Both Rage against God, and Acknowledgment of His Justice, Are Appropriate Responses to National Tragedy

July 29, 2020 | Yosef Lindell
About the author:

Sundown tonight marks the beginning of Tisha b’Av, the day of the year that commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples, the concomitant exiles, and many other catastrophes that have befallen the Jewish people over the centuries. Of the many kinot (liturgical dirges) recited in synagogues tomorrow morning, some of the best known were written by the great Spanish philosopher-poet Judah Halevi (1075-1141). Yosef Lindell focuses his attention one of Halevi’s less famous dirges, which he interprets as grappling with the problem of theodicy—of how a just God could have allowed such terrible suffering to befall His people—in a way that captures the stance of the day as a whole:

In the first chapter of Lamentations, [read on the eve of Tisha b’Av], the narrator begins by acknowledging guilt and proclaiming that God is just. He states, “Jerusalem has greatly sinned; therefore she has become a mockery” and “God is in the right, for I have disobeyed Him.” Yet this . . . piety does not last. At the beginning of the next chapter, the author strikes a different tone, saying that God “bent His bow like an enemy, poised His right hand like a foe; He slew all who delighted the eye.” . . .

As the book progresses, the narrator goes back and forth between submission and confrontation. The very last lines, in fact, challenge God: “Take us back, O Lord, to Yourself, and let us come back; renew our days as of old! For truly, You have rejected us, bitterly raged against us.” Lamentations’ narrator is possessed by questions of theodicy, and does not reach the same conclusion at every moment in the book.

The kinot are much the same. Some follow traditional patterns of guilt and remorse. . . . But others. . . strike a far more accusatory tone. . . . The Tisha b’Av’s liturgy teaches that in mourning the tragedies of Jewish history, we not only cry, lament, and reflect on sin, but also confront God.

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