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Posts Tagged ‘Lamentations’

Five times in the twenty-two grief-stricken verses of the book of Lamentations’ first chapter, the poet wails out a most forlorn cry: אין מנחם, there is no comforter.

In point of fact, one of the two reasons by which the book of Lamentations finds a place in the biblical anthology is precisely because this claim is factually wrong.

The other reason is that human experience shrieks from both good hearts and bad ones that the claim is right.

There is indeed one who comforts. Yet in Zion’s debris—or ours—he makes himself invisible. His footsteps become almost—though rarely completely—silent.

We cry with the poet of Lamentations that no one comforts. We are bereft, left with only poetry and tears.

And hope. It is this third ash-dusted treasure that we guard in an inner pocket of our shredded jacket, touching its tiny lump from time to time to assure ourselves it is still there.

One must not believe that hope alone bears witness to a Redeemer who might yet appear. Tears and poetry do that also. Yet hope endures more stubbornly than they. Tears flow down our cheeks, poetry pierces the air and penetrates the audition of those who share our shaken Zion. But hope, that one we keep on the inside pocket, whispering to our neighbor that we have a store of it for when the need should undo us. We touch our coats. It is still there. We do not pull it out, do not ask others to gawk at it, do not risk it falling from our trembling fingers to become lost beneath stones or the desperate mob.

This hope, it is ours. Yet more than that it is mine.

Even as we cry again that ‘eyn menachem, we know better.

A small lump in our overcoat interrupts the otherwise level, sweating, fearful line between our forsaken flesh and the betraying air. We touch it again.

It is still there.

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Writing his poetry while seated on ash and blood, the writer of the biblical book of Lamentations finds just the syllables for his poignant scream:

He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, ‘Gone is my glory,
and all that I had hoped for from the LORD.’

The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!
My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me.

One wonders how many millions of readers—each placed in a moment as real and significant as that of the poet who lamented Zion’s devastation—have found in such stark realism the descriptors of their own loss, the vocabulary of their bereft agony.

This would be enough to justify these poems, for we borrow words most needily when our throat chokes up and the words we thought we knew remain stuck in our lungs. (more…)

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It might almost seem that the first chapter of Ezekiel answers to the pained cry of the last chapter of Lamentations. That poem, which in our modern bound Bibles immediately precedes the work that bears the prophet Ezekiel’s name, ends with a picture of a royal deity whose apparent disinterest in his people exceeds all appropriate bounds:

But you, O LORD, reign forever;
your throne endures to all generations.
Why have you forgotten us completely?
Why have you forsaken us these many days?
Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may be restored;
renew our days as of old—
unless you have utterly rejected us,
and are angry with us beyond measure.

It is not too much to say that the exilic prophets, Ezekiel among them, saved the life of the Jewish people. At a time when all historical currents and the circumstances of exile that pressed down upon them should have obliterated this tiny nation and erased the memory of it, the prophets pleaded that YHWH had not yet finished with his people. Lamentations leaves an awful possibility hanging in the air: unless you have utterly rejected us, and are angry with us beyond measure. (more…)

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