The Trappings and the Suits of Woe: The Poetry of Eichah

"The world of Lamentations has been disrupted; no order exists any longer in the real world. But as if to counteract this chaos, the poet has constructed his own linguistic order that he marks out graphically for us by the orderly progression of the letters of the alphabet."

-- Adele Berlin, Lamentations

Is Eicha really so orderly?

Do we act out grief, enact it? How should we feel grief on Tisha B'Av? How does a work such as Eicha complement the ritual and laws we follow on the fast day, so we not only have a halakhic framework, but a sense of what we should be feeling on the day?

Why seems it so particular with thee?

'Seems,' madam? Nay it is. I know not 'seems.'
'Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black,
Nor windy suspiration of forced breath,
No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,
Nor the dejected 'havior of the visage,
Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,
That can denote me truly. These indeed 'seem,'
For they are actions that a man might play;
But I have that within which passeth show,
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.

Hamlet begins with the marriage of Claudius and Gertrude, the main character Hamlet's uncle and mother. While the kingdom celebrates their marriage, Hamlet is filled with grief over the recent death of his father King Hamlet. His mother questions why Hamlet seems so grief-stricken, and this passage is his reply.

Hamlet explains that people may wear black, sigh, wail, and show outward signs of grief, but these are "actions that a man might play." In actuality, someone may not be all that mournful. Hamlet has within that which "passeth show,/These but the trappings and the suits of woe." Hamlet is actually grief-stricken, he says, yet at the same time, Shakespeare makes us aware of the fact that we're in a play, when he has Hamlet say the behavior of a mourner is something that a "man might play." In Shakespeare's time, "a player" was an actor, so Shakespeare takes us out of the play by reminding us that here is an actor acting out the part of someone who is grief-stricken, even though Hamlet is saying he's not. Very "meta."

This meta-moment is a good jumping off point for this source sheet, though. Poetry works as a vessel to contain a thought, an emotion. Biblical poetry does so with a particularly religious aim. In the case of Eicha, the emotion, like Hamlet's, is one of grief, and like all poems, Eicha has particular poetic constraints. As the opening quotation by Adele Berlin shows, the constraints may be to order that which is wild and uncontained, the poet's grief.

My contention here is that the poet tries to contain his grief by using strict poetic forms, but grief is a wild thing, and the grief keeps slamming up against the poetic form, spilling out from it because it is so devastating.

Basic Overview of Chapters:

Chapter One: The desolation of Zion

Chapter Two: God's anger and Zion's ruin

Chapter Three: Man's suffering

Chapter Four: The agony of the Holy City

Chapter Five: God should remember and forgive His enslaved and shamed people

-- From Robert Gordis

Chiasmus: Repetition of any group of verse elements (including rhyme and grammatical structure) in reverse order, such as the rhyme scheme ABBA.

-- Definition from


"Beauty is truth, truth beauty." -- John Keats

Chiasmus is a tightly structured form.

Chapters 1, 2, and 4 seem like funeral songs for political and national purposes. Chapter 3 is an individual lament, and Chapter 5 seems like a lament/prayer. So the chiasmus seems tight, but it's actually not. Here's one example of how the poetic technique of chiasmus is broken by the poet's grief. Chapter 3 is supposed to be an individual lament, but Adele Berlin points out that by Pasuk 40, the poet starts to pray. Below are two verses from Chapter 3: the first one introduces the fact that the chapter will be an individual lament, as a "Job-like figure" roams the land, but the second verse, pasuk 40, shows the beginning of a national prayer that extends through many verses.

(Note the chiasmus in the first four words, and the play on the word, "I," and "am afflicted.")

(א) אֲנִ֤י הַגֶּ֙בֶר֙ רָאָ֣ה עֳנִ֔י בְּשֵׁ֖בֶט עֶבְרָתֽוֹ׃
(1) I am the man who has known affliction Under the rod of His wrath;
(מ) נַחְפְּשָׂ֤ה דְרָכֵ֙ינוּ֙ וְֽנַחְקֹ֔רָה וְנָשׁ֖וּבָה עַד־יְהוָֽה׃
(40) Let us search and examine our ways, And turn back to the LORD;

The Acrostic Form

The acrostic is another tight poetic form used in Eicha.

