Kinot Live 2021 with Rabbi Fohrman
Kinot Live 2021 with Rabbi Fohrman
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
Join Rabbi Fohrman and the Aleph Beta team for an in-depth reading and discussion of Kinot. All the Kinot and discussions are new and unique to this year. These beautiful texts will take on whole new meanings and can allow you to experience a more connected Tisha B'Av. This discussion took place live Tisha B’Av morning, July 18, 2021.
Beth: Okay. Hi, everyone. Welcome to Aleph Beta's Kinnot webinar, 2nd annual Kinnot webinar. We're just waiting for some of the folks from our waiting room to roll in, but I'll start -- get us started with some introductory remarks.
My name's Beth Lesch, for those of you who don't me. I'm one of the scholars here at Aleph Beta. I've had the incredible distinct pleasure of being able to work for this organization for almost five years. To be able to learn from Rabbi Fohrman and learn from my colleagues, and learn from you as well.
I'll share the credential that I'm proudest of, which is that I started off as a fan and a subscriber just like all of you. (Inaudible), you know, from my tiny graduate stipend I would take my $9 every month and give it to Aleph Beta and my husband and I would watch videos over dinner. So we are illustrious members of this group of fans and fellow learners, and I'm excited to be able to come together today, tonight, depending on where in the world you are. I know a lot of us are based in Israel here. Others of you are on the East Coast (inaudible 00:01:10) to be able to learn (inaudible) forward to that format and then we'll jump in.
So (inaudible) frontal lecture. There's not going to be (inaudible) between you as participants and us as (inaudible). (Inaudible) be looking at the chat (inaudible).
All right. I think I was having some technical difficulties, but you should be able to hear me now. I'll be looking at the chat, I'll be monitoring that closely. If we do have some time at the end of the program to be able to hang around a little bit longer and answer some questions that remain, then we'll take the time to do that.
We do have probably about a half an hour wiggle time built in to today's program. So again, if there's time left we can be flexible and hang out then, but in the meantime, today's presentation's going to consist of conversations that you are watching between members of the Aleph Beta scholarship team and chavrutos that they have invited to come join them.
Rabbi Fohrman's going to start us off with some introductory remarks, just to sort of get us ready for the idea of Kinnot. Really, the one caveat that I want to say before turning it over to him is that this is going to be very much unlike any other kind of Kinnot webinar that you've attended, with the exception of Aleph Beta's first annual Kinnot webinar.
The reason for that is in a certain sense, we intend for these to be your opportunity to engage in prayer and to read the Kinnot and to recite them and to connect to them, but unlike what might be the case in your shul recitation, we're not going to be able to cover collectively all 49-50 of them. What we want to do instead is to focus really deeply on just a sampling, with the hope that that's going to give you a foundation to be able to connect to all of them.
We'll be pausing in between presentations, that you can have the chance to recite them to yourself and connect privately. Of course, outside of the context of this webinar, we encourage you to read the rest of the book, but if you're here, you're an Aleph Beta fan and you know our approach. Our approach is to go deep. You know, you've seen Rabbi Fohrman's videos. He can take a single verse and spend an hour building it into an incredible study. So you guys know the drill. That's what's on tap for tonight.
All right. This session will be recorded, so sometime after the event we will be sharing it by putting it on the website, so if you miss anything don't fret. Other than that, I'm going to introduce Rabbi Fohrman, who needs no introduction, but the lead scholar at Aleph Beta. Not to teach on any particular Kinah to start, but just to give us some introductory remarks to get us into the mood.
Rabbi Fohrman, thank you. Take it away.
Rabbi Fohrman: Thank you, Beth. Nice to see you, albeit on a day of mourning. We have the distinction of having three of our scholars -- by the three I'm including myself -- here in Jerusalem, actually. At the time Beth is here, Ami's here and I'm here as well.
My kids rented an apartment with a beautiful view of the old city. I'll try to show it you later, but it's an inspiring place to look out on.
First of all, to second Beth's idea. Again, this is a little bit different than most Kinnot presentations which you can hear online, either in person, in that were kind of going deep and giving you a little bit of the sampling of the Kinnot, and sort of inspiration for yourself to look deeper at yourself.
Let me begin with maybe just a little bit of an introduction to Kinnot and the idea of Kinnot on Tisha B'Av. The idea of what we do with Kinnot on Tisha B'Av is on the face of it strange. It's one of those things which, you know, if you grow up doing ever since you were young, it just seems like the most normal of things to do. Yet, if you don't, if you come to this new, if it's your first time, it just seems really weird, for people to get on the floor and read Kinnot, which are -- they're dirges, they're lamentations, they're poems.
The funny thing about Kinnot is that there are sort of two aspects of Kinnot which are intentional with one another. One is that these are poems that are written over ages. They're written in another language; they're written in Hebrew. They are full of references to Biblical literature of various sorts. They're also written in difficult to read Hebrew. So it's not easy to decipher these things. That's at one end of the spectrum.
There is a lot of sort of technical virtuoso which goes into this. It's almost as if the composers were composing high are, which in some cases they were. Rabbi Elazar HaKalir who's one of the main -- we don't even know when he lived exactly, but he was a poet with extraordinary gifts, whose technical virtuoso was just mind-boggling in what he was able to do. He composed a lot of these. The three Kinnot which I'll be talking about, are all composed by Rabbi Elazar HaKalir.
So on one level you have this sort of high art in these poems that make them seem almost inaccessible if you are kind of reading through them with an average understanding of Hebrew. Yet, at the other hand is that when you actually begin to delve into these Kinnot, just a little bit, just scratch the surface a little bit. By Kinnot, I would even include Eichah itself, the Book of Lamentations, which in a way is the touchstone for all of Kinnot. It's as if Jeremiah the Prophet, who himself, you know, wrote his history, so to speak, and the book of Jeremiah, but then wrote his Kinah, wrote his elegy, wrote his dirge, which is the Book of Lamentations, which is in the five Meggilot, which we read on Tisha B'Av.
So he sort of gave us the touchstone of how to approach mourning on this day. But when you just scratch the surface of these Kinnot, what you find is that they're tremendously raw, and tremendously painful, and tremendously edgy; very edgy. That's really going to be the theme of what I do tonight, both as introduction and in all the Kinnot I'm going to be talking about. The approach I'm going to be taking is I'm going to be talking about just how edgy they are.
The kinds of things that almost if you would say -- if I was casually talking on the street with someone and I would express sentiments from the Kinnot, you know, you'd look at me as I was a heretic, as I have had left the hold. It's a very raw and edgy stuff.
The question is where are we coming from, that, as a people, we are going back and reliving these moments of pain and these moments of trauma, which are so long in the past and it's so unlike our everyday experience. What I mean by that is like let's say, you've gone through something traumatic or you've gone through something painful in your life. So you mourn for it for a while and there's a process. There's a process called Shiva, there's a process called Sheloshim. You've got seven days and then you've got 30 days, and then you've got a year. At some point, you know there's that old adage that time heals all wounds, in one was or another, and we find ways to move on.
Indeed, if you actually think about the word for mourning in Hebrew, the word for a mourner. So my son puts his teacher was saying that the word for mourner, it's interesting, Alef-Beit-Lammed, and Alef-Beit-Lammed doesn't just spell avel, which means mourner, but it also spells aval, which means but or nevertheless. He sees that as a sort of, you know, one-word statement of what the process of mourning is really designed to do.
The mourner is beset by questions, the chief among them why did this happen? How could this have happened? How do we even wrap our minds around that this has happened. The problem is there's no answers to any of those questions and the mourner doesn't get any answers. So what are you supposed to do when you've got all those questions that are searing and tearing at you and you don't have any answers?
The only thing you can do is you can say but it happened, or you can say nevertheless it happened. The process of mourning is really a process of reconciliation. Of reconciling yourself with the reality that it happened. That's what you're doing with the seven days, and the 30 days, and the year, you're figuring out how to say but it happened and to integrate into your life that it happened.
In Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, there's five stages of grief that she talks about, but the early stages of grief are anything but acceptance. The early stages of grief are denial, like I can't even believe that this is happening. That's anger, I'm just really upset that this is happening. Then, you've got sadness. At the very end there's something called acceptance. The process of mourning is there to kind of bring you on this glide path to that ending.
I think the reason why it works that way is because, you know, the stuff we do in mourning are some of the most extreme experiences we'll ever have. Loss is the most extreme experience that we'll ever have. There's extremes of joy which are maybe reunion, but extremes at the other end are the extremes of loss. I always think back to -- I think we have a video on this, I'm not sure, but on the extremes of joy side. There's no greater joy than reunion. You have the Shir Hama'alot, the Psalm that speaks of reunion, which we say on Shabbat and holidays before Birkat Hamazon, before Grace After Meals.
What's interesting is if you think about that Psalm, I don't know for those of you who have sung Shir Hama'alot, but if you ever sing Shir Hama'alot and you lose track of where you're up to. You're not sure if you're up to the beginning where it says, "Shir hama'alot b'shuv Hashem et sheviteinu," we're talking about that you are, "ha'yinu k'cholmim," that we were like dreamers, or "ha'yinu semeichim," we were happy. There are these phrases which are almost exactly the same.
It always struck me as strange that really what Shir Hama'alot is, is about a transition. It's about there is something which is so overwhelmingly joyous that at the beginning you just think you're dreaming, it doesn't seem real, and your job is to make it real so that you're not dreaming, "ha'yinu k'cholmim," but "ha'yinu semeichim," you're happy. The same thing in the converse is what it's about with mourning.
So what's strange about all this is -- and I mentioned what we do seems really strange. What we do seems really strange because, you know, a lot more than seven days has passed. A lot more than 30 days has passed and a lot more than a year has passed. If you look at the Kinnot, and I mentioned sort of their raw and really edgy character. If you look at the Book of Lamentations and look at its raw and edgy character. It doesn't look like we're at the early stages of mourning. Seemingly, we're at the later stages of mourning. It doesn't like we've ever gotten to the but it happened.
If you look at the kind of mourning that's described that you'll see today in these Kinnot, the kind of mourning that you'll see in the Book of Lamentations, in the original Kinah of Jeremiah, it looks like we're pretty far away from that reconciliation of ourselves to what has happened. We're really at those early stages in mourning. The question is how do we understand why that is? So long has passed, why can't we get over this already?
I think kind of two answers present themselves. One answer -- and let me, actually just before I give you sort of my two answers to this, let me just give you the dilemma almost, or put it to you as the Book of Lamentations puts it. If you think at the very beginning of the Book of Lamentations. The Book of Lamentations opens with those famous words, "Eichah yashvah badad ha'ir rabbati am haitah k'almanah." Look how she sits in solitude. We're talking about -- this is Jeremiah's Kinah. We're talking about Jerusalem itself. Look how she sits in solitude, the city that used to be full of people, it's as if she's a widow.
"Rabati ba'goyim sarati ba'medinot haitah l'mas." It's interesting that Jeremiah portrays Jerusalem there as sitting alone. Sitting alone, all her exiles have left her. It's a kind of mirror image version of mourning. Instead of mourning for the exiles who left, instead of taking the first person view of what it means to be in exile on the road, instead you're looking at the city that was left behind. Everyone went and it's is af if the city is mourning the loss of her people, the loss of those who give her companionship.
Jeremiah beautifully anthropomorphizes Jerusalem itself as now sitting all alone because all of those who have been exiled have gone away. But then if you think about what it means to be all alone, so part of that is I am mourning the fact that everyone has left me, that all of my people are no longer here. But if you go then to the second verse of Lamentations, you see another aspect of this fact that nobody is here anymore. It's not just that fact which is the reason for mourning that everyone has left and everyone has been exiled, but it's also the reason why mourning can't stop.
Listen to Verse 2. "Bacho tivkeh ba'lailah," she cries at night, all night long she cries, Jersualem, "v'dim'atah al lechyah," and her tear is on her cheek, "ein lah menachem mikol ohave'hah," there's no one to comfort her from all of her friends, "kol rei'ehah bagdu bah hayu lah l'oyavim," all those he she thought she could count on are not there for here anymore.
If you think about that verse carefully, "Bacho tivkeh ba'lailah v'dim'atah al lechyah." Why does it have to say that? What does that second phrase add? She cries at night, all night long, her tear is on her cheek. What does it tell you that her tear is on her cheek? Why do we say that? What have we added by saying by saying her tears are on her cheek?
So if I'm sitting in the room with you and you're crying, right, what's the cardinal act of comfort? How do I comfort you if you're crying? What I do is I come up to you, I give you a hug and I take a tissue and I dry the tears from your cheek. That's how you comfort someone. That was missing for Jerusalem. "Bacho tivkeh ba'lailah," she's crying, but "v'dim'atah al lechyah," her tears remain staining here cheeks, there's no one to comfort her.
So not only is her isolation a reason that she's crying in the first place, but her isolation's also the reason why she can't get over it. There's nobody there to comfort her. There's nobody to share her pain. She's all alone in her solitude and all alone in her pain.
So this is this kind of really raw state of mourning. Very, very early state of mourning. Which is what Jeremiah is portraying in Lamentations, and, I would suggest, is being portrayed in all of the Kinnot that follow over the generations. This very, very raw moment. I think the way at least I understand that is kind of one of two things.
One of them is what's different about this kind of mourning than any other kind of mourning. Is first of all, that it's communal mourning and it's not individual mourning. Every time we mourn, we all mourn individual tragedies. God forbid, something happens to someone close to us and there's an individual as a family that mourns. On Tisha B'Av we're doing something radically different from that. We're engaging in a communal day of mourning.
When you think about how is a communal day of mourning different than individual day of mourning? It's not just that there's lots of people mourning lots of other people. It's not just that. You know, you can imagine a memorial day after World War II, or a memorial day even Israel. The reason why those memorial days are particular powerful is it's not just that there's lots of individuals who lost individual service members, it's actually a community in mourning. There's one being that's mourning and to the extent we mourn, we mourn because we're part of the community. It's a one-on-one mourning, it's the community mourning.
It's almost as if it's Jeremiah himself talking. It's almost as if Jerusalem sort of an embodiment of that community is in mourning over her losses, to the extent that you can connect to that is to the extent that you can connect to Tisha B'Av. It's not about the individual anymore.
What makes communal mourning distinct is that the nature of the community's kind of interesting. If you think about the relationship between a community to the individuals that constitute that. So the community is nothing more than the individuals that constitute it, but to the extent it is more than the individuals who constitute that.
So one of the weird things about community, you know, think about your body. Your body is a community of cells. There's trillions and trillions of cells in your body. We'll, cells die and they get replaced and 10 years from now, it may well be the case that there is no cell in your body that was with you 10 years previous, and yet it's the same you. Somehow, there's something timeless therefore about a community. Maybe, at one level, it's the timelessness of the community that accounts for the fact that sort of we never really get over it.
It's almost as if the sense of less is as powerful as when it first happens because maybe there is something about a community that's impervious to time, that's timeless in a sense that a community never dies. It perpetuates itself, and at some level, the community in its real sense is made of not just of those who happen to be living today, but the real community is made up of everyone who's lived from all time that's part of the community.
At some level in Lamentations, we have a chance to join hands together with those who are no longer here, to those who have passed on, to our ancestors from hundreds of years ago and before. To join with them in responding, emotionally, to the powerful events that rock our community.
I think that's one level of truth. It's interesting when we talk about death in the Torah, when the Torah talks about death. Aaron dying. When Aaron is told to go up to the mountain and he's going to die, I think the language is "v'ne'esaf el amecha," which is a real strange kind of interesting language. That you're going to die and you're going to be gathered in to your people.
Like if I was Aaron and someone told me I was going to go up to the mountain and I was going to die and be gathered in to my people, I would think, like going up to the mountain is the loneliest thing in the world. I'm leaving everybody behind. I'm not going to be gathered in to my people. If anything, this is the moment when I leave my entire people behind. Yet, at some level, this is the moment when you're gathered in to your people because you're people is not just the people that are here, it's the people in other realms of time and it's as if you're gathered into a larger people, which is beyond time.
Which is the way the community experiences things. When you die, you don't end being part of the community. You just enter another phase of the community, where just the people who happen to be here is just a slice of that.
So I think that might account for part of the idea that mourning remains so fresh. But I think there's another thing, too, to this, something I was kind of pondering over the last couple of days and I want to share that with you.
One of the challenges with communal mourning is that it falls to everybody at every stage of community. Wherever you live in, whatever time period you live in, to help build that community. Yet, the tragedies that befall our community throughout time, are a potential impediment to our ability to build community. I think there's something which have a lot to connect with nowadays. We're only 70-80 years away from our own national tragedy, international tragedy, communal tragedy, the Holocaust. I think that's given us a perspective where we can sort of get in touch with this, although the same thing would be true with the Crusades. The same thing would be true at the destruction of the Temple.
That is there's a great impediment to building community and its survivors guild. How do you deal with moving on and building a community in the face of so many people who didn't make it? So many people who, but for the grace of God, you could've been them. You know, you just happen to not have been born in Amsterdam in 1912, such that you have been 23 when the Holocaust happened and the Nazis took over Amsterdam. You got lucky and you were born in Van Nuys, California.
If you really stop to think about that, it's a paralyzing thought, and those who survived the camps and their children, have to deal with that reality, are beset by that thought. Really anybody's beset by that thought. How do you go and rebuild in the face of such terrible loss? A kind of almost guilt hits you, and how do you even do that? It's not even just guilt, it almost feels, at some level, like what? Are we ignoring the pain of all these people who -- right? I'm just supposed to go along and build these institutions and make life as wonderful and as comfortable for everyone else as if this didn't happen?
So how do individuals and a community go about building a community in the face of great tragedy? So I happen to have been working on something which seems as far as possibly removed from the idea of mourning, recently. Which gave me a little bit of an insight, a personal insight, which I just want to kind of share with you. Then I'll pass the baton over to Ami to take us into the first Kinah.
