Eykhah – How can it be?

For security reasons our country came into lockdown and after some easing measures it looked like we soon could come together. Yet by having again a rise in the infections we shall not be able to gather in one place and as such shall have to fulfil our worship duties at home in private.
Let us remember that our liturgy is really about engaging God and therefore it is not bad to take some time to consider how you want to build up your service for God.

Oh, how can it be?

It is the first time the word Êykhôh or eykhah appears in our Bible readings for this year. In the accompanying haftarah reading from first Jeshayahu (Book of Isaiah), and in Êykhôh or the book of Lamentations we encounter this word which can be cried out today more than once.

How can it be that so many people went away from God, even people who say they worship God. Many who claim to be followers of Jeshua, whom they call Jesus, do not worship the God this Nazarene teacher worshipped.

How can this be?

This week’s haftarah reading from first Isaiah rails against the immorality of the people of Jerusalem in the 8th century B.C.E.  The prophet cries out:

How is the Kiryah Ne’emanah (Faithful City, i.e., Yerushalayim) become a zonah (harlot)! It was full of mishpat; tzedek lodged in it; but now murderers. Thy kesef is become dross, thy wine mixed with mayim: Thy sarim (princes) are rebellious, and companions of ganavim: every one loveth bribes, and followeth after rewards: they give no justice to the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the almanah come unto them.
(Isa 1:21-23 OJB)

Isaiah could cry out in despair how the faithful city had become a prostitute! In the world, we have seen several times when those who were thought to be faithful people went against God’s Laws. Also, our world today has it that money became the preferred god. The city – Jerusalem, which in the reign of former kings was faithful to God, in this age shows a government that does not keep to the Law of God and brings injustice to other people, like building a wall and taking aggressive measures against Palestinians.

“Silver is… dross, thy wine mixed with water”

are symbols of great moral deterioration. And looking at the movements of certain Jews living in Jerusalem, we can have doubts about their attitude. But all over the world, we find people who live in a certain way which is not in accordance with the Laws of God.

Jews and Christians in our present world behave in a way that shows that they do not have respect for other people and other cultures. When they watch television and have their chats on the internet it looks like there is a harlot speaking and the talk is filled with idolatry. Many even go so far that they become “murderers”, not minding to fight against certain people, which they do not like or want to oppress.

Was the prophet crying out because Israel was not listening to him? It’s as though Israel isn’t giving heed to the word of the prophet, so he calls unto the heavens and unto the earth to hear.

How is the faithful city become a harlot!

The man of God brings a cry of desperation, both exclaiming over how far the city of Jerusalem has fallen and sounds the alarm that its residents must change or else. We too should better listen to that cry and be careful how we want to go on. Today it is not only about the immoral behaviour of the Israelites, but about the way of living of all people and in particular those who say they praise God.

First of all, they should examine themselves to see if they really still worship the Real God. Many their avodah has become avodah zarah, them loving their income much more than God, and several worshipping a three-headed god (the Trinity). Many also think it is alright when they go once in a week to the synagogue or to a church to sit there passively, undergoing the texts proclaimed by the priest.

For many, prayers in the morning, before a meal, in the evening, before going to bed, are not any more common practice. Some still may keep to certain rituals, like having ritual circumcisions, celebrating Passover, enjoying wedding ceremonies, and a few still putting up a mezuzah (the box containing selections from the Torah) on a doorpost of a new home, but that’s about it. Their life is not a life for God.

Normally when a person has a relationship with God we would expect some similar attitude as by a close relationship between human beings.  We expect a conversation with God to be intimate and real and spontaneous, as one might speak with a parent; on the other hand, we approach God with the images of royalty, and royalty has a defined protocol. Jewish law defines a requirement of three daily prayers with set liturgies, and it is very difficult to be spontaneous on a schedule with a familiar text.
Through our history, Jewish liturgy has swung back and forth between these poles of the spontaneous and occasional (kavvanah, or true intention) versus the fixed and routinized (keva, or fixed and established).

Throughout the ages there have been many religious groups who kept to such fixed and established prayers. as such we can find our prayerbook, the siddur which contains the entire Jewish liturgy used on the ordinary sabbath and on weekdays for domestic as well as synagogue ritual; the machzor or mahzorim for prayer arranged according to liturgical chronology and used throughout the entire year, being used on the High Holidays, the haggadah for the ritual of the Passover (the ritual meal on the first night or nights of Passover). On the kavvanah side are the new siddurim, machzorim, and haggadot (as they are known in their plural forms) that are continually published, along with the new commentaries, poetry, and melodies that are designed to accompany them, and the entire area of private, personal prayer, with parts of rabbinical, or Talmudic, literature that do not deal directly with the laws incumbent upon Jews in the conduct of their daily life.

Those prayers and benedictions of a siddur breathe Old Testament sentiments of praise, thanksgiving, petition, intercession, acknowledgment of sin, and prayers for forgiveness; numerous short verses from the Psalms express these religious feelings. Normally they would remind us every day of past times and how God intervened with His people. But now lots of people lost track.

Because tradition long allowed the addition of new prayers and hymns (piyyutim) to voice contemporary needs and aspirations, the siddurim reflect Jewish religious history expressed in liturgy and prayers. And therefore with our own improvised prayers, it gives a good additional touch of remembrance.

It is true that some Jews can personalize the traditional texts of the liturgy simply by focusing their own associations and emphases differently, while others need to modify the prayers in different ways in order to “own” the experience. A personal prayer comes also directly from the heart and as such can be more worthwile than a printed prayer.

But today there are not many people who would take up a bible Book and base a prayer on it, like using a Psalm as a basic background for some words from the heart.

For centuries books provided text material to reflect and to pray. We should not be afraid to use such old texts, but also should not be afraid to use some new and self-created texts.

Jewish history, legends, sagas, biographical stories, and folklore may inspire us to let us wonder about the way God plays an important role in it all. They may also have us cry

Why did such things happen?

and

Where is God in this all?

When Belgium was in lockdown and our synagogue was closed, the phone and  e-mailbox was not kept alone or isolated; It was much busier than ever, many people having questions how this pandemic could happen and why so many innocent people have been a victim.

“Oh how can ….?

was the most popular question of these days. Like always, mostly in moments of crisis or disasters people seem to remember that there can exist a God, or want to blame God.

It is understandable people have questions in this strange period where nobody seems to be sure how to tackle this particular virus.

Many may ask

eykh   or  How

eykh (אֵיךְ), which begins a rhetorical question in two of its three appearances in the bible

Eykhah (אֵיכָה) = Oh, how? Alas! How could it be?

We do not know yet how it came to exist? But for sure, we do know it is still going to be here with us for some longer time than we wish.

We shall just have to live with it and take our precautions so that we don’t get infected and that we do not infect others. Not able to go to public services we should make sure we bring the service in our own house. We ourselves can worship God, with the help of prayerbooks as well as by improvising some prayers. Nothing is against using your own words or making up your own songs. Please do so! Be creative and praise God in different ways.

Make this time of greater isolation a time of becoming more creative in worshipping God your own personal way. And do not forget there are the meetings on the net by Hangouts and Zoom. It is not the same as being all together in a place filled with real-life people feeling to be united in their worship. But for the time being, we still have to be careful and be content with the virtual encounters.

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