* We know it from the Middle Ages, when there was a belief in the mystical powers of letters

* Practical reason: it aids memory

* For artistic purposes: it displays the author's skill and makes a more beautiful offering to the recipient

* Contributes to the structure of the poem:

- In Eicha, it creates a vessel for grief and creates a complement, a dialectic:

The simplicity of the form reveals the rawness of grief, a time when we're reduced to primal emotions, sometimes left speechless, without language, so the simple alphabet is all we have, as the acrostic form suggests. But as we'll see, the poem is a lot more complicated than it is simple.

In fact, if you think about it, the acrostic form is a playful kind of poetic form, a simple form of poetry that almost everyone has tried at one time in their life. As soon as you know the alphabet, you can give it a go. So the simple playfulness is an ironic juxtaposition to grief and complicates the form, creating another example of grief's breaking through poetic structure.

"In Lamentations, the impression is rather of a boundless grief, an overflowing emotion, whose expression benefits from the limits imposed by a confining acrostic form, as from a tightly fixed metrical pattern." -- Adele Berlin

Yes, there's a fixed metrical pattern in Eicha, called Qinah meter. That could take an entire lecture to explain, but briefly:

* Meter is the number of fixed syllables per line of poetry, as well as the arrangement of stressed and unstressed syllables in each line.

* The Qinah meter in Eicha, along with the dirge-like melody, contributes to the elegaic form and feeling of the work.

Why use Qinah meter?

True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learned to dance.
'Tis not enough no harshness gives offense,
The sound must seem an echo to the sense.

-- Alexander Pope

OK, so we have funeral songs, individual cries and national laments.


Adele Berlin analyzes the term "Bat Zion." It can be translated as "Daughter of Zion," but she suggests it's perhaps better to translate it as "Daughter Zion," which now gives us a metaphor for who is dead: Daughter Zion, the city of Zion personified as a woman. Berlin counts 20 references to Bat Zion, Bat, and Betulat Bat Zion in Eicha and 16 in Yirmiyahu, out of the 45 total in the Hebrew Bible, a high percentage.

Men and women in Eicha are pretty strongly gendered, so let's keep that in mind as we unpack the metaphors with Berlin's help.

Metaphors of Zion as a woman abound in Eicha. Zion is a daughter, making us think of someone young and innocent, someone who should be protected. She represents the future: her role will be to marry and produce the next generation. She is a symbol of potential fertility.

Zion is a widow, someone who is not at the center of social and communal life, as she isn't married and cannot contribute to the growth of society. She is a figure of pity as well, lonely as she must be.

Zion is even farther from accepted society when she is depicted as an adulterous woman, someone who is dangerous to the health of the nation. With her lustful ways, she doesn't think of the future: of her children and of the nation. How can she be sure who the father of her children is if she strays? This woman is to be shamed and ostracized for the threat she poses to the order of the nation.

Zion as mother -- and a pitiable figure as she cannot feed her own children. In fact, she goes against the natural order of the world when Eicha says she eats her own children.

Because this lecture was delivered at an AMIT Women's Tea and because Zion is so often depicted as a woman, I focused on the female metaphors and images of the book, but the male metaphors and images are as strongly gendered and also go against the natural order. The men cannot protect their homes, their families and their ancestral lands. They cannot fill their political, military, royal, and religious roles.

Another note: Zion is a holy city. There were other holy cities in the ancient world, and when any holy city was destroyed, it was considered a catastrophe, something to take notice of. It still feels so today, in the way the world takes notice of Jerusalem.

The ancient world, as it does today, also had non-holy cities, but cities were places where, if governed well, justice and order could prevail. In the 14th century fresco at the end of the source sheet are Lorenzetti's frescoes, The Effects of Good Government and The Effects of Bad Government. Note in the city where good government prevails are walls that contain people interacting in pleasant ways, all realms of society, socializing and doing business. In the center, a ring of young women dance, a symbol of the harmony of the just and civil city. Note the use of young women to symbolize harmony, order, and productivity. The inverse is true, as we have said about Eicha.

