“How Shall I Bear Alone”

  • Harav Yaakov Medan
Translated by Kaeren Fish
Jeffrey Paul Friedman
August 15, 1968 – July 29, 2012
יהודה פנחס בן הרב שרגא פייוועל
כ"ב אב תשכ"ח – י' אב תשע"ב
Dedicated in memory of Esther Leah Cymbalista z"l 
Niftera 7 B'Av 5766
Three people prophesied using the expression “eikha” (how): Moshe, Yeshayahu, and Yirmiyahu. Moshe said, “How shall I bear alone…” (Devarim 1:12); Yeshayahu said, “How [the faithful city] has become like a harlot” (Yeshayahu 1:21); Yirmiyahu said, “How [the city] sits solitary…” (Eikha 1:1). R. Levi said: We may compare this to a matron who had three attendants. One saw her in her tranquility; another saw her in her capriciousness; and the third saw her in her disgrace. Likewise, Moshe saw Israel in their dignity and tranquility, and he said, “How shall I bear alone your trouble…” Yeshayahu saw them in their capriciousness, and said, “How she has become like a harlot…” Yirmiyahu saw them in their disgrace, and said, “How she sits solitary…” (Midrash Eikha)
Three prophets, whose perceptions reflect all three parts of the Torah – Moshe in the Chumash, Yeshayahu in the Books of the Prophets, and Yirmiyahu in the Ketuvim – expressed bewilderment over the state and fate of Am Yisrael, all using the same expression, eikha. Chazal teach us that this is no coincidence, and that there is a connection between the three questions; they all share the same answer.
The most acute and compelling question is, “How she sits solitary…” – how a respected matron to whom everyone would come to pay respects and offer gifts has become an impoverished, persecuted, solitary beggar. And the bewilderment becomes even greater when we turn from the metaphor to the reality, from the fate of an individual woman to the fate of an entire nation.
The answer to this agonizing question is given by the prophets, once again in the form of a question.  And this question, too, is meant for those who look deeply, searching for the most real, most deeply-rooted reasons for what happens in the world.
The answer to the question, “How she sits solitary …” is connected to the earlier and more painful question – “How she has become like a harlot….” The path leading from the state of the matron as described by Yeshayahu and the state described by Yirmiyahu in Megillat Eikha is a short and straightforward one.
The root of Yirmiyahu’s eikha question must hence be sought in Yeshayahu’s question. And the answer to this latter question lies in Moshe’s even more difficult question: “How shall I bear alone your care and your burden and your strife?” The root of the physical destruction described by Yirmiyahu is the spiritual destruction described by Yeshayahu, and the root of this spiritual destruction lies hundreds of years earlier, in the absence of a common language between Moshe and Bnei Yisrael at the foot of Sinai, with the proposal to appoint “officers of the thousands” and “officers of the hundreds,” at the very start of the nation’s history as God’s people. It lies in the inability to find some way in which the consciousness and approach of the man of God, a consciousness of absolute sanctity, could be reconciled with the perspective and orientation of six hundred thousand simple mortals for whom the sacred and profane are intimately and inseparably intertwined. The inability to fathom the secret of the perfect union between the Divine and the material is the root of the eikha questions in the world.
In any event, Chazal perceived the connection between the catastrophe of exile and the very first pang of despair experienced by Moshe, caused by his inability to lead Am Yisrael by his own example and elevate them to his level. The connection finds tortuous expression in the chain of unhappy events that is set in motion when the nation leaves Mount Sinai to head for Eretz Yisrael, as recorded in the parashot of Beha’alotekha and Shelach. “Our soul loathes this miserable bread” (Bamidbar 21:5) – Bnei Yisrael refuse to eat heavenly bread.[1] This refusal to eat manna reverberates with their refusal to accept Moshe’s level as their aspiration, and Moshe cries out, “I cannot bear alone this whole people” (Bamidbar 11:14). The disconnect between Moshe and the nation is exacerbated by an initial undermining of Moshe’s leadership by Miriam and Aharon: “Has the Lord then spoken only with Moshe?” (Bamidbar 12:2). This paves the way to the next stage of the unravelling, where Bnei Yisrael want to examine the land themselves, rather than relying on what Moshe tells them,[2] leading to the forty-year exile in the desert. This was the root of future exiles, according to Chazal’s explanation of the very first “Tisha Be-Av”: “You made it [this date] a weeping for in vain; I shall make it a weeping for all generations” (Ta’anit 29a).
