Today is Tisha B’Av – the saddest day in the Jewish calendar when we commemorate the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem and countless other tragedies.
On this day we read from the Scriptures the Book of Lamentations. In Hebrew, it is called Eichah for the first word of the book:
How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people!
Although, the word eichah literally means “how,” it came to be synonymous with lamentation.
The Zohar points out that there is another word in Tanakh spelled the same way – the word pronounced “ayeka” in Genesis:
And the Lord God called unto the man, and said unto him: ‘Where art thou?’ (Genesis 3:9)
In Hebrew, the expression, “where are you?” is ayeka – the words spelled with the same letters as eichah. The Zohar teaches that God foretold Adam that just as he is going to be exiled from the Paradise because of his sin, his descendants will also be exiled from the Holy Land due to their sins, and they will be reciting Eichah lamentations. (Zohar, parashat Bereishit, p.29a)
It appears to me that there may be a personal lesson for every one of us here. A story is told about Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (the Alter Rebbe, Baal HaTanya – the first Rebbe and founder of the Chabad Chassidut) when he was imprisoned in St. Petersburg on a charge of high treason. A Russian minister, who was well-schooled in the Bible studies and heard of the Alter Rebbe’s genius, visited him in his cell. He asked the Alter Rebbe the meaning of this verse in Genesis. At first, the Alter Rebbe told him the standard commentary of Rashi. The minister replied that he was familiar with Rashi’s commentary and wanted to know the Rebbe’s interpretation. The Rebbe explained, “‘Where are you?’ is G‑d’s eternal call to every man. Where are you holding? What have you accomplished? You have been allotted a certain number of days, hours, and minutes in which to fulfill your mission in life. You have lived so many years and so many days,” – here the Rebbe hinted at the exact age of the minister – “Where are you? What have you achieved?”
We too have to ask ourselves this question – Where are you? As Plato noted, an unexamined life is not worth living. The warning is dire – if one fails to answer the call of God, “Ayekah – Where are you?”, if one fails to examine one’s life and ask oneself, “Where are you?”, the result may be, God forbid, a life that was not worth living, a life only worthy of lamentation, eichah. We need to accustom ourselves to asking ourselves this difficult question regularly, and giving an honest answer. This is the first step to a life of purpose and fulfillment, the life worth living.
There is a flip side of this moral. Once Rabbi DovBer Mezirich found his young son crying. He asked the child, “Why are you crying?” The child answered, “We were playing hide and seek; I hid here, and nobody came to seek me.” Hearing this Rabbi DovBer lifted his eyes to heaven and cried: “You too have hidden Your face from us only because You want us to seek You. But Your children have tired of the game and have run off…”
On the day of Tisha B’Av, we can reverse the lamentations of Eichah by seeking God, by asking our Father in Heaven, “Ayekah – Where are you? Why have You abandoned your children for so long in this exile?” When our Father hears that His children are seeking Him, He will surely come out of hiding and redeem us immediately.