Aryeh Cohen, Associate Professor of Rabbinic Literature at the University of Judaism, offers a salient commentary on Tisha B’Av this week on Radical Torah:
Lamentations Rabba, the Rabbinic exegesis and amplification of Lamentations — the sad and haunting elegy we read on Tisha B’Av — begins with an odd and compelling comment. The opening words of the scroll are “Eichah yashvah vadad/Woe is she who sits alone.” The Rabbis however read the etymological affinity of the opening word to the shorter word “eich/how” in order to picture God asking the question: “How do people mourn so that I may learn how to mourn?” Citing verses from the Prophets and Psalms as prooftexts, the midrash relates the way in which God’s angelic court teaches God how to mourn. This is the cosmic shift which signals the beginning of Exile: God’s learning to mourn. The God of the Rabbis is not the avenging God of Isaiah and Jeremiah. The God of Exile is a more humble God, who learns to sit, and cry, and grieve.
My thoughts have often turned to this wonderful midrashic passage over the past week, as we edge towards Tisha b’Av, and Israel edges toward — what? Tisha b’Av commemorates a string of tragedies which, according to traditional sources, were brought about by Israel’s failures — the infidelity of the Golden Calf, the lack of trust of the spies, the idolatry of the First Temple, the baseless hatred of the Second Temple and on. And yet, it is God who learns how to mourn. It is God who contracts and humbles God’s self. Standing on the edge of Canaan, Moses warns the people of Israel. “Beware that you do not become so proud that you say to yourselves, ‘My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me.’” (Deut. 8:17)