I just gave a talk here in Israel, is what brought me to Israel. There was a Bible conference and I chose to speak about one of the obscure parts of the Torah. It was the seemingly bizarre purification procedure of the metzorah. The metzorah is someone who contracts leprosy. What's interesting is that the metzorah's experience is isolation. He is completely isolated. He has to sit outside the camp.
If you actually look in the Talmud in Mo'ed Katan, the Talmud speaks of the laws of the metzorah in the same terms as it speaks of the laws of the mourner. A metzorah is literally in mourning, almost for himself. He is alive and yet he is dead. It's almost like he's beset by survivor's guilt. There's something that's getting in the way of him moving on in being part of a community, and he is separate while he is yet alive.
Interesting, by the way, chillingly really. That first verse in Lamentations. "Eichah yashvah badad ha'ir rabati am." So Jeremiah's actually borrowing from something, as he almost always is, borrowing from something earlier in the Torah. Listen to those words and tell me where you think he's borrowing from. "Eichah yashvah badad," look how she sits in solitude. Jeremih didn't make up those words, Jeremiah got those words from somewhere. Who sits in solitude? Who is yoshev badad?
Long before Jerusalem, the Bible in Leviticus speaks of someone who is yoshev badad, and low and behold it's the metzorah, it's this person who's afflicted with leprosy, who's all alone. It's almost as if Jeremiah is describing the nation, describing Jerusalem as if she's all alone, and it's like this interesting sort of twist on the metzorah, right, because the metzorah leaves the city and experiences isolation. But here's the city who's experiencing isolation because others have left her. It's this really weird kind of switch.
I refer to it almost facetiously as Einstein's theory of relativity applied to the metzorah or applied to mourning. Which is, you know, Einstein's theory of relativity, one of the things he says about motion is that you can never talk about motion in absolute terms, you always have to talk about it in relative terms. So if you're standing still on the sidewalk and I'm running, you can't say that I am in motion and you are stationary. All you can say is that we are in motion relative to one another; I am moving away from you. You could just as easily say that you are moving away from me, as that I am moving away from you. There's no such thing as the absolute stationary and absolute motion.
So when someone moves away from another, right, at one level they are moving and they're isolated, but at some person, the person who's been moved away from is isolated. At some level, Jerusalem is also isolated because those have moved away from you.
So I was thinking about the metzorah and what the metzorah says about this feeling of isolation and this feeling of mourning. Something dawned on me and I want to share it with you and then again pass the baton over to Ami here.
As part of the purification procedure for the metzorah -- it's interesting, by the way, that there is a purification procedure for the metzorah. That itself should tell you something about mourning. The metzorah is healed physically, and then after they're healed physically, they go through a purification procedure. What do I need a purification procedure for? I don't have any disease on me. I'm good, I'm fine. I'm ready to play ball again. I'm really ready to be part of life.
That's not the way it works. When you're isolated, it's not just about salving the wounds that got you isolated. The trauma of being isolated is itself something that you've got to recover from. There's some sort of process by which someone who's been isolated, kind of rejoins the community even after everything looks okay on the outside. You have somebody who's sat through shivah, sat through 30 days, sat through a year and they look fine on the inside, but there is still like that little purification process.
What is the purification process with a metzorah or for this person? So it's complicated and it's strange, but it involves two birds. Two birds that are called these shtei tzipporim chayot, these two live birds. Strangely, one of the live birds -- they're like these identical birds and one of them gets slaughtered and the other one flies free. The one that's slaughtered -- the bird that's flied free, you take that bird and you dip it in the blood of the dead bird and it flies free. Then the metzorah becomes pure.
I was kind of meditating on that. Like what's the deal with these birds? Now, it turns out that -- you know, if I would ask you, okay, so when's the last time that we had a bird, a tzippor, described as a tzippor before Leviticus, right, these laws of the metzorah? So the last actual bird, other than a girl by the name of Tzipporah, who might have something to do with this, but we'll leave that for another day. But the last actual bird we have was actually at the Covenant Between the Parts, which is something I'll be coming back to later on today.
The Covenant Between the Parts is Genesis 15. It's the covenant that God makes with Abraham. In that covenant, God tells him about tragedy. God tells him about loss. God tells him about terrible things that are going to happen in the future. "Ger yihyeh zaracha b'eretz lo la'hem," He says. Your children are going to be strangers in a land not their own. They're going to abused there, they're going to be enslaved there. It's going to be a long time, it's going to be 400 years. After that they're going to go free.
Then you ask yourself, so like how does that even happen, that after that they're going to go free and everything is going to be okay? What about the trauma? That real question of how you recover from mourning, it's almost front and center in Genesis 15.
Then birds appear in the picture. Abraham is told, in his prophetic vision he has; it's night and "eimah chasheichah gedolah nofelet alav," a terrible dread and darkness falls upon him. He's shuddering in this darkness as he sees this vision of what will become Egyptian slavery. Then, he's told to take these animals and to cut up the animals, you know, these corpses, these bloody corpses kind of lying there.
You ask yourself, so like what are the bloody corpses? Like what is that exactly? Then, of course, when you get to Exodus there was a lot of pain and loss of life. There were lot of children who lost their lives, who were thrown into the life, whose blood bled into the waters.
So then so there's all these corpses arranged in this row, and then he's told to take this bird and the bird is the one animal that doesn't get cut up. Then there's the "tanur eish v'lapid ashan," there is a cauldron of fire and a pillar of smoke that magically passes between the pieces, that's "over bein ha'gezarim ha'eileh."
Now, Abraham and then the tzippor and the bird flies free. Now, Abraham may not have been in a position to understand the meaning of that because he lived when he lived, but for those of us who can play Monday-morning quarterback, for those of us who have the benefit of hindsight, who can look back at the actuality of what was prophesied to Abraham, the Egyptian experience and say what was that a picture of? What was God giving him a vision of at that moment?
It seems like something that happened in the Exodus from Egypt. It actually seems like the Splitting of the Sea. Where there were again dead people, blood mixing with water, but this time they weren't the innocent babies. It was the soldiers of the Egyptian army. The Egyptian army would never threaten Israel again and Israel passed through, led by something. Led by a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud that magically passes between the pieces and a bird flies free.
Who's the bird? You have to say the bird is us. The bird was us. The bird's the metaphor for us. Somehow, when Tzipporah, this girl named bird, joins Moses, so then he's the bird. He and she are the bird and somehow help us fly free, but the fascinating thing is that when the purifying of the metzorah, we get to this procedure, this strange procedure in Leviticus, for this someone who is also exiled, and someone who is also isolated. Just like Israel was isolated and exiled and Egypt. Then it falls to him to somehow make himself tahor, make himself pure.
There's two birds, not one, and only one of them flies free. Who's the other bird? The bird that dies. The bird that -- you take the live bird and dip it in the blood of the dead bird and then the bird flies free with the blood of the dead bird on it. What's that meaning?
I think that's the meaning that that's what community is. Community isn't just the live people, it's also the dead people. When the live people build, they're building for the dead people. They just happen to be the people who are on the ground at this moment in the game. Everybody else is on the bench. Everybody else is in the next world. But you don't forget those people, and the live people understand that they're the shaliach, they're the messenger of many, many people who didn't make it to this stage. Many people who died at earlier moments and everything the live bird does as it flies free, it does with the blood on its wings of the dead bird, of all those who didn't make it.
The only way that the live bird has the strength to fly free, has the strength to go and build and to fly away and to leave everything behind and start something new is if it carries the blood of the others with him, and can say I'm not leaving you. Say what I do I do for you and I see your pain, and it's with me.
I think that's the reason really why we have Tisha B'Av. It's the reason why we mourn the way we do and the way that we don't seem to get over the loss. As a community, we have to have one day where we're able to project ourselves back into the pain of all those who didn't make it. Of all those who suffered, even if we're the bird that flies free. Even if we live in a moment where you look out at Jerusalem, as I'm looking from these hills, and everything looks wonderful and everything looks fine.
There's a lot of times when it doesn't look fine. There's been many times that it hasn't looked wonderful. Somehow you get back as a community, you draw on the timelessness of community to get back to experience vicariously something that all those other generations didn't experience.
This is the moment to read a Kinah about the Crusades and to kind of let yourself imagine what it was like to be in the Crusades. It's the moment to read a Kinah about the Holocaust and recognize what that might have been like. It's a moment to read a Kinah about -- to read Lamentations and to feel like you could have been there. If you can dust off the poetry and if you can get behind the technical virtuosity of the poetry, just scratch it just a little bit, the rawness and the pain and just the images are right there, and they'll take you right there.
You're just there for a day, but the point of it is to get dipped in the blood of the other bird, so that when you fly free you can fly free for real and to be able to say that which we're building community here, we're building a whole community. We're building it with all the people who didn't make it as well.
So those are the thoughts I want to leave you with as we kick off our Kinnot today. Again, we're going to be looking -- we're going to be going deep. We're not going to be doing a lot, we're going to be going deep. So I welcome you to these conversations that we'll be having with our scholars.
Ami, take it away.
Ami: Thank you, Rabbi Fohrman. Hello. Welcome, everyone. Is everyone -- Daniel's here for me to be in conversation with? Ready to go? Beth, can you just give me a thumbs up. Beautiful. Okay.
So a few things I just kind of want to pick up on from what Rabbi Fohrman said here. Number one, I'm glad, Rabbi Fohrman, that you spoke about the edginess of these Kinnot and the kind of almost seemingly heretical tone that some of them take. Because that's also what I see in a lot of the Kinnot here. You gave me permission to read the Kinnot for what it says, not have to mince its words or whitewash anything.
That image that you left us with, the live bird being dipped in the blood of the dead one is a powerful marching call moving forward and I can only hope and pray that we're carrying on the flight of that bird here. We're actually going to see some bird imagery in the Kinah we're going to look at.
So I would like us to look together at Kinah Number 12. I'm going to pull it up on my screen here. Kinah 12 is authored by Rabbi Elazar HaKalir, that enigmatic author of many of our -- of the most famous Kinnot. You know, on that tone of the bird who's still alive flying in from the bird who didn't make it, I'm actually speaking here from Jerusalem, at the corner of Rechov HaKalir, of HaKalir Street, named after the famous paitan, whose words we're going to be reading now.
So Daniel Loewenstein and I are going to be in conversation about this Kinah. I just want to give a few structural pieces to the Kinah here because beyond the artistry of the symbolism and the language used, the very evocative language used here, there is also very deep structure that the paitan, the author of this Kinah is working with.
So number one, you can even just -- without even having to understand any of the words here, you just notice the page, each of the stanzas starts with the word oholi, which means my tent. My tent, which we'll get into the origin of this phrase, but that's the kind of word that opens each stanza. I'm just going to read the words of the first stanza, again, without getting into depth, but just to lift up the structural pieces that we'll see repeating throughout the Kinah here.
"Oholi asher ta'avta ad lo bereishit," my tent which you desired -- literally, the translation -- planned even before creation, "im kisei kavod l'tzarfo," to join together with the Throne of Glory.
Now, what we notice here is my tent, "asher ta'avta." Ta'avta starts with the letter Tav, right, that's the last letter in the alphabet, and we're going notice that there is a reverse alphabetical order that this Kinah is written in.
So that's the first line, my tent which you desired before creation to join with the Throne of Glory. "Lamah la'netzach shudad b'yad shodedim," why for eternity, or why forever, shall be plundered by pirates. Now, those words "lamah la'netzach," they're borrowed from Eichah, from Lamentations, Chapter 5. From the last chapter, very close to the end of the entire Book of Lamentations, where we say, "lamah la'netzach tishkacheinu ta'azveinu," why have you abandoned us forever and as if you've forgotten us for a long time.
So that phrase, "lamah la'netzach," how could you leave us and forget us forever, that's a phrase that you're going to see repeated in each stanza as well. So just let your eyes scan the page, oholi something, lamah la'netzach something.
Okay. We'll look at the language again. "Lamah la'netzach shudad b'yad shodedim." Look at those phrases, they all start with the letter Shin. Shin is the second-to-last letter of the alphabet. We see the reverse alphabetical order playing itself out through the paragraph.
"V'nihyeita k'ro'ah k'otyah," and You have become -- speaking to God, basically. Your tent has been plundered and You have become like a shepherd in a mourner's veil, "v'ra'ashta v'raganta," and You are storming and protesting, "v'atah mah li poh." Now, again structure. You have become like a ro'ah, like a shepherd. Ro'ah is the letter Reish. So we have Tav, then Shin, then Reish. You've become like a shepherd in a veil, "v'ra'ashta v'raganta." Again, Reish letters. You're storming, You're protesting.
So oholi, then the last three letters in the alphabet moving backwards, Tav, Shin, Reish. The last phrase of this stanza, "v'atah mah li poh," and now what do I have here. This is one more key element that we're going to see repeated again and again throughout this Kinah. Look at the last word of each paragraph. The last word of each paragraph is poh. Poh means here.
What we're going to see the kind of thematic repetition here, throughout Kinah 12 is Your tent. We're going to say something about how God has related to this phrase my tent, which, we're going to see very soon, is a symbol for the Temple. But my tent and how God, You had related to Your tent. Then, "lamah la'netzach, why has it been forever, then some phrase about the ways in which God's Temple, God's tent has been destroyed or abandoned or fallen apart.
Then "v'nihyeita," You, God, have now become like something, which we'll see throughout the stanzas, and You are responding with, then this last phrase in our first stanza, "v'atah mah li poh," and now, what is here for me. This is a direct quote from the Book of Isiah. We're going to see many phrases here relating to the poh, the here, the present, that each stanza ends on, many of these phrases are going to either be direct quotes from somewhere in Tenach, or a very close quote and rephrase of something in Tenach.
So we're going to use this first stanza as a case study for everything that we're going to see play out. We'll see how many stanzas we get through. But just on the face of it, just with the structure, there's something already that we're seeing, where we have the tent, My tent, with that kind of very possessive language, evoking God's -- speaking of God's own Temple, and the desire that God has for it. Then this kind of wailing response, well, then "lamah la'netzach," why has it forever been destroyed, plundered, abandoned, and You, God, have now been transformed into something other than the tent dweller that You desired to be, and You're kicking and protesting, what do I have here now.
This language of here that each stanza brings us to, I'll say now and we'll see it throughout, to my mind it evokes a very acute encounter with what is actually absent right here. Because we're talking about the tent that God wants and when we trace to the present moment, we look at that tent, and what's here? What's in front of us? What's in front of us is not the tent.
So this is going to be the general theme, and we're going to see each of these stanzas and how it kind of picks up and pulls out that idea.
Daniel, I'm just curious if there is anything, you know, on the surface, just in the immediate, that you want to respond to before we jump into the first stanza here.
Daniel: I guess, just the first thing that I'll say, based on what you pointed out is where you're talking about oholi, I sort of, my initial assumption had been that it was -- this Kinah was from the voice of God. God is the narrator speaking and saying, you know, I feel so sorry that my ohel, that what happened to it. But then, it switched from first, second person right away, my tent that You planned before creation. So the narrator is actually the Jewish People, and that changes the emotional significance of the word oholi in a big way for me, that I wasn't expecting.
Ami: Yeah, I think what you're picking up on that inversion is part of what I think the very powerful thrust of this Kinah is. Even kind of what Rabbi Fohrman was talking about, the sort of radical tone that a lot of the Kinnot take.
So with that, let's just dive in. Where is this phrase oholi, and where does it come from, and some of the other language here? So oholi, my tent is in fact, in it's origin, God speaking about the Temple. This is -- I'm going to read from Jeremiah, Chapter 10. You don't have it on your screen, but Jeremiah, Chapter 10, Verse 19 through 21, basically.
Here, Jeremiah is basically speaking in the name of God about -- lamenting the children of Israel chasing after other gods and the impending exile. Here in Verse 19, it says, "oi li al shivri nachlah makati." Speaking again in the voice of God. I'm pained over my hurt, my wound has become sick, "va'ani amarti ach zeh choli v'esa'enu," and God -- again, the prophet speaking in the voice of God -- and I said to Myself, okay, this is My illness, I will bear it.
Now, look at Verse 20. "Oholi shudad," My tent has been ransacked. Now, look in our Kinah here, oholi. Look at the second line. "Lamah la'netzach shudad b'yad shodedim," why has -- God, I'm saying to God, Your/my tent, God, Your own personal tent, it is now ransacked by pirates. This is exactly taken from Jeremiah, Chapter 10. "Oholi shudad," the prophet says, My tent has been ransacked, "v'chol meitarai nutaku," all of the My cords have been snapped.
"Banai yetza'uni v'einam," My children, they have left Me and are gone, "ein noteh od oholi," no one is left to stretch out my tents, "u'meikim yeri'otai," no one left to hang my cloths. The imagery here is as if God is saying, My tent has been ransacked, My children left Me, no one's holding the tent together anymore. No one's putting up the walls, the curtains, holding the cords down.
One more verse. "Ki nivaru haro'im," and now there's a reason given for the tent being ransacked and broken. Because the shepherds have become fools, "v'et Hashem lo darashu," and they have not sought out God. "Al kein lo hiskilu," so they have not paid attention, "v'chol maritam nafotzah," and all of their flock has now been scattered.
So the reason, Jeremiah again saying, My tent has been ransacked, "oholi shudad," no one's holding the cords because the shepherds have gone astray, have stopped paying attention to God, and all of their sheep are now scattered and lost.
So in the original Jeremiah, it's describing God's lament over the Temple being broken, being ransacked, pillaged by these pirates, and the shepherds, which the commentators there speak of as the leaders of Israel. The shepherds stopped paying attention to God, and therefore, all of their sheep, here called maritam, you know, the flock who they feed, are now scattered and lost.
Now, even just there, we zoom into the first stanza. Oholi --
Daniel: Right. So that oholi is an inversion and k'ro'ah k'otya is an inversion also because oholi, the personal pronoun switches it from being about God to being about the people. K'ro'ah switches it from being about the people to being about God.
