Virtual Talmud

Virtual Talmud

Lamenting the Suffering

A few hours before Tisha b’Av began I was reflecting that the violence in the Middle East shows absolutely no signs of abating. Instead, it’s been getting worse–with Hezbollah shooting more than 200 rockets into Israel and Israel vowing to push deeper into Lebanon with ground troops. Some years I’ve had to move myself emotionally and spiritually into an appropriate place to observe Tisha b’Av and the death and destruction it commemorates; this year, sadly, I couldn’t find myself anywhere else.

I wrote last week that the disasters commemorated by Tisha b’Av have typically served as a source of reflection and introspection for the Jewish people. Unsurprisingly, both sides are firmly engaged in pointing fingers at the other rather than looking into themselves.


This is very easy to do–as someone who loves Israel, I naturally am horrified at the cross-border kidnapping of Israeli soldiers and constant barrage of missiles into Israel and can easily justify Israel’s taking action to defend its borders and its citizens. After all, if Canada were pledged to America’s destruction and were lobbing missiles into Maine, we’d certainly do something about it. The sad part is that two can play this game–or three, or six, or ten. I don’t for a minute accept Hezbollah’s arguments, yet this doesn’t change the fact that there are as many points of view to justify whatever position you like as there are positions, and each side feels the other is the aggressor. It’s so much easier to blame your problems on others.


In the middle of the book of Lamentations, which is chanted on Tisha b’Av, the poet’s lament pauses for an eyewitness account of the destruction of Jerusalem: “I am the man who has seen affliction because of the rod of God’s wrath.” (3:1) The entire third chapter is presented in the first person as the anguish and disbelief of a survivor of the devastation that accompanied the destruction of the Temple. It stands in stark contrast to the rest of the book, and in many congregations is chanted to its own distinctive melody.

In including this section, I believe the author of Lamentations is trying to convey the importance of recognizing the human dimension of disaster. We may try to understand the reasons or purposes that underlie the devastation–as the author of Lamentations certainly does–but any attempt to explain that ignores the human suffering at the core of experience is ultimately hollow.

As we fumble for our justifications and counter-justifications for the violence in the Middle East, let’s be sure not to get so caught up in our arguments and our ideologies that we miss the human suffering taking place before our eyes on both sides of the border.

Comments read comments(2)
post a comment
Robert Roepke

posted August 8, 2006 at 9:19 pm

It ( the continual conflict in the middle east) must be God’s fault as all sides say that God is on their side!Is God duplicitous? I don’t think so. The Creator made us and then left us alone to do our madness!

report abuse


posted August 9, 2006 at 12:08 am

Dear Rabbi Waxman, I read carefully Lamenting the Suffering but could not find your views on whether war is a disease & whether it is curable. In my opinion war is part of evolution. Stagnation is death and what the Moslems are doing is struggling against their socio-economical & philosophical stagnation. Alex Nodopaka

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

The Task Is Never Finished
It has been heartwarming to read the warm responses to Rabbi Waxman's post asking Beliefnet to reconsider its decision to cancel Virtual Talmud. Virtual Talmud offered an alternative model for internet communications: civil discourse pursued in ...

posted 12:31:46pm Apr. 03, 2008 | read full post »

Some Parting Reflections
Well, loyal readers, all good things must come to an end and we’ve been informed that this particular experiment in blogging as a forum for creating wide-ranging discussion on topics of interest to contemporary Jews has run its course. Maybe ...

posted 1:00:29pm Mar. 31, 2008 | read full post »

Obama's Lesson and The Jewish Community
There are few times in this blog’s history when I have felt that Rabbi Grossman was one hundred percent correct in her criticisms of my ideas. However, a few weeks ago she called me out for citing a few crack websites on Barak Obama’s ...

posted 12:09:08pm Mar. 31, 2008 | read full post »

The Future of Race Relations
As a post-baby boomer, it is interesting to me to see how much of today’s conversation about racial relations is still rooted in the 1960s experience and rhetoric of the civil rights struggle, and the disenchantment that followed. Many in the ...

posted 4:04:41pm Mar. 25, 2008 | read full post »

Wright and Wrong of Race and Jews
Years ago, as a rabbinical student, I was one of a group of rabbinical students who visited an African American seminary in Atlanta. My fellow rabbinical students and I expected an uplifting weekend of interfaith sharing like we had experienced ...

posted 12:50:11pm Mar. 24, 2008 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.