In the fresco about bad governance, the devil rules; for the Christians, the symbol of unnatural order.

What's interesting about Eicha and the Jewish conception, as we see in the pesukim [verses] below is God takes on the role of enemy -- the Assyrians aren't blamed, though they were the ones who destroyed the Temple. God is the warrior who shoots an arrow at His own daughter Zion because she has sinned. And Zion recognizes that (See 1:9).

(א) אֵיכָ֣ה ׀ יָשְׁבָ֣ה בָדָ֗ד הָעִיר֙ רַבָּ֣תִי עָ֔ם הָיְתָ֖ה כְּאַלְמָנָ֑ה רַּבָּ֣תִי בַגּוֹיִ֗ם שָׂרָ֙תִי֙ בַּמְּדִינ֔וֹת הָיְתָ֖ה לָמַֽס׃ (ס)
(1) Alas! Lonely sits the city Once great with people! She that was great among nations Is become like a widow; The princess among states Is become a thrall.

Here we see how the grief slams against the form. The first pasuk [verse] introduces the acrostic -- the verse starts with an aleph -- but doing so creates an inverted sentence structure, so we wait for the subject of the sentence: who is alone? Oh, the city, now juxtaposed with "once great among nations." The inverted structure continues -- the natural order of things has been inverted by the devastation of losing our political, national, and religious home and also by grief -- and widow is juxtaposed with "great among nations." She that was once popular -- even as a princess, another popular figure, the celebrity of the ancient world -- is now a pariah.

(ה) הָי֨וּ צָרֶ֤יהָ לְרֹאשׁ֙ אֹיְבֶ֣יהָ שָׁל֔וּ כִּֽי־יְהוָ֥ה הוֹגָ֖הּ עַ֣ל רֹב־פְּשָׁעֶ֑יהָ עוֹלָלֶ֛יהָ הָלְכ֥וּ שְׁבִ֖י לִפְנֵי־צָֽר׃ (ס)
(5) Her enemies are now the masters, Her foes are at ease, Because the LORD has afflicted her For her many transgressions; Her infants have gone into captivity Before the enemy.
(ט) טֻמְאָתָ֣הּ בְּשׁוּלֶ֗יהָ לֹ֤א זָֽכְרָה֙ אַחֲרִיתָ֔הּ וַתֵּ֣רֶד פְּלָאִ֔ים אֵ֥ין מְנַחֵ֖ם לָ֑הּ רְאֵ֤ה יְהוָה֙ אֶת־עָנְיִ֔י כִּ֥י הִגְדִּ֖יל אוֹיֵֽב׃ (ס)
(9) Her uncleanness clings to her skirts. She gave no thought to her future; She has sunk appallingly, With none to comfort her.— See, O LORD, my misery; How the enemy jeers!

Here is the adulterous woman, but the image proliferates: the adulterous woman doesn't think of her future. Acaharita alludes to children, especially when we consider that what typically clings to a woman's skirts are her babes.

The grief pours out of the poetic vessel at the end of the verse: the poet tries to contain the devastation in the metaphor, distancing himself with the use of third-person narration, but by the end of the verse, he's crying out in first person, lamenting his misery.

(יג) מִמָּר֛וֹם שָֽׁלַח־אֵ֥שׁ בְּעַצְמֹתַ֖י וַיִּרְדֶּ֑נָּה פָּרַ֨שׂ רֶ֤שֶׁת לְרַגְלַי֙ הֱשִׁיבַ֣נִי אָח֔וֹר נְתָנַ֙נִי֙ שֹֽׁמֵמָ֔ה כָּל־הַיּ֖וֹם דָּוָֽה׃ (ס)
(13) From above He sent a fire Down into my bones. He spread a net for my feet, He hurled me backward; He has left me forlorn, In constant misery.
(ד) דָּרַ֨ךְ קַשְׁתּ֜וֹ כְּאוֹיֵ֗ב נִצָּ֤ב יְמִינוֹ֙ כְּצָ֔ר וַֽיַּהֲרֹ֔ג כֹּ֖ל מַחֲמַדֵּי־עָ֑יִן בְּאֹ֙הֶל֙ בַּת־צִיּ֔וֹן שָׁפַ֥ךְ כָּאֵ֖שׁ חֲמָתֽוֹ׃ (ס)
(4) He bent His bow like an enemy, Poised His right hand like a foe; He slew all who delighted the eye. He poured out His wrath like fire In the Tent of Fair Zion.

