Shabbos Parashas Devarim – Megillas Eichah

The Midrash states (Eichah Rabbah Pesichasa 11):
Had you merited, you would have come across the verse (Shemos 3:7): “I have indeed seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt.” But now that you have not merited, you come across the verse (Eichah 1:20): “See, Hashem, how I am distressed ….”
In explaining this Midrash, the Maggid focuses on the fact that the bitterness and pain of the exile is not experienced in the same way by everyone. For the masses, the main cause of distress is the subjugation to other nations and the elusiveness of making a living without a homestead in the land where they live. When the ruling powers take something away from them, they feel miserable. And, vice versa, those who are successful, make a comfortable living, and have a lot of social influence do not feel the pain of exile at all. They think: “What difference does it make whether I am here or there?” But the righteous ones recognize that Eretz Yisrael is a much more hospitable environment for the soul. We all know that water-bound creatures are sustained by the water and face death when they leave it. In the same way, Eretz Yisrael is the only habitat that really sustains us effectively, and being taken out of our land is the greatest tragedy of all for us. For then we are like fish that have been captured in a net and taken out of the sea onto dry land. The worst of all the troubles we suffer in the exile is being forced to live in the impure environment of a foreign land.
In this vein it is written (Yeshayah 62:6-7): “Upon your walls, O Yerushalayim, I have set watchmen on vigil continually all day and all night – they shall not quiet. Do not fall silent, you who raise remembrance before Hashem. Give Him no peace until He establishes Yerushalayim and makes her praised within the world.” We should not quiet down from our lamenting even if we have an abundance of good that overshadows all pain and sorrow. Whatever our circumstances, we should not give ourselves respite until Hashem re-establishes Yerushalayim. Being prevented from attaching ourselves to Hashem’s estate is the ultimate source of anguish. There is no greater tragedy. [In our day, although many of us have the opportunity to live in Eretz Yisrael, we still lack the Beis HaMikdash and a Torah system of government, and thus we are spiritually in exile, in an environment that is far from the ideal that was attained in former times.]
The same theme is reflected in a verse dealing with the Egyptian enslavement (Shemos 2:23): “The Children of Yisrael groaned from the labor.” It does not say that the Jewish People groaned “from the hard labor,” even though the Torah stated earlier that the Egyptians “embittered their lives with hard labor” (ibid. 1:14). This implies that their groans were not directed against the difficulty of the work, with the hope that the work would be eased. Rather, they were groaning over the horrible degradation of being forced to live in the defiled land of Egypt and be enslaved to its inhabitants. Even had the work been light, they still would have groaned over the fact that they were servants of Pharaoh and not servants of Hashem. Hence (ibid. 2:23, end): “Their plea rose up to God on account [lit. from] their labor.” Their prayer found favor in Hashem’s eyes because it was on account of the mere fact of their enslavement. They were not just pleading that the weight of the work be lightened. Rather, they despised serving the Egyptians and wished to serve Hashem instead.
Accordingly, the Torah verse quoted in our opening Midrash states: “I have indeed seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt.” The Holy One Blessed Be He recognized that the main cause of the Jewish People’s downheartedness was simply that they were in Egypt and not in Eretz Yisrael. They understood the difference between the two lands so well that the mere fact that they were not in their own land was what pained them most of all. Hence their prayer was answered.
But it is not so now. Today we feel no pain over living in an environment that is spiritually deficient. We are concerned only about the worldly troubles that befall us. Our basic disability is so far removed from our consciousness that we are completely unperturbed by it. We do not really feel a need to pray to be healed of it. How, then, can our prayers be pleasing to Hashem?
We now can understand what the Midrash is telling us. Had we merited, we would have come across the verse: “I indeed saw the affliction ….” We would have been pained primarily over the mere fact that we live in a foreign land, and then our prayer would have been truly pleasing. But now that we have not merited, we come across the verse: “See, Hashem, how I am distressed ….” We pray only over the worldly troubles that burden us. If Hashem would bless us with great bounty, we would no longer feel any pain at all.
This is not the proper way. Indeed, it is written (Tehillim 137:6): “Let my tongue cleave to my palate if I do not remember you, if I do not set Yerushalayim above my greatest joy.” Even when we are satiated with blessing, we still must not harden our hearts and fail to remember Yerushalayim. In truth, what greater glory do we have than the glory of Yerushalayim? What can compare?
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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