Shiur #35: "In Remembrance Lies The Secret of the Redemption" Psalm 137 (Part III)
"In remembrance lies THe secret of the redemption"
Psalm 137 (Part III)
Rav Elchanan Samet
(1) By the
there we sat and wept,
as we remembered
(2) On the willows in its midst
we hung our lyres.
2 (3) For there our captors required of us words of song,
and our despoilers gladness.
"Sing to us the songs of
(4) How shall we sing the Lord's song
on foreign soil?
3 (5) If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget.
(6) May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not raise
to the head of my joy.
Remember, O Lord, against the children of
the day of
those who said, "Raze it, raze it
to its very foundations."
happy is he who will repay you
your recompense for what you have done to us.
(9) Happy is he who will seize
and dash your infants against the rock.
TO THE EXILES: "BUILD HOUSES... AND SEEK THE PEACE OF THE CITY
The transition that
we have been describing from the shock of the initial encounter with exile to
the normalization of life is an inevitable and even positive transition. Exile
is a temporary state, but long enough so as not to allow paralysis and the
cessation of normal life. The people of
Concealed in this
positive process, however, is the danger of adjusting to exile, reconciling with
its existence, and forgetting the connection to
The prophet Yirmiyahu
dealt with similar problems in connection with the exile of Yehoyakhin. Eleven
years prior to the destruction of Jerusalem, Nevuchadnetzar, king of Babylon,
exiled king Yehoyakhin, and with him the entire leadership in Jerusalem. It
seems that these exiles "were sitting on their suitcases," unwilling to make
peace with the new reality. What brought them to behave in this manner was the
To counter this attitude, Yirmiyahu sent a "book" (a letter) to the exiles, the content of which is recorded in Yirmiyahu 29:
1 Now these are the words of the letter that Yirmiya the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the remainder of the elders who were carried away captives, and to the priests, and to the prophets, and to all the people whom Nevuchadnetzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon
Thus says the Lord
to all that are carried away captives whom I have caused to be carried away from
5 Build houses and dwell in them, and plant gardens and the fruit of them.
6 Take wives and beget sons and daughters, that they may bear sons and daughters; that you may be increased there, and not diminished.
Yirmiyahu calls for a normalization of life and for continued existence and increase in numbers in exile. The reason is as follows:
For thus says the
Lord: That after seventy years are accomplished at
Does Yirmiyahu also
instruct the exiles about how to shape their attitudes regarding
One verse in Yirmiyahu's prophecy addresses the issue of consciousness during the period of exile, but it is exceedingly surprising. After Yirmiyahu instructs the exiles in verses 4-6 to live normal lives in exile, he continues:
7 And seek the peace of the city into which I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace shall you have peace.
R. Reuven Margaliot deals with this issue in his book, "Ha-Mikra Ve-Ha-Mesora" (chapter 19):
"And seek the peace of the city into which I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace shall you have peace" (Yirmiyahu 29:7).
Even before I knew how to properly read a biblical verse, I was familiar with these words of the prophets from the thousands of placards during the elections for the Austrian parliament, the Galician state council, and the like. Those who supported the ruling regime based their outlook on them. This way of understanding these words of the prophet was firmly accepted even by those who tried to penetrate to the substance of the prophet's intention, which, according to this understanding, involves reconciliation with the exile.
It is interesting,
however, that our Rabbis, the talmudic sages, had a different understanding of
these words of the prophets. According to them, the prophet commands in this
order that even when
Tanchuma, Vayigash, s.v., ve-et Yehuda shalach
le-fanav, where they say: "Whatever happened to Yosef happened to
It is evident from
the style of their words that they did not come to expound this
verse as referring to
The profundity of the literal sense rests on a feature that was operative when Hebrew was a spoken language, namely, "letters going backwards and forwards." When a word begins with a letter with which the previous word had ended, the letter is attached to the previous word and to the word that follows. As if it was written: "And seek the peace of the city from which I have caused you to be carried away captives" ["asher higleti etkhem misham," and not as it is written: "asher higleti etkhem shama"].
The words of the prophet do not refer to Babylon, saying that in its peace shall you have peace, to the land soaked with the blood of the exiled nation, the land about which it is stated: "Happy is he who will seize and dash your infants against the rock," but rather to Zion, the house of our lives, as understood by our Sages.
