Eicha? How can it be?

Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, the most important Jewish religious site with Dome of the Rock (left) in the background. (Photo: Mikhail Valkov/Wikimedia Commons)

“Eicha?” cries the mourner (probably Jeremiah) in the first verse of chapters 1, 2 and 4 in Lamentations.

It’s not some cursory “how?” He is literally asking: How can it be? How is it possible that such horrors have become our lot? How is it that the very backbone of our culture, our religion, our life – the Temple – is gone? How come we are left to eat our own flesh and blood? How come You are not answering our prayers? What happened to Your promises? What have we done to ourselves? And how come God Himself is silent and hidden – “Even when I cry out and plead for help, He shuts out my prayer” (Lam. 3:8, 43-44).

Ayecha? Where Are You?

Thousands of years earlier, God’s voice reverberated all throughout the garden as He walked there in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8).

At that moment, what was the highlight of their daily routine, the time in which Adam and Eve heard God’s voice, turned into terror. They hid in fear, aware of their nakedness and ashamed of it.

This time, it was humanity that was hiding from God.

In Between Both Cries

The original Hebrew writing was comprised of consonants only, without spacing, vowels or markings. You had to hear each word in order to know how to pronounce it.

So long as Hebrew was a spoken language, the proper pronunciation of God’s Word was preserved. After all, the texts were read over and over at the synagogues. But things changed in the Middle Ages, and the concern was that the proper pronunciation will be forgotten. Several sages got together in Tiberias and developed a system of punctuation and vowelization (parallel to the Lain a, e, I, o, u). These were embedded in, below or above the letters themselves. Later on, this system was adopted by almost all Jewish communities in the diaspora.

The vowelizations of “Ayecha?” and “Eicha?” are different, but the Hebrew consonants are one and the same. Prior to the Tiberian system, unless you heard them read allowed, you could think this was the same word.

So even though we are reading it differently, even though each question is looking for a different answer, there are similar results in both events, to both cries, which are expressed with exactly the same consonants. And in between these two questions – Ayecha and Eicha – you find the jarring picture of mankind in its lowest moments.

When God asked Adama and Eve “where are you?” He already knew that the book of Lamentations will be written; that an entire nation will sit in sackcloth and ashes, and through dried lips will cry out these same letters, only with a different pronunciation. He also knew that hundreds of years later, around 70 AD, we will cry the same cry again, wondering once more: How come?

Behind a Tree

In Genesis, Adam and Eve hid behind a tree. By the time the book of Lamentations was recorded, there were hardly any trees left in Jerusalem. The Babylonians had cut them all out to make rams and beams for their siege over the city.

Fast forward a few centuries… the Romans did the same to the trees that grew up in the meantime on the Judean hills. When the remnant was marching through these hills into exile, they saw forests of crosses everywhere, with thousands of their relatives hanging on them. And again the cry was heard: How come? Eicha?

Cry Over Her

I know I am going back and forth in time in this post, but this is how the picture of human suffering looks like: patches of time and history and questions that are cried out. So please bear with me, as a few decades prior to that horrific march of starving Jews through a forest of bloody crosses, Yeshua stood on a slope on the Mount of Olives, looked over at Jerusalem and began to lament. He knew that both these cries were about to be heard again.

In the few words expressing His wailing (Vs. 42-44), you can easily tuck the entire five chapters of Lamentations. You can also hear an echoing of both Eycha and Ayecha?

Yeshua knew that He will soon be lifted up on another tree, which will become a stumbling block to His people; that each time we will see it, we will immediately associate Him and the Cross with our enemy; that His true, tender, longing voice will be deeply hidden from Jewish eyes; and that we will cry once more: “His Face is hidden from our eyes” (4:16).

He Is Who He Is

The 9th day of Av this year falls on Saturday, August 6. For 24 hours the religious Jew will sit on the floor as a sign of mourning, read Lamentations and other texts like it, and cry out to God: “Where are you? How come? How could you have brought such destruction and desolation upon us? Again and again!”

We can pray that within these cries – “How?” and “Eicha?” – they will not be afraid to hear God’s “Where are you – Ayecha?” That they will dare to step out of the box, out of the traditional vowelization and dots and iotas, hear Him and look upon that One Tree, where all answers are provided.

Hear my voice, that is heard among all voices
by the God that accepts all prayers.
God that conceals Himself in a hidden canopy,
the mysterious Intelligence of all purpose.
The King of Kings is crowned with the highest crown.

God will grant you a crown!
And if I erred, you will have mercy on me,
absolve me, do not ignore my pleas.
I will open my arms, I will be comforted,
and I will magnify your name and make it glorious.
Please, please, please, oh please,
in your mercy.

This article originally appeared on Ot OoMofet Ministries, August 4, 2022, and reposted with permission.