Ami: So let's speak it out a little bit because you and I might have Tenachs, not everybody does. In the Book of Jeremiah, Jeremiah's accusing, in the name of God, accusing the shepherds of the people for leading the people astray. Here, the Kinah is saying me tent, which let's leave it with the ambiguity for now, okay, my tent. My tent has been ransacked by pirates, which God and Jeremiah spoke about already there. Instead of the shepherds, who there were criticized, now God has become like a shepherd with a veil of mourning.
Okay. So now God is the shepherd who is mourning. If a shepherd is mourning -- this is my guess into the poetry here, into the imagery here. If a shepherd is mourning, Daniel, who's the shepherd mourning over?
Daniel: Presumably his flock.
Ami: Presumably the flock. In this case k'ro'ah, her flock. This is a feminine shepherd here. So there's a strange thing going on with the imagery of the tent, the pirates, the ransackers and the shepherd are all being brought in here. This last phrase, "v'atah mah li poh," now, the benefit of living in, you know, Rabbi Elazar HaKalir, in the 6th century, he can borrow and cut and paste from anywhere in Biblical language he wants to.
So now, this is a phrase, and here, what do I have here now. "Atah mah li poh." This is the last phrase of this stanza. What do I have here now? This is borrowed from Isiah, Chapter 52, and this is basically, again, the prophet speaking in God's voice, coming to the state of desolation, of the emptiness, of the exiled place and saying, what do I have here? Where are my people? They're gone. They've been cast out and I want them back. That's what's happening in the Book of Isiah.
There's one more piece I want to bring in here and then be able to read the whole stanza together, really kind of with an awareness of each of the sort of touchstones that it's touching on.
Let's come to the first line once again. "Oholi asher ta'avta ad lo bereishit im kisei kavod l'tzarfo," my tents which you have desired from before there was even creation, "ad lo bereishit," to draw it together with the Throne of Glory.
Now, this phrase, it's not from a Biblical reference, but it's actually a Rabbinic reference. There's two Rabbinic references that this seems to be relating two. Number one, is that there's a Gemara that says, you know, a number of things -- I believe it's maybe seven things, I don't recall exactly how many things, that existed before creation. Which we can maybe understand as being some kind of like primordial template of the purposefulness of creation.
One of them was the Temple, was this tent, and one of them was God's Throne of Glory, this Kisei Kavod. That in a sense, God's Throne of Glory, the majesty of God and the Temple, they go together. Right, that's what this line is saying. You wanted before creation, You wanted to have a tent, You wanted to have a dwelling place where Your majesty, where Your throne was joined with. Where there was a place in this world that basically broadcast Your existence and being and Divinity, to all of creation, to the whole world.
There's actually one more Midrash that I wanted to read a bit from, that actually speaks with this -- relates with this ta'avtah. Ta'avtah means you desired. This is from a Midrash Tanchuma, in Parashat Naso. It says, "B'sha'ah she'bara Hakadosh Baruch Hu et ha'olam," at the moment when God created the world, "nitaveh she'yehei lo dirah b'tachtonim kemo she'yeish ba'elyonim." Nitaveh, God desired to have a dwelling in the lower regions, in the earthly realm, "kemo she'yeish ba'elyonim," just like there was in the supernal and the heavenly realms.
The Midrash I'm going to paraphrase you, but the Midrash goes on and say, so God creates Adam and Eve and says eat from all the fruits of the Garden, but don't eat from this one fruit. What did Adam do? Adam transgressed that command. Then God then responds, you know I wanted there to be a dwelling place for Me down in this world like there is up in the higher realms. There is one thing I asked of you and you did not guard it.
Immediately, "sileik Hakadosh Baruch Hu Shecinato l'raki'a ha'rishon," in response to the transgression of that first command, God removed the presence to the first raki'a, to the first like level of heaven. They bring some verses about this. Then Cain kills Abel in the next generation and the Shechinah, the Divine presence then moves up even another layer, to the second heaven.
Then goes on. God says, you know, I've got seven levels of the firmament here, seven levels of the heavens here, and there's all these wicked people. I'm going to go all the way back up to the seventh. That's what the Midrash is saying. Then what happens? Generations later comes Abraham. Abraham starts to act in Divine ways and God moves the Divine presence from the seventh into the sixth level of raki'a. Isaac comes and is willing to give his life on the altar. God moves, the Divine presence moves from the sixth to the fifth.
Then et cetera, et cetera, through the generations comes Moses. Moses brings the presence all the way down to the earth, at it says, "va'yered Hashem al Har Sinai," God descended upon the Mountain of Sinai. It says in the Song of Songs, I have come to My Garden, My sister, My bride. When did this happen that the Divine presence came all the way into the earth? "Ke'she'hukam ha'Mishkan," when the Mishkan was erected.
Okay. All that to say that the Midrash here is really laying the groundwork that I believe this first sentence is evoking and is basically playing off of. I desired to dwell in the earth, completely as God dwells in the transcendent beyond. It was the case in Eden, and very quickly, through the actions of humanity over the generations, we basically had the effect of pushing God out of the world. Then, throughout the generations, the process of allowing for God to dwell in the world again was completed at the Mishkan. The Mishkan, which is the first tent of God, being a place where the Shechinah, where the Divine presence could dwell.
Daniel: Really --
Ami: So -- yeah, go for it, Daniel.
Daniel: No, I'll let you continue, but I just bring up for me a lot of the eichah, ayekah, connections that we talk about. We have a course on Aleph Beta about that, about linking the tragedy in the Garden of Eden to the tragedy of the loss of the Temple. It's sort of a new dimension of how to look at that, but go ahead
Ami: Yeah, definitely. I mean, evoking -- this Midrash and this line here is evoking even pre-creation, but seeing really the roots of this, severing the bonds, happened very earlier on.
So let's read through stanza one. "Oholi," my tent, which you desired before creation, "im kisei kavod l'tzarfo," to unite and join with your Throne of Glory. "Lamah la'netzach shudad b'yad shodedim." Well, God, you desired it from before creation, why forever is it now plundered by pirates.
By the way, look at that word, kisei kavod, and then, lamah la'netzach. You're throne, God, and why forever. I'm going to read to you for a moment from Eichah, Chapter 5. Eichah, Chapter 5, says, "Atah Hashem l'olam teisheiv," God, You sit forever, "kisacha l'dor va'dor," Your throne carries throughout every generation, "lamah la'netzach tishkacheinu," why do You forget us forever, "ta'azveinu l'orech yamim," and abandon us.
It's exactly taking that same tone from Jeremiah saying Your throne exists eternally. Your majesty is always here, but there is some great perversion of reality where You're both the eternal king, Your throne is always here, it's always been here and yet, it's forever gone. The tent is broken. The pirates have ransacked it. And You, God, "nihyeita k'ro'ah k'otyah," You're now like this mourning shepherd, "v'ra'ashta v'raganta," You're screaming, You're protesting, "v'atah mah li poh." You're now coming to the place of the Temple and saying what do I have here? Where is everybody?
Already, again, it's not exactly -- there's a lot of ambiguity here, but there's a sense of almost like an irony here. You call it My tent, from before creation. It's Your throne here. So why is it forever gone and You have now become like this mournful shepherd, without Your flock, and kicking and screaming where is everybody. How does this work exactly? For You to have the forever possession and desire of this tent, and to be the mourning shepherd who's lost all her sheep?
Let's read on to the next stanza and see how a very similar pattern is playing out.
"Oholi," my tent, "asher komamta l'eitanei kedem b'cherdat mi eifo." My tent which you upheld, "komamta l'eitanei kedem," the powerful ones of before. This is a phrase that often refers to the patriarchs who were called eitanim, the mighty ones, in a lot of Rabbinic literature. When did you uphold the tent for the mighty ancient ones? "B'cherdat mi eifo," at the trembling of mi eifo.
The trembling of mi eifo. Daniel, do you know what's referring to? Does it ring a bell?
Daniel: Is that when Esau arrives to take the blessings, but Jacob had already taken it?
Ami: Exactly. Esau comes and says, Father, I want my blessings now. Isaac is trembling and saying, "mi eifo," who, where is that person? Literally, mi eifo, who, where is that person who hunted before and brought me food. So this is a wild kind of phrase. My tent, God, that You were so committed to, to uphold for the forefathers in the trembling of where did that guy go, who was he.
How is God upholding the dream of the Mishkan in that moment? Through this completely, like, hidden, absent -- Isaac, literally through blindness, human blindness, could not dictate the steps that would help ensure that the legacy of Abraham and Isaac would be passed into the hands that would continue to create a dwelling place for God in the world. God was so committed to this project that there was this, you know, devious unfolding of events that Jacob was the one to go in and get the blessing from Isaac, that Isaac then trembled, who was the one who took this?
The Kinah is basically saying, God, You see the commitment that You had to uphold the vision. You made this crazy kind of path unfold. "Lamah la'netzach tzumat b'yad tzarim," why is it forever firmly gripped in the hands of the enemy? Right, again, the reversal of Your commitment, how can that tent be forever in the hands of an enemy? "V'nihyeita k'tzippor boded al gag." Listen to this image. You have become, God, like a lone bird upon a roof. "Mar tzorei'ach," bitterly screaming, "meh lididi poh," what place do my friends have here. I'll get into that reference in a moment.
But here, again, we see that same pattern. First of all, notice the Alef-Bet playing out. "Oholi asher komamta" -- Kuf, "lamah la'netzach tzumat b'yad tzarim v'nihyeita k'tzippor" -- Tzaddi, "mar tzorei'ach" -- Tzaddi. So it goes Kuf, Tzaddi. The next letters in the back of the Alef-Bet, moving backward.
But again, the pattern of God, You had this forever commitment to my tent. This commitment that was "mi eifo," that played itself out in the who is here, how did this happen, the events that are leading towards the Temple.
I'm going to add here, why -- it's not just why forever, it's why then is it forever gone in the hands of the enemy, and You, God, rather than being that committed one to carry out the mission for my tent, You have become like a bird perched alone upon the rooftop.
This actually, the "tzippor boded al gag," it evokes a -- it come from Tehillim, from Psalm 102. This is the Psalm called "Tefillah l'ani ki ya'atof," the prayer for the poor person, who just is enwrapped and pours themselves out before God. It's a prayer of desperation, of impoverishment, just kind of desperately calling to God. One of the verses there, Verse 8, the Psalmist, David, who's the poor one, cries to God, says "shakadti v'ehyeh k'tzippor boded al gag." I've been seeking You, God, I've become like a bird all alone on the rooftop.
In the ensuing verses there in Psalm 102, he talks about, basically, not having food. Being outcast. Sitting there crying. So there's a very powerful image here, that the poor man's prayer from Psalms, of the one who feels completely desperate and at wit's end, who describes himself as the bird all alone on the rooftop, that's who the kinah is saying God you have become that. You've become the bird all alone on the roof screaming, "mah lididi poh," to get to, "mah lididi poh," the last phrase there, I’m going to open for a moment Jeremiah Chapter 11.
David: While you're doing that I'll just say that whatever else you get from these things it's very humbling to see how knowledgeable people like Rav Elazar haKalir, the things they could put together.
Ami: It's absolutely mind blowing. There's another piece which I'll add in a moment, okay? After we get to this reference of, "mah lididi poh." Just the brilliance of how's he able to construct these prayers and pull together all these pieces.
So, again, remember the ransacking of pirates, the "oheli asher t'avta," was from Jeremiah Chapter 10. This is actually, "mah lididi poh," this is from Jeremiah Chapter 11. It's at Jeremiah 11 starting at around Verse 11. This is again, these prophecies about the destruction and the exile that's going to happen. We're going to read Jeremiah 11:11.
"L'chen koh amar Hashem," God says, "hineini meivi aleihem ra'a asher lo yuchulu latzeit mimeinah," I'm going to bring terror and hardship to you that you will not be able to escape. "V'za'aku eilai v'lo eshmei aleihem," God says they're going to call and scream to Me and I'm not going to listen to them. The cities of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem are going to go and they're going to scream to those gods, those other foreign gods to whom they bring offerings, and they're not going to save them in their time of trouble.
Now I’m skipping to Verse 14 where God says to Jeremiah, "v'atah al titpalel b'ad ha'am hazeh," Jeremiah, don't even pray for these people, "v'al tisa ba'adam rinah u'tefilla," don't lift up prayer or song for them, "ki eineini shomei'a b'eit kar'am eilai b'ad ra'atam," because I'm not going to listen at their time when the call to Me when I'm bringing this punishment, basically, to them.
Now look at Verse 15. "Mah leyedidi b'veiti asutah hamizmatah harabim u'v'sar kodesh ya'avru mei'alayich ki ra'ateichi as ta'alozi." What is My yididi doing in My house when they partake in all these terrible things? The painful irony that -- the language that's being used here in Jeremiah. What place does My Beloved, My friend, have in My house right now? That's what God was saying in the prophecy for the destruction. My friend, you have no place in my house right now. It's touching both that friendship, that yididi, we have this beloved relationship with God and yet we have so gone against him and so violated it in this prophecy of Jeremiah. Then God says, My friends have no place in My house right now because of the way they're acting.
So let's bring it back to read through this stanza here. My tent, which you upheld for the Avot, for the mighty ones of old, with the trembling of where is the person who came. Why forever is it in the hands of enemies, and You, God, you're now like a bird alone on a roof screaming bitterly, "mah lididi poh." What place to My friends have in My house right now?
Let's read one more here. "Ohali," My tent, "asher patz'ta lema'ano l'tzir," My tent, I'm just going to read in the English -- regarding which you exclaimed to the envoy, to Moses, "v'ata amod imadi poh," now you come stand with Me here. When did God say to Moses, come stand with Me here? This is a direct quote from the Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 5, where Moses is recounting the event of Mount Sinai and that after the revelation of Sinai. The people are saying, we can't hear anymore. Moses, you go instead of us. We can't hear directly from God. God then turns to Moses and says, come stand here now with me.
This is evoking, this moment, not only of the greatest revelation but also the greatest intimacy between God and the people and really between God and Moses. Where you were so committed to us that we had this moment where it's just God and Moses. I just want you to stand here with Me. Be in that close relationship. I'm giving My Torah to you Moses, I'm giving My Torah to the entire people at Mount Sinai as that kind of crowning moment of glory.
With that relationship in mind, "lamah lanetzach urar b'yad areilim." Why is his tent forever pillaged by pagans, "v'ni'hyeita k'sonei v'tzar," and this is a very powerful, in a sense, indictment of God. You have become like an enemy, a soneh. You, God, have become like one who hates us. "V'tzar," and an oppressor. "V'ayei I'vui moshav poh," and where then is the "I'vui moshav poh?" "I'vui moshav poh," literally means the desire to dwell here. This is a kind of paraphrase of something from Psalm 132.
In Psalm 132 the whole psalm is about The Temple. The truth is if you take time to look at it, it's almost as if it's speaking directly to the "eitz hasher hama'a" a lot. It's almost as if it's speaking directly to some of the events of the churban, of the destruction. For example -- I'm not going to go into that right now, but this is basically part of what David says here. David says here in 132 Verse 13, "ki bachar Hashem b'Tzion ivah l'moshav lo." God has chosen Zion, ivah, has desired, l'moshav lo, has desired it as the dwelling place for God. Now, look at this next verse, it's just painful to read these words on Tisha B'Av. "Zot menuchati adei ad," this is My resting place for all eternity, "poh eisheiv," here I will dwell, "ki I'vitihah," because I desire her. I desire this place.
So now look at what the kinah is saying. My tent, about which you said to Moses, you know I want you to just stand here with me. Notice -- then you were talking about the brilliance, how many pieces Rabbi Elazar Kalir put into here? Look at how at the end of each -- the first line of each stanza it ends with a "poh" also. "L'tzarfo... mi eifo... eimad imadi poh." It evokes such deep commitment ant togetherness and commitment from God towards us, towards His tents, towards dwelling with us, towards being here with us. You wanted to be here with us, God, "lamah lanetzach urar b'yad areilim." Why is it forever in the hands of others, and You, "v'niheita k'sonei v'tzar," You've become like one who hates us. Like the enemy. "V'a'yei I'vui moshav poh," and where now is that desire? Your desire? You're, so to speak, desire to dwell here?
I think at this point we are actually getting a peek into some of the more -- the tone of truly challenging that comes through these stanzas. If you look at the last line in each of the first of these stanzas. The first one is saying, God, you're protesting and screaming, what's here for me? The next one, God, You're like that poor bird on the roof, bitterly crying where are my friends? I have no place here. But now, this is a straight up indictment. Where's your desire to be here God? This isn't ambiguous anymore. This isn’t hiding us speaking for God in God's words anymore. This is us asking the question, flat out, where is that desire now, God? Where are You here? When I look at here, I don't see your desire to be here. Where did that go? What's happened here?
David: You know, as you were talking through this a though occurred to me about sort of the emotional place that you're standing from when you say a kinah like this. I think there are maybe two different ways to read it. I think the way that I was knee-jerk was reading it based on how we were talking before, was I feel like a lot of kinot borrow the language of Eichah, or eich, sort of that incredulous one, but really it's just a way of describing pain, describing loss.
This, what we're reading so far, really actually feels like it's more about the incredulity. Something was supposed to happen and God, you were on board with it, you really wanted it. This massive contradiction is like, what's going on? I think you're also adding something now, additional too, which is that there is also pain in that. It's not just incredulity. It's not just this is really weird, and it shouldn't be this way.
Ami: It's very raw. I think if we go into that imagery of there was a "poh", there was a here that God was so committed to, and there's a "poh" right now where You're just not here.
This kinah seems to be, well we're sitting in the place of "poh" right now and we're kind of screaming in that absence. Like, what's here? What's here? How could it be? Something very poignant here as well is that God is still in the picture in these stanzas. It's just that God is in the picture in this bizarre way where it's as if we have no contact with each other. You're like a morning shepherd. You're like a bird up on a roof top. You're like our enemy.
