Readings from the Midrash for Tisha B’Av

Lamentations Rabbah (Eichah Rabbah) is among the very early Midrashic texts, going back to the 4th century in the land of Israel. Midrash in general (there are a few exceptions) is a phenomenon of the rabbis in Israel and not Babylon. Midrashic parables are generally about theology, about the sages reacting to what God has said in scripture and done in history. The book of Lamentations in the Bible is disturbing for some, whose faith is built on a rosy picture of God and the world. Reality is sadness, mourning, loss. How does Lamentations deal with this? How do the rabbis further examine the sadness of life in a post-Temple world, in which God is hidden and the people are in an ongoing crisis of faith? May the following readings comfort and challenge you:

To me, this saying suggests that God’s doings on earth follow cycles of emotion. He judges the world and from time to time, in grief and longing for his righteous, he relents for a time:

R. Simeon b. Lakish said: When the Holy One, Blessed be He, despairs of the righteous in this world, he relents and has compassion upon them. Lamentations Rabbah. That is what is stated: IT IS GOOD THAT A MAN SHOULD WAIT QUIETLY FOR THE SALVATION OF THE LORD (Lam 3:26).

Who can keep believing through centuries of pain and suffering with the silence of God the only sound from heaven? This is my favorite of all midrashic parables. Starting at “likewise” we find the nimshal or explanation of the parable’s mashal (riddle, simile, puzzle). It is based on Lamentations 3:21 and is answering the question: what is the “this” which the Lamenter calls to mind? It should not be difficult to imagine what the sages would say the “this” is. As Yeshua-followers, I would add that in addition to Torah we should include the besorot (gospels) in the “this”.

R. Abba bar Kahana (3rd generation Amora, c. 300 CE) said: It is like a king who married a woman and wrote her a large marriage-settlement (ketubah). He wrote her: So many bridal chambers I am building for you; so much jewelry I make for you; so much gold and silver I give you. Then he left her for many years and left for the provinces. Her neighbors used to taunt her and say to her: Hasn’t your husband abandoned you! Go! Marry another man. She would weep and sigh, and afterward she would enter her bridal-chamber and read her marriage-settlement and sigh [with relief]. Many years and days later the king returned. He said to her: I am amazed that you have waited for me all these years! She replied: My master, O king! If not for the large wedding-settlement you wrote me, my neighbors long ago would have led me astray.

Likewise: The nations of the world taunt Israel and say to them: Your God does not want you. He has left you. He has removed his presence from you. Come with us, and we will appoint you to be generals, governors, and officers.

And the people of Israel enter their synagogues and houses of study and there they read in the Torah, “I will look with favor upon you, and make you fertile . . . I will establish My abode in your midst, and I will not spurn you” (Lev 26:9, 11), and they console themselves.

In the future, when the redemption comes, the Holy One, blessed be He, will say to Israel: My children! I am amazed at how you have waited for me all these years!

And they will say to him: Master of the Universe! Were it not for the Torah You gave us, in which we read when we entered our synagogues and houses of study, “I will look with favor upon you . . . and I will not spurn you,” the nations of the world long ago would have led us away from you.

That is what is written, “Were not your teaching my delight, I would have perished in my affliction” (Ps. 119:92). Therefore, it says: THIS I CALL TO MIND; THEREFORE I HAVE HOPE (Lam 3:21).

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4 Responses to Readings from the Midrash for Tisha B’Av

  1. Pingback: Classic Reprint: The Book of Lamentations | Messianic Jewish Musings

  2. James says:

    Thanks for this, Derek. My Tisha b’Av “reflections” are going to spill over into tomorrow’s morning meditation, but you quoted something I thought I should add.

  3. This is great, Derek. Thanks for posting. It reminds me of a song by Charlie Peacock, called Dear Friend. It speaks of the same metaphor:

    Dear friend, there’s a story goin’ round
    says you’re gonna be married soon
    But you’ve been sayin’ that for years,
    and there can be no wedding without a groom
    You said he’s gone away to make a place for you and Him
    Oh you know He’s gonna come back,
    but you just don’t know when

    Dear friends He is not slow in keeping His promises
    As some understand slowness to be
    Keep a watch out, don’t lose faith, He said He would come for you
    He’s gonna come for you, you wait and see

    Dear friend, people joke, they laugh and they make fun
    When you tell ’em all about the groom who’s gonna come
    He’s been gone a long long time, are there any doubts to confess
    Do you wonder if you’re ever gonna wear that wedding dress

    • Derek Leman says:

      That just goes to show that metaphors resonate through the centuries and people thousands of years apart come up with similar patterns (that is, unless Charlie Peacock read Midrash!).

      Derek Leman

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