A New Kind of Eicha – Isn't Life Amazing?!

This past week on Monday night – around 2am – I was quasi awakened to find our toddler, Yudi, with his head burrowing into my neck, running a fever while tossing and turning in discomfort. Needless to say, neither Aliza nor I got much sleep over the next 48 hours.

Baruch Hashem, Yudi is doing much better. Turns out – as the pediatrician told us – there was nothing wrong with him. (Which is a great thing, I guess...) His daycare, of course, has chosen to differ with the doctors on this point (yay Science?), which means we spent a few days playing “who's holding the screaming baby”.

To be completely honest, it's not exactly a fun game. It's made less fun when the other cars on the road don't know that it's your turn to play, and that Florida rain has already thrown the game into overtime by 45 minutes.

None of this is news to anyone trying to raise a family. We all know those desperate calls and texts “ETA? I need you home asap!”

Truthfully, of course, we're all in good company. Moshe Rabbeinu himself seems to have the same problem. As he relates the trials and tribulations of forty years in the Midbar, he tells our ancestors this Shabbos:

לֹא־אוּכַל לְבַדִּי שְׂאֵת אֶתְכֶם... ה' אֱ-לֹקיכֶם הִרְבָּה אֶתְכֶם... And I said to you at that time, saying: 'I am not able to carry you by myself alone. Hashem, your God has multiplied you, and, you are this day as numerous as the stars of the heavens.

The meforshim grapple with pinning down the exact event that caused Moshe to complain. When did he crack? The Meraglim, the Misonenim, the Egel? Or perhaps when Yisro suggested that Moshe appoint judges?

The Meshech Chochma (דברים ד״ה ואמר), however, suggests an entirely different interpretation, arguing that Moshe wasn't complaining at all. In fact, he was expressing his deepest gratitude!

לדמיון, כאשר יש לאדם ברכה מופלגת בעושר ובנים, ויש לו טורח הרבה מגידול בניו, ממניקות ושפחות וכיוצא בזה די סיפוקן, אז יאמר: מה גדלה עלי הטורח מכם, יתן ה' כי כן יהיה לכם מבניכם ובני בניכם טרחות כאלה, וטורד כזה לא יופסק מכם! כן משה רועה נאמן אמר: ה' הרבה אתכם, והנכם ככוכבי השמים בריבוי ובמעלה מופלגת על דרך נסיי, אמר שכן יאמרו רועי ישראל ומנהיגיהם ונביאיהם תמיד עליכם ויתלוננו תלונות כאלה! וזה שאמר “ואמר אליכם בעת ההיא לאמר” – שכן יאמרו תמיד עליכם, כפי אשר אתם במצב העת הזה, רועי ישראל ישעיהו וירמיה וכיוצא בזה.

Moshe was like a person who has been blessed with much wealth and children, and therefore has to work hard to support them. Sometimes he'll say “Wow, this is hard work, please God, I should always have these problems!” Likewise, Moshe continues, “Hashem has made you so numerous, Please God, may all Jewish leaders have these kinds of problems.”

Sometimes, says the Meshech Chochma, the greatest Bracha in the world, is calling your spouse and saying “I need your help here. Hashem has given us so much, it's too much for me to handle alone.” Please God may we always have these problems.

Two Ways to Look at The World

But as anyone listening to the Kriyas HaTorah this week will hear, we don't read Moshe Rabbeinu's words as gratitude. We read his words with the tune of Eicha – the tune of lament and mourning:

אֵיכָה אֶשָּׂא לְבַדִּי טָרְחֲכֶם וּמַשַּׂאֲכֶם וְרִיבְכֶם: Oy! How could I myself alone bear your issues, your burden, and your strife?

The question of course, is: If there are two ways to understand Moshe's words, why is our minhag to read Moshe's words as complaints?

The Shem Mishmuel (דברים תרע״ט ד״ה איכה אשא) explains:

We mourn this pasuk to recognize that not only did we fail to utilize our great strengths and brachos for good, we channeled them into negativity and animosity. From the privileged vantage of being Hashem's people, we expressed our dissatisfaction with Hashem's brachos, with Moshe Rabbeinu, and with a Torah lifestyle. All the tragedy of אֵיכָה comes from failure to look at the greatness of our lives with simcha and gratitude.

The Ben Ish Chai wrote a commentary on Megillas Eicha, called נחמת ציון. In it, he explains how we'll read Eicha when Mashiach comes: איכה ישבה בדד – How amazing is it that the Jewish people managed to survive all alone throughout history! We really are an incredible people. But we don't always feel that way now.

Likewise, Moshe's words: איכה אשא לבדי – How incredible that one person could handle all the complaints and issues of an entire nation – what an amazing leader! What a special group of people! But we don't always feel proud of our Jewish brothers and sisters, or our leaders.

The tragedy of Eicha is that we do not interpret our own lives with optimism and gratitude. We hear frantic phone calls to come home and help with the kids as intrusions, not as brachos. We see the hard work and effort that goes into raising a family and making a living as aggravating – as if we somehow deserve that life should be easier.

We forget how good our lives are; how Hashem has showered our generation with such tremendous prosperity. We don't always realize that the things which cause us so much stress and anxiety are indicative not of Hashem's absence, but His continued presence in our lives.

These disparate interpretations of reality are at the root of the Churban. Do we look at our lives and say Eicha! How amazing! Or Eicha, how awful!

Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky once ran into a talmid and inquired about how he was doing. The young man gave a krechtz, explaining that his child had kept him up several nights in a row. He then shrugged his shoulders and sighed, “I guess it's all part of Tzaar gidul banim – the pain of raising children”. The great gadol turned to his talmid and said, “That is not tzaar gidul banim, the pain of child rearing, it is simply gidul banim, child rearing.”

Imagine a World

Today, we yearn for a world of Mikdash. A world without anti-semitism. A world where the Jewish people are held in high esteem. A world, like Chazal describe, without hatred or bigotry, without infertility or miscarriages. A world where the rains, and stock-markets, come at just the right time, where everyone has a parnasa – and more! – and people are fulfilled in their work, and in their marriages.

This world existed once upon a time in Yerushalayim – the עיר שלם – the city of feeling complete and whole. But without appreciating it, without gratitude, Hashem took it away.

Our challenge then is still our challenge today. Chazal tell us that any generation in which the Beis HaMikdash is not rebuilt, it is as if we have destroyed it. Like in generations of old, the choice of how to interpret the “Eicha” of our lives is in our hands. Do we look at our world and say “It's amazing!” or do we kvetch and complain?

I've often noted to new parents that Hashem gives everyone sleepless night, and all we can ask for is that they are sleepless for good things. In those bleary eyed moments, nose to the grind, we shouldn't be so blind as to ignore that this is the sleeplessness with which Hashem has blessed me.

If we truly wish to see Yerushalayim restored, perhaps we should work on the emotions that will keep it that way. Hashem should help us to view our brachos as brachos, with humility, generosity and gratitude.