The Heart of Yirmiyahu

What was Yirmiyahu Hanavi feeling when he composed Eichah?

The question itself seems amazing. What could he be feeling when describing the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash, when memorializing the tragic events over which the Jewish People have mourned for close to 2,000 years, in which he writes of himself, “Rivers of water run down from my eyes on the brokenness of my people” (Eichah 3:48)?

How can we even ask the question about how he felt in writing the book which has ever since been synonymous with mourning and lamentation?

But the feelings of Yirmiyahu Hanavi were not as simple, as unalloyed with other emotions, as would first appear.

In fact, the Chazon Ish said that he must have written Eichah in a mood of simchah! It must have been so, because Chazal say that “the Divine Presence dwells only in simchah” (Shabbos 30b, Pesachim 117b). Prophecy is inaccessible through sadness.

Still, how was it possible to feel happy while describing such terrible destruction all around him?

The simchah came from the knowledge that this was nevuah l’doros, that he was writing Eichah for all the generations to come. That alone, being assured that the Jewish people would continue to mourn the Churban every year until the rebuilding of the Mikdash, was the source of Yirmiyahu’s simchah (Harav Tuvya Weiss, Rabbeinu Hagadol Amro, p. 243; Maaseh Ish, vol. IV, p. 163). He knew the glory would return, and that his words would help to ensure and hasten it.

As the Chasam Sofer explained the statement of Chazal that whoever mourns over Yerushalayim merits and sees its simchah (Taanis 30b): “They do not say, ‘He will see,’ but that ‘he does see it,’ even now.”

For the very fact that one mourns the destruction gives rise to a great simchah. Among the nations, there is nothing comparable to such mourning over an event that happened two millennia ago. The fall of the Roman Empire is recorded and studied; but no one, including the descendants of the ancient Romans, mourns it. The same is true of every other destruction known to history. The facts may be known, but the emotions are long gone.

Not so Yerushalayim. As it says, “After 12 months, the dead are forgotten from the heart” (Brachos 58b). If, after so many years, we can still remember it, still feel it in the heart and be moved to weep over the loss, then it must not be dead. It is proof that the spirit of Yerushalayim and the Mikdash live and they will be rebuilt. That is the source of simchah, for us, as for Yirmiyahu.

Similarly, the reason we refrain from saying Tachanun on Tishah B’Av is because it is referred to as a mo’ed. It contains something of the simchah of the mo’adim; and when the Mikdash is rebuilt, the mourning of Tishah B’Av will become a festive day.

The Shulchan Aruch (554:25) says: “Anyone who eats or drinks on Tishah B’Av will not merit to see the simchah of Yerushalayim; whoever mourns over Yerushalayim merits and sees its simchah.”

The two parts of the statement would seem to contradict one another. The first part implies that only one who eats or drinks does not merit — but if he keeps the fast, he will merit. The latter part implies that merely keeping the fast is not sufficient — one must actively mourn in order to merit seeing the simchah of Yerushalayim.

We can answer as follows: There are two levels of merit. One who respects the fast will be able to see the simchah of Yerushalayim. But he will be no more than an onlooker; he sees it but does not participate in it. Only one who not only keeps the fast but in fact mourns the Churban will merit fully to see it, to participate in the rejoicing; since through his tears and tefillos he helped to rebuild it, he earned a place inside, not just as an onlooker. As the Chasam Sofer said, “Every tear is another brick in the Beis Hamikdash.”

This would also explain a phrase in the tefillah of the mo’adim: “V’hareinu b’vinyano, v’samcheinu b’sikuno — Let us see the rebuilding, and rejoice in its perfection.”

The phrasing seems redundant. Yet, here too, we ask that we should merit not only to witness the rebuilt Yerushalayim, as mere spectators; but that we should be participants in the celebration (Rav Moshe Gefen, z”l, Kuntros Zichron Moshe, p. 300).

Thus, the mourning itself is a source of simchah. For we know that as we mourn, we help to rebuild the Mikdash and so we merit to see it, not only as spectators, but as participants; not only in the future, but even in our own days.

Yirmiyahu was the first to feel it.