R' Yitzchak Eliyahu Landau (Vilna; 19th century) writes in the
introduction to his commentary on Sefer Devarim: This book is
called "Mishneh Torah" / "The Review of the Torah" because many
things that were taught in the prior books of the Torah are
repeated here. As along as Moshe was alive, anyone who had
difficulty understanding a law of the Torah could ask Moshe.
However, when Moshe was about to die, he felt it was necessary to
elaborate on some of the laws he had taught previously. At the
same time, he transmitted new laws that Hashem had taught him and
also delivered words of rebuke and mussar, and he foretold what
would befall the Jewish people in the future.
All of this, Hashem commanded Moshe to write in the Torah, for
Hashem also wants His people to understand the laws clearly.
That is why some parts of Sefer Devarim are written as if Hashem
is speaking and others are written as if Moshe is speaking. On
the one hand, the book includes laws that Moshe chose to explain
on his own. On the other hand, Hashem later told Moshe to record
those very explanations in the Torah.
Near the end of this book, in Parashat Ki Tavo, we read the
Tochachah -- a warning of dire punishments that await our nation
if we do not observe the Torah's laws. Our Sages say that Moshe
said this Tochachah on his own. However, this does not mean that
Moshe made up these punishments. Rather, it means that unlike
the other books of the Torah -- which "Hashem spoke through
Moshe's throat" -- in Devarim, Hashem told Moshe to speak in
Moshe's own words. Then, after the fact, Hashem told Moshe to
write those words in the Torah. (Patsheggen Ha'dat)
"Hashem, your G-d, has multiplied you and behold! You are
like the stars of the heaven in abundance . . . Eichah / How
can I alone carry your contentiousness, your burdens, and
your quarrels?" (1:10-12)
The Midrash notes that three prophets used the word "Eichah":
The first was Moshe, in our verse. The second was Yishayah, who
said (in today's haftarah, verse 21): "How has she become a
harlot! - faithful city that was full of justice . . ." The
third was Yirmiyah, who said (in the first verse of the Book of
Eichah, which we read on Tishah B'Av), "Alas, how she sits in
solitude! The city that was great . . ."
The Midrash likens these three prophets to three servants who
saw their mistress at different times. One saw her in tranquil
times, one saw her when she behaved irresponsibly, and the third
saw her downfall. So, too, Moshe saw Bnei Yisrael in their glory
("Hashem, your G-d, has multiplied you and behold! You are like
the stars of the heaven in abundance."), Yishayah saw them in
their sinfulness, and Yirmiyah saw them at their downfall, the
destruction of the Bet Hamikdash and the exile to Bavel.
R' Shlomo Harkavi z"l (mashgiach of the Grodno Yeshiva; killed
in the Holocaust) writes: The midrash is showing us that whatever
state Bnei Yisrael find themselves in, they always take it to
extremes. The word "eichah" means more than "how." "Eichah"
expresses wonder and amazement. Moshe saw Bnei Yisrael at the
height of Hashem's kindness to them, when they rebelled against
Him but He continued to shower them with daily bread and with
other miracles. Moshe therefore exclaimed, "Eichah / How can I
alone carry your contentiousness, your burdens, and your
quarrels?" I cannot, but Hashem can and does.
Yishayahu saw Bnei Yisrael in their sinful state. Maharal
(16th century) writes that it is the nature of Jews that when
they fall, they fall very low. Yishayahu exclaimed in amazement,
"Eichah / How are such sins possible from the people who live in
Yerushalayim, the city of justice and charity?"
Finally, Yirmiyah saw Bnei Yisrael's punishment, and he cried,
"Eichah / How is such suffering possible?"
In this light, says R' Harkavi, we can understand on a deeper
level why the first chapter of Yishayahu was chosen as the
haftarah for the Shabbat preceding Tishah B'Av. It is not
because this passage coincidentally contains the word "Eichah."
Rather, before we mourn on Tishah B'Av -- whether we mourn only
for the losses of long ago or also for more recent tragedies - we
remind ourselves how we reached this stage. Once we were
unparalleled in our greatness, but then we sinned with
unparalleled depravity. As a result, we have been punished with
suffering unparalleled in history.
(Me'imrei Shlomo No. 55)
"But Hashem did not listen to your voice and He did not
harken to you." (1:45)
A literal translation of this verse would be: "But He did not
hear - Hashem - your voice, and He did not listen to you." R'
Shimon Sofer z"l (1821-1883; rabbi of Krakow) observes that this
alludes to the Sages' teaching: "Why are people's prayers not
heard? Because they do not know the Name of Hashem." Because He
did not hear His Name said with proper concentration when you
raised your voice in prayer, He did not listen to you.
"I commanded Yehoshua at that time, saying, `Your eyes have
seen everything that Hashem, your G-d, has done to these two
kings; so will Hashem do to all the kingdoms to which you
cross over [the Jordan River]. You shall not fear them, for
Hashem, your God -- `Hu ha'nilcham lachem' / He shall wage
war for you'." (3:21-22)
R' Gavriel Ze'ev Margolis z"l (1847-1935; rabbi in Lithuania,
Boston and New York) asks: Once Moshe had promised Yehoshua that
Hashem will do to the kings of Canaan as He did to the kings on
the east bank of the Jordan, why was it necessary to tell
Yehoshua not to be afraid? For the same reason, what did he add
by saying, "He shall wage war for you."
