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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays The Ninth of Av

Three Prophets, Three "Hows"

The sages teach: "In the End of Days the Almighty will transform the Ninth of Av into joy and happiness . . . and He will Himself rebuild Jerusalem and gather in the exiles, as it is written, "He builds Jerusalem, gathers in the outcasts of Israel."
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The Midrash relates (Eicha Rabba 1):

"Three prophets employed the word 'eicha' ('how') in their prophecies: Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. Moses said, 'How can I myself alone bear your troublesomeness!' (Deuteronomy 1:12), Isaiah said, 'How is the faithful city become a harlot!' (Isaiah 1:21), and Jeremiah the prophet said, 'How does the city sit solitary!' (Lamentations 1:1).

"R' Levi said: This may be likened to a matron who had had three groomsmen: one beheld her in her happiness, a second beheld her in her infidelity, and the third beheld her in her disgrace. Similarly, Moses beheld Israel in their glory and happiness and exclaimed, 'How can I myself alone bear your troublesomeness!' Isaiah beheld them in their infidelity and exclaimed, 'How is the faithful city become a harlot!' Jeremiah beheld them in their disgrace and exclaimed, 'How does the city sit solitary!' "

We might interpret the above Midrash regarding the iniquities of the Jewish people in the following manner: A lady is suffering from ailment and three types of physicians are called to provide diagnoses regarding her condition. Or, alternately, what we have here are three stages of the sickness.

Moses our Teacher, the greatest of all prophets, succeeds in unveiling the incipient sickness while the nation is still outwardly healthy, at the peak of its bloom. He uncovers various symptoms that predicate the possibility of an evolving illness: "How can I myself alone bear your troublesomeness, your burdensomeness, and your contentiousness!"

Rashi interprets this verse: "Your troublesomeness" - This teaches us that the Israelites were troublesome. If one of them would see that his rival was about to win a law suit, he would say, "I have [additional] witnesses to bring, I have [more] proof to bring, I want to add additional judges over you." "Your burdensomeness" - This teaches that they were that they treated the judges with little respect. "Contentiousness" - This teaches that they were discontented (Rashi on Deuteronomy 1:12). Moses already foresaw the "eicha" - the exile.

Isaiah the Prophet was the physician who uncovered the state of the patient when she was already ill, when the faithful city had become a harlot. Sometimes a disease is only discovered in autopsy.

Jeremiah the Prophet sees the nation wilt, already in exile, as the land sits desolate and ruined. Ostensibly, the final verse in the book of Lamentations is one of complete despair. "But you have utterly rejected us; you are very angry against us." However, our custom is to end the book by going back and reading the preceding verse, "Turn us to You, O Lord, and we shall be returned; renew our days as of old" in order to end on a positive note.

The Midrash explains that there is no contradiction here. "You have utterly rejected us; you are very angry against us." Rejection is absolute, no hope, but anger can be rectified. Anger passes. The final verse is actually a question by Jeremiah: Is God rejecting Israel, or is He just angry? The verse contains a question and an answer: "You have utterly rejected us? No, You are very angry against us." Therefore, it is possible to request that God "renew our days as of old."

The sages (Yalkut Shimoni, end of Eicha) envision the materialization of our request, and add:

"In the End of Days the Almighty will transform the Ninth of Av into joy and happiness and into festive occasions, and He will Himself rebuild Jerusalem and gather in the exiles, as it is written, "He builds Jerusalem, ingathers the outcasts of Israel" (Psalms 147:2).
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Translated biblical verses and Midrashic sources in the above article may have been taken from, or based upon, Davka's Soncino Judaic Classics Library (CD-Rom).
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