shining. (Joel 4:15).
The Lord has done what He devised, He has performed His word. (Eichah 2:17).
This is understood as a reference to God tearing His purple robe.
The Lord, in the whirlwind and the storm is His way, and the clouds are the dust at His feet. (Nachum 1:3).
  Let him sit alone and keep silent. (Eichah 3:28).
And in that day did the Lord, the God of Hosts, call to weeping and to lamentation, and to baldness and to girding with sackcloth. (Isaiah 22:12).