(Rashi) Anti-theodicy (Tisha B’Av)

The through-line in Rashi’s commentary to Lamenations is that, yes, the people sin, but that God is responsible for the calamity, for what we today call anti-Semitism, for the human inclination to sin, for setting up a barrier between God and the people, for violating God’s oath and for not containing God’s anger. Rashi calls on the people to keep hope alive, but says nothing that might justify the ways of God with Israel. Once gemlike and like gold, now they are physically loathsome. With his eye on human viscera, Rashi cares about the people and he cares about beauty and this is at the heart of the lament. Lamentations rebukes God.

1:12

לוֹא אֲלֵיכֶם. לֹא תְהֵא כַצָּרָה הַזֹּאת עוֹד לְכָל עוֹבְרֵי עַל דָּת. אָמְרוּ חֲכָמִים, מִכַּאן לְקוּבְלָנָא מִן הַתּוֹרָה. רְאוּ מֶה עָשָׂה לִי. “הַבִּיטוּ וּרְאוּ וְגוֹ'”:

May this not happen to you. Such a calamity should not happen to all those who transgress the law.The Sages said, that from here it is derived that to [publicly] complain about one’s troubles has a basis in Scripture, [for Scripture states here,] “see what He did to me” [and] “Notice, see, etc.”

1:21

כִּי אַתָּה עָשִׂיתָ. אַתָּה גָרַמְתָּ לִי שֶׁהֵם שׂוֹנְאִים אוֹתִי, שֶׁהִבְדַּלְתַּנִי מִמַּאֲכָלָם וּמִמִּשְׁתֵּיהֶם וּמֵהִתְחַתֵּן בָּם. אִם נִתְחַתַּנְתִּי בָהֶם, הָיוּ מְרַחֲמִים עָלַי וְעַל בְּנֵי בְנוֹתֵיהֶם:

For it is Your doing. You caused them to hate me when You separated me from [partaking of] their food and drink and from intermarrying with them. If I had intermarried with them, they would have had compassion upon me and upon their daughters’ children.

3:32

כִּי אִם הוֹגָה. אִם הָאָדָם מֵבִיא עָלָיו יָגוֹן בִּשְׁבִיל עֲוֹנוֹ, וְאַחַר כַּךְ, וְרִחַם כְּרֹב חֲסָדָיו.

Rather should he [man] cause grief. If man brings grief upon himself because of his sin[s], afterwards, He will yet have compassion in accordance with His immense grace.

3:38

מִפִּי עֶלְיוֹן וְגוֹ’. וְאִם בָּאתִי לוֹמַר: “לֹא מִיָּדוֹ בָאָה אֵלַי הָרָעָה הַזֹּאת, מִקְרֶה הִיא שֶׁהָיָה לִי”, אֵין זֹאת, כִּי אִם בֵּין רָעוֹת וּבֵין טוֹבוֹת, מִי זֹאת אָמַר וַתֶּהִי, אִם ה’ לֹא צִוָּה, וּמִפִּיו לֹא תֵצֵא הֵן רָעָה הֵן טוֹבָה, אֲבָל מַה יֵּשׁ לְהִתְאוֹנֵן אָדָם חָי? “גֶּבֶר עַל חֲטָאָיו”. כָּל אִישׁ וְאִישׁ יִתְאוֹנֵן עַל חֲטָאָיו, כִּי הֵם הַמְּבִיאִים עָלָיו הָרָעָה. (“מִפִּי עֶלְיוֹן לֹא תֵצֵא”. אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: מִיּוֹם שֶׁאָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא “רְאֵה נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ הַיּוֹם אֶת הַחַיִּים וְאֶת הַטּוֹב וְגוֹ'”, לֹא יָצָא רָעָה וְטוֹבָה מִפִּיו, אֶלָּא הָרָעָה בָאָה מֵאֵלֶיהָ לְעוֹשֶׂה רַע וְהַטּוֹב לְעוֹשֶׂה טוֹב.) לְפִיכָךְ, “מַה יִּתְאוֹנֵן”? לָמָּה יִתְרַעֵם הָאָדָם אִם לֹא עַל חֲטָאָיו:

