"`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
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
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
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."