So it's both the incredulousness, and like you were saying, very painful experience of I’m here in this "poh," I'm here. That "poh" that You promised that You desired, that You were so committed to, it's gone. We're sitting in that gap between that eternal vision and the eternal abandonment, that "lamah lanetzach," that seems to be contradicting division of how it's supposed to be and God, You're here? But not in a way of being truly here with us. In a way of being against us, or lost from us, or disconnected. It's really kind of reeling in that disconnect.
Look at the last phrase here. "V'ayei I'vui moshav poh." Ayei, where is? What does that word remind you of, ayei?
David: I mean, ayekah, again?
Ami: It sounds just like ayekah, or eichah. It's kind of like a family of that same expression of, it's just gone. Ayeih, ayekah, Rabbi Fohrman, as you mentioned had this teaching -- was it last year? Or two years ago? One of the Tisha B'Av video's -- playing off that Midrash of eichah, really being something that begins all the way in God's question to Adam, when he asked a'yekah, where are you?
I almost want to suggest that in some very challenging and even kind of painful way, this kinah is almost asking that question of God. Where are you? I'm poh we're poh but we're here but You're not here. Your tent isn't here. My tent, who's tent is it now? Who's the one who claims that it's mine? I think this goes back to the very first thing you noticed, Daniel. It's that on the one had we're quoting God's words. My tent. Then right away, we're speaking to God in the second person. The, My tent, that you related to in these ways, how could it be that it's so lost and destroyed and You've become so distant? Now I’m here, screaming.
In a sense when we're the ones calling it 'my tent', and when we're the ones expressing all the pain we have of this tent being abandoned, it makes it my tent also. I'm here. I'm still here. I’m still looking for my tent. I'm still hoping for you to claim it as My tent as well. With a capital M. This kinah is in a sense each line, it's not merely accusing God of abandonment, it's a little bit more complex than that. It's recognizing the deep bond between us and God. That eternal desire for this tent and the painful absence of it being realized and manifested in this present moment. The distance and the feeling of distance that that leaves us with.
David: I think that I had two thoughts in response to that. I think one thing that's been absent from the conversation, fairly because we're being guided by the text of the kinah but it still feels a little like the elephant in the room, is this is one side of a story. God's absence wasn't some sort of unilateral reasonless withdrawal. There was a whole horrible betrayal on the side of the -- authentically the person who's marrying the kinah. I think when you sort of -- I think there's a trap we can fall into when we have this very evenly balances scales way of looking at things. Well, okay, we betrayed God and then God removes himself from us. Okay, yes. One turn deserves the other. I feel like there's an element of the tragedy and the (inaudible 01:20:43) that gets missed when you look at it as a balanced equation like that.
I think that this kinah's doing is saying -- I think we all know that in any painful relationship that we care about, no matter who did what when and who responded when with what, if you care about it than any element of the sadness or the betrayal or the pain is real and is not diminisher or undone, or not worth appreciating in all of its tragedy just because of the fact that it was fair, warranted or balanced out in the end somehow.
So even as we read this kinah and it's missing the element of culpability and of the fact that this being missing is deserved, I think it's still raw and it's real because that pain is there, and it's legitimated no matter who's fault it is.
Ami: Yeah. Daniel, I'm going to respond to that and then we're going to have to wrap up. Our time is coming to and end here. I there are hints of the accountability as well. Again, when we go to the biblical roots, "Mah lididi poh... atah malifo." It is evoking language in the prophets when God was indicting us. It's basically saying, hey, you have no place in My house because of it.
So we're not erasing that from it and yet this kinah was written centuries after the churban. We're still saying it millennia after the churban. So there's a point at which the "lamah lanetzach" becomes stronger and stronger. How could this keep going on forever?
I want to just say one thing to close here. Back to this kind of "ohali", speaking in the first person. Speaking in the first-person quoting God's speaking in the first person. I wonder if part of -- also what is maybe offered here from this kinah is on a day like today when we're focusing on this absence and this state of disrepair and disconnect, well the pain is actually a way that we perhaps do connect with God. In a sense, we are screaming and crying. God's being here as well by calling it "ohali", and by being the ones who are sitting here. The image I get of reading this it's like I’m sitting where the tent stood and where it's now rubble. I'm calling and screaming and crying for it to come back.
In a sense there's a point of connection and bond that's maybe offered on a day like today and through prayers like this where through that pain and through that absence somehow these prayers do connect us with God who is also in pain over that absence and also, so to speak, crying on the other side of the curtain for My tent to be restored.
I think we're at time so I'm going to stop.
Beth: Okay. Hi folks, I think we might have just lost Ami's connection. I think Ami was -- I'll pick up with what he was about to do. What he was going to do was he was going to invite everyone to take a few moments to ourselves to recite Kinah 12. Having studied it a little bit more in depth and being able connect to its words, hopefully the recitation should be powerful for you.
So what I'm going to do is -- right now only part of the text is on the screen. I'm going to put the text of the whole kinah on the screen and we'll all be muted. Let's take a few moments to ourselves and then we'll come back together.
Okay. Now, before we come back to the learning, I want to take just a few minutes to speak a little bit about our Producers Circle. I want to do that in the context of gratitude. Since we have all of you gathered with us today and everyone who's here is an Aleph Beta fan, is a member of the Aleph Beta family, and to feel such a connection to the Torah and to the learning that you do with us that you saw fit to reach into your pockets and take not just $9 a month but $18 a month, in some cases more, to be able to support Torah that we're teaching here.
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I'm going to go ahead and put a link to our Producer's Circle page in the chat. You can take a look on your own time. I'll close, again, very much hoping that the tone of gratitude came through because that's what's most important to us. We're all members of the Aleph Beta family here.
I am going to hand it over -- hand the mike back to our lead scholar, back to Rabbi Fohrman. Rabbi Fohrman is going to be taking us through another in-depth study of a kinah. I hope we'll have screen sharing so you'll have everything you need just by looking at the screen.
Rabbi Fohrman: Thank you Beth, I appreciate it. So I'd like to take us back to a kinah which has captured my imagination over the last couple of days. It's actually the very first of the kinot, in the morning services. The first of a series of 14 in a row that are introduced by Rav Elazar HaKalir, the same author as the author of the kinah that Ami read. I mentioned to you before, the kind of theme of my treatment this time is the edginess of these kinot. I think you heard it with Ami's treatment of another one of Rav Elazar Kalir's kinot.
Let's go to Kinah 6. It beings with the word "shavas." I'll throw it up on the screen here if I can find it so you can see what it looks like in the Koren. I believe, I think, that I put a link in our chat somewhere to Koren's wonderful translation. So here's what it looks like. This is just the Hebrew, the English is on this side over here. So this is the first of Rabbi Elazar Kalir's 14 poems that begin the morning service.
One of the things I don't know historically is whether or not Rabbi Elazar Kalir intended this to be the first or not. In other words, it's the way we have it it's the first. I don't know if it's the first but my imagination stirs me to think that the way we have it is the way he had it and we have it in the same order he had. It's kind of interesting that he begins with the word "shavas."
"Shavas," is a word which I stopped and asked you what are your associations with the letters Shin-Beis-Taf? So 9 out of 10 of you would say, Shabbos. If I would also interview and say, what's the best part of being a Jew? What's the best part of being observant? What's your favorite part of the week? You'd say Shabbos. You get to light candle, you get to have peace, you get to have relaxation. Here Rabbi Elazar Kalir takes that one word, Shabbos, and twists it on its head and gives you the other meaning for it.
"Shavas," as if to say to leave me all, to get away. Shavas, like to rest. Just (inaudible 01:33:02) and you. "Shavas," with an exclamation mark, with quotations. "Shavas suru meini shim'uni ochrai." There's a question in girsa, there's a question in what fits. "shim'uni ochrai," or "shim'uni ov'rai." "Shim'uni ovrai," would be those who are passerby. Call out to me. "Shim'uni ochrai," would be those who sully me. The word, ocher, is a word that goes all the way back in Tanach. You see the many strips, how deeply interwoven all this is with Tanach. "Ocher," is a word in Tanach which is deeply resonant -- what's his name? Achan, when he takes from the spoils of Jericho which were meant to not be touched. So he's called Ocher Yisrael, somebody who sullies Yisrael by his action. Later on Saul will hurl the calumny towards his son, Jonathan. A very unusual word but it's assuming to sully me.
That first line, "shabas suru meni shim'unu ochrai," get away from me. Those who sully me call to me. So it's really the opposite of the word, Shabbos. Right? Shabbos brings your blood pressure down. Someone's screaming at you to get away to get away from you, brings your blood pressure up. That's the opposite of tranquility. It's the word that we hear that in this very first word of kinos just blares trauma.
"S'chi u'ma'os hashimuni v'edrei chaveirai," you have considered me, and now at this point where this is -- the kinah changes to speak directly to God. "S'chi u'ma'os hashimuni v'edrei chaveirai," it's as if Jerusalem, or the nation of Israel, is saying you have rendered me as something disgusting, "hesimuni," if you place Me on something disgusting, "b'adrei chaveirai," with the flocks of my friends. So all the other nations look at Me but now they look at Me as if I'm something repulsive, something disgusting on the sidewalk that doesn't want to be touched. Such that people can say to me, "shavas suru meni shim'uni ochrai." So people could say 'get away from me', 'youre disgusting', just keep away from me.
Over here to sort of heighten the drama, I haven't looked this up but my recollection is that that language, "v'edrei chaveirai," in the flocks of my friends, is actually a take-off of Shir Hashirim, the Song of Songs, which of course is the opposite book. Rabbi Elazar Kalir over here is setting up as a study of contrasts. The same way that Shabbas is the word of tranquility, the words "edrei chaveirai," the flocks of my friends, is a play-off of one of the terms of endearment which God uses to speak of Israel in Song of Songs. Again, Song of Songs, is a romantic love story, in a way, between God and Israel. Here you have that sort of thrown back as if what have you done? Like I thought we were in love? Yet you cast me as something repulsive among my friends
Then you have this very strange language. Again, I just want to unpack. I mentioned this in my first session with you, that you have two things going on kind of simultaneously with Kinot. You have a kind of tension in Kinot. The tension is that on the one hand you've got this highly -- I don't know the word for it -- with high virtuosity you've got Rabbi Elazar HaKalir, chief among the poets, weaving a very dense poetic weave. You've also got really raw (inaudible 01:37:21) surface. Here's one of those poems where both of those things come and really hit you.
I want to show you, there's this really dense poetic weave but let's kind of take it apart and see what's really here and get to the emotion and the thoughts that lie just underneath. So the third line here.
"Sokotah mishkan mis'kot k'virai." Very unusual words. Words that I would dare say Rabbi Elazar Kalir is almost making this up. When I say 'making this up', I mean he's making up the Hebrew. What he's doing is he's bending and twisting the Hebrew language and innovating new stuff for that. In a way, I think, what he's doing linguistically in Kinot left its mark. I think modern Hebrew, to some extent, picks up on some of these innovations of his. Almost the way astronauts, you know the physicists come up with stuff for the Space Shuttle, and before you know it you can use the same stuff to make your own shoes feel better.
So stuff that has its own specialized creation, filters down, and it's true with Rabbi Elazar Kalir's language. What is he doing with language here? "Sakotah," what does that even mean? "Sakotah Mishkan mis'kot d'virai." Well we know the word "Mishkan," and we know the word "d'virai." The word "Mishkan" refers, of course, to The Tabernacle. The word, "d'virai," is d'vir kadsho, is a synanon for The Temple. So the Mishkan and the Temple.
Then you have this verb over here, "sakotah." What does that really mean? It seems to have something to be with sukkah, to cover over, or to envelop. So "sakotah Mishkan mis'kot d'virai." He seems to be saying you enveloped your Mishkan from connection to My Temple. This is based upon this sort of, almost Kabbalistic that what you've really got going on in The Temple is this kind of connection to some sort of transcendent Temple that's in the heavens. When things do well those two Temples are connected, right? God's up there in His own Temple.
Of course, the word Mishkan, which is a word for Tabernacle, what does Mishkan really mean? Mishkan really comes from the word, dwelling place. It's a dwelling place for God. But the dwelling place we have for God on our earth is really just a makeshift dwelling place, it's God's summer home. God's actual home is some realm beyond space and time where His Presence actually dwells, so wherever that place is. The original Mishkan, "sakotah Mishkah," you've enveloped that Mishkan, "mis'kot d'virai," in a way that cuts it off from the earthly Mishkan, from the earthly Temple down here.
"Sakota," you've enveloped Yourself, God, "v'huvlagu giborai," and therefore my strong men have stumbled. Those who I count on. My military. Those who I count on to defend myself, have stumbled because You've enveloped Yourself. Right? I understand that my military doesn't win on my own. My military just wins because God is behind them but you've enveloped yourself in a way that you've cut yourself off from the people who defend me. Who are giborai, my strongmen have stumbled. "Sapku kaf u'ma'adu eivarai," my enemies have clapped their hands together in victory. I feel my limbs be faint. "K'silah kol abirai," as if I've been bulldozed, "kol abirai," all of my strong men have been bulldozed.
I was chatting about this with my wife last night who mentioned that the word, "k'silah" seems to actually come from Isaiah. When Isaiah says, "solu solu derech panu derech," it’s the word for bulldozing. There, of course, Isaiah's saying it triumphantly. To bulldoze away, to lay out the red carpet for God, for His coming, for His return and bringing back the people. Here Rabbi Elazar Kalir takes that unusual word for bulldozing, for bulldozing of a path, and uses it to describe the churban and the destruction itself. "K'silah," as if, "kol abirai," all of my strongmen have been bulldozed.
So that's just the language here in this first stanza. All I'm going to do with you with you is the first stanza, then we'll read it, but I want to just go a little bit in depth in this first stanza to show you where this is coming from. We're going to play a little bit of a game together here. The game is Rabbi Elazar HaKalir, did he make all this stuff up? Did he get it from somewhere? If we can find where he got it from we can understand what he's after more. Rabbi Elazar HaKalir did not make this stuff up. He did get it from somewhere. He had an earlier source for this. What did he have? What was he playing off of?
So what he was playing off, it turns out, was actually a number of verses in Eichah. So this is something which I discovered last night, maybe other people have discovered it as well. It's something that in just preparing for this I happened to notice. If you look helpfully at a number of kinot they will indicate for you where you have similar language in Tanach. My eyes kind of drooped down to the Artscroll and Koren commentary that mentioned a verse in Eichah (Book of Lamentations) Chapter 3.
What's fascinating is that once you look at that verse in Eichah Chapter 3, you see it wasn't just the single verse that Rabbi Elazar Kalir was playing off of, but it was a whole series of verses. And lo and behold, if you're an Aleph Beta fan, what would be better than to find a chiasm in these -- but that's what it was. Rabbi Elazar Kalir actually set up a chiasm, a chiastic structure between his own language playing back to a section of Eichah.
Let me show you, if I can, I'm going to stop sharing this with you and I'll share with you another screen -- let me see if this works here. I tried to put this together. So here on my screen you can see my own little worksheet for this kinah. Here's the language which we just read. Here I put side-by-side this stanza in Kinah 6. I'll make it a little bit larger so you can see it better. This is just in Hebrew but I'll translate the relevant parts. I put side-by-side Kinah 6 and these verses from Eichah 3, starting from Verse 39.
If you read Hebrew, take a moment to just read over these words here on the right-hand side of the screen, then look at these verses over here on the left-hand side of the screen. See if you can find anything about the left hand of the screen that reminds you of the right hand of the screen. I'll give you a hint. The corner pieces, as I call it, if you would imagine a jigsaw puzzle kind of methodology, you'd see there's an obvious corner piece with comes out at you. It would be these two words. Let's turn these into colors.
We'll turn this blue, the word "sakosah." That unusual word that means to envelop. "Sakosah Mishkan mis'kos d'virai," you enveloped your own Mishkan, God, "mis'kos d'virai," to cover yourself away from my Temple. "Sakota v'huvlagu giborai." Here you have this double word over here. So you'll see the word, sakot, used twice in Kinah 6, in this kinah by Rabbi Elazar HaKalir. Can you find a double use of the same word here in Eichah?
Well you can. Look over here in 43. See that same "sakotah?" There it is right here, we'll turn that into blue. Then in the very next verse we've got it again. That's our "sakotah," one more time. So there's our double "sakotah." It's not just that, right, it's others also. Once you see that you see "s'chi u'ma'os sim'uni ov'rai asimuni b'adrai chavarai." You've related to me as something disgusting. Let's put that in green.
If you look carefully in Eichah, in these sections, you'll find that as well. Look at 45, you see this? "S'chi u'ma'us t'simoni b'kerev ha'amim," you have placed me as something disgusting inside the nations. It's almost exactly the same language of Rabbi Elazar HaKalir's picking up on. "S'chi u'ma'os t'simuni," a direct book, but the nations are "adrai chavarai," the flocks of my friends. As if the national friends of Israel would be the other nations but they're dealing with me as if I'm something repulsive.
What's fascinating is if you continue you begin to see that this whole structure is chiastic. Let's take this section right over here. "Sakotah Mishkan mis'kot d'virai," let's turn that blue. Then let's take that next thing and turn that orange. "Sakota v'huvlago giborai." So the idea of God taking His Mishkan and enveloping Himself away from my Temple. Then the idea of God taking Himself and enveloping Himself and keeping Him away from my strongmen. So much such that my soldiers are not nourished by a connection to God.
So if you look at that first "sakota," that's really the first one. That idea of the soldiers let's turn that orange. Eichah 3 says, "Sakota b'af," you enveloped yourself in anger, "v'tird'fenu haragta lo chamalta," and I was perused by the enemy, and you allowed me to be killed without mercy. This is the failing of my defence forces because you enveloped yourself. Then this next idea, "sakotah Mishkan mis'kot d'virai," is right over here. "V'sakota b'anan lach mei'avor tefillah," you enveloped yourself such that by tefillah, my words, my supplications, my prayers, could not be heard by you.