However, there is also a positive side to Moshe’s expression of perplexity and anguish. While in Parashat Devarim the idea of appointing judges is presented in a negative way, as the response to eikha, Parashat Yitro teaches us that at least one person viewed this idea as a good and worthy initiative, prompted by positive motivation. Even Chazal praise Yitro for his advice to appoint judges: “Why was he called Yitro? Because he added (yiter) a parasha to the Torah” (Shemot Rabba 27:8). Chazal surely do not praise him for introducing eikha to Am Yisrael! Unfortunate as it is that the people are not drawn to aspire to Moshe’s level, the appointment of judges selected from amongst the people is the initial conceptual cornerstone for the establishment of the Sanhedrin; it is the nucleus from which the Oral Law will grow and develop. The Sages of the Sanhedrin decide how and what to deduce and learn from the verses of the Torah, and God binds Himself, as it were, to their teachings and rulings.
Once again, in clearer fashion, in Parashat Beha’alotekha, the despair and destruction of “I cannot bear alone” produces a perfect prototype of the Sanhedrin: “Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel” (Bamidbar 11:16). The foundation of this “awakening from below” is “and he shall meditate in His/ his Torah” (Tehillim 1:2) – “the Torah is his own” (Kiddushin 32a). The Torah becomes the Torah of man. In the deep wellsprings of his soul flow the waters of Torah. His thoughts and insights become actual bodies of Torah, and the commandments and the will of the Holy One, blessed be He, address the understanding and thinking of that mortal man:
“Blessed are You… Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us” – Where did He command us [to follow the rabbinic laws]?[3] In the words, “You shall not turn aside [from the law which they shall tell you]”…. (Shabbat 23a)
Yitro merited something that many great people did not. The revelation of wellsprings of holiness – not those that have their source in the highest heavens, but those emanating from the depths of the human soul – is attributed to him. It did not occur to Moshe, or to anyone among Am Yisrael, to propose appointing judges, because they knew that halakhic questions, the need to clarify practical points of law, were not the reason for the endless line of people waiting from morning until night to consult with Moshe. Rather, as Moshe explained to Yitro, “the people come to me to inquire of God” (Shemot 18:15). What they seek is to hear God’s word, fresh and direct from the Source. For this reason, neither officers of hundreds nor even officers of thousands will solve the problem, and that is why, prior to Yitro’s arrival, no one had suggested it.
Yitro alone had the courage to stand up and declare that if there is some deficiency in Am Yisrael’s ability to absorb Moshe’s Torah – the Torah of the heavens – then wellsprings of Torah must be sought and found in the depths of the human psyche. There are innovative insights to be gleaned, God’s word in all its purity is to be found, in the inner recesses of men of valor and truth from amongst Am Yisrael. Yitro alone understood this – for if there is anyone who is a foundation for an “awakening from below” and an encounter with the Divine with no direct influence from heaven, it is Yitro, the man who (according to the midrash) neglected no form of idolatry in his quest for the truth. Yitro arrived at faith in the Creator after climbing from the lowest depths. With no guidance, no instruction, no inherent specialness, led only by his search within his own innermost self, he arrived at Mount Sinai.
Moshe saw what Yeshayahu and Yirmiyahu did not see: that the root of eikha is also the root of the rebuilding, the root of the growth of the Oral Law. And this explains why the appointment of judges is located squarely in the midst of chapters devoted in their entirety to the inheritance of the land and how it should be carried out, for there is no more manifest expression of the Oral Law than the inheritance of Eretz Yisrael. “And the manna ceased on the morrow, when they ate of the corn of the land” (Yehoshua 5:12) – Eretz Yisrael is not a land of manna from the heavens, but rather a land of wells that are dug deeply into the earth. It is the land of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov, to whom God did not make His Name known, but who nevertheless discovered Him from within their own inner selves. It is the land of the forefathers, who fulfilled all the commandments out of their own conscience, even though they never stood at Sinai and never received Torah from the heavens. Concerning this connection, R. Kook writes:
Eretz Yisrael needs to be built up, with all its children dwelling upon it… and then the Oral Law is alive in all its glorious splendor. (Orot Ha-Torah 1:3)
And yet, the story of the appointment of the judges still has the heading of eikha. For even if Yitro’s intention was good and pure, the same could not be said of Bnei Yisrael. Moshe recalls the people’s response to the initiative:
And you answered me and said, “The thing which you have spoken is good for us to do.” (Devarim 1:14)
The Sifri (Devarim, 14) elaborates:
You decided this matter for your own convenience. You should have answered, “Moshe, our teacher: from whom is it better that we learn – from you, or from your student?”
What Bnei Yisrael wanted was not just the growth and development of the Oral Law, but also its severance from the elevated, demanding, difficult standard set by Moshe – the standard of the Written Law. And it is this severance that was the root of Moshe’s eikha and ultimately the root of the exile. R. Kook continues:
In exile, the “twins” were separated. The Written Law rose up to the heights of sanctity, while the Oral Law descended to the lowest depths. (ibid.)