From the Almighty, etc. And if you attempt to say that this evil did not come to me from His hand, that it is coincidence that has befallen me; this is not so. For both bad occurrences and good occurrences, who has commanded and they came to pass, unless God ordained? And He commands neither bad nor good [to come]. But what should a living man bemoan? “A man for his sins.” Every man should bemoan his sins, because they are what bring the evil upon him. (“They did not emanate from the Almighty,” Rabbi Yochonon said, “From the day that the Holy One, Blessed Is He, said, ‘See, I have placed before you today the life and the good, etc.,’30Devarim 30:15. neither evil nor good has come from His command.” Rather the evil comes by itself to the one who commits evil, and the good to the one who does good.) Therefore, what should one bemoan? Why should a man be angry, if not about his sins?

3:42

נַחְנוּ פָשַׁעְנוּ וּמָרִינוּ. זֶה דַרְכֵּנוּ עַל יְדֵי יֵצֶר הָרָע: We have transgressed and rebelled. This is our way, because of the evil inclination.

אַתָּה לֹא סָלָחְתָּ. וּלְךָ הָיָה נָאֶה הַסְּלִיחָה, כִּי כֵן דַּרְכֶּךָ:

And you have not forgiven. And for You, forgiveness is fitting, for so is Your way.

3:43

סַכּוֹתָה בָאַף. חָצַצְתָּ אֶת הָאַף לִהְיוֹת מְחִיצָה בֵינְךָ וּבֵינֵינוּ, וַתִּרְדְּפֵנוּ בוֹ:

You have covered Yourself in wrath. You set up anger to be a barrier between You and us, and You pursued us with it.

4:1

אֵיכָה יוּעַם זָהָב. קִינָה זוּ נֶאֶמְרָה עַל יֹאשִׁיָּהוּ, כְּמוֹ שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר בְּדִבְרֵי הַיָּמִים “וְהִנָּם כְּתוּבִים עַל הַקִּינוֹת”. וְעִמָּהּ חִבֵּר בְּתוֹךְ הַקִּינָה אֶת שְׁאָר בְּנֵי צִיּוֹן:

How can it be that the golden glow has paled. This elegy was pronounced over Yoshiyahu, it is stated in Divrei Hayomim, “Behold it is written in the Book of Lamentations,”2II Divrei Hayomim 35:25. and with it he joined, in the midst of the elegy, the rest of the children of Tzion.

יוּעַם. יִכְהֶה, כְּמוֹ דְאַתְּ מְתַּרְגֵּם “כֵּהָה” עַמְיָא.

 Paled. Dimmed, as in “כֵּהָה”3Vayikra 13:6. which is rendered [by the Targum as] עַמְיָא [=dimmed].

זָהָב. מַרְאִית פָּנִים הַמַּצְהִיב כְּזָהָב: Golden.

The appearance of a face that shines like gold.

יִשְׁנֶא. יִשְׁתַּנֶּה מִמַּרְאִיתוֹ:

Altered. Changes its appearance.

הַכֶּתֶם. קְבוּצַת כְּלֵי נוֹי הַזָּהָב שֶׁהֵם לַעֲדִי, קָרוּי כֶּתֶם:

Jewel. A collection of beautiful gold articles used as ornaments is called כֶּתֶם.