Ancient Near Eastern art

Assyrian archer

This is an artwork from the Assyrian empire, but in Eicha it is God who is the archer. Zion/Israel's sins have caused her devastation, leading to the unnatural act of God -- often depicted as Bnei Yisrael's groom or father killing His own bride or child.

(ה) הָיָ֨ה אֲדֹנָ֤י ׀ כְּאוֹיֵב֙ בִּלַּ֣ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בִּלַּע֙ כָּל־אַרְמְנוֹתֶ֔יהָ שִׁחֵ֖ת מִבְצָרָ֑יו וַיֶּ֙רֶב֙ בְּבַת־יְהוּדָ֔ה תַּאֲנִיָּ֖ה וַאֲנִיָּֽה׃ (ס) (ו) וַיַּחְמֹ֤ס כַּגַּן֙ שֻׂכּ֔וֹ שִׁחֵ֖ת מוֹעֲד֑וֹ שִׁכַּ֨ח יְהוָ֤ה ׀ בְּצִיּוֹן֙ מוֹעֵ֣ד וְשַׁבָּ֔ת וַיִּנְאַ֥ץ בְּזַֽעַם־אַפּ֖וֹ מֶ֥לֶךְ וְכֹהֵֽן׃ (ס)
(5) The Lord has acted like a foe, He has laid waste Israel, Laid waste all her citadels, Destroyed her strongholds. He has increased within Fair Judah Mourning and moaning. (6) He has stripped His Booth like a garden, He has destroyed His Tabernacle; The LORD has ended in Zion Festival and sabbath; In His raging anger He has spurned King and priest.
(ח) חָשַׁ֨ב יְהוָ֤ה ׀ לְהַשְׁחִית֙ חוֹמַ֣ת בַּת־צִיּ֔וֹן נָ֣טָה קָ֔ו לֹא־הֵשִׁ֥יב יָד֖וֹ מִבַּלֵּ֑עַ וַיַּֽאֲבֶל־חֵ֥ל וְחוֹמָ֖ה יַחְדָּ֥ו אֻמְלָֽלוּ׃ (ס)
(8) The LORD resolved to destroy The wall of Fair Zion; He measured with a line, refrained not From bringing destruction. He has made wall and rampart to mourn, Together they languish.

Kings/rulers/gods in the ancient world measured out not only holy cities and cities, but justice and order. Again, against the natural order, God destroys His holy city as punishment for Zion/Israel's sins. Note the many verses, some of which I've chosen below, that show the unnaturalness of the destruction of Zion, how it goes against all natural order.

