Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

1 Av 5759 - July 14 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
"How Shall I Bear?"

"`How can I alone bear your burden, your care and your strife?' (Devorim 1,12) This can be compared to a lady who had three chaperones. One attended her during her time of serenity, one attended her during her decline and the third, during her downfall. Thus did Moshe minister to the Jewish people in their prime and said, `Eicho -- How shall I alone bear . . . ' Yeshaya saw the nation during its period of decline and said, `Eicho -- How like a wanton woman has a faithful city become?' Yirmiyohu saw her in her disgrace and said, `Eicho -- How has she come to sit in isolation . . . ' " (Yalkut Shimoni).

The Jewish nation does not enjoy a standard status. In its heyday, its success was above and beyond any imaginable measure. "Hashem your G-d increased you and you are today like the stars of the heaven in great numbers." Even Moshe Rabbenu, their loyal shepherd, asks in amazement, "How can I alone bear . . . " This is not a mere question but a rhetorical query, an expression of amazement and wonder. How, indeed, is it possible? The Maharal explains it as follows (Tiferes Yisroel Chapter 9): "For the word eicho denotes something new and unusual. This is why Moshe used it to say that the people are as numerous as the stars, which is extraordinary."

When their decline began, again, their sins were not of the ordinary kind. Rather, they underwent a drastic change for the bad. "How like a wanton woman has become the faithful city?" Yeshaya, notes the Maharal, used this term eicho, again, to denote that their downfall was also extraordinarily drastic, a sharp plummeting. This is the nature of Yisroel: when they fall, they fall all the way to the nether depths. The city of honorable, scrupulous people, where justice reigned, was transformed to a den of murderers. This nation has no middle way. When they rise, they ascend to the very heavens, and when they fall, alas . . .

And then came the dreadful national holocaust, which followed the identical pattern -- no middle way, but straight down to the very abyss. Yirmiyohu saw them in their disgrace, when strange and terrible happenings overtook them, far more weird than befell any other nation! It was their drastic sinning that brought upon such extraordinary punishment that has no parallel in history, concludes the Maharal.


The very secret of our nation is embodied in the words of this midrash. We are a people of polar extremes -- either here or there, with nothing in the middle. Israel occupies a supernatural category. In its prime context, it is the epitome of mankind, the entity which is the purpose and justification for all of creation. East and west, north and south, a land-heritage without boundary limitations. Like the infinite stars studding the sky. But when it glances aside and sets its eye on iniquity, its decline and downfall is a foregone conclusion.

It is impossible to sin and to retain that special status as a chosen nation. "And you shall stray and worship false gods." Says Rashi: As soon as you begin straying from the Torah, you immediately resort to the worst -- idolatry. Israel cannot retain its uniqueness, its supremacy and elite status which transcends the laws of nature and history and also sink into the quagmire of sin or even of a plain and natural existence. The end of the process of `naturalization' must be a total rejection of Torah and embracement of idolatry. "How like a wanton woman has this righteous city become!"

This is why the punishment had to be so drastic and dreadful. Strange troubles that did not visit any other nation! The total shake-up of the nation was necessary to clarify absolutely that in no way or manner was it possible for Israel to continue its existence as a nation, as before, if it continued to sin, to be "a nation heavy with sin."

The prophet warns: "Your whims shall surely not come to pass. Hashem declares: With outpoured wrath will I rule over you" (Yechezkel 34). And who can imagine, writes R' Elchonon Wassermann Hy'd in Ikveso Demeshicho, how many rivers of blood and tears are embodied in those terrible two words, "outpoured wrath."

This is why the return to the root must also be sharp, acute and absolute. We cannot remain astraddle; we must choose one extreme or the other. "The son of Dovid can only come in a generation that is entirely righteous or entirely blameworthy."

The Chofetz Chaim explains that those who will be righteous, will be altogether righteous, for those who cling with all their might to the Tree of Life, despite all difficulties and terrible tests, are purely and wholly saintly. While, conversely, those who are wicked, will be sinful in a total manner, just like those signs which Chazal transmitted in Sanhedrin regarding the period that precedes the advent of Moshiach, signs that we cannot help but perceive in these very times.

"Return us, Hashem, unto You, and we will return. Restore our days as of yore."

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