אַבְנֵי קֹדֶשׁ. בָּנִים הַמְאִירִים כַּאֲבָנִים טוֹבוֹת וּמִדְרַשׁ אַגָּדָה: כָּל רְבִיעִית דָּם שֶׁיָּצָא מִיֹּאשִׁיָּהוּ בְּכָל חֵץ וְחֵץ שֶׁנָּעֲצוּ בוֹ הָיָה יִרְמְיָה קוֹבְרָהּ בִּמְקוֹמָהּ, וְעָלֶיהָ הוּא קוֹרֵא: “תִּשְׁתַּפֵּכְנָה אַבְנֵי קֹדֶשׁ”:

Sacred gems. Children who shine like precious stones. But the Midrash Aggadah [states that “sacred gems are spilled refers to], every fourth-part [=רְבִיעִית of blood that Yoshiyahu shed with each arrow that they thrust into him, Yirmiyahu buried in its place [i.e., where it spilled]. Concerning it he called out, “sacred gems are spilled.”

4:2

הַמְסֻלָּאִים בַּפָּז. הַמְהֻלָּלִים וְהַנֶּעֱרָכִים כְּפָז. הָרוֹאֶה אוֹתָם אוֹמֵר: “רְאוּ תָאֳרָם שֶׁל אֵלּוּ כְּמַרְאִית פָּז”. וְכֵן “לֹא תְסֻלֶּה בְּכֶתֶם אוֹפִיר”, “בְּכֶתֶם טָהוֹר לֹא תְסֻלֶּה” “סֹלּוּ לָרֹכֵב בָּעֲרָבוֹת”, לְשׁוֹן הִלּוּל וְעֵרֶךְ הֵן:

Who were evaluated in golden currency. Who were praised and valued like gold. Whoever saw them would say, “Look, the complexion of these is like the appearance of gold,” and similarly, “it cannot be praised תְסֻלֶּה with the gold jewelry of Ophir,”4Iyov 28:16. [and as in,] “with jewelry of fine gold, it cannot be praised תְסֻלֶּה”5Ibid. 28:19. [and as in,] “praise סֹלּוּ Him Who rides the heavens.”6Tehilim 68:5. These are expressions of praise and value.

לְנִבְלֵי חֶרֶשׂ. כַּדֵּי חֶרֶשׂ שֶׁנּוֹתְנִים בָּהֶם יַיִן, כְּגוֹן נִבְלֵי יַיִן “וְנִבְלֵיהֶם יְנַפֵּצוּ”:

Like flasks of clay. Earthen pitchers in which they pour wine, e.g., wine flasks, [as in,] “And they will smash their jars וְנִבְלֵיהֶם.”

4:3

גַּם תַּנִּין. אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁאַכְזָרִי הוּא, חָלְצוּ שַׁד. כְּשֶׁרוֹאֶה אֶת בְּנוֹ בָּא מֵרָחוֹק רָעֵב, חוֹלֵץ שָׁדָיו מִתּוֹךְ נַרְתִּיקוֹ, שֶׁיֵשׁ לוֹ כִסּוּי עַל דַּדָּיו וּמוֹצִיאוֹ מִתּוֹכוֹ, כְּדֵי שֶׁלֹּא יִרְאֵהוּ בְנוֹ מְכֻסֶּה וַיַחֲזוֹר לַאֲחוֹרָיו, וְהֵינִיקוּ גּוּרֵיהֶן:

Even the serpent. Even though it is cruel, it bares its breast. When it sees its offspring coming from afar, hungry, it uncovers its breasts from their sheath, for it has a cover over its breasts, and it takes them out so that its offspring should not see them covered up and turn away. Then they suckle their young.

בַּת עַמִּי לְאַכְזָר. רוֹאִים אֶת בְּנֵיהֶם צוֹעֲקִים לְלֶחֶם, וְאֵין פּוֹרֵשׂ לָהֶם, שֶׁחַיֵּיהֶם קוֹדְמִים לָהֶם לְחַיֵּי בְנֵיהֶם מֵחֲמַת הָרָעָב:

Yet the daughters of my people have become brutal. They see their children crying for bread, and yet no one breaks [bread] for them; for their own lives come before their children’s lives because of the hunger.

4:5

הָאֱמֻנִים עֲלֵי תוֹלָע. עַל בִּגְדֵי צִבְעוֹנִין:

Those raised on richly colored brocade. On colored garments.