Finally, this last idea over here, really the first one in Kinah 6 but the last idea in this little chiasm also borrows from Eichah 3, but it’s the last piece. It's "patzu aleinu pihem kol aveinu," all of my enemies lifted up their voices in mockery to me. Which of course is "shavas suru meini shim'uni ochrai." Get away from me. Those who have sullied me have spoken to me.
So here you have Rabbi Elazar Kalir picking up on a bunch of verse in Eichah 3. You say to yourself, so why those verses? Where was he coming from that he picked up on those verses in particular? Did he just randomly start kinot with Eichah 3? Why would you start kinot there? It strikes me that if you look at this section of Eichah 3 the answer might lie in these verses right here. Look at the verses that come right before these colorful verses that we've colored in.
"Mah yit'onen adam chai gever al chatato," how should a man lament a person for his sins? "Meh nechpesah d'racheinu v'nachkarah v'nashuvah ad Hashem." All we could do is we could look at ourselves, look at our actions, try to do better, try to come back to God. "Nisa levaveinu al kapa'im," we come bearing our hearts into our hands, "el el bashamayim," and put our hearts in our hands and give our broken heart back to God. "Nachnu pashanu u'marinuatah lo salachta," but even as we do that, even as we come to you in repentance, the problem is you don't seem like you're in a mood to repent. "Nachnu pasha'nu u'marinu," we're willing to say with a broken heart that we've sinned. We're willing to say that we've rebelled against you. But, "atah lo salachta," but you haven't forgiven. Then you get all of this language.
What Eichah 3 is really doing is talking about Kinot. This is the subject of Eichah 3 at this point. It's about lamenting. That's what these words mean. "Mah yit'onein adam chai," how should a man lament? How should somebody lament? Jeremiah gives you the formula for lamenting. What do you do when you lament? Well, you've got to be honest. So you're really honest. So how do you lament when it's complicated? When terrible things happen to me but I'm guilty? "Mah yit'onein adam chai gever al chata'av," I've sinned so how am I supposed to lament this sorrow that comes from my sin?
So I do my best. I try to come back to God. "Nach'pesah d'racheinu v'nachkorah v'nashuvah ad Hashem." But ultimately, "nisah l'vaveinu el kapa'im," I put my broken heart in my hands, "el el bashamayim," and all I do is I just deliver my broken heart up to God. It's not so complicated. You know there's times when you're trying to figure everything out and everything is very clear and you can be logical and cognitive. There are sometimes you just take your heart in your hand, you say God I have a broken heart, I’m delivering it to by special UPS or FedEx, here's my heart. "Nisah l'vaveinu el kapa'im el el bashamayim." That's all you do.
What do you say in that broken heart? You say, "nachnu pashanuu'marinu," look I'm not saying we didn't sin. We sinned. We sinned grievously. "Pasheinu u'marinu," peshah and meri, these are the two worst sins that there are. There are different levels of sin. There's cheit that has an element of shogeg in it, an element of inadvertence in it. But then there's pesha. Pesha is first-degree. Malice afore thought. Meri. Marinu. That's absolute rebellion. We admit it, we rebelled against you, and we were truthful about that. Yet despite our being truthful about that you don't seem to be in a mood to take that in, "atah lo salachta." You haven't forgiven. You've shielded yourself from the words that are coming from us and that makes us all the more broken.
That's the theme of Eichah 3 and the theme of Kinah 6. It's very, again, edgy, right? It's almost this argument to God that, look what do you want from us? We're doing all that we can do to get back to you and yet you seem to be closing yourself off from us. How do we deal with this silence that seems to be coming from you in the face of our willingness to be honest with you and to give you a broken heart?
This is Kinah 6 playing off of Eichah 3. If you really wanted to dig deep down into Rabbi Elazar HaKalir's words you have to go back one more step. Which is you always have to ask yourself where did this come from? The beginning of Kinah 6 clearly comes from Eichah 3. Now I ask, where did Eichah 3 come from? Did Jeremiah make up these words? It turns out Jeremiah didn't make up these words. Jeremiah got these words from somewhere in the Bible. What words did he find in the Bible? What did he find in the Bible? Where was he coming from?
Let me put this out to you on the chat. Let me see if I can find the chat. You guys are welcome to chime in over here in the chat. Look at Mem-Dalet specifically, 44. Where is he picking up on 44? "Sakotah be'anan lach mei'avor tefillah." What does this remind you of in the Five Book of Moses? Specifically, this strange word in blue, sakotah, mis'chot, sakotah, sakotah. Where do you find that? Where in the Five Books of Moses do we find a word like sakotah. I'll give you a hint, it's in proximity to a word like v'anan, in a cloud. I'll give you a hint if that's not good enough. It's in proximity to a word like avor. Those three words, sakotah, anan, mei'avor, they all come together.
Where do they come together in the Five Books of Moses? Where do you find those words? Let me take a look and see in the chat if you guys -- yes, we have a winner there. It is Shemot (Exodus), Isaac Weiner (ph) is correct. It is Burton (ph) just here, the 13 Middos Harachamim, that's exactly right. It's Moses actually, as Debbie says, it's Moses at Mount Sinai. Let's take a look at the actual verses and I want to show them to you because it's really bone chilling, what's going on with Kinah 6 taking from the Book of Exodus. Let's see if I can share you this screen one more time.
So here are these words, and again keep in mind I didn’t put them side-by-side, I'm sorry about that. But try to keep these words in your mind. Sakotah, from enveloping; b'anan, in a cloud; you enveloped out yourself in a cloud; mei'avor tefillah, from keeping tefillah. From keeping prayer coming to You. What does that evoke? So that word, sakotah, is a very tender word. It's actually -- here I'll show it to you in Exodus. Here's Exodus 33. Exodus 33 is also a moment of sin, a moment of grievous sin, terrible sin, the worst kind of sin. Sin with malice aforethought. Even worse than malice aforethought, rebellious sin. What could be worse than sin that's just rebellious? At the moment when everyone's supposed to be accepting the Torah, Moses comes down the mountain to see everyone dancing around a calf. That's as bad as it can get.
What's fascinating is that after that happened there was this moment where it seemed like Israel would be destroyed by the following three chapters of what this is apart, is really a process of reconciliation. A process of a slow healing of the bond between Israel and God. They actually managed to surmount that problem. God and Israel actually managed, somehow, to heal their relationship. As part of this Moses goes to God and says I need to talk to You, "hareini nah et kevodecha." I need to see who You are. How am I supposed to approach You? How am I supposed to negotiate this reconciliation between You and the People of Israel if I can't get close to You. "Hareini nah et kevodecha." Let me see Your glory." I need to see who You are.
So God says, "va'yomer ani a'avir kok tuvi al panecha," I will cause all of My goodness to pass over your face. "V'kara'ti b'shem Hashem lefanecha." These are strange words to understand. "V'kara'ti b'shem Hashem lefanecha." God is talking. God says, "v'karati b'shem Hashem lefanecha," I will call in My own name, in the name Yud-Hey and Vav-Hey before you. Now the Sages were puzzled by that. What does it mean that God is talking, and God says, I'm going to call out in My own name before you?
The way the Sages interpret this in the Midrash is that God was saying to Moses, I am going to teach you how to pray. I'm going to teach you how to pray. The Midrash, the Gemara, has this very evocative picture. It's as if "nis'ativ Hakadosh Baruch Hu k'shaliach tzibur," it's as if Moses put a tallit on, like somebody standing before a congregation to pray, and showed Moses how to pray. He said, this is what you do when you pray. These are the words you say. He reveals to him His middot of compassion. Which God says, if you say these words, if you come to Me with these words, I'll always have compassion for you.
This is kind of the back story. I wonder if even the verses of Eichah are the source for the rabbi's of the Midrash who understand that what God is doing here is showing Moses how to pray. In the mirror image version of this, the Eichah version of this, again here look at Eichah. The Eichah version of this is "sakotah be'anan lach mei'avor tefillah." You cut yourself off from allowing prayer to even work. You've inured yourself to the power of prayer. But of course, the words which Eichah is quoting from is the words where God Himself showed Moses how to pray in moments of crisis just like this.
Let's go back to Exodus and see what happens. God says, "lo tuchal lirot et panai," You can't really see My face, "ki lo yir'ani ha'adam v'chai," no one can see Me and live, but "hinei makom iti v'nitzavta al hatzur," here's a place you can be with Me. You can stand with Me in this rock. "V'haya ba'avor k'vodi," when My glory passes before you, "v'samticha b'nikrat ha'tzur," I will place you in a cleft of the rock, "v'sakoti kapi alecha ad avri," I, and here's this word folks, do you see this? V'sakoti. That is what Eichah is playing off of. "V'sakoti kapi alecha ad avri," and I will place My hand on you, "ad avri," until I've passed. Do you see those words? Sakotah and avri, and pass. These are all the words from Eichah. God says, you're going to be here in this little rock and I’m going to put My hand on you, so to speak, and I'm going to shield you from Me until I pass so that you'll live. So you won't be overwhelmed by that presence.
So in its original, in Exodus, this is the most tender moment that you can imagine. Israel has sinned, it's terrible but there's this moment of extreme closeness, tenderness, intimacy between God and Moses. God says, I love you and I want to connect to you, and I want to show you how to reach me in prayer. I'm going to put you in this little cleft of the rock and I'm going to put My hand over you, so to speak. I'm going to shield you so you won't have a direct connection to Me. Just until I pass over. I'm going to pass over you in prayer and I'm going to teach you how to pray.
Eichah takes those words and says, you know God you promised that we could always pray to you in moments when we rebel. What greater rebellion was there than the golden calf? At that moment You said that You would shield Moses for his good from You but You had that close intimate connection with him, even as Your hand was covering over him. But then Eichah takes those words, sakotah, and turned to "sakotah b'anan lach b'avor tefillah." That You enveloped Yourself and shielded Yourself without allowing prayer to pass to You. What happened? This shielding this was for our benefit, right? It was an intimate thing. Somehow You used that to cut Yourself off.
The last element here I want to point you to is word, v'anan, with a cloud. What does a cloud remind you of? "Sakotah b'anan lach," You covered Yourself with a cloud. What does the imagery of cloud remind you of? Well, go back to that same section of Exodus. That same section of Exodus where in the wake of the Golden Calf, there was a moment of intimacy when God was there, and Moses was there. Moses was in the cleft of the rock and God was talking to him as He passed over. If you look carefully, you'll find the cloud. Look what the cloud does at that moment. Let's go back into the text of Exodus.
"V'hasiroti et k'pi v'ra'it et achorai upanai lo yir'u." I'll take away My hand, you'll be able to see My back, but you won't be able to see My face. A few more verses later it actually happens but let's look at 34:5. "Vayered Hashem b'anan," then God descended in a cloud. God came down on high. How did He come on high? In a cloud. "Vayityatzeiv imo sham," and this is beautiful. "Vayityatzeiv imo sham," and He stood with Moses there. That's that moment of intimacy, to just be with Moses. God in a cloud, in this mist, enveloping Moses. "V'yikrah b'shem Hashem." That's when in a cloud, He called out in His own name.
"Vaya'avor Hashem," God cast, "al panav," on Moses' face, "vayikrah," and called out in His own name, which signifies compassion. "Hashem Hashem," Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey, Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey, "K'el rachum v'chanun," God gracious and compassionate, "erech apa'im v'rav chessed v'emet," full of compassion. Right? "V'rav chessed," full of kindness, "v'emet," and a God of truth. Here is the formulation for finding compassion. This is the formulation that Eichah 3 talks about. It's coming from here.
What's the key to finding compassion? We have a video on this in Aleph Beta, you can look it up, it's on our Rosh Hashanah videos and Yom Kippur videos. We talk about the 13 Attributes in compassion which are here. It's not a magical incantation. It's not just that you can say these words and magically compassion comes. It describes a process through which compassion comes.
Basically, it says God is compassionate. He's rachum He's chanun He's gracious. "Erech apa'im," He's patient. But what those things do is those give you a comfort zone. Ultimately reconciliation comes from truth. Remember the South Africa the Truth and Reconciliation Commission? You've got to be truthful about what happened between you and Me. But I can't be truthful if I think you're my enemy. I can't be truthful with you if I think you're going to bite my head off. I can't come clean as to what I may have done wrong to you if I’m not sure if you love me or have any warm feelings to me.
So God says here's the deal. I am Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey. I am the God of compassion. I am compassionate. I am loving. I give freely. "Erech apa'im," I have all of the patience in the world, "rav chessed," I am full of kindness, "v'emet," but I also desire truth. In that context truth is something that can happen between us. You can come to Me and say, l've sinned, and 'll accept you saying that you've sinned, and we can move on in our relationship to move forward and there can be forgiveness and we can go forward together.
This, I think, is just shows how edgy Eichah 3 really is. But Eichah 3 is taking all of those words of intimacy and screaming back to God saying, I don't see it. Look at this. "Mah yitonen adam chai gever al chatato," how should a man lament? What are you supposed to do if you sinned? If you sinned, are you damned forever? Is there no way out of that? There is a way out of that. You try to fix your ways, "nachpesah d'racheinu v'nachkarah v'rashuvah as Hashem." You fix your ways and you come back to God. All you can really do is come to God, "nisa levaveinu al kap'im," you put your heart on your hands and you come to God. Putting your heart in your hands, "el el bashamayim," to God in heaven and you say, "anachnu pashanu u'marinu," we sinned. First degree. "Marinu," we rebelled against You.
You're supposed to be able to accept that. That’s supposed to be the truth. That You said that You were talking about but You're supposed to be able to have a context of love for that. "V'tah lo salachta," but You weren't able to forgive. Instead, "sakotah v'af," this cloud that envelope Moses that was supposed to provide loving intimacy and connection to him, all of a sudden, cuts yourself off from our defenders. "V'tird'feinu haragta lo chamalta," and our defenders aren't able to defend us anymore, "sakotah b'anan lach," You've taken that cloud from which you came down from Moses and You've enveloped Yourself in that cloud, "mei'avor tefillah." That tefillah which You said that You would be able to teach us how to pray, we can't pray anymore.
It's the cloud through which the Divine comes down into this world and envelops us and connects us to Your dwelling place in heaven isn't there anymore. That's what Rabbi Elazar HaKalir is talking about in Kinah 6. "Sakotah Mishkan mis'kot d'vrirai." You've taken that cloud which is supposed to be the thing that comes down from heaven and dwells upon the Mishkan. You always see that image in Exodus, the cloud dwelling upon the Mishkan, as if God's presence rested upon them. You kept the cloud up in Your heavenly Tabernacle and You used it as a shield not allowing the cries, tefillas, and prayers from our Temple to come to you. How could that be?
It's edgy. It's the kind of thing, literally, that if I would compose a poem like that, if it wasn't Rabbi Elazar HaKalir and any other day of the year this would be my poem, you'd throw me out. I'm a heretic. How could you say these words about God? Yet somehow on Tisha B'Av you can say it. I think the reason you could say it -- go back to Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, and it goes back to what I was talking about before, which is that this is the day when the bird that flies free, so to speak, to borrow from the image of taharat hametzorah, which I talked about earlier. That the bird that flies free, which is us, we who live at this time, we connect with the blood of anybody that didn't make it. We really connect with their sorrow and their pain.
It's almost like we're channeling their words. It's like the Elizabeth Kubler-
Ross' stages of grief. We're not a five, we're not at four, we're at one. We're in denial, we're in anger and we're in sadness. This is what denial and anger looks like. Don't be fooled by the fancy artistry. Don't be fooled by the language of Rabbi Elazar HaKalir's beautiful language. The poetry is a veil for really, really raw emotions.
The final emotion, which I'll take you through here then I'll pass you off to our next scholar, is these last words here. "S'chi u'ma'os hasimoni b'adrei chaveirai," over here in green. You've made Me disgusting amongst my friends. So to speak, you've embarrassed me amongst My friends, you've embarrassed Me amongst the nations. Which in Eichah 3 was, "s'chi u'ma'os t'simeinu b'kerev ha'amim," you made me to seem repulsive among the other nations, who are my friends. Where does that come from in the Bible?
It turns out that that actually comes -- with this I'll leave you with Leviticus. Leviticus foresees the churban, it foresees destruction, moments of destruction. It foresees terrible moments in Jewish history in the future. It says that there will be times when things won't go well, and terrible things will happen. But there's one last comforting thing. Bechukotai is one of the hardest parshiot to read, it's at the very end of Leviticus. You read all these terrible prophecies of stuff that actually came true in a number of moments in human history. You read all of it and at the very end there are these words of comfort. It's those words of comfort that Kinah 6 and Eichah 3 are taking off of.
Let me show you the words of comfort. Right over here, in Leviticus 26. It says, "v'ha'aretz tei'azev meihem v'teretz et shabto'tehah." Interesting, here's that word that Rabbi Elazar HaKalir starts the kinah with, Shabbos. It's the words that was the focal point of Leviticus 26, that if you don't keep the Sabbatical elements, you don't keep the Sabbatical years, so then the land will keep it without you and you'll be exiled. Then the land will keep it's Shabbos, "bah'shamah meihem," when you aren't in the land, "v'hem yirtzu et avonam ya'an u'b'ya'anan b'mishpatai ma'asu v'et chukotai ga'alah nafsham."
Why? "V'hem irtzu et avonam ya'an u'b'ya'anan b'mishpatai ma'asu v'et chukotai ga'alah nafsham." The reason why this is happening is because you have found -- there's that word, that word that appears in Eichah 3 and in Kinah 6 -- because God says it happened because you considered My laws disgusting. "v'et chukotai ga'alah nafsham," that you considered, you defiled My laws.