(כ) רְאֵ֤ה יְהוָה֙ וְֽהַבִּ֔יטָה לְמִ֖י עוֹלַ֣לְתָּ כֹּ֑ה אִם־תֹּאכַ֨לְנָה נָשִׁ֤ים פִּרְיָם֙ עֹלֲלֵ֣י טִפֻּחִ֔ים אִם־יֵהָרֵ֛ג בְּמִקְדַּ֥שׁ אֲדֹנָ֖י כֹּהֵ֥ן וְנָבִֽיא׃ (ס)
(20) See, O LORD, and behold, To whom You have done this! Alas, women eat their own fruit, Their new-born babes! Alas, priest and prophet are slain In the Sanctuary of the Lord!
(ד) בִּלָּ֤ה בְשָׂרִי֙ וְעוֹרִ֔י שִׁבַּ֖ר עַצְמוֹתָֽי׃ (ה) בָּנָ֥ה עָלַ֛י וַיַּקַּ֖ף רֹ֥אשׁ וּתְלָאָֽה׃ (ו) בְּמַחֲשַׁכִּ֥ים הוֹשִׁיבַ֖נִי כְּמֵתֵ֥י עוֹלָֽם׃ (ס) (ז) גָּדַ֧ר בַּעֲדִ֛י וְלֹ֥א אֵצֵ֖א הִכְבִּ֥יד נְחָשְׁתִּֽי׃
(4) He has worn away my flesh and skin; He has shattered my bones. (5) All around me He has built Misery and hardship; (6) He has made me dwell in darkness, Like those long dead. (7) He has walled me in and I cannot break out; He has weighed me down with chains.
(א) אֵיכָה֙ יוּעַ֣ם זָהָ֔ב יִשְׁנֶ֖א הַכֶּ֣תֶם הַטּ֑וֹב תִּשְׁתַּפֵּ֙כְנָה֙ אַבְנֵי־קֹ֔דֶשׁ בְּרֹ֖אשׁ כָּל־חוּצֽוֹת׃ (ס) (ב) בְּנֵ֤י צִיּוֹן֙ הַיְקָרִ֔ים הַמְסֻלָּאִ֖ים בַּפָּ֑ז אֵיכָ֤ה נֶחְשְׁבוּ֙ לְנִבְלֵי־חֶ֔רֶשׂ מַעֲשֵׂ֖ה יְדֵ֥י יוֹצֵֽר׃ (ס) (ג) גַּם־תנין [תַּנִּים֙] חָ֣לְצוּ שַׁ֔ד הֵינִ֖יקוּ גּוּרֵיהֶ֑ן בַּת־עַמִּ֣י לְאַכְזָ֔ר כי ענים [כַּיְעֵנִ֖ים] בַּמִּדְבָּֽר׃ (ס) (ד) דָּבַ֨ק לְשׁ֥וֹן יוֹנֵ֛ק אֶל־חכּ֖וֹ בַּצָּמָ֑א עֽוֹלָלִים֙ שָׁ֣אֲלוּ לֶ֔חֶם פֹּרֵ֖שׂ אֵ֥ין לָהֶֽם׃ (ס) (ה) הָאֹֽכְלִים֙ לְמַ֣עֲדַנִּ֔ים נָשַׁ֖מּוּ בַּחוּצ֑וֹת הָאֱמֻנִים֙ עֲלֵ֣י תוֹלָ֔ע חִבְּק֖וּ אַשְׁפַּתּֽוֹת׃ (ס) (ו) וַיִּגְדַּל֙ עֲוֺ֣ן בַּת־עַמִּ֔י מֵֽחַטַּ֖את סְדֹ֑ם הַֽהֲפוּכָ֣ה כְמוֹ־רָ֔גַע וְלֹא־חָ֥לוּ בָ֖הּ יָדָֽיִם׃ (ס) (ז) זַכּ֤וּ נְזִירֶ֙יהָ֙ מִשֶּׁ֔לֶג צַח֖וּ מֵחָלָ֑ב אָ֤דְמוּ עֶ֙צֶם֙ מִפְּנִינִ֔ים סַפִּ֖יר גִּזְרָתָֽם׃ (ס)
(1) Alas! The gold is dulled, Debased the finest gold! The sacred gems are spilled At every street corner. (2) The precious children of Zion; Once valued as gold— Alas, they are accounted as earthen pots, Work of a potter’s hands! (3) Even jackals offer the breast And suckle their young; But my poor people has turned cruel, Like ostriches of the desert. (4) The tongue of the suckling cleaves To its palate for thirst. Little children beg for bread; None gives them a morsel. (5) Those who feasted on dainties Lie famished in the streets; Those who were reared in purple Have embraced refuse heaps. (6) The guilt of my poor people Exceeded the iniquity of Sodom, Which was overthrown in a moment, Without a hand striking it. (7) Her elect were purer than snow, Whiter than milk; Their limbs were ruddier than coral, Their bodies were like sapphire.