הָאֱמֻנִים. לְשׁוֹן “וַיְהִי אֹמֵן אֶת הֲדַסָּה.

Those raised. An expression [similar to], “And he brought אֹמֵן up Hadassah.”8Esther 2:7.

אַשְׁפַּתּוֹת. אַשְׁפּוֹת שֶׁל זֶבֶל. שׁוֹכְבִים עַל הָאַשְׁפּוֹת בַּחוּץ:

Dungheaps. Heaps of dung; they lie on the dunghills in the street.

4:7

זַכּוּ נְזִירֶיהָ. שָׂרֶיהָ, כְּמוֹ נֵזֶר וְכֶתֶר. וַאֲנִי אוֹמֵר, נְזִירֶיהָ מַמָּשׁ, שֶׁהָיוּ מְגֻדְּלֵי שֵׂעָר וְנָאִים בְּיוֹתֵר, וּמוּסָב עַל “בַּת עַמִּי”:

Her Nazirites were more pristine. Her princes, like נֵזֶר and כֶּתֶר [=a crown]. But I say [it means] actual Nazirites, who had long hair and were very handsome, and the antecedent is “of my people.”13Above Verse 6.

אָדְמוּ עֶצֶם מִפְּנִינִים. אוֹתָם שֶׁהָיוּ מַרְאֵיהֶם אָדוֹם מִפְּנִינִים וְגִזְרָתָם כְּמוֹ סַפִּיר, חָשַׁךְ תָּאֳרָם מִפֶּחָמִים:

Those who appeared redder than pearls. Those whose appearance was ruddier than coral and whose forms were like sapphire; their complexions became darker than charcoal.

4:8

מִשְּׁחוֹר. הוּא פֶחָם:

Than charcoal. This is charcoal.

עֶצֶם. לְשׁוֹן מַרְאֶה, כְּמוֹ “וּכְעֶצֶם הַשָּׁמַיִם לָטֹהַר”, קול”ר בְּלַעַ”ז:

[Their] bone[s]. An expression of appearance, as in, “like the appearance וּכְעֶצֶם of the heavens in purity,”14Shemos 24:10. color in O.F.

צָפַד. נִקְמַט וְנִתְחַבֵּר, וְאֵין לוֹ דִמְיוֹן:

Shrivelled. Shriveled and attached; and there is no similar [word in Scripture].

4:9

שֶׁהֵם יָזֻבוּ מְדֻקָּרִים וְגוֹ’. חַלְלֵי הָרָעָב הָיוּ נְפוּחִים מֵרֵיחַ תְּנוּבוֹת הַשָּׂדֶה, שֶׁהָיוּ הָאוֹיְבִים צוֹלִים בָּשָּׂר עַל הָעֲשָׂבִים חוּץ לַחוֹמָה, וְהָרֵיחַ נִכְנָס בְּתוֹךְ נְפוּחֵי הָרָעָב וּכְרֵסָן נִבְקַעַת, וּפִרְשָׁם זָב, וַהֲרֵי זֶה מִיתַת נִוּוּל יוֹתֵר מֵהֲרוּגֵי חָרֶב:

For they dripped with burst bellies, etc. The corpses [of those who died] because of hunger were swollen from the aroma of the fruits of the field. The enemies would roast meat on the grass outside the wall, and the aroma would go into those swollen from hunger, and their stomachs would split, and their feces would ooze. This is an uglier death than those slain by the sword.

מְדֻקָּרִים. מְבֻקָּעִים. בֵּין נְפִיחַת רָעָב בֵּין בִּקּוּעַ חֶרֶב קָרוּי דְּקִירָה:

With burst bellies. Being split; either by the swelling of hunger or by the stabbing of the sword is called piercing [=דְּקִירָה.

מִתְּנוּבֹת שָׂדָי. מִשָׁרָשִׁים וַעֲשָׂבִים שֶׁמְּלַקְּטִים וְאוֹכְלִים, רַב פִּרְשָׁם וּמִאוּסָם:

From [eating] the produce of the fields. Because of the roots and grass that they gathered and ate, their feces increased and they were loathsome.