Now what's interesting about this is that in these words the Torah is giving you the reason for all these terrible things that are happening and it's not what you might expect. It's not that we didn't keep the laws, God can handle us not keeping the laws, God can handle us not being careful enough with the laws. It's an attitude toward the laws. "ya'an u'b'ya'an b'mishpatei ma'asu." It's that if you've expressed disgust towards My laws, that's what I can't handle. "V'et chukotai ga'alah nafsham." It’s the thing that if you read the John Gottman's book on marriage. He says couples can withstand a lot of pain and a lot of sorrow and they can fight, but the one thing that bodes really badly for a couple is scorn; is disgust. It can be as simple as an eye roll, where you roll your eye in disgust at your partner.
That sort of disgust is very hard to recover from. So if I don't bring you orange juice in the morning, okay, so I wasn't so sensitive. If I didn't take out the garbage, or I didn't take care of your needs, that's something couples can recover from. It's very hard to recover from scorn. It's very hard to recover from disgust. God's saying look, if you don't do stuff, so okay so you don't do stuff. I can handle you not doing stuff, not doing my commands, but to consider My commands disgusting? That’s the problem.
"Ya'an u'b'ya'an b'mishpatei ma'asu v'et chukotai ga'alah nafsham." God says, "v'af gam zot," but here's the promise I won't make to you, "af gam zot b'hiyotam b'eretz oy'veihem," even if you were exiled, even if you found My laws disgusting and because of that you had to leave the land and because of that you were in exile. "Af gam zot b'hiyotam b'eretz oy'veihem," even when you were in your enemy's land, "lo m'astim," I will not find you disgusting. In other words, even if you would do the worst, even if you would take My laws, which is the main way I communicate with you. You can't touch Me, You can't feel Me, I gave you My laws, and if you consider My laws, which is the only momento you have of Me, if you would consider those disgusting. Even if you would do that, My promise to you is that I will never forsake you, "lo m'astim," I will never consider you disgusting, "v'lo ga'altim," and I will never consider you to revile you "l'chalotam l'hafer b'riti itam," to violate My covenant with you. This is My covenant with you. I will never consider yourself disgusting.
This is the fire that Eichah 3 and Kinah 6 is playing with when it takes these very words from Leviticus 26 and says, God what's the deal? "S'chi u'ma'os hasimoni b'adrei chaveirai," and "s'chi u'ma'os t'simeinu b'kerev ha'amim." You've made me disgusting among the nations. What about this promise? This promise of Leviticus 26 that even in the depths of sorrow, in the greatest failure, even when I've rebelled against You, You wouldn't consider me disgusting, are you still there?
To me, the hint that Kalir is leaving us with, and that Eichah 3 is leaving us with, is one last little hint that it's not over and that there's the ability to come back. That is that what they're saying is, yes, we're disgusting who's eyes? When we're at the worst, it's the nations around us who will look us and revile us, but the one unanswered question is what about You, God? Do you find us disgusting when others do? If You don't, then maybe there's a way back. "Af gam zot b'yotam b'eretzh oyveihem." Even so, in your enemy's land, you promised "lo m'astim v'lo g'altim." Even if they would shriek and even if they would make fun of us, and even if they would scorn us, maybe You won't scorn us. Maybe even in our moment of degradation You won't scorn us.
I think Jewish history has proved that. We've had our share of terrible, terrible times. Times we were mocked mercilessly. But the magic of Jewish History is that we have always some back. I was sitting in the Gush -- with this all closed -- I was sitting with Rav Yoel Bin-Nun, who was one of the folks for trade in Yossi Klein Halevi's book, We Were Like Dreamers. He was one of the conquerors of Jerusalem in 1967, one of the founders of the Yeshivat Gush Hatzion. He gave a lecture, and I was chatting with him afterwards in this Bible conference.
He said, look you know, the Jewish experience is unrivalled in history. No one's come back from exile the way we do. He says you know in the early 50s, right after the State was established, Israel sent a State delegation to China. The Chinese were talking to them, and said it was the craziest thing in the world, You guys have come back to the land that you've been exiled from 2,000 ago? You say it's your land because you had it 2,000 years ago? They said, do you know what happened if everyone went back to their land from 2,000 years ago? How do you go back to your land from 2,000 years ago?
But somehow Israel has remained in our consciousness, and we've maintained a national identity throughout all these years. We just haven't gone away. It's just completely unrivalled. Yoel Bin-Nun even argues it's because our nation was not founded on land. Most of the nation's get founded when someone conquers land and that begins the nation. That's not how we began. We began when we were just sojourners and the nation coalesced around an ideal and around a connection with God. Therefor the basis for the nation isn't land and it can survive the loss of land. When it comes back it's a marvel. Nothing like this has ever happened.
It's a testament, really, to the promise in Leviticus 26, which is even at the worst moments of exile when we were made fun of, when we were shrieked at, when other nations considered us repulsive. "V'af... b'eretz oy'veihem lo m'astim v'lo g'altim," God wouldn't take that final step to roll His eyes at us, to consider us repulsive and disgusting. Because of that there was always a way back; always a way to rebound.
We're living in a time of renaissance now. As I’m looking out at the hills of Jerusalem now you don't see the destruction, you see rebuilding and you see vibrancy. That kind of vibrancy wouldn't be possible if God had rolled His eyes at us. Ultimately, it's a brit, it's a covenant that God has kept.
So I'll leave you at this point to say Kinah 6 over here. A few stanzas from it and then Beth you can take us over and bring us to our next thing.
Beth: Okay. Folks, I'm going to leave the kinah up on the screen just for another moment. While I do I'm going to hand over the microphone to Daniel Lowenstein, my colleague, he's an (inaudible 01:28:31) with Ami Silver. He has a partner, a dear friend, who he's invited to join him and be his charvruta for the kinot that they're going to be studying.
I just want to tell you a little bit about the person that he's invited. His friend Aharon Roller (ph) who is not a member of the Aleph Beta team, but rather a Project Officer for the MJEDA by day but is also passionate about the poetic expression of Torah ideas. So his claim to fame is that he currently serves as the commissioner of the Yeshivah Poetry Society, which he created. It's a slam poetry reading that brings arts, self-expression, and community to Jewish high schools in the New York area.
So Daniel thought, I'm reading the kinot, I want to lend him to poetry and Aharon is the guy for the job. So Daniel, I'll let you guys take it away.
Daniel: So the kinah that we're going to be looking at is Kinah 11. Kinah 11 is a lament for the death of King Josiah. It's a bit of a departure from a lot of the early kinot that focus on the national tragedy. This one is focused on the tragedy of (inaudible 01:19:55) but a lot of larger things that strewn that.
So a few moments of back story. So the kingdom of Judah was winding down. There were a lot of kings that led the nation astray. God was very upset and declared the end was coming. There were just very few bright spots along the way. King Josiah was one of those major bright spots. He had led a renaissance in adherence to mitzvot and the destruction of idol worship that were unparalleled. Even greater than the acts of King Chizkiyahu, who was one of the other bright stars in the line of kings. Crazy renaissance and unfortunately his life ended in tragedy.
The way the events are accounted in Chronicles, King Josiah was approached by the king of Egypt, the Pharaoh of Egypt. Pharoah wanted to go through the Land of Israel to go and make war on Assyria and Josiah said no. There was a war. In the war Josiah was killed. That was like a breaking of a dam because Josiah was the last good king and society was on the upswing. Then after that happened the rest of the history until the destruction is basically horrible.
One of the things that we're told in Chronicles is that the Prophet Jeremiah lamented over the death of Josiah. He saw it was a great tragedy and he compose kinot for Josiah. So the Sages have a tradition that the fourth chapter of Lamentations is actually devoted to the death of Josiah. The fourth chapter of Lamentations is Jeremiah's words of mourning over the death of Josiah. If you read through Chapter 4 of Lamentations, it doesn't really read that way. Most of the chapter focuses on the horrible, starvation that the people faced during the churban. Then there's also a bit about just the total shock and unexpectedness of it and the success of the enemy.
There's very little of any personal figure. There's definitely no clear specific reference to Josiah. So what Rabbi Elazar HaKalir did in composing Kinah 11 is he played off of the fourth chapter of Lamentations in homage to that tune of the Sages. He composed a kinah that was specifically about Josiah. He referenced events of his life. The overt kind of reference to the fourth chapter of Lamentations is that each line of the kinah, the first word is the same as the first word of each line of Chapter 4 of Lamentations.
So you can see on my screen here. So "eichah yo'am zahav," "eichah eli konenu." Then "b'nei," and "b'nei," and "gam," and "gam." So that's how he sort of acknowledged the statement of Chazal. The fourth chapter is about Josiah. But actually just (inaudible 01:23:32) that was specifically about Josiah.
So what I hope to discuss with Aharon and to share with everyone is sort of leaning into that. I wanted to know if the way that Rabbi Elazar Hakair was playing off of Lamentations Chapter 4 was just in terms of the linguistic, you know, borrowing the first word, or if there was more. When I looked into it, I found that there are a lot of ways in which there are some interesting resonances and interesting contrasts that feel very deliberate. I think give a lot of perspective to Kinah 11 that you wouldn't necessarily get if you weren't reading it in tandem with Chapter 4 Lamentations. So we would like to do that a little bit in the time that we have.
Okay. So I guess I'll start by -- I'll take it four lines at a time. So we'll read through the kinah, which is on the left of the screen --
Aharon: Daniel, can I just give a few words of introduction?
Daniel: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Go for it.
Aharon: All right. Well, firstly, thank you so much for inviting me to participate. I've got a baby resting on my chest right now -- always unpredictable but he's usually pretty chilled. It's just tremendous privilege to be invited with Rabbi Fohrman and Rabbi Ami, people that I look up to tremendously, as well as yourself Daniel. I wanted to -- as Daniel said -- this kinah is a little bit different because we really go from the straight lamentation to narrative. We're sort of telling a story here, the story of Josiah.
I would say it kind of resembles the form of poetry called the dramatic monologue. I think it's important not for showing it's similar to something we have in English, in Western poetry, but I think that bringing that frame to it will help us appreciate this kinah more.
Dramatic monologue, we've probably all read them in high school. Like, My Last Duchess, by Robert Browning, it's a form of poetry where the poet is writing in somebody else's voice and writing a first-person narrative that tells us about both the subject that the narrator is telling us about, as well as it reflects back on the narrator themselves. It's considered to be an 18th Century form of English poetry, but I think right here this is one of the kinot from Rabbi Elazar HaKalir, and yet it's written in the voice of Jeremiah the Navi.
Master poet that Kalir is, he's taking the things that we know about both Josiah and Jeremiah from all around the Torah and he's picking specific things. Specific things from the Torah and from the Midrashim, in order to create this eulogy, which as Daniel said, follows the alphabetical, or actual word of each alphabetical letter, of the fourth chapter of Lamentations. But in doing so it's telling us, what does HaKalir wants us to know about Josiah and also what then -- I think we can ask an additional question from a literary standpoint. What does HaKalir want us know about Jeremiah? About why Jeremiah thinks this is so sad. Why this eulogy for this king belongs here with the general lamentations about The Temple.
I think if we look at it from that lens, we're going to get a lot out of it. So I wanted to -- with that we should jump into it.
Daniel: So, "Vayikonein Yirmiyahu al Yoshi'ahu. Eichah eli kon'nu mei'eilav. Ben shemoneh shanah heicheil lid'rosh mei'Elokav." How a wail and a lament issued forth from the mighty leaders for King Josiah, at the age of eight began to search for God on his own. "B'nei cham b'avram chanu alav. V'lo huz'kar lo shinui mif'alav." The sons of Cham, in Egypt, they passed through and encamped and in the merit of his many good deeds was to no avail.
"Gam b'kol malchei Yisrael aher kamu lig'dor. Lo kam kamohu mimot Avidgor." From all of the kings of Israel who sought to mend the breach, all the kings of Israel who tried to fix what was broken about society, no one had come before him since -- I looked up Avigdor, which is another name for Moses. "Davak bo cheit leitznei hador." Unfortunately, the sins of the scoffers in the generations clung to him. "Asher kamu achar hadelet lis'dor." This is an interesting small piece of back story. The translation says those who concealed idolatrous images on the interior of their doors.
As a quick bit of back story, then we'll get back to analyzing the kinah itself. The Sages understand what happened with Pharoah, to be some various -- they insert a back story to that back story. What they say happened was that King Josiah led this renaissance of destruction of idolatry. The way the Sages understand that he believed that he had succeeded in turning the nation around completely. He believed that he had accomplished a true reversal, and a true return to God exclusively. But he was wrong. The people found clever ways to hide idolatry. For example, they had two houses where the idol is, doorknobs, and when they closed the door, the idol would be covered so no one would find them. That's that reference here in that last line.
There is a verse towards the end of Leviticus, I believe, or maybe it's in Deuteronomy I apologize. I don't remember exactly off-hand, that says, "cherev lo ta'avor b'artzechem."
Daniel: Leviticus, good. It's one of the blessings that's declared if we follow in the ways of God. Is that a cherev will pass through your lands." The way that the Sages understood this is that it means, "cherev shel shalom." Meaning, even a nation looking to just pass through to go somewhere else, you will be so protected by God and meritorious, that your country won't even have to be at the basic level of being a highway for somebody else.
So it's not just that there are no wars that will plague you, but even you won't have to let a foreign army through. So because Josiah believed that his nation was so righteous then when Pharaoh asked for permission to travel through Israel to fight Assyria, he said no. Because he said no, "cherev lo ta'avor b'artzeichem," we're a righteous nation and we're deserving of that blessing so I'm not going to let you pass through.
Then Jeremiah told him you're wrong about the people and Josiah wouldn't believe him. Josiah was so committed to his understanding of the renaissance that he made that he didn't believe Jeremiah. He pressed to war and ultimately, he lost and recognized with is dying breathe that he had been naïve to believe the best of the people. So that's what's being referenced here at the end. That's the way the Sages understand the story.
Aharon: If I could attune people to this theme of the sins of the people sticking to the leader. On the one hand, as Daniel just said, there's this refusal on Josiah's part to allow the Egyptian army to come through because he thinks that they're meritorious and God will back him up to the point where he can refuse one of the major empires of the day to bring his army through. Even though the army, the Pharaoh offers, I'm going to come through peacefully. I've got no beef with you. But he refuses.
Nonetheless, he's righteous, says Jeremiah and yet it's the sins of everyone else that stick to him. So that idea comes up a number of times through the kinah and as we're going to see, the idea of Josiah being brought down by the sins of the generation. That he doesn't realize even that the sins are there because they're sort of hiding behind the doors, so to speak.
Daniel: Yeah. So two things to notice right away in these first four lines are the device of contrast. "V'lo huz'kar lo shinui mif'alav," that ultimately the ending was so tragic but "Ben shemoneh shanah heicheil lid'rosh mei'Elokav." He was just a little boy when he first became king. He went against this generation's long tradition in the line of Kings of Judah to follow idolatry and he turned things around.
That there was no one like him since the days of Moses but then "davak bo cheit leitznei hador." So there's this sense of that there has been so much possibility and so much hope which sort of magnifies the tragedy.
When you look at the parallel, in actual Lamentations Chapter 4, so "eichah hu am zahav yishneh haketem hatov tish'tapeichnah avnei kodesh b'rosh kol chutzot." How the gold has dimmed and how the holy stones, which is probably a metaphor for the People of Israel have been poured out, cast down, and are lying in litter everywhere. "B'nei Tzion hayekarim ham'sula'im bapaz," the People of Zion who were compared to find gold, "eichah nechsh'vu l'nivlei cheres ma'aseih yrfri yotzeir." Now they're just like broken shards of pottery.
So now you have that same -- HaKalir is doing that same thing about contrast. If you know what was once so promising and beautiful is now broken. "Gam tanim chaltzu shad neiniku gureihen." So even very selfish animals, like jackals, will extend the breast to feed their children. This is where he gets the physical suffering of the people through starvation. "Bat ami l'achzar ka'yeinim bamidbar." But my nation has become merciless, like ostriches in the dessert are, I guess apparently, not very forthcoming with food. "Davak loshon yoneik el chiko batzama olalim sha'alu lechem poreish ein lahem." Babies, their tongues are sticking to the roofs of their mouths in thirst. They're asking for bread, and no one is giving them any bread.
So right away you see that the chapter is really about the people and about the famine. One of the interesting things to see is that even though the kinah and the chapter are both using this device of contrast, to sort of highlight what was meant to be, and the promising future that was there and how it's all gone awry. The kinah really focuses on the spiritual issue. What's clinging to what? In the chapter, the baby who is starving, his tongue is clinging to his mouth. Very physical suffering. In the Lamentation, it's "davak bo cheit leitzanei hador," that the sins are clinging to this righteous person and they're going to be his downfall.
So the images are playing off of each other, but showing how the issue in the Lamentation that we're talking about is different in important ways also.
Before going to the next, Four, Aaron, is there anything you want to add?
Aaron: No, no. Let's proceed.
Daniel: So in the Lamentation, the next one is "ho'achlim zera Shichor kitmo hatov pichamu mishchor," the ones who eat the vegetation of Shichor, which is a word for the Nile, "kitmo hatov pichamu michshor," which is a reference to the beginning of the chapter in Lamentations, that the fine golds, they've made it covered in gold.
"Vayigdal avon v'heishiv yamin achor," the sins grew and God withdrew His hands. This is His right hand. "V'od lo shalach yado min hachor," He never sent it back out again.
"Zaku amarav kenam dat l'hakim," the words of Josiah were pure when he spoke, that the people should uphold the Law. "Bitza emrato b'arur asher lo yakim," he rents his clothes, perhaps, when he first heard the words in the Torah that cursed people who did not follow the law of the Torah.
"Chashach ta'aro k'na'atzu rechokim," his countenance darkened when the foreign ones, either we're referring to people who are distant from Torah and God or enemies, when they began to become a threat. "B'vetza mo'asei dat v'chukim," because of the sin of those who rejected the laws.
