In the eighth verse of Eikha, Yirmiyahu describes how those who had once held the city of Jerusalem (and the Jewish Kingdom generally) in high esteem now looked upon it degradingly: “All who respected her now scorned her, for they have seen her nakedness.” Rashi explains “ervatah” (“her nakedness”) in this verse to mean “her disgrace,” referring to the humiliation brought to the kingdom when Jerusalem was plundered by ruthless enemies who seized its treasures, killed its inhabitants, and set its buildings ablaze.
Rav Yaakov of Lissa (the “Netivot”), in his Palgei Mayim commentary to Megilat Eikha, offers a creative interpretation of this verse, suggesting that “mekhabedeha” (“those who respected her”) refers to the mitzvot performed by the Jews of the time. Normally, mitzvot are a great source of pride, dignity and respect for a person; they invite admiration and esteem. However, when a person is publicly disgraced and humiliated on account of his grievous sins, then his mitzvot are a source of shame, not honor. If a person is found guilty of grave indiscretions, then the righteous acts he had performed become repugnant. Rav Yaakov of Lissa draws an analogy to beautiful jewelry placed on a woman whose face is covered with filth. The jewelry does not add any beauty; to the contrary, it invites ridicule and scorn. Likewise, if a person is covered by the “filth” of depravity, then his mitzvot, like fine jewelry, are unattractive, and in fact disgraceful. They bring him no honor, and instead add further shame.
On this basis, Rav Yaakov of Lissa explains the first half of the verse – “Jerusalem has committed a sin, and so she has become a nidda.” Targum and Rashi explain “nidda” to mean “wandering,” referring to the decree of exile issued against the Jewish Kingdom on account of its wrongdoing, which turned the Jews into a wandering nation. Rav Yaakov of Lissa, however, suggests that the word “nidda” here is used in its more familiar meaning, referring to a menstruating woman. Yirmiyahu here compares Jerusalem to a woman covered by her own blood, in that her sins were public, on full display, noticed by everyone. Am Yisrael was mired in the “filth” of iniquity, and, as a result, their mitzvot were a source of additional shame and degradation, instead of a source of honor and pride. When we disgrace ourselves through improper conduct, even our mitzvot bring us shame, making us look like shallow, deceitful and hypocritical as we perform good deeds in a state of moral and spiritual decay.