Afterword to Laments:|
The author(s) of Eikhah (traditionally, Jeremiah) believed that what happened to Zion was divine punishment. The idea that tragedy and disaster are punishment for our sins–what theologians call "theodicy"—is alien to most modern Jews. (This is one reason why it is hard to connect the Holocaust with what we mourn on Tish’a B’av.)
Besides the obvious consolation people received from believing that the tragedy had meaning, we might also consider that for the ancients, the two choices were to believe that the destruction was punishment, or that God simply had no concern for them. It is easy to imagine why people would choose the image of a punishing God over the complete absence of God – though the latter possibility is suggested in the very last line of the text, before we go back to repeat the more comforting line “Turn us...”
Only in chapter 3 is the destruction of Zion consistently seen as fair and just punishment. In other chapters, the degree of divine punishment is (subtly) described as excessive and abusive (e.g. "See YHVH and look: Whom did you treat
like this?" in chapter 2).
According to Jeremiah, the reason for exile was that Israel had not allowed the land to rest during her Jubilee years – an outcome promised in the Torah. (This idea that the land benefits from our exile is not found in Eikhah, where the identification of the people with the land is total.) In an age when we have good reason to believe that our ecological “sins” are coming home to roost, the connection between disaster and divine retribution may not seem so farfetched. If we sympathize with this idea, we can read Eikhah as an invitation to change our lives, towards justice for all peoples, for all species, and for the land herself.
These notes are slightly expanded from what appears in the Laments/Eikhah booklet.