Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l was recognized throughout the Torah world as the foremost halachic authority and the leader of his time. As the ambulance sped through the streets of Manhattan carrying the elderly and ailing Rosh Yeshiva in what would be his final moments on earth, Rav Moshe uttered his final words: “Ich hob mehr nisht kayn koach – I have no more strength.”
Whatever strength he had was used in the service of his people. Now his energy was gone, and his illustrious life on this earth came to an end, as well.
One of the most painful predicaments is when a person feels he just can’t take it anymore; he just can’t go on. Although that feeling can be an incredible motivator for change and growth, that is only when change is within his purview and capability. That’s when the feeling of desperation can be the catalyst and impetus he needs to catapult him beyond his lethargy or anxiety to accomplish what he truly desires. However, when there are situations that are out of one’s hands, and life becomes painful and overwhelming, it’s a different story. As long as one is able to maintain a spirit of optimism, he will be able to endure the challenge. But when that sense of hope becomes depleted, he becomes far more vulnerable. The most difficult moments are when a person feels defeated, beaten, and alone. When one’s resolve has been shattered, he no longer has the fortitude to deal with the vagaries of his challenging situation.
When Parshas D’varim is read, there is one pasuk read in the mournful tune used when leining Megillas Eichah. That is the pasuk where Moshe Rabbeinu declares, “How can I alone bear your burdens, your loads, and your grievances?” Moshe felt overwhelmed and incapable of being the sole leader of klal Yisrael. When one has a feeling of “eichah – how can it be?” he can easily become despondent.
It is not one’s situation that determines his emotional state, but his attitude and perspective.
In the world of psychology, this was demonstrated and taught most profoundly by Dr. Viktor Frankl. Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist, suffered Nazi persecution, including being an inmate in concentration camps. Frankl noted that only those who were able to maintain a sense of mission were able to survive Auschwitz. He himself survived because he would picture himself speaking with people as a therapist in his new office after the war would end.
In his words, “We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For, what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.”
According to Frankl, having a sense of meaning and purpose can help a person deal with the most difficult challenges. He bemoaned the fact that people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for!
The greatest gift a person can receive when feeling broken and lost is regeneration of chizuk and encouragement. It can come in many forms and sometimes from unexpected places. When one feels that he has no strength to go on, that renewed vitality can make all the difference.
Megillas Eichah begins with that most painful declaration – “Eichah” – Yirmiyah’s deepest expression of anguish and exasperation. We begin Tish’ah B’Av with that same sense of “Eichah” – How can all this have happened? How can our people have endured so much pain and suffering? How can we still be here after so many centuries in exile?
As we read the words of the kinos, that feeling of Eichah only becomes magnified. But after reciting paragraph after paragraph, recounting our endless suffering, we start to realize that if they have not been able to destroy us until now, it is clear that we are eternal and indestructible. It is that recognition that fills us with sudden hope, granting us an injection of vitality that consoles us.
In our lowest moments, we recognize that our suffering itself is indicative of our eternity. The question of Eichah (how can we endure?) is transformed to a proud declaration of Eichah – oh, how we have endured and will endure!
That is why, in the middle of Tish’ah B’Av, we already begin to gather comfort and recite the prayer of “Nacheim” – asking Hashem to comfort the mourners of Zion and Yerushalayim. All the pain and suffering we have recounted reinforces to us that we are special and unique.