Aaron: So Reb Daniel, a couple of things there. Number one, I wanted to just point out, this is certainly the crowd for it because one of the first things I loved when I first heard Rabbi Fohrman's Torah was the tremendous intertextuality. The idea of pulling phrases and hearing a resonance of them from all over the Torah.
That phrase in the Vav verse, the "vayigdal avon," it says "v'od lo shalach yado min hachor," He had not yet taken His hand off the chor. It's a word I had to look up, but I also looked up where that phrase appears in the Torah. "Yado min hachor" is in Shir HaShirim, Song of Songs. Obviously, the famous love poem between God and the people of Israel. It talks about the woman seeing her lover's hand on the handle. "Yado min hachor" means the hand on the handle, on the doorknob. It talks about how excited she is to feel that he's coming in to the tent or the room. I don't know if tents had doorknobs in those times. But he's coming in and then it talks about that she comes to the door and the lover is gone. So despite the fact that she saw the hand on the door, it went away.
So in this context, "v'od lo shalach yado min hachor," Hashem had not yet taken His hand off of the doorknob, I think that helps to clue us in as to why this eulogy is here and what's so significant about Josiah. Because, so to speak, Hashem hadn't given up just yet. Hashem's hand is still on the doorknob at this point and there's still the opportunity to be saved. Yet, like in Song of Songs, ultimately, with the death of Josiah, that's when, sort of, the hand departs and disappears.
The other thing I want to just pull our attention back to is this question of "bitza emrato." Daniel, I remember when we were preparing for this, we had a long conversation. Because I have the Koren Lamentation and in their translation, it talks about ripping the garments. It translates "bitza emrato" -- botzei'a is talked about in -- halachically, it talks about, you know, a thread on Sabbath. Botzei'a. So the "bitza emrato," they translate it here as he rents his clothing. But it more literally means he kept his word. So it's a little bit -- we have to inquire as to why it uses this translation.
It goes into the Midrash talking about Hashem. Almost to the extent of firstly, that number one, it contrasts with Josiah himself, because in Divrei HaYamim (Chronicles), when it tells the story of Josiah, it says that as he learned more and more Torah, there's this story about how he's renovating and bringing the Temple back to its former glory, and they find a scroll that he wasn't familiar with, a scroll of law. Some Midrashim say it's the Book of Deuteronomy. But he has this read to him and he learns all about the consequences of violating the Torah and it says, at that point, he rips his clothes. He realizes, oh, Hashem must be so angry at us for the way we've been keeping the Torah. As if the full impact of that had not hit him until that point.
So he rips his clothes and the Midrash contrasts what he's doing with Hashem. That Hashem, so to speak, is destroying the Temple as opposed to the utter destruction of the Jewish people. You know, you could rip your garments or you could really do self-harm. As Rabbi Fohrman alluded to, we are survivors and we've come back because Hashem did not go all out and, k'viyachol (so to speak), He only rent the garments as opposed to destroying the body of Israel.
Anyway, I wanted to pull attention to those verses there and the references that they have within them.
Daniel: Yeah. Definitely, evoking Song of Songs in this context is also, no matter at what you're looking, very powerful and tragic.
Aaron: That's always going to bring in the (inaudible 02:42:20), when you're bringing in Song of Songs.
Daniel: Yeah. So again, just sort of comparing this part of Lamentation 11, which is again talking about Egypt approaching and the sin greatening to the point when God sort of perhaps had been willing to stay and is now leaving. And also talking about Josiah as someone who his pure words, the sincerity of his attempt to make this large repentance movement, and whose countenance darkens at the prospects or because of sinners. So if you sort of read that in contrast to the verses in Lamentations Four -- let's just go through those for a minute.
"Ha'ochlim l'ma'adanim nashamu bachutzot ha'emunim alei tola chibku ashpatot," basically, the verse is saying, the people who used to enjoy delicacies, now they are starving, they are clinging to garbage cans trying to find any scraps they can find. "Vayigdal avon bat ami meichatas Sedom hahafuchah kemo raga v'lo chalu bah yadayim," the sin of my people must be greater than the sin of Sodom because it was destroyed all at once and they didn't have to deal with people coming and invading them and having to deal with the prolonged suffering we're dealing with.
"Zaku nezireha misheleg tzachu meichalav admu etzem mipninim sapir gizratam," now it's talking about the beauty and the radiance of the different people who are in Jerusalem. Specifically, it's talking about the nezirim, which either actually refers to the Nazirites or it refers to princes, that their countenance was whiter than snow and it was ruddy. All of the measures of beauty and vigor of youth. "Chashach mishchor ta'aram lo nikru bachutzos tzafad oram al atzmam yaveish hayah ka'eitz." Now they've become blackened and no one recognizes them in the streets. Their skin is clinging to them and it's dry like wood.
Sort of, I guess, once again the thing that jumps out at me -- two things jumped out at me. I'll say the latter one first, which is that the idea of something being pure contrasting being dark, again, in Lamentations, is very physical. The radiant appearance of people has become darkened because of the physical suffering. In the Lamentation, it's that Josiah's words were pure and his face darkened in reaction to sin. It psychological and spiritual focused and it's not much physicality at all.
The other thing that, sort of, hits home in a similar way is that when you're talking about "vayigdal avon," sin has greatened, sin has greatened and what's the therefore? In Lamentations, it's compared to stone, that it would have been better. If the sin hadn't been greatened, something else would have happened. In Lamentations, if the sin hadn't been greatened, maybe we would have died all at once instead of having to endure prolonged suffering. Again, it's a focus on physicality. In the Lamentation, it's "v'od lo shalach yado min hachor," that because the sin was so great, now we lost the connection to God.
So it's really crazy to see the way that Lamentations is playing off of the Lamentation. He's playing off the chapter but he's making it something which is so different.
I think we have time maybe for one more series of Four and then we should probably wrap up. Let's go to the next, Four. I think here is someplace where we see the clearest plays on Lamentations, in very punching ways.
The Lamentation says, "tovim ra'im nikre'u b'shalcho malach mah li valach hayom l'talach," Egypt who would be friends, so he called, he sent a messenger, and he said, "mah li valach," why are we getting into a fight? Just let me through. "Yedei am ha'aretz damim b'malach tei'aneish b'vatzi et palach," why lead to the death of so many soldiers, why be punished when I'm just trying to do what God wants me to?
"Kilah hamonai lechet Aram Naharayim l'ma'an lo ta'avor cherev kol shehu b'Efraim." See there's that reference to "cherev lo ta'avor b'artzechem?" In order to uphold that ideal state of sword shall not pass through you, Josiah "kilah hamonai," he was responsible for the deaths of multitudes. "V'lo shama l'chozeh lashuv achorayim," he didn't listen to the prophet who told him to turn around. "Ki gezeirah nigzerah l'sachseich Mitzrayim b'Mitzrayim," Egypt was ordained to go through and ultimately fall to Syria, but he stood in the way and he wouldn't listen to Jeremiah.
Now, if you look at this and you compare it to Lamentations, so "tovim hayu chalelei cherev meichalelei ra'av," the people who died by the sword were luckier than those who died from famine, "sheheim yazuvu medukarim mitnuvos sadai," because the people who died by the sword bled out and they didn't have prolonged suffering of not having food.
"Yedei nashim rachmaniyot bishlu yaldeihen hayu l'barot lamo b'shever bat ami," that terrible curse in Torah that women were forced to cook their own children in the wake of the terror that befell the people.
"Kilah Hashem et chamato shafach charon apo vayatzet eish b'Tzion vatochal yesodoteha," God's wrath burns and ultimately eats up the foundations of the nation. "Lo he'eminu malchei eretz kol yoshvei teiveil ki yavo tzar v'oyeiv b'sha'arei Yerushalayim," and all the surrounding kings who knew that Jerusalem was such a holy place and what have you, they couldn't believe that an enemy would penetrate.
I think those last two verses, I think if you look at them next to those two lines in the Lamentation, really hit home. Because in both of them, they referenced people who are not listening, who refuse to believe something, and both of them reference someone being responsible for mass destruction. But in Lamentations, it's God Who has destroyed the people because of His wrath. The Lamentation blames Joshiah. "Kilah hamonai," he destroyed the multitudes because of his misguided belief in the people. Then, "lo shama l'chozeh lashuv achorayim," he wouldn't believe Jeremiah. He wouldn't believe the word of God.
So the King of Israel is the one who won't listen, who won't believe; whereas, in Lamentations, it's all the other kings who won't believe.
So there are all these subtle contrasts between the chapter that serves as the source material and the Lamentation. I think it really serves to, sort of, give context to the tragedy of what happened with Josiah. I think the main element of tragedy is -- there are so many tragic elements to it, but just the good intentions and the firm, unshakable belief in his people, that leading to tragedy is a very different kind of gut punch than people being destroyed because they were doing the wrong thing. I think that element gets played up in these contrasts.
I think with that analysis, Aaron, is there anything you want to add before we move to the (inaudible 02:51:13)?
Aaron: Just to emphasize what you just said. That bringing back to that (inaudible 02:51:18) of the dramatic monologue. Because I think what we're seeing is Elazar HaKalir writing as Jeremiah giving this eulogy. On the one hand, he has that line, that he doesn't want to listen to the prophet; "lo shama l'chozeh" is himself, the narrator of this poem. Yet, he's not fully blaming him, for the other reason that you said.
We see this reluctance or ambivalence, this love that he has, for this king who is the last and best hope for the people to do teshuvah (repent) and get them as close as can possibly be. He doesn't want to hold him fully responsible as an idealistic, penitent leader, who brings people so far. It's really tragic, in the Greek sense. A person being brought down by almost what seems good about them. They have this tragic flaw. As you say, he doesn't want to judge the people unfavorably. He thinks that they've attained a spiritual level because of how far he's taken them.
Yet, the prophet has the clear eyes, the clear vision, to say the people are not where you think they are, Josiah. I love you for thinking so highly of them and for thinking so favorably of them; yet, ultimately, that is the seed of the destruction, both Josiah's personal destruction and the destruction of the Temple, ultimately. I think it's, like you say, very, very powerful, and I think that the narrative style that Elazar HaKalir employs here really allows us to be sensitive to that effect.
Beth: It sounds like you guys (inaudible 02:53:12). I want to thank Daniel and Aaron for your beautiful presentation. I think we should also apologize to Aaron's baby, because I heard some hiccupping or cries. I think maybe talk of that very graphic line in Lamentations might have made him a little bit upset, so apologies.
Aaron: That's right. He's very sensitive to the Lamentations. Absolutely.
Beth: Apologies. I said that this material really should have an age minimum on it. What we're going to do now is just, again, pause this. We have for a few moments to recite the Lamentation that we just learned together. We did hear your feedback and your feedback was, the text is too small. We can't read it when it's this big. What I'm going to do for you is put just the text of the English Lamentation up, which is as big as it can be and still fit on one screen, and then I posted in the Chat the link to the Hebrew text if you prefer to read that.
It's also a good time for me to give a shoutout to Koren. I had chatted about this earlier, but we are sharing the English translation of the kinah from Koren Publishers. It's a beautiful addition and a really impressive work of scholarship that they worked very hard to put together. We have permission from them graciously to be able to share it with you in Screen Share, but not to distribute a file of the English translation. That's why we're being very careful in trying to be respectful and show you what we can in a way that's going to work for everyone.
Let me put that up onscreen for you and then we'll come back all together in just a few moments. Once again, I'm going to leave the text on the screen just for a remaining moment, to give those of you who are still reciting a chance to do so. There is one more message that I want to share with all of you before I hand it over to Rabbi Fohrman.
First of all, just to give you a sense of what's coming for the rest of the day, so those of you who saw the advertisement for this program probably recall that it was meant to end at 1 o'clock Eastern time, but we do have a half-an-hour of wiggle room built into the schedule. So I am going to be handing it over to Rabbi Fohrman to deliver the final chapter of this program, so there is more learning yet to come.
In addition to that, once you finish with us, I really hope that those of you who haven't already, will take advantage of the incredible library of videos that are available on our Tisha B'Av page. I want to highlight the new video, that's the new course that Rabbi Fohrman and staff here worked on, which is all about understanding the Biblical basis for Tisha B'Av, the story of the Spies. It's really an incredible piece of work. They worked very hard on it.
I will say as a testament to it, my own children, my oldest is not even six. I just shared this story with one of our Producers Circle members. For years I've been getting notes from all of you telling me how much your children enjoy Aleph Beta. I read those notes with such nachas, and I think, when will my children prefer Aleph Beta to dragons and trains and Octonauts. Today, for the first time, I put on that video to watch it and my almost six-year-old was rapt. He was guessing along with Rabbi Fohrman, oh it's Jacob, oh it's the Spies.
So it's really, really a kol hakavod to Rabbi Fohrman and the staff for the work that you did on it. I hope all of you have gotten a chance to enjoy it. I know you're major fans; I don't need to tell you that we have a lot of videos on our page, but I do hope you made time to catch the new one.
Of particular note, thinking of things that you could do to observe Tisha B'Av this afternoon, we're going to be having a very special event starting at 3 o'clock New York time, so that's in two hours from now. It's a Backstage Pass event that is focused on the behind-the-scenes of how this new course came to be. I mentioned that our Producers Circle members, those who are really able to give very generously and to be able to partner with us to support Aleph Beta, we like to offer some perks as our way of saying thanks. This is an example of one of the perks that we offer.
There's going to be a small gathering that Producers Circle members are invited to, to meet with Rabbi Fohrman and Imu, and really just to hear the story behind the scenes, what was it like making this course? What was the material that they wanted to put in, that got left on the cutting room floor? They can teach it to you. You know, just to be a part of that creative process, to dive deep so you go even beyond what's available on the website, and also get a chance to interact more intimately with Rabbi Fohrman and Imu.
Again, I say this as graciously as I can, because I do know that everyone who's here is a fan and a supporter, and Producers Circle is not a level that everyone is able to step up to. But if it does sound right for you, then again, we're so appreciative. You could sign up now, and then there's still time for you to join us for that Backstage Pass event in two hours.
I'm going to put the Producers Circle link in the chat. I'm going to hand it over to Rabbi Fohrman, and he'll be wrapping up the learning for after this program.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Thank you very much, Beth. So night is falling here in Jerusalem, towards the end of the fast, and we have chatzot, the halfway mark during the day, just being reached on the East Coast, which is traditionally the time until when kinot are said. So this is a good time for me to kind of take you out of our kinot experience here. I'm going to do that with a short reflection on a kinah and then just some thoughts to wrap up.
The short reflection I want to take you to is on Kinah 13, so you can page on over to there, or I'll share my screen with you and bring you into that. Here is my screen, and hopefully you guys can see this. So this is the third and final kinah that I'm going to talk about today -- or the second and final, I don't know how many. It's again by Rabbi Elazar HaKalir, the same poet.
Here, basically the poetic device which the poet uses for his poem comes from the very first word of Lamentations, which he chops apart in two. Eichah is one of these very versatile words. Eichah is the key word for 'lament', "Eichah yashvah badad," Lamentations begins with. But it also has other meanings. Going back to the Garden of Eden, we had a version of Eichah that the Midrash sees in the word ayeka, the very first question that God asks of Adam, where are you?
Here, Elazar HaKalir divides up Eichah in yet another way, divides it into two words to become ay koh. Ay is that word from ayei, which means where, it's the Hebrew word 'where'. Koh means 'thus', where thus. Now, what does that mean?
So the word koh in Hebrew is a word that appears a number of times, usually with a kind of triumphant sound to us, God will use this word with a flourish to kind of say, wait until you see what'll happen. It's a very triumphant word. Basically, what Rabbi Elazar HaKalir is doing is saying, okay, so where is the koh? Take Eichah and say, where is the koh? What happened to the triumph? He's going to go through, in this poem, a number of Biblical instances; we'll look at three of them, but he'll go through a number of them in a kind of alphabetical example. He's going to ask what happened to all of this triumph.
The word ay is an interesting word. In Hebrew, as I mentioned in my first book, The Beast That Crouches at the Door, there are two Hebrew words for where. There's eifo and ayei. Eifo generally, if you look throughout the Bible, is a genuine request for location. When I don't know where something is, like when Naomi asks Ruth, "Eifo likatet hayom," she actually wants to know what field she gathered in today. But ayei, the other Hebrew word for where, or ay, is not a genuine request for location. Instead, it means why isn't something here, or where did something go?
So for example, when Isaac, at the Akeidah (binding of Isaac) asks, "Hinei ha'eish v'ha'etzim," I see the wood and I see the fire, but "ayei haseh la'olah," where is the seh, where did the lamb go for the offering? So that isn't a quest for location. He's not asking, did we leave the lamb by the barn door or next to the garage. What he's really saying is, Dad, there ain't no lamb. How come there's no lamb? Which changes the meaning entirely, right. That's the moment where -- that's why Isaac's communication at that moment is important, it's because what he's really saying is, this is when it's dawning on him that he might just well be the lamb.
Wouldn't you know it, Rabbi Elazar HaKalir is going to take note of that use of ay, seemingly, in the Akeidah, in this poem as well. So he begins with ay koh. His first example of koh actually goes to Genesis 15, it's really kind of fascinating. I just want to take a few moments to explicate it with you.
"Ay ko omer, koreit l'av b'petzach / b'brit bein habetarim, koh yihiyeh lanetzach." Where is the koh that God said to Abraham back in Genesis 15 in the Covenant Between the Pieces when He said, thus you shall be forever? So what's He talking about, thus you shall be forever? He didn't really say, thus you shall be forever. So what is Kalir talking about? Where is the koh that actually appears in Genesis 15, and what does Kalir mean when he paraphrases that koh and says, thus you shall be forever?
That really takes us on an exploration of Genesis 15. Let me see if I can actually call it up for you in Sefaria for a quick second. Here's the Covenant Between the Pieces. What happens is that Abraham expresses some doubt. He says, like, look, you keep in telling me I'm going to be this great nation, but I don't have any kids. You keep on telling me you're going to give me this s'char, this reward, but I don't have any kids. What could you possibly give me if I don't have any kids? If God says, you know what, "asher yeitzei mimei'echa hu yirashecha," I know you're an old man, I know your wife is old, but you're going to have a biological child.
