The Kotzker Rebbe observed: “There is no place lonelier than a room full of people.”
Walk into a wedding or a Bar Mitzvah. Everyone is eating, dancing and singing. Who would think that loneliness is even possible in this room? But if you are a stranger in that room, if you feel unseen or unknown, it can be a desert island — the loneliest place in the world.
Today we are privileged to see big crowds. Thousands gather at the Kotel, thousands come together to pray for Israel, thousands demonstrate, thousands attend a Siyum HaShas, thousands celebrate and communicate on the Internet. Can anyone feel isolated any more? Sadly, yes — as the Kotzker said, “There is no place lonelier than a room full of people.”
Loneliness is possibly one of the most painful human experiences. Loneliness is not the same as being alone. Many people have times when they are alone through circumstances or choice. Being alone can be experienced as positive, pleasurable, and even emotionally refreshing if it is under the individual’s control. When Moshe received his prophecies, he was alone in solitude. Loneliness is unwilling solitude that is forced upon a person.
We always read Parshat Devarim on the Shabbos preceding Tisha B’Av, in part because of the connection between our Parsha and Tisha B’ Av signaled by the word “Eicha”. Moshe asked, “How [Eicha] can I carry your burdens alone?” (1:12) and in the Book of Lamentations that we read on Tisha B ‘Av, Yirmiyahu asks in astonishment, “How [Eicha] could Jerusalem sit alone?”
But it’s not just the word “Eicha”! The Vilna Gaon explains that Moshe said, “How can I carry your burdens alone?” and Yirmiyahu asked, “How can the city (of Jerusalem) sit alone?” Feeling alone, explains the GR”A, is the essence of our national tragedy.
Moshe and Jerusalem were reflections of the condition of the Jewish people. Moshe was a lonely person and Jerusalem was a lonely city. Our people became isolated — not just from the world, but from each other. There was polarization, elitism, and arrogance. Moshe felt isolated and so did Jerusalem, and they both exclaimed: “Eicha?!”
Moshe Rabeinu was the most important and well-known figure in his generation! Who would have thought that he could possibly feel isolated? Jerusalem was a gathering place for all Jews – how could Jerusalem possibly feel alone?
The answer is: “There is no place lonelier than a room full of people!”
We need an “Eicha” revolution.
There are too many lonely places amongst our people, and too many lonely people. There are too many distinctions, too many partitions, and too many Jews that aren’t allowed in. Jerusalem is lonely. There is destruction, insecurity and danger in Jerusalem when Jews stand aloof, apart and alone.
Let us find ways to come together, and may the streets of Jerusalem resound with joy and security, as they overflow with holiness.