Reading the three texts of Shabbat Chazon [Vision] and Tisha B’av together can easily feed a sense of despair:
On this Shabbat of Vision, we stand at the river’s edge, imagining the world on the other side, the one our ancestors were, decades before, led to believe was just around the corner. And yet, as Deuteronomy opens, we are listening to Moses describe all the ways we’ve already disappointed and erred since taking those first tentative steps toward what we hoped would be better days. “How?! How can I bear the trouble/burden [torach] of you?” Moses moans (Deut 1:12; see PDF in previous post).
On this same Shabbat, we are treated to the prophet Isaiah’s speech from across the river, inside that imagined world. He, too, is explaining just how thoroughly we’ve failed, turning vision into a burden even God cannot bear: “[Your rituals] are become a burden [torach] to me…Your hands are full of blood.” (Isaiah 1:14-15). “How?! How did a dream of justice and righteousness become a city of murderers?” (1:21, paraphrased)
With Eikha, that imagined world has collapsed, and we are on the road out of the ruins. “How?! How did what once appeared so vibrant turn into this painful mess?!”
It seems that we’ve been crying, “How?! How did things get this bad?!” for so long that we might as well simply declare that nothing ever changes, that people are just as rotten to one another today as they were in Isaiah’s time or King Josiah’s or at the time of Exile, and our problems have been basically the same for 2700 years.
But we can also understand these three readings — offered to us at the lowest point in the Jewish calendar — as an age-old acknowledgement that there will always be failures, that the better days envisioned will always be ahead, that we are always facing an ending…with, we must hope, a new beginning beyond it.
“Where is the ‘so’?”
In the kinot for Tisha B’av, Chapter 13 offers a series of verses beginning “אֵי כֹּה” [ei ko], translated as “Where is the [ko-based] promise…?” (Sefaria offers the Hebrew for Chapter 13 but no translation.) Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s commentary, found in Koren Mesorat HaRav Kinot (Koren, 2010), explains:
In this kina, Rabbi Elazar HaKalir treats the word eikha as though it were a composite word consisting of two separate words, ei and ko, and therefore, the meaning of the word is not “how?!” but rather “where is the ko, the ‘so'”? Where are the promises that God made to the Jewish people using the word ko?
The author of the kina is asking, R’ Soloveitchik says, why the promises were not fulfilled, and ultimately God responds: “Do not worry, the ko will be realized; sooner or later there will be no need to ask Eikha” (p. 327).
Maybe, however, we should read “where is the ‘so’?” from another angle: For nearly 3000 years, we’ve been warned that there is blood on our hands and work to be done. And so?
And so: 1) “Cease to do evil.” 2) “Learn to do good.” 3) “Devote yourself [to repair]” and, only then, 4) Atone/seek restoration of relationship.
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught: “If you believe that you can destroy, believe that you can repair.” (Meshivat Nefesh #38). We will always mess up, and always be called to keep going.