"Vayotzei oto hachutzah," He takes him outside, "vayomer," and He says, "habet na hashamayimah," look at the heavens, "u'sefor hakochavim," and count the stars, "im tuchal lispor otam," if you can count them. "Vayomer lo," and this is what Kalir is talking about, "koh yihiyeh zaracha," thus shall be your progeny, thus will be your children. Your children will be just like this. "V'he'emin ba'Hashem," and he trusted in God, and God considered this righteous of him, considered it meritorious of him, that he trusted Him.
So Kalir is talking about this koh, this very first koh when God says, "koh yihiyeh zaracha," thus shall your children be. So what's he talking about when Kalir takes that to mean, over here, "koh yihiyeh lanetzach," thus you shall be forever?
I think there are two ways of seeing it. When you look at it normally, if someone would ask you, so what did God mean when He took Abraham outside and said, look at the stars and count the stars, if you can count them, thus shall your progeny be, most people would say He's talking about the quantity of the stars. You're looking at the stars and you're saying, as night falls here in Jerusalem you can begin to see the stars coming out. Back then, there was a lot less light pollution. If you'd look then, you'd literally see hundreds, if not thousands of stars. Very difficult to count those stars. So it sounds like we're talking about the quantity of stars, koh yihiyeh zaracha.
The way Kalir would have it, we're not just talking about the quantity of stars, but we're talking about the quality of stars. The quality of stars is, you know, you see stars and they've been around forever. The same stars in the night sky yesterday are in the night sky today, and those will be the same stars tomorrow and the same stars before. There's something about stars that are lanetzach, that are forever.
So in Kalir's understanding it's not just that when He said look at the stars, He was talking about the quantity that He wanted him to understand, but also the quality, that there is something about your progeny that are going to be around forever, that cannot be extinguished. This is a point that we talked about a little bit before.
This idea gets buttressed later on in the Covenant Between the Pieces. What happens later on? Later on God says to him, reveals to him the first moment of great Jewish tragedy, a great Jewish exile, over here in Verse 13. "Vayomer l'Avram, yadoa teida ki ger yihiyeh zaracha b'eretz lo lahem," you should know that your children are going to be sojourners in a land not their own, "va'avadum," they'll be enslaved there, "v'inu otam," and oppressed there for 400 years.
So when you think about this, and we have a couple videos that talk about this, if you get a chance later on this afternoon in addition to our Tisha B'Av videos, you can actually look at some of our Passover videos. In particular, the Haggadah video that talks really about the larger meaning of Genesis 15 over here, and this promise.
One of the points I made there is that what God was telling Abraham, in a way, was that his progeny are destined to undergo what could be described, charitably, as a civilization-ending event. If any civilization, and this goes back to that discussion I talked to you before I had with Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun about exile, you know, we take for granted that we've been around, we've survived through exile, we're here in Israel and we can take an El Al or Delta flight to Israel and you can just come and see. But it's actually astonishing that that could be true. Any one of the things that we experiences could and should have been these civilization-ending events.
If you look at Ezekiel 37, the story of the dry bones. Probably, by the way, the author of Hatikvah was thinking of this when he made Hatikvah, that language in Hatikvah, the national anthem of Israel. "Od lo avdah tikvateinu," our hope has not yet passed, has not yet been destroyed, borrows from Ezekiel 37, the story of the dry bones. When Ezekiel sees this valley of dry bones and God says, do you know what these dry bones are? Ezekiel says, I don't know, you tell me. What are these dry bones? He says, "Hatichyenah ha'atzamot ha'eileh?" Do you think these dry bones will come back to life? God says, these dry bones are "kol beit Yisrael heimah," they are all the people of Israel. They're saying, "avdah tikvateinu," our hope is lost. But look, I'm going to bring them back to life.
It's not sort of individual resuscitation of the dead, but national resuscitation of the dead that Ezekiel 37 is talking about. It's rooted over here in Genesis 15:13. This is the promise, ultimately, of the resuscitation of the dead. It's interesting, you know, in Shemoneh Esrei, in the first two blessings in the Shemoneh Esrei we bless God that He is the magen Avraham, He is the shield of Abraham; that borrows from Genesis 15, that God says "Anochi magen lach," I will be your shield. The very next thing we do is we bless God that He's mechayeh meitim, He resuscitates the dead.
I wonder if it's not so much talking about the resuscitation of the individual dead as national dead. He brings us back. This was the magen Avraham. To be the shield of Abraham is to say that civilization-ending events will not end you. If you're sojourners and you don't have land, so if you don't have land, you're already not a nation. But then you're dispossessed and you enter some other nation and va'avadum, and you get enslaved there, and you get oppressed there.
Meaning to say that the slavery was not just an economic bargain. It wasn't just like, you work for us so that our GMP will go higher and we'll take care of you and we'll make sure our slaves to well. But it was a brutal kind of slavery, a slavery that was oppressive, a slavery that wasn't really after trying to heighten the GMP of Egypt, but trying to break down the people of Israel. It says it was word b'farech. The word b'farech doesn't just mean hard labor; it means crumbling labor, labor that crumbles you. You take that and multiply that by 400 years of slavery, there's no nation left at the end of that.
What God is really saying is that I have a promise to make you here. The promise that I'm making you is that the progeny that you have really will be like the stars. They're not just going to be as numerous as the stars, but they'll be as long-lasting as the stars. This will be an enduring nation. Whenever a civilization-ending event threatens you, it's not going to destroy you.
The analogy that I would give to this, if you think about God and how God deals with suffering, how God deals with sin, How God deals with pain, with the possibility of any relationship that's not going to go well, with a possibility that look, I can't control your free will. I can't stop you from worshiping other gods. I can't stop you from doing things. I can't stop you from turning your back on me in all sorts of rebellious ways. So what does it mean to guarantee the life of the nation in the face of not being able to stop people messing up really badly?
I think what God is saying is, you know, if you would imagine it almost as the ultimate power of the universe, if you take that down to very manageable terms and just think of it in terms of a human being, a human being who's a parent. Imagine a very powerful parent. If you were a very powerful parent and you had all the money in the world and you had all the power in the world and all the political power in the world, how would you use it? Specifically I'm asking you, how would you use it with your children? It's a really tough question. What would you do?
Let's say you're Jeff Bezos. Let's say you're Bill Gates. But you're more than Jeff Bezos because not only do you have all the money in the world, but you have all the political power in the world. What would you do with your kids? Would you make sure they never have to work a day in their life? You could easily do that. Would you cover for them for all their mistakes? Drunk driving, bribe the police. What would you do?
I think most of us would say, despite the fact that we're not in that position, that if we got in that position, we don't think that's what we would do. We don't think that we would make life that easy for our kids. We wouldn't make it so that they wouldn't work a day in their lives. We wouldn't make it that we would cushion their every mistake, because kids don't grow up that way. In a way, even though I'm not technically taking away the free will of my kids, in some way I am, by providing that level of cushioning from reality.
I'll give you the opposite extreme. Okay, Mr. Bill Gates. Okay, Mr. Jeff Bezos. Okay, mister super wealthy, God-like individual. So you say you're not going to make it easy for your kids? Now put yourself in the kids' shoes. So here you are as a kid. You know your dad's a billionaire. You know that your mom can do anything for you to make things easy for you, and yet they're not. Now I'm resentful. How come you won't use your wealth to take care of me? What's the deal with that? How do we understand that? How do I understand that as a kid?
I think what God is saying to Abraham is, here's the deal. I'm the most powerful being in the universe and I have this relationship with you. I have this intimate relationship with your family. Your family are going to be like the stars. Not just as many as the stars, but as Kalir says, qualitatively, they'll last as long as the stars. They'll be indestructible; that's the gift I'm giving. But it's the only gift I'm giving.
I will not insulate them from the effect of their mistakes. You have to make mistakes in life, and as a nation you have to learn from your mistakes. But what I will do, what I will say is that if you ever make a civilization-ending mistake, if you ever make a mistake which in the way of the world should destroy you, I won't allow you to be destroyed.
If you look at this, it's fascinating. This language of going down to Egypt, it doesn't say that God placed us in Egypt. There's no prophecy even that God says, I'm going to put you in Egypt. It says, this is the way it is. You're going to get yourself in Egypt, "Ger yihiyeh zaracha b'eretz lo lahem," I'm just looking in the future, I'm seeing. You're going to get yourself in Egypt somehow. We did get ourselves in Egypt. There's a whole bunch of sins. There was Joseph and his brothers, there were fights in the family, it was tattle-taling on each other. We got ourselves down to Egypt.
Your children are going to be down in Egypt. No mention of God; that's just going to be the way they are. That's what they did. Va'avadum, and the Egyptians are going to enslave you. That's not God, that's just the Egyptians. V'inu otam, and they're going to oppress you. It's a civilization-ending event. Arba me'ot shanah. But, gam et hagoy asher ya'avodu dan anochi, this is where God comes in the picture. I'll be there. I'll be there as the last resort to take you out, and I'll take you out b'rechush gadol, and I'll take you out with great wealth.
It seems to me that Kalir is coming back to that and is questioning the Covenant Between the Pieces itself. Again, putting yourself back into that Elisabeth Kubler-Ross moment in the stages of grief where I'm not up to acceptance yet, but I'm up to denials and I'm up to anger. When you're up to denial and up to anger, any one of the exiles, any one of the Crusades, any one of the -- Babylonia, the Romans, you name it. At the moment of exile, it really looks like the end.
When you inhabit the voices of the people there, you're screaming "hein atah bul'u atzamai b'retzach," they're killing us. "Lamah Elokim zanachta lanetzach," how could You let go of us forever? It feels like you're letting go of us forever. But that's just one moment in time. The Covenant Between the Pieces was for all moments of time. It was like the stars, it was like the long game.
In the long game, any individual at any moment in history doesn't really see the long game. It feels like this covenant is being destroyed. Kalir is coming back and expressing that anger in God, what are You doing with the Covenant Between the Pieces? What are You doing with the promise we're going to be forever? Look at us. It feels like You've left us forever, is what it feels like. But history is the proof of the pudding. Here we are, thousands of years later, and we're still here forever.
If you think about why we're here forever, it gets back to something I said in my last session with you, just a few minutes ago before Daniel and Aaron. If we go back to that moment that Rabbi Elazar HaKalir evokes in his very first kinah, that moment from Lamentations 3 which derives from Exodus 33, that moment of intimacy between Moses and God in the wake of the Golden Calf.
Right after that moment that Kalir describes, there's a very fascinating and beautiful exchange between God and Moses. I think, in a way, it's the secret to Jewish immortality. It's the secret to the mortality of the People of Israel in the face of suffering, in the face of sin, in the face of all the things that we've done wrong.
As I've mentioned to you before, with that John Gottman book, the worst thing you could do in a relationship is scorn. The worst thing you can do in a relationship is just roll your eyes and turn your back and walk away. Isn't it interesting that in the aftermath of the Golden Calf, when God sees what the people have done with the Golden Calf, His accusation is not really idolatry. He doesn't say, I'm going to destroy the people because they worshipped idols. I could get over that they worshipped idols.
He says, "Ra'iti et ha'am hazeh," I have seen this people, "v'hinei am keshei oref hu," I've seen this people and they are a stiff-necked people. What is a stiff-necked people? Oref isn't just your neck, it's the back of your neck. When I show you the back of my neck, what am I doing? I'm turning around and walking away and putting my hands in my ears and saying, nothing you can say makes a difference; I'm walking away. It's that kind of stubbornness.
It's the only thing a child can possibly do that can threaten the relationship with their parent. Nothing else you can do would threaten a relationship with your parent. Okay, you don't clean your room, you crash the car, we can talk about it. But the only thing is like, if you stomp out of the house and you leave and the parent is pleading with you and all you could do is show them the back or your neck and nothing that they can say will make you change? What am I supposed to do? I throw up my arms. God says, I don't know, I have to start all over again. I can't deal with this.
That's the problem. When God says, I've looked at this people and they're a stiff-necked people, that's the problem.
If you're Moses and you're trying to somehow effect some sort of reconciliation between God and the people, you would imagine that the one thing you would want to steer clear from is remind God that this is a stiff-necked people. Remind Him of anything else. Talk about our good qualities, how could He get rid of us, they're so nice, they're so good, look at the innocent children. But the one thing you wouldn't do is remind God about the very reason why He would want to destroy you, that you're a stiff-necked people.
Look at this last moment. In this moment of intimacy between God and Moses, Moses says, I have one little request of you and I want to make it in Exodus 34:9. "Im na matzati chen b'einecha," he says, I have one last request. You know, you've said that you won't destroy us, that you're going to have an angel take us into the Land of Israel. God, that's not really good enough. We can't have an angel taking us. We need You in our midst. We need You v'shachanti b'tocham.
Remember what Kalir was talking about, about God being up in the sky in His own Tabernacle and us in our own Tabernacle? Moses is saying, that's no good. We need You down here with us, in our Tabernacle. We need You right here with us. "Yeileich na Hashem b'kirbeinu," could You please walk with us? We need You with us, and let me tell You why we need You with us.
Then he says the thing that should be unpronounceable: "Ki am keshei oref hu," because this is a stiff-necked people. That's why we need You. "V'salachta la'avoneinu u'lechatoteinu u'nechaltanu," and we need You to forgive us. Looking at the fact we're a stiff-necked people, we need You to forgive our sins. We need You to forgive our rebellion. We need You to look at the fact we're a stiff-necked people and see that problem, see that thing that could be a death knell for our relationship, to see it clearly, and then walk with us and to understand that that's who we can be, but we need You anyway.
It strikes me as such a powerful moment that Moses is saying. It's almost like if you would imagine, I have a piece on this -- those of you who are interested in a real deep dive on Aleph Beta, look in the audio section. There's a piece on the Golden Calf. It's not really a piece; it's 13 lectures on the Golden Calf. But the final lecture on the Golden Calf really talks about this.
The power of what Moses was saying here, which is that "yeileich na Hashem b'kirbeinu," could You please walk with us because we're an am keshei oref. What's the fear of every child? The fear of every child, deep down, is that father seems to like me, mother, they seem to like me, but they don't know who I really am. If they really understood the darkness in my heart, if they really understood the worst thing that I did. I've covered it from them; if they only knew that, then of course they would despise me.
Moses, as his final thing, he says, look, I have to come before You. You need to take that away from us. We do have this dark heart. We do have this ability to rebel. We do have this ability to be stubborn, even to walk away. Even as we walk away, there's a part of us that still wants that relationship with You. So even as we walk away, can You find it in Your heart, as a father, to not throw in the towel? To say that even as they walk away, that there is still that connection, and still forgive us, and say that You will accept us.
Then the next word of Moses is fascinating. "Yeileich na Hashem b'kirbeinu ki am keshei oref hu v'salachta la'avoneinu u'lechatoteinu u'nechaltanu," and let us be Your inheritance. Your inheritance is Your legacy. See us as Your legacy. See us that despite us being a stiff-necked people, despite that stubbornness, that we could still be Your legacy. To accept us even so, is the key that makes us immortal. If You can do that, then Genesis 15 is real and we really are like the stars. It's not just the quantity, it's the quality and we can be here forever.
I think the fact that 2,000 years later we're still here and still breathing and able to mourn together on Tisha B'Av, is a testament to the truth of this, that God's done this. We have been His legacy, despite all of the stiff neck and all of the pain. It's that He hasn't given up. Even when nations would look at us and revile us and roll their eyes with scorn and say that you're disgusting, at the very end the promise of Leviticus 26 has been kept, that God did not consider us disgusting. All of the pain and all of the sorrow and all the difficulty in our relationship with Him, it's still there. The relationship has not been given up on.
I think that's, to me, something which is a moment of hope. I think it goes back to Exodus, which I think is what Kalir was talking about in the very first of these poems.
So I think despite all of our mourning, our mourning is here to get in touch with the suffering and the pain throughout generations. We need to make it real for us. We, as a community, need to make it real because when a bird flies free, it doesn't fly free without the blood of the other bird on it. So today we fly free, but we fly free with the blood of all of those who didn't make it. We dedicate all of our community building efforts, all the institutions we build, all the nonprofits we build, all the Aleph Beta media companies, all the nonprofits in the world, all the things that we do to make life better for all those around us. We dedicate those to those who don't make it. It's the blood of the bird that didn't make it, which is real for us today.
With that, I want to wish you a good, meaningful fast, a meaningful rest of the day, and invite you to delve into the rest of the wonderful work that hopefully we can put before you in the videos we've made. I'll also say that the video we made on the Spies is a beautiful piece. I hope you get a chance to watch it. It's the origin story, so to speak, of Tisha B'Av. Every hero, every villain has an origin story; Tisha B'Av has one, too. It's the story of the Spies. Take a look if you can.
Beth, I'll hand it over to you to take us out.
Beth: All right. Thanks so much, Rabbi Fohrman. Once again, we're going to close by giving everyone a chance to recite Kinah 13 individually. I've got the text on the screen, the English as bit as we can, and the Hebrew in that chat so that you can link to the Sefaria. Thank you so much, my kind neighbor in Israel is coming to bring me a slice of cake to break the fast. Not meaning to mock or tease those of you who are west of me.
In any event, I want to say thank you again so much to all of you who joined us. It's an understatement to say, but we couldn't do this without you. We're all here for passion of Torah, but if we're just teaching to an empty screen, there's no fun in that at all. So thank you for being our partners and our fellow learners.
Again, please take the rest of the afternoon to connect to the videos we've got on the site. If you are a Producers Circle member or you do join today, then don't miss the Backstage Pass event. That'll be in an hour-and-a-half from now.
All right, I'm going to mute myself. I'm going to leave this up on the screen for five minutes, and I'm going to bid you all adieu and bring this in to a close. So thank you again so much.