(א) זְכֹ֤ר יְהוָה֙ מֶֽה־הָ֣יָה לָ֔נוּ הביט [הַבִּ֖יטָה] וּרְאֵ֥ה אֶת־חֶרְפָּתֵֽנוּ׃ (ב) נַחֲלָתֵ֙נוּ֙ נֶֽהֶפְכָ֣ה לְזָרִ֔ים בָּתֵּ֖ינוּ לְנָכְרִֽים׃ (ג) יְתוֹמִ֤ים הָיִ֙ינוּ֙ אין [וְאֵ֣ין] אָ֔ב אִמֹּתֵ֖ינוּ כְּאַלְמָנֽוֹת׃ (ד) מֵימֵ֙ינוּ֙ בְּכֶ֣סֶף שָׁתִ֔ינוּ עֵצֵ֖ינוּ בִּמְחִ֥יר יָבֹֽאוּ׃ (ה) עַ֤ל צַוָּארֵ֙נוּ֙ נִרְדָּ֔פְנוּ יָגַ֖עְנוּ לא [וְלֹ֥א] הֽוּנַ֖ח לָֽנוּ׃ (ו) מִצְרַ֙יִם֙ נָתַ֣נּוּ יָ֔ד אַשּׁ֖וּר לִשְׂבֹּ֥עַֽ לָֽחֶם׃ (ז) אֲבֹתֵ֤ינוּ חָֽטְאוּ֙ אינם [וְאֵינָ֔ם] אנחנו [וַאֲנַ֖חְנוּ] עֲוֺנֹתֵיהֶ֥ם סָבָֽלְנוּ׃ (ח) עֲבָדִים֙ מָ֣שְׁלוּ בָ֔נוּ פֹּרֵ֖ק אֵ֥ין מִיָּדָֽם׃ (ט) בְּנַפְשֵׁ֙נוּ֙ נָבִ֣יא לַחְמֵ֔נוּ מִפְּנֵ֖י חֶ֥רֶב הַמִּדְבָּֽר׃ (י) עוֹרֵ֙נוּ֙ כְּתַנּ֣וּר נִכְמָ֔רוּ מִפְּנֵ֖י זַלְעֲפ֥וֹת רָעָֽב׃ (יא) נָשִׁים֙ בְּצִיּ֣וֹן עִנּ֔וּ בְּתֻלֹ֖ת בְּעָרֵ֥י יְהוּדָֽה׃ (יב) שָׂרִים֙ בְּיָדָ֣ם נִתְל֔וּ פְּנֵ֥י זְקֵנִ֖ים לֹ֥א נֶהְדָּֽרוּ׃ (יג) בַּחוּרִים֙ טְח֣וֹן נָשָׂ֔אוּ וּנְעָרִ֖ים בָּעֵ֥ץ כָּשָֽׁלוּ׃ (יד) זְקֵנִים֙ מִשַּׁ֣עַר שָׁבָ֔תוּ בַּחוּרִ֖ים מִנְּגִינָתָֽם׃ (טו) שָׁבַת֙ מְשׂ֣וֹשׂ לִבֵּ֔נוּ נֶהְפַּ֥ךְ לְאֵ֖בֶל מְחֹלֵֽנוּ׃ (טז) נָֽפְלָה֙ עֲטֶ֣רֶת רֹאשֵׁ֔נוּ אֽוֹי־נָ֥א לָ֖נוּ כִּ֥י חָטָֽאנוּ׃ (יז) עַל־זֶ֗ה הָיָ֤ה דָוֶה֙ לִבֵּ֔נוּ עַל־אֵ֖לֶּה חָשְׁכ֥וּ עֵינֵֽינוּ׃ (יח) עַ֤ל הַר־צִיּוֹן֙ שֶׁשָּׁמֵ֔ם שׁוּעָלִ֖ים הִלְּכוּ־בֽוֹ׃ (פ) (יט) אַתָּ֤ה יְהוָה֙ לְעוֹלָ֣ם תֵּשֵׁ֔ב כִּסְאֲךָ֖ לְדֹ֥ר וָדֽוֹר׃ (כ) לָ֤מָּה לָנֶ֙צַח֙ תִּשְׁכָּחֵ֔נוּ תַּֽעַזְבֵ֖נוּ לְאֹ֥רֶךְ יָמִֽים׃ (כא) הֲשִׁיבֵ֨נוּ יְהוָ֤ה ׀ אֵלֶ֙יךָ֙ ונשוב [וְֽנָשׁ֔וּבָה] חַדֵּ֥שׁ יָמֵ֖ינוּ כְּקֶֽדֶם׃ (כב) כִּ֚י אִם־מָאֹ֣ס מְאַסְתָּ֔נוּ קָצַ֥פְתָּ עָלֵ֖ינוּ עַד־מְאֹֽד׃
[השיבנו יהוה אליך ונשובה חדש ימינו כקדם]
(1) Remember, O LORD, what has befallen us; Behold, and see our disgrace! (2) Our heritage has passed to aliens, Our homes to strangers. (3) We have become orphans, fatherless; Our mothers are like widows. (4) We must pay to drink our own water, Obtain our own kindling at a price. (5) We are hotly pursued; Exhausted, we are given no rest. (6) We hold out a hand to Egypt; To Assyria, for our fill of bread. (7) Our fathers sinned and are no more; And we must bear their guilt. (8) Slaves are ruling over us, With none to rescue us from them. (9) We get our bread at the peril of our lives, Because of the sword of the wilderness. (10) Our skin glows like an oven, With the fever of famine. (11) They have ravished women in Zion, Maidens in the towns of Judah. (12) Princes have been hanged by them; No respect has been shown to elders. (13) Young men must carry millstones, And youths stagger under loads of wood. (14) The old men are gone from the gate, The young men from their music. (15) Gone is the joy of our hearts; Our dancing is turned into mourning. (16) The crown has fallen from our head; Woe to us that we have sinned! (17) Because of this our hearts are sick, Because of these our eyes are dimmed: (18) Because of Mount Zion, which lies desolate; Jackals prowl over it. (19) But You, O LORD, are enthroned forever, Your throne endures through the ages. (20) Why have You forgotten us utterly, Forsaken us for all time? (21) Take us back, O LORD, to Yourself, And let us come back; Renew our days as of old! (22) For truly, You have rejected us, Bitterly raged against us. Take us back, O LORD, to Yourself, And let us come back; Renew our days as of old!