4:14

נָעוּ עִוְרִים בַּחוּצוֹת. כְּשֶׁהָיוּ הָעִוְרִים הוֹלְכִים בַּשּׁוּק, הָיוּ נָעִים, וְרַגְלֵיהֶם נִשְׁמָטִים בְּדַם הַהֲרוּגִים שֶׁהָיוּ הָרְשָׁעִים הוֹרְגִים בְּתוֹכָהּ:

The blind slithered in the streets. When the blind would walk in the street, they would stagger, and their feet would slip on the blood of the slain,19Alternatively, ‘they wandered through the streets blindly.’ whom the wicked were slaying in its [Yerusholayim] midst.

נְגֹאֲלוּ בַּדָּם. נִתְלַכְלְכוּ בַּדָּם, עַד אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָכְלוּ הַקְּרוֹבִים אֲלֵיהֶם לִגַּע בִּלְבוּשֵׁיהֶם, וְהָיוּ קוֹרְאִים אֲלֵיהֶם:

Filthied with blood. They were so sullied with blood that those near them could not touch their clothes, and would therefore call out to them.20“Get away, you are contaminated, etc.”

4:15

סוּרוּ. מֵעָלֵינוּ, אַתֶּם הַטְּמֵאִים הַמְלֻכְלָכִים בַּדָּם:

Get away. From us, you unclean ones, who are sullied with blood.

כִּי נָצוּ. לְשׁוֹן סִרְחוֹן וְלִכְלוּךְ, כְּמוֹ “מֻרְאָתוֹ בְּנֹצָתָהּ”, דִּמְתַרְגְּמִינָן “בְּאוּכְלֵיהּ”. כַּךְ חִבְּרוֹ מְנַחֵם:

For they were obscene. An expression of foulness and filth,21Alternatively, ‘they blasphemed.[נצונאצו].’ as in, “its crop מֻרְאָתוֹ with its feathers,”22Vayikra 1:16. which is translated [by the Targum] as בְּאוּכְלֵיהּ. So did Menachem classify it.

גַּם נָעוּ. נִשְׁמְטוּ בַדָּם:

And slithering. They slipped in blood..

5:19

אַתָּה ה’. יָדַעְנוּ כִּי לְעוֹלָם תֵּשֵׁב וְהוֹאִיל וְכֵן הוּא: Adonoy, You. We know that You will remain forever. And because that is so…

5:20

לָמָּה לָנֶצַח תִּשְׁכָּחֵנוּ. הֲלֹא נִשְׁבַּעְתָּ לָנוּ בְּךָ כְּשֵׁם שֶׁאַתָּה קַיָּם כַּךְ שְׁבוּעָתְךָ קַיֶּמֶת:

Why [then O Eternal] do You forget us. Have You not sworn to us Yourself that just as You exist, so does Your oath exist?

5:22

כִּי אִם מָאֹס מְאַסְתָּנוּ. בִּשְׁבִיל שֶׁחָטָאנוּ לֹא הָיָה לְךָ לְהַרְבּוֹת קֶצֶף עַד מְאֹד כַּאֲשֶׁר קָצַפְתָּ:

For although You may have considered us contemptible. Although we have sinned, [nonetheless] You should not have been angered as much as You have been.

הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ ה’. מִפְּנֵי שֶׁמְּסַיֵּם בְּדִבְרֵי תוֹכֵחָה הֻצְרַךְ לִכְפֹּל מִקְרָא שֶׁלְּפָנָיו פַּעַם אַחֶרֶת, וְכֵן יְשַׁעְיָה וּתְרֵי עָשָׂר וְקֹהֶלֶת:

Adonoy return us. Because he concludes with words of rebuke, he had to repeat the preceding verse again,[In order to end on a note of consolation] and so did Yeshayahu, Trei Osor, and Koheles.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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