Eicha, the Book of Lamentations, is read each year in the synagogue on the Fast of the Ninth of Av, the saddest day of the Jewish calendar. It’s a sad read, speaks of the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem and the tremendous suffering of our people throughout the ages. Interspersed in all the sadness and despair, there are a few affirming, positive, uplifting verses of hope. These are my personal favorites:
1) Chapter 3, Verse 57: “You draw near on the day that I call, telling me not to be afraid.”
I like this verse because of a family story about it. My grandfather, Reb Moshe Rubin, loved to pray and would simply relish the words of the prayerbook and Psalms. He said them with fervor and feeling, slowly and meaningfully. There’s a custom for each person to add a verse to their silent daily Amidah prayer that reflects the initials of their Hebrew name. The way it works is you find a verse that begins and ends with the same Hebrew letters that your name begins and ends with. My grandfather’s daughter (my aunt)’s Hebrew name is Sarah Kraina. It’s easy enough to find a verse for Sarah, but Kraina was a challenge because it wasn’t as common, it began with a letter Kuf and ended with an Aleph, it didn’t appear on any of the name lists, and my grandfather, for all his knowledge and love of the verses, was stumped! So my father, his son, asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who directed him to this verse in Eicha, 3:57 which begins with a Kuf and ends with an Alef. Initially, a verse in Eicha is kind of a let-down, because you want the verse that reflects your name to a positive one, and Eicha is a very sad book. But this particular verse is one of those uplifting verses, full of hope, closeness and comforting reassurance!
Fear Not! were last words of the Baal Shem Tov’s father to his young son before his passing. In his book “Rebbe”, Telushkin considers (some degree of) fearlessness to be one of the hallmarks of Chabad and something the Rebbe instilled in his followers. And as a child I vividly remember the Rebbe would very energetically encourage us children in the singing of “Al Tirah” (Fear Not!) said after the daily prayers, and sung to this day after each prayer at Shabbos House.
2) Chapter 3, Verses 21-26 are filled with hope and uplift.
Verse 21: “Yet, this I take to heart, and therefore I still hope.”
Tanya chapter 31 (we did a Torah-Tues on “Inner vs. Outer: 31-Self, 32-Fellow, 33-World & 34-Practically Possible) paraphrases this expression, and borrows some of the context as well. It’s one of those: “Despite, Because, Yet” formulas. Despite whatever struggles and challenges and spiritual distance I may experience, still we can rejoice because of our soul within, which remains deeply connected, holy and good despite whatever happens on the outside. And I always cherished this expression “take it to heart” or as Tanys says it, “Tell your heart.” So often we’re told: don’t take it to heart but indeed there’s inspiration, life-lessons and meaningful depth that we really ought to bring home to our innermost selves.
Verse 22: “G-d’s Kindness certainly hasn’t ended, his mercies are not exhausted.”
My grandmother would often share Yiddish expressions reflecting this verse. You know when you pray for a certain outcome and it doesn’t materialize as you envisioned, but then as life plays out, you realize there are other solutions or positive outcomes that we could never have thought of. Sometimes we are so convinced, from our small slice of life that it’s gotta be either A or B, but option C pops up out of nowhere. This is also the meaning of the “VaYosha” verses we say each morning in our prayers. After the Exodus, the Jews felt stuck, trapped between the sea and Pharaoh’s armies, but then the sea split. It wasn’t what anyone expected. I call this daily recital “The Unstuck Prayer” for often in life we feel trapped or stuck, left without any good options. And this verse in Eicha has the same message: Don’t worry. G-d’s kindness hasn’t ended and his mercies are not exhausted.
Verse 23: “Renewed each morning, great is Your faithfulness.”
This verse is the precurser to the “Modeh Ani” prayer, the first thing that observant Jews say each morning upon awakening. To fully appreciate the depth and meaning of this one-line prayer, one must read several chapters of the Rebbe’s “On The Essence of Chassidus” where the Modeh Ani is understood from 5 different angles and layers and levels of Torah interpretation. The last two words of this verse are the last two words of Modeh Ani as well.
Verse 24: “G-d is my portion, says my soul, therefore I have hope in Him.”
Tanya, the Chabad Chassidic classic, is huge on this concept, and its especially elucidated in the very last Chassidic discourse shared by the Rebbe in 1992. The soul is a part of G-d, therefore totally identifies with G-d, indeed G-dliness is its very core identity. Our inner faith comes from a place of deepest connection, although far from the surface of our minds and lives.
Verse 25: “G-d is good to those who trust in Him, to those who seek Him.”
To trust and to seek out, are two of the most powerful words in any relationship. The former is quieter and more inward, built slowly over time and through varied experiences, the latter is dynamic and active and open. One is indirectly facilitated and the other is directly pursued. Both do not come easy, need constant vigilance and focus, and should never be taken for granted in any relationship.
Verse 26: “It is good to silently hope for G-d’s salvation.”
The Hebrew word for silence in this verse is “Dumya”, which means expressionless. The appreciation for this verse comes from my teenage reading of the Previous Rebbe’s Lekutei Dibburim (available in excellent English translation, by the way). It’s a set of book filled with warmth, nostalgia, stories and inspiration. And in this book, there’s an explanation of a different verse, also with the word Dumya, where Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak explains that when you are really awestruck, when you really connect, it can transcend all words and expression, there are no words, it defies words. It’s often the same way when we experience sudden joy or heaven-forbid tragedy or when we try comforting someone who has a sudden loss. And the whole idea of expression is an expression of self, and at that intense and lofty level it’s not about self at all. Perhaps somewhat similar to why many heartfelt Chabad melodies have no words. At a certain level, words (which express and share so much) are limiting. Hence, the silent hope.
3) The second to last verse 5:21 (which is again repeated at the end, to close on a positive high note): “Bring us back, G-d, and we will return. Renew our days as of old.”
Everyone loves this verse because it recited as an entire congregation with a rising voice of hope as the public reading of the Book of Lamentations is concluded. I also love a Talmud reference to this verse. Two verses are juxtaposed, one insists that we return first and then G-d will bring us back, and the other asks G-d to bring us back so we can return. Who must take the initiative? The ball is in whose court? Ending on this verse affirms that G-d will take the steps to help his people return. Indeed, we can see or sense this in our own lives, little subtle signs in which we can feel G-d’s tugging on our line, pulling us a little closer. The Rebbe would say that we ought to request, beseech and even demand that G-d do more of the heavy lifting, especially in terms of redemption, while no doubt, we must do our share.