R' Margolis answers: Hashem may fight our battles for one of
two reasons - either because we are meritorious or because our
enemies are so wicked that a Chillul Hashem / Desecration of G-
d's Name would result if He were to let them be. Each of the two
verses quoted above refers to one type of war. In the first
verse, Hashem takes the offensive, so-to-speak, because it refers
to a situation in which we merit His intervention. In the second
verse, the word used for waging war is "nilcham" -- a nif'al
conjugation. This conjugation means that someone or something
else is causing Him to make war. That something else is the
wickedness of our enemies. This explains why the promise that He
will fight our enemies is repeated. Each refers to a different
scenario. It explains as well why Yehoshua had to be told not to
fear. He knew that Hashem fights for us when we are deserving,
but what if we are not? He was told, Hashem will fight our
battles nevertheless to prevent a Chillul Hashem.
R' Zalman Rotberg shlita (rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Bet Meir in
Bnei Brak) writes: The Book of Eichah, in which the prophet
Yirmiyah poured out his heart over the destruction of the Bet
Hamikdash and the exile, teaches us not only about the past, but
about the future. Our Sages teach that prophecy can be attained
only when one is in a state of joy. This means that Yirmiyah
wrote Eichah, which is prophetic, in a state of joy! How is this
possible? Because the mere fact that, in the midst of the
destruction, Hashem spoke to Yirmiyah was a hopeful sign, a sign
that He had not abandoned His people, that there is a future to
Hashem's relationship with us.
There is also another reason that Hashem wanted Yirmiyah to
view the destruction through the prism of prophecy. The truth is
that man cannot fully grasp the significance of either the Bet
Hamikdash or its destruction. [More on this below.] The Bet
Hamikdash was the "residence" of the Shechinah, but just as we
cannot fathom the essence of the Shechinah, so we cannot fully
comprehend what it means for the Shechinah to have a "residence."
It follows from this, too, that we cannot grasp the great loss
when the Shechinah's "home" was destroyed. Through prophecy,
however, Yirmiyah could put some of the loss in perspective for
We can learn from this, too, adds R' Rotberg, that it takes a
great person to appreciate the depth of the losses that the
Jewish people have suffered. Indeed, the authors of the kinot /
lamentations which we recite were all great scholars and
R' Rotberg relates: All of us sigh or groan when we hear of a
person who is ill or who died tragically. However, we do not
feel another's pain the way great people do. The Chazon Ish's
sister (R' Rotberg's aunt) used to beg visitors not to enter the
Chazon Ish's study before he had eaten breakfast, because, as
soon a visitor asked the Chazon Ish to pray for a seriously-ill
relative, the Chazon Ish immediately lost his appetite and became
very pained. This is an emulation of Hashem's own behavior;
Chazal say that He appeared to Moshe from a thorn-bush as if to
say, "I am suffering with Bnei Yisrael."
(Tuv Da'at Vol. III, p. 329)
R' Elazar / Eliezer Hakalir z"l
R' Elazar or Eliezer Hakalir was one of our most prolific
liturgical poets and was the author of many of the kinot /
lamentations for Tishah B'Av. Oddly enough, nothing is known
about him, not even his true name or when he lived.
It is certain that R' E' lived before the time of Rashi (died
1105) as Rashi quotes R' E's poems many times in both his Tanach
and Talmud commentaries. Some say that the paytan / liturgist
was R' Elazar the son of R' Shimon bar Yochai, one of the sages
of the Mishnah in the second century. Others contend that he
lived in the fifth century and is the R' Eliezer ben R' Shimon
who is mentioned in Midrash Rabbah to Vayikra 23:40. Still
others identify him as R' Elazar ben Arach, a member of the
generation which saw the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash in the
first century C.E.
Those who reject all of the above opinions point to a line in
the Tishah B'Av Kinot which states that more than 900 years have
passed since the destruction. (Others say that this was a later
addition.) In addition, those who place R' E' later find it
incredible that, if he lived as early as has been suggested, he
is not mentioned (at least by the name "Hakalir") in any place in
the Talmud or the major Midrashim. (He is mentioned in one
Midrash, although that may reflect a later addition.) This
silence is particularly incredible considering that some of R'
E's poems actually state halachic opinions that one would expect
to find quoted by later sages. Similarly, if R' E' preceded the
authoring of the major Midrashim, why is he not quoted in them,
even when his poems' words and the Midrash are identical? Also,
why do Sephardim not recite any of his poems?
Some attribute to R' E' a kabbalistic work called Kevudah in
which the sage R' Hai Gaon is referred to as being "of blessed
memory." R' Hai Gaon died in 1038.
It also is not known what the name "Hakalir" means. Some say
that Kalir was the grandfather of R' E' and that his name was
adopted as a surname. Others say that "kalir" means "cake," and
that R' E' had eaten a certain kind of cake which was a segulah /
charm for wisdom.
The evidence that this paytan lived in Eretz Yisrael includes
the fact that we know of no prayers that he wrote for the second
day of any yom tov. It appears that he lived in the town of
Kiryat Sefer. (Sources: Introduction to Seder Hakinot
Ha'meforash Im Beur Kol Be'ramah; Introduction to Machzor Korban