4:3- גַּם-תַּנִּין (תַּנִּים) חָלְצוּ שַׁד, הֵינִיקוּ גּוּרֵיהֶן; בַּת-עַמִּי לְאַכְזָר, כַּיְ עֵנִים (כַּיְעֵנִים) בַּמִּדְבָּר
This is the very worst lament of all. To expound on Rashi, the people have lost their humanity to such an extent that even the jackals are kinder than they are. It is crucial that men do not lose their sense of humanity and civilization when under extreme circumstances. This is true of our humanity in how we deal with others, as well as with ourselves as individuals, regarding cleanliness, hygiene, etc.
4:13- מֵחַטֹּאות נְבִיאֶיהָ, עֲוֹנֹת כֹּהֲנֶיהָ: הַשֹּׁפְכִים בְּקִרְבָּהּ, דַּם צַדִּיקִים
Can the priests and the prophets have been guilty of such crimes as murder? According to Rashi, the reference is to false prophets and idolatrous priests. But according to the simple explanation, can they really have stooped so low? Maybe. Or maybe it is holding the leaders figuratively responsible, for not having done more to prevent the atrocities. See the end of Sotah for a parallel, concerning the Eglah Erufah. The law is that upon finding a corpse, and being unable to solve the murder, the leaders of the nation must declare publicly that they did not kill the person. The Talmud explains that this is not because they are actually suspected of such crimes, but because their actions as leaders, or inaction’s, may have led to it.
4:15- סוּרוּ טָמֵא קָרְאוּ לָמוֹ, סוּרוּ סוּרוּ אַל-תִּגָּעוּ--כִּי נָצוּ, גַּם-נָעוּ; אָמְרוּ, בַּגּוֹיִם, לֹא יוֹסִפוּ, לָגוּר
What an astoundingly tragic prophecy. The prophet tells us that the nations of the world will refuse to take the Jews in. This has been the story of the Jews since the destruction.
5:3- יְתוֹמִים הָיִינוּ ְאֵין) אָב, אִמֹּתֵינוּ כְּאַלְמָנוֹת
My uncle Willis told me in the name of his wife’s grandfather, Rav Yisroel Gustman, that the verse seems redundant. If one is an orphan, of course he has no father! But rather, he said, there are two types of orphans. There is the type who knew his father, and his father has now died. And then there is the poor fellow who never even knew his father. He thus highlighted the difference between today’s generation, and the generation that came out of Europe. The latter at least knew the father, i.e., what Jewish life was for centuries in Europe. We however, we were never even privileged to know what our father – Yiddishkeit of the old country – was like.
This is really what effectively caused the era of what we call the achronim to come to an end. All periods of Jewish scholarship end with two things in common. First, there must be a major event, catastrophe or advance, which changes the landscape in such a way that people realize that an era has passed. Second, the last scholars of the period must outshine, in a very large way, those that follow after him. Thus, the period of the amoaraim ended with the writing of the Mishna by R’ Yehuda Hanasi, who was clearly the greatest man of his time. The writing of the Mishna was clearly a landmark event in Jewish history, for that was the first time that the Oral law had been committed to writing. (Broadly speaking, of course. Many scholars have pointed out that R’ Yehuda merely collected and edited the private collections of written Mishnayos which had already existed for some time.) The period of the tannaim ended with the writing of the Gemara by Ravina and Rav Ashi, who also, stood head and shoulders above everybody else of their time. Rav Saddia Gaon, who ended the period of the Geonim, was perhaps the greatest of all the Gaonim before him. The Rishonim ended with the introduction of the printing press, an event that would have far-reaching repercussions in the Jewish world. And in our times too, the men who emerged from Europe were far more learned than anyone this generation has managed to produce. Thus, the era of the achronim has come to an end.
5:21- הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יְהוָה אֵלֶיךָ (וְנָשׁוּבָה)חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם
The verse speaks about the idea of repentance. Sometimes people misunderstand the meaning behind the daily prayer for repentance. We are not praying for the ability to come closer to Him, for greater Deveikus, if you will. If this were the case, we would simply pray precisely for that, in those terms! Besides, the mere fact that one prays at all is itself indicative of an already existing relationship between God and the supplicant, (albeit one that can be improved), and thus by itself shows a desire to improve the relationship.
Rather, it seems to me that the prayer for repentance is really a prayer for help in becoming a better person, which would then lead to greater Deveikus. We pray that we should be able to break our bad character traits with ease, and with little outside interference. Once we have done that, we can move forward in our relationship with God. This is entirely different from the way the prayer is commonly understood.
5:22- כִּי אִם-מָאֹס מְאַסְתָּנוּ, קָצַפְתָּ עָלֵינוּ עַד-מְאֹד
It seems strange to end on this somewhat sour-sounding note, which basically says that we’ve suffered enough already. Why not end it on the pen-ultimate verse, which anyway is the one we repeat?
It might be because this at least gives us the hope of a future redemption. After all, it offers a convincing rationale to end this bitter, bitter exile. The other verse though, requires an effort on our part to do Teshuvah (According to the Medrash “shuvu bonim shovvim” -Jeremiah 3:22 - we may even have to take the initiative. I have not found this Midrash yet though. See also Malachi 3:7 - שׁוּבוּ אֵלַי וְאָשׁוּבָה אֲלֵיכֶם) This, unfortunately, has proven to be a difficult task. It is perhaps better then, that we end the exile on a kind of “ back-door” plea bargain of having suffered enough, rather than risk gaining it through the nobler, but riskier, route of repentance. It’s like a criminal appearing before the parole board. Naturally the criminal would like to exonerate himself, and demonstrate that he has done whatever it takes to reintegrate into society. However, if the standards seem to be daunting, he would rather show that he has already paid his debt to society and any more punishment would be futile or even counter productive. That’s what we say to God here.
May we all merit the coming of the Redemption, speedily, in our days.