How can we ask ‘Eicha?'


Correction: In the print edition, an incorrect byline was attached to this column. The Jewish Star apologizes for this error.

Like the Shoah, Tisha B’Av brings us face to face with the problem of evil: “If G-d is truly good, why does He allow evil to exist?”

In his essay Sacred and Profane, Kodesh and Chol in World Perspective, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt”l, known as “the Rav” by his students and followers, asserts that this question remains forever unanswered, though it “has tantalized the inquiring mind from time immemorial till the last tragic decade ... When a minister, rabbi or priest attempt to solve the ancient question of Job’s suffering, through a sermon or lecture, he does not promote religious ends, but on the contrary, does them a disservice” (Gesher, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1966, page 7).

He underscores the nature of the problem by noting: “The grandeur of religion lies in its mysterium tremendum [great mystery], its magnitude and its ultimate incomprehensibility.” Little wonder, then, that for the Rav, “The beauty of religion with its grandiose vistas reveals itself to men, not in solutions but in problems, not in harmony but in the constant conflict of diversified forces and trends.” 

If there is ultimately no answer to the question, “If G-d is truly good, why does He allow evil to exist?” why does Rabbi Elazar HaKalir ask this question in his introductory words to the second kinah of Tisha B’Av morning? “How [eicha] could You rush Your wrath, ruining Your loyal people at the hand of Rome?”

As the Rav notes: “One could ask what right we have to pose such a question to the Al-mighty. Normally, the halacha does not permit us to ask this type of question; rather it prescribes that we unquestioningly accept the judgment of G-d. We are guided by the concept that a person is required to bless G-d for bad times, for tragedy and misfortune, just as he blesses G-d for good times (Berakhot 54a). When confronted with tragedy, we do not argue with G-d; rather we say, ‘Blessed is the true Judge.’ We do not understand misfortune … we have no right to expect that we will understand” (The Koren Mesoret HaRav Kinot, page 220).

The Rav teaches us that Tisha B’Av is unique in that it is an exception to this overarching rule: “The case of kinot on Tisha B’Av, however, is an exception to the general rule. We are permitted to ask eicha, because we are following the precedent of Jeremiah the Prophet who posed the question eicha in the book of Lamentations. And Jeremiah posed this question only because he was given a heter, special permission, by G-d Himself...Thus, Rabbi Elazar HaKalir is permitted to address the question eicha to G-d, only because that question was already posed to G-d by Jeremiah in Lamentations.”

His explanation is based upon straightforward logic: Hashem gave Yirmiyahu permission to ask “eicha,” and we, his heirs, were given the same right on Tisha B’Av to pose this question.

In his posthumous work, The L-rd is Righteous in All His Ways: Reflections on the Tisha B’Av Kinot, Rav Soloveitchik offers a different, yet complementary, response to his query, “What right [do] we have to pose such a question [eicha] to the Almighty?”

“The closeness between Hakadosh Baruch Hu and the Jewish people is also strongly reflected in the second kinah we recite on Tisha B’Av, “Eichah atzta ve-appecha” [“How could You rush Your wrath…]. One basic question is asked throughout this kinah, and it is based on one premise, that the relationship between Hakadosh Baruch Hu and Yisrael is the closest that can ever be. It is not that Hakadosh Baruch Hu likes Yisrael, or even loves Yisrael. It is more than that; theirs is a deep, intense relationship that no human being can destroy or even weaken” (page 51).

At this juncture, the Rav briefly analyzes the essential nature of this relationship:

“The relationship between Hakadosh Baruch Hu and Yisrael is all-embracing, all-inclusive, endless, and without limitation. There is an absolute relationship of love between the Jew and Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Nothing can spoil it, nothing can cool it off, nothing can change it. And if it is between the Jew and Hakadosh Baruch Hu, it is certainly between Knesset Yisrael [the transhistorical corporate entity of the Jewish people] and Hakadosh Baruch Hu.”

Tisha B’Av is the saddest day of the year. It gives voice to our deepest existential despair and fear as we recount, and re-encounter, the innumerable tragedies that have befallen our people.

In the midst of this misery, the Rav reminds us that there is always hope for both the individual Jew and Knesset Yisrael — yesh tikvah l’Yisrael! — for even on this day, all is not lost. Even on this day, in the throes of national mourning, we can surely rely on the “absolute relationship of love between the Jew and Hakadosh Baruch Hu,” that the Rav describes as “all-embracing, all-inclusive, endless, and without limitation.” These are comforting words indeed — words that we surely need to hear.

May Hashem, in His boundless love for the Jewish people, end the exile, bring the Mashiach and rebuild the Beit HaMikdash soon and in our days.