Sunday, August 10, 2008

קָצַפְתָּ עָלֵינוּ עַד-מְאֹד

As I often do following the night's reading of Eicha, since my shul only has these ancient kinot booklets instead of real books, I looked it up in the English in order to get a better understanding of what was read. I have a passing understanding of Biblical Hebrew, but to really get at the little phrases and deeper meanings some further examination with a translation is helpful. Anyway, I found something interesting that I hadn't noticed before.

The final couple of pasukim from the megillah are as so:

כא: הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יְהוָה אֵלֶיךָ ונשוב (וְנָשׁוּבָה) חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם. כב: כִּי אִם-מָאֹס מְאַסְתָּנוּ קָצַפְתָּ עָלֵינוּ עַד-מְאֹד

Which mean, according to my understanding, '21: Bring us back to you, God, and we shall return, renew our days as of old. 22: For even if you totally rejected us, you have exceedingly raged against us.' The point being - we've been punished enough and it's cold outside, let us back in and we'll be good.' The Artscroll translation basically agrees with this assessment - 'For even if You had utterly rejected us, You have already raged sufficiently against us.'

But what I had been reading initally was, I confess, not the Artscroll but rather the NIV, which goes:

21 Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old 22 unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.

Now that certainly gives the whole thing a different flavor, doesn't it? UNLESS? Clearly, in the Christian mindset there's a distinct possibility that God may have rejected the Jewish people and thereby explaining the whole reason for their religion. God needs to outsource his message since his chosen company isn't being reliable.

This is even more clearly seen in the older King James Version which I subsequently reviewed out of curiousity:

21Turn thou us unto thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old. 22But thou hast utterly rejected us; thou art very wroth against us.

BUT? Here the Christian assessment is that hope is lost for the Jews. God has rejected them utterly.

Ok, so that's an interesting little tidbit about the basic historical Christian understanding of Jewish persecution, but let's hear a nice dvar about this whole fasting deal in the face of theological skepticism.

Sure. See, a great thing about these terrible days is that few skeptics doubt that what they describe actually happened - at least not in any foundational detail. The Temples were destroyed, many Israelites were killed, the people were exiled or enslaved and basically the Jews were on the losing side of overwhelming ancient conquests. All of this before the adoption of the Geneva conventions. But what about the theological implications traditionally employed? Did God really [literally] send Babylon and Rome as means of punishing the sinning Jews?

Well, here's my take on it. While I wouldn't say that God plotted out the rise of those nations to pour out his wrath in such and such a way, but that to a certain extent a society's welfare is bound directly to the moral standards of its people and its leaders. When corruption abounds, when the rich abuse the poor, when brother cannot trust brother and the whole edifice of civilized society is on the brink then that decadent society has become weak at its heart and can be easily overcome by outside pressures - especially by foreign invasion. Isaiah, as related in this past haftorah, particularly remarks on the failings of the corrupt leadership and we are all familiar with the classic sinat chinam before the fall of the Second Temple. These things are cancers of society.

So with that, we have the traditional Jewish approach of following a tragedy with mussar. We look into ourselves to see what we can improve to perhaps prevent anything like it from happening again. I think this is a great approach. Producing something morally constructive out of something terrible. But we shouldn't be thinking of it in terms of satisfying a metaphysical Umpire (though perhaps metaphorically), rather it should be seen as a proactive effort to strengthen our moral ties to each other and to society at large. We can prevent the threat of moral decadence and the dangers it poses to society in general.


Dave said...

Perhaps the best comment is from the Hafatarah on Shabbat:
שָׂרַיִךְ סוֹרְרִים וְחַבְרֵי גַּנָּבִים כֻּלּוֹ אֹהֵב שֹׁחַד וְרֹדֵף שַׁלְמֹנִים
Your ministers are rebellious, and companions of thieves; every one loves bribes, and chases kick-backs

Orthoprax said...

Yes, that was particularly the kind of verse that I was referring to as Isaiah's remarks.

Baal Habos said...

Interesting. "KI" has four meanings as brought down here

The Rashi Text
The first occurrence of the Hebrew word KI means because; the second occurrence of the Hebrew word KI means rather. Our sages have taught that the Hebrew word KI has 4 meanings: if, perhaps, rather, because.

Artscroll, adding the word "even", is kind of a stretch.

But what really bugs me is how Aicha ends on that possuk. Almost like something is missing.

Miri said...

I'm not sure that "even" is such a stretch; remember it was not just כי but 'כי אם' which, colloquially, can mean a bunch of different things depending on context; and if you were translating the כי as because, then the "even makes a lot more sense; "because EVEN if You had rejected us..." it was probably more attached to the אם than the כי.

I agree that it's a little disturbing as a last pasuk when read the other way - it implies that there may never be a redemption. Maybe that's why they repeat the second to last pasuk over again.

Orthoprax said...


"Artscroll, adding the word "even", is kind of a stretch."

No, I think that's a valid translation. As Miri says, it's based on the 'im' not the 'ki.' And given how the resk of the book asserts that the punishment will end soon and redemption will come, it wouldn't make sense for it to conclude with a different message.

"But what really bugs me is how Aicha ends on that possuk. Almost like something is missing."

You think so? I think it was just classic of Biblical literature to end on sour notes. How many times do we read the penultimate verse again at the end of things?

Baal Habos said...

I can sort of hear the Ki Im. But what other biblical literature ends like that on such a downer?

Orthoprax said...


Kohelet, Isaiah, Malachi. Check 'em out.

The Candy Man said...

Well I'm a fan of thinking about verses and what they mean.

I'd favor Artscroll here. I don't think their intent is to translate "Ki Im" as "even if." "Ki" just means "For," or "because." The point is, Have mercy on us, FOR (even) if we've really stunk up the joint, still, we've suffered enough.

I think they kind of confused everyone with the "even if."

Al Knight said...

I spent most of the morning Kinot session reading the Artscroll overview but there is a section on page XII that is really over the top even for Artscroll. It cites a Rama that talks about Plato meeting Jeremiah near the Temple ruins. Plato can't understand what all the crying and wailing is about. Jeremiah first has to show him what an idiot he is:

"The Greek recited his long list of complicated problems. Humbly and quietly Jeremiah solved them all in a few brief sentences. Plato was dumbfounded. 'I can't believe that any mortal man can be so wise!'"

Ah, I learned that all in the Bais Hamikdash (i.e. Kolel) and that's why I'm so sad.

Orthoprax said...


I believe that story is of Christian origin, but what's most interesting is that Jeremiah must have died more than a hundred years before Plato was even born.

Baal Habos said...

>Kohelet, Isaiah, Malachi. Check 'em out.

You're right, Malachi & Koheles aren't that bad, though.

But Isaiah doesn't sit well with me either.

I really would not be surprized if there's something missing there.

LOL about the Plato anachronism

Miri said...

"Jeremiah must have died more than a hundred years before Plato was even born."

Wiki says:
"Plato (Greek: Πλάτων, Plátōn, "broad")[1] (428/427 BC[a] – 348/347 BC),"

so, yeah probably more than 100 years after Jeremiah.

alex said...

The end of Yonah ends on a weird note, too.
Hey, OP, if you'd like to see the Greek and Latin on the last verse of Eicha, (not to mention a Christian English version), check out:

Rabban Gamliel said...

The King James Version is not so bad here for the text. Saying turn thou us unto thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old. But thou hast utterly rejected us; thou art very wroth against us, can be taken to mean not that there is a rejection of us as His people but a relative rejection capable of being overturned as expressed in the first verse by our plea for restoration.

The NIV is totally radical sounding in saying restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.

That means that we are asking for a conditional restoration.

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