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D’var Torah: Tisha B’Av

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The Chief Rabbi’s message for Tisha B’Av.

If only we asked the right questions. Over this coming weekend there is one question that we are going to be hearing time and time again. It is “Eicha?” meaning “How?”

In Parashat Devarim we will be reading how Moshe asked that question. In our Haftara this Shabbat, we will read how the prophet Isaiah asked this question. And of course, the Book of Eicha, takes its name from the opening word, “Eicha?” because that is the question that the prophet Jeremiah asked.

King Solomon asked the question too – in fact in Tanach there are eighteen occasions on which the question “Eicha?” is posed.

‘Eicha?’ is all about sorrow. We are asking, how could this have happened? How could it be that we are facing such challenges that we are enduring such sorrow? Why is this happening to us?

But fascinatingly there is a nineteenth occasion in Tanach in which the same word appears, however, it is pronounced differently. It is also spelt ‘Alef’ ‘Yud’ ‘Kaf’ ‘Hei’, but this time it is “Ayeka.”

It features in Parashat Bereishit, right at the beginning of the Torah. After the original sin, when Hashem saw that Adam had fled, we read “Vayikra Hashem Elokim el Ha’Adam, Vayomer Lo Ayeka? – The Lord, God, called out to man and He said to him: Where are you?”

Hashem was saying to Adam, through this “Ayeka?” – This is not a time to hide away, it is also not a time to shy away from your responsibilities. The Hebrew word for responsibility is “Achrayut.” It comes from the root “Achar” meaning “After” indicating that our response to anything must be with a sense of responsibility.

In the aftermath of something that has happened to us, instead of caving in to the pressure and asking “Eicha?” we need to ask ourselves “Ayeka?” Where are we at? What are we going to do about this situation? How will we respond proactively and constructively?

Interestingly, “Achrayut” also comes from the root “Acher” meaning “Another” or “Someone else.” This indicates that the responsible way for me to react in situations of crisis and challenge is not to just consider my own plight but also to consider the welfare, wellbeing and interests of everyone around me.

Our Prophets teach that Tisha b’Av is a “Mo’ed” meaning “A Festival,” – this indicates that in the course of time, the saddest of all of our days in the calendar will transform to become the happiest of days. We can contribute towards that happening if we transform “Eicha?” into “Ayeka?”

In times of difficulty, of crisis, tragedy and of challenge, instead of asking “How/why is this happening?” Instead we should ask, “What can I do about it?” “Where am I in this situation?” and “How can I contribute towards making this a better world?”

It all depends on asking the right question and behaving with responsibility.

Shabbat Shalom