This schism, which began prior to the Revelation at Sinai, widened at the end of the period spent encamped around the mountain. Moshe tells Chovav (Yitro):
We are journeying to the place concerning which the Lord said, “I shall give it to you.” (Bamidbar 10:29)
Their journey is towards the land, towards the Oral Law, after staying at Sinai and absorbing the Written Law. But from the point of view of Bnei Yisrael, “They journeyed from God’s mountain” – until they reach the Promised Land, the purpose of their journeying is to distance themselves from the level of Sinai, of Moshe, of the Written Law. They view the level of Eretz Yisrael not as an additional layer that crowns their receiving of the Torah, but rather as inconsistent with it. It is necessary to “journey from God’s mountain” – in Chazal’s imagery, “like students running out of school” – in order to reach Eretz Yisrael
Now we encounter the phenomenon of the “complainers,” the loathing of the manna (Bamidbar 11). It was not that they longed to eat of the fruits of the land; rather, they were sick and tired of bread from heaven.[4] Next came the complaint of Miriam and Aharon (Bamidbar 12), followed by a “weeping for a time” that became a weeping for all generations. An Eretz Yisrael that is severed – even partially – from Sinai, from Moshe, and from Torah is doomed to destruction; its inhabitants will suffer the “separation of the twins” and exile.
Moshe took as his wife Tzippora, the daughter of the priest of Midian. This represented the hope of a cosmic fusion between Moshe and the very essence of his opposite, Midian, which represents the kelipa of forbidden sexual union; a merging of Moshe, representing the Written Law, with Yitro, representing the Oral Law. The deepening of the schism in Parashat Beha’alotekha finds bitter expression in Moshe’s separation from Yitro’s daughter.[5] The “twins” were separated; the Written Law rose up to the heights of sanctity, while the Oral Law sank down to the lowest depths. Miriam and Aharon were troubled by this, for they were not yet conscious of the depth of the crisis. The Torah tells us that “the man Moshe was exceedingly humble” (Bamidbar 12:3). The schism is not the result of Moshe’s inability to lower himself, but rather the result of the state of those who created the schism, those who journeyed “from God’s mountain,” those who loathed the manna. And this schism leads us directly on to the excruciating events of Parashat Shelach and the first Tisha Be-Av.
Once again, there is another side to the bitter reality of “eikha – how shall I bear alone…,” and it is, “These are the words that Moshe spoke to all of Israel…” (Devarim 1:1). Chazal wonder at the outpouring of Moshe’s teachings in Sefer Devarim:
First you say, “I am not a man of words” (Shemot 4:10), and then we read, “These are the [many!] words that Moshe spoke”?!
There is no clearer indication of a person’s relationship with someone else than his words. Speech is man’s means of communication. Moshe, by nature, is not an eloquent speaker. In addressing the people, he is represented by Aharon, who functions as his mouthpiece – Aharon, the “people’s man,” who loves everyone and draws them close to Torah. How difficult it is for the man of God to connect with simple mortals! How much anguish and destruction this has caused for Am Yisrael for all generations, as we see from the unfolding of the events in the desert. Moshe never failed – except when he violated God’s command, “and speak to the rock.”[6]
Yet no sooner does Moshe’s glory start to wane than it blazes anew: “These are the words which Moshe spoke.” The first threads that will stitch Moshe and the nation back together into an organic texture are woven here. These are the cords that will begin to bind the Torah of Moshe – the Written Law – together with the Torah of speech – the Oral Law. And it is initiated by Moshe.
What of Bnei Yisrael? The midrash teaches:
The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moshe: Since they have taken your rebukes to heart, you must bless them. (Midrash Rabba, Devarim 1:9)
After forty years, Bnei Yisrael begin to understand the words of their great teacher, and they return to him.
R. Kook writes (Orot HaTorah 1:3):
And then the Oral Law will begin to sprout from its deepest root, rising higher and higher, and the light of the Written Law will illuminate it anew… “And the light of the moon will be like the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be [brighter] sevenfold, like the light of the seven days [of Creation], on the day that the Lord binds up the breach of His people and heals the stroke of their wound” (Yeshayahu 30).

[1] Given to them in the merit of Moshe (Tanchuma, Bamidbar 2)
[2] See Rashi at the beginning of Parashat Shelach.
[3] The gemara poses this question in the context of the discussion about lighting Chanuka lights.
[4] See Devarim Rabba, beginning of Va’etchanan.
[5] See Rashi, “al odot ha-isha ha-kushit asher lakach.”
[6] See Rashi on Parashat Chukat