This week, I heard a friend use the terms, “BC: before coronavirus” and “AC: after coronavirus” in talking about the way we gather. Where are we now, though? Somewhere in between, maybe “DC: during coronavirus.” Time seems to function differently than it did a few months ago, and as cases continue to spike across our country, we don’t yet know when we might reach “AC.”
The book of Deuteronomy begins this week with a review of the various stations of the travels the Israelites have been on. But quickly, Moses digresses into a painful moment in his own journey with them. He recalls the challenge of holding the needs of the whole community alone. In Deuteronomy 1:12, we read,
Eicha ‘esa’ l’vadi, tarchachem umasa’achem v’rivchem?!
How can I bear unaided the trouble of you, and the burden and the bickering?!
This vulnerable moment allows the Israelites a glimpse into Moses’ painful truth. Even the word “eicha” seems to function as an interrobang, serving as a question and exclamation: “how?!”
We read this Torah portion the shabbat before Tisha b’Av, the fast day commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. Traditionally, Jews read from the book of Lamentations, or Eicha, on Tisha b’Av. Eicha is a book of elegies describing the devastation that followed the destruction of the First Temple. There is a tradition that Deuteronomy 1:12 is chanted not in Torah trope, but in the sorrowful trope of Eicha, which highlights the agony in Moses’ words.
If we consider the first word of our verse, eicha, we see four letters: alef, yud, kaf, hey. When pointed with different vowels, these letters spell a different question word: Where? Ayekah? In Genesis 3:9, we encounter the first human beings still in the idyllic Ggarden, just after their snack from the forbidden tree. They hear God and hide, and God calls out to them and asks, “Ayekah? Where are you?”
Right now, with almost 14 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, there are millions of people asking in agony: how?! Tisha b’Av is a day that mourns tragedies for the Jewish peo-ple. The link between eicha and ayekah is that we try to make meaning in our lamentation. We strive to learn from where we came, glean what we can from the journey, and ask ourselves: where are we? Today, we’re somewhere “DC,” and if we learn from where we as humanity have been these last several months, we hope to arrive at “AC” safely and in good health.
Rabbi Elle Muhlbaum is the lower school director at Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Beachwood.