Ambrogio Lorenzetti, The Effects of Good and Bad Government, fresco, 14th century, Siena, Italy

Paraphrasing Adele Berlin, Lamentations:

As a religious concept, joy is associated with sacrificial feasting, so conversely mourning equals an absence of sacrificing. Sacrifice and praise of God are parallel activities, so it follows that joy is associated with praising God.

The mourner can't participate in public joy, is not permitted access to the Temple. The cultic double, the lamenter, does not praise God in his time of trouble.

In Nach, descent into Sheol is the structural inversion of going up to the Temple, the symbolic entryway to heaven. To be in Sheol is to be at the farthest remove from God.

Death and mourning, as religious concepts, mean to be cut off from God, just as life and joy mean to be in God's presence.

After 506 BCE, exile is the new Sheol. Sefer Zechariah shows we were fasting after the churban [the destruction of the Temple]. Eicha is the lament. Sacrifice is accompanied by Tehilim [Psalms], while fasting on Tisha B'av is accompanied by Eicha, Lamentations.

In conclusion:

The joy of the festival and its song and praises is replaced with fasting and a poem that at once tries to contain our grief and demonstrates that that grief cannot be contained. Without the Temple and in a state of dislocation and exile from God, we are inconsolable, and our grief knows no bounds. As Satan in Paradise Lost realizes when he has sinned and gotten himself ejected from Heaven, "Myself am Hell." How lowering and humbling.


We know the story does not end with Eicha. While we don't act -- as Hamlet does -- but enact and embody our mourning and grief on Tisha B'Av, we are at heart and soul an optimistic people. To every season, turn, turn, turn. This is our time to mourn, but soon we will be celebrating our festivals once more.

In the Land of Israel, thanks to organizations such as AMIT and women such as Mrs. Anita Scharf (A"H), we've not only made the land grow once more, we can take care of our children -- and restore that natural order.

I pray at this tense time in history that we continue to build, that we merit God's not destroying our work, and that all peoples of the world get to live in cities of peace, justice and order, as we did in Yerushalayim.

"Chadesh Yameinu K'kedem [Renew our days of old]."