It turns out, then, that Yirmiyahu's words perfectly accord with what is
stated in our psalm. Reestablishing one's life in exile is permitted, and even
desirable, but it must be accompanied by constant seeking of
V. R. YEHOSHUA'S ADVICE TO THOSE WHO WERE INCLINED TO ASCETICISM FOLLOWING THE DESTRUCTION OF THE SECOND TEMPLE
The destruction of
Certain circles in
the nation were overcome by profound grief, serious enough to disrupt normal
life on both the individual and the community level. There were Sages who
opposed this approach and ordered a return to normal life, together with
ceaseless remembering of
Thus, we read in a baraita appearing in the Talmud at the end of the third chapter of Bava Batra (60b):
Our Rabbis taught:
R. Yehoshua disagreed with the approach adopted by the ascetics, who,
owing to the destruction of the
What alternative did R. Yehoshua offer them? How could they continue
mourning the destruction of the
He said to them: My
sons, come and listen to me. Not to mourn at all is impossible, because the blow
To mourn overmuch is also impossible, because we do not impose on the community
a hardship which the majority cannot endure
The Sages therefore have ordained thus. A man may stucco his house, but he
should leave a little bare
A man can prepare a full-course banquet, but he should leave out an item or
A woman can put on all her ornaments, but leave off one or two
For so it says: "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget, may my
tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth [if I do not remember you, if I do not
raise Jerusalem to the head of my joy]."
Whoever mourns for
Not all the Sages agreed with the approach underlying R. Yehoshua's words. In the continuation of the same passage, we read the words of a younger contemporary of R. Yehoshua, the Tanna R. Yishmael, who identifies with the inclinations of the ascetics but in practice does not disagree with R. Yehoshua:
R. Yishmael ben
Elisha said: Since the day of the destruction of the
Note the extremes to which things were carried!
The spirit of Yirmiyahu's prophecy and of Tehilim 137 is certainly much closer to the words of R. Yehoshua.
(Translated by David Strauss)
 Mossad HaRav Kook, 5724, pp. 64-67.
 Moshe Yitzchak
Ashkenazi, a student of S.D. Luzzatto, offers an interesting explanation of this
verse. We find in the introduction to his commentary to the book of
Yirmiyahu (Ho'il Moshe,
Yirmiyahu is also unique in that he talks to the hearts of his people to seek out the peace of the city to which they have been exiled, for in its peace they shall have peace, in such a way that according to his words we can be Jews with all our heart and soul, and remember Jerusalem, our soul's longing, without ceasing to love our homeland as a child loves his mother
 Here, R. Margaliot
comments: "The additional heh in 'shamah' instead of
'sham' is [part of] Yirmiyahu's style. See also 27:22: 'They shall be
R. Margaliyot discusses the rule of "letters going backwards and forwards" in notes 1-3 to chapter 19 and throughout chapter 20, and he brings tens of examples of the use of this rule in biblical exegesis. Some are exceedingly illuminating in their novelty and in the way that they resolve serious exegetical difficulties (as in the case of the prophecy of Yirmiyahu under discussion).
 R. Yehoshua ben Chananya was a Tanna of the second generation, a student of R. Yochanan ben Zakkai, and he lived during the generation of the destruction.
 He apparently means
that the obligation to mourn the destruction of the
 Most of the community cannot endure an ascetic life in which there is no eating of meat or drinking of wine or abstention from normal life which includes celebrations.
 Here, the Amora'im interrupt and explain the precise parameters of this law: a cubit by a cubit by the door.
 Here, too, R. Pappa interrupts and explains what is left out: a dish of fish.
 Here, Rav interrupts
and explains what is left out: "bat tzeda'a." The reference seems to be
to a bride, who must leave out one of the usual bridal ornaments. See also
Sota 9:14, which records various decrees connected to brides and grooms
that were instituted following the destruction of the
 a. Instead of the
words in brackets, the gemara reads "etc.;" as usual, this means that the
essence of the derivation is from the latter part of the verse which is not
cited. Here it is clear that the derivation is from the words, "if I do not
b. Here once again, the gemara interrupts the presentation of the baraita and cites the words of the Amora R. Yitzchak: "What is meant by 'to the head of my joy'? R. Yitzchak said: This is symbolized by the burnt ashes which we place on the head of a bridegroom." Placing burnt ashes on the head of the bridegroom is a realization of the metaphor in the verse, "to the head of my joy."
 See above, note 10a. The same applies to the words in brackets here.