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Turn us unto Thee, O LORD

    Tammuz 29, 5769


A Tishah B'Av Meditation

by John J. Parsons

Lamentations 5:21 (BHS)

Turn thou us unto thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned;
Renew our days as of old.
(Lam. 5:21)

THE BOOK OF LAMENTATIONS is traditionally recited during the saddest day of the Jewish calendar – Tishah B'Av (the ninth day of the month of Av) – in order to remember the destruction of the Jewish Temple and other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people. When the reader reaches the second to last verse of the book, "Hashivenu," he pauses and the congregation recites the verse in unison: Hashivenu Adonai, elecha vena-shuvah; chadesh yamenu kekedem: "Turn us back to You, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21). Often this verse is repeated and sung to a haunting melody as the scroll is returned to the Ark.

Lamentations is an acrostic poem that begins with the Hebrew letter Aleph in the word "eichah" (אֵיכָה). In fact, the Hebrew name for the book is simply Eichah. "How (eichah) lonely sits the city that once was full of people!" (Lam. 1:1). The sages note that this word "how (eichah)" could also be read as "where are you?" (אַיֶּכָּה, ayeka), God's first question to Adam after he broke covenant in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:9). The midrash (Lamentations Rabba) draws a connection between the lamentation of the LORD over Adam's banishment from Eden and Israel's banishment from Zion (Hos. 6:7). In both cases the problem centers on the failure to ask where God is... 

How many people today live in a state of self-imposed exile from the LORD? God uses our loneliness ("how lonely...") to search our hearts, asking each of us, ayeka – "Where are you?" "Why have you turned away from me and chosen a state of exile?" Our inner pain is meant to provoke us to seek His face. He awaits our only possible response, "Hashivenu!" -- an imperative (demand) for the grace to repent: "You return us (i.e., you cause us to return) so that we may be reunited with you and healed!" We do not appeal to our own resources or strength to undergo this return, but rather trust that God's sovereign grace is sufficient to restore us to His presence. As Yeshua said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up" (John 6:44).

May it please the LORD to cause you to return to Him today.

Hebrew-English Transliteration:

Hebrew-English transliteration

hashivenu Adonai elecha vena-shuvah, chadesh yamenu ke'kedem

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