I try to picture the scene of Moses’ final words to the Children of Israel. “These are the words that Moses spoke to all of Israel (Deuteronomy 1:1).” Approaching the ripe old age (Kinah 26- Growing Old) of one hundred and twenty, the man who began his career by insisting, “I am not a man of words (Exodus 4:10),” now speaks eternal words to a new generation. His audience did not experience the Exodus, nor did they witness God speaking to Moses at Sinai, but they were summoned to listen the man who failed to lead them into the Promised Land speak words of rebuke. They came, listened, and wondered whether Moses was speaking for God, or, for himself. Were they prophecies or observations? I recalled Plato’s description of Socrates teaching Ion, and realized that they heard something else.
Socrates is explaining Ion’s expertise in all matters Homer: “The gift which you possess of speaking excellently about Homer is not an art, but, an inspiration; there is a divinity moving you. For all good poets, epic as well as lyric, compose their beautiful poems not by art, but because they are inspired and possessed. The Muse first of all inspires men herself. Lyric poets are not in their right mind when they are composing their beautiful strains.
“God takes away the minds of poets, and uses them as his ministers, so that we who hear them may know them to be speaking not of themselves, but that God himself is the speaker, and that through them he is conversing with us.”
I heard Socrates, and realized, that Moses was certainly inspired. He had his Muse, and he spoke while under her spell; “These are the words that Moses spoke to all of Israel.” It was the “All of Israel” that cast the Muses’ magic and inspired the man, “heavy of mouth and heavy of speech,” to, as Socrates says, “From this inspired person a chain of other persons is suspended, who take the inspiration.” The people were inspired, but at the first, not by Moses’ words, but by the fact he could speak with such power only when inspired by them. They were inspired that the greatest prophet experienced the people as his muse.
I suspect that Isaiah too, the visionary in this week’s Haftarah, and in the Seven Weeks of Consolation that follow, also spoke so powerfully, and was heard by the people despite his frequent harsh rebukes, because he was inspired by the people he taught despite their weaknesses and failings.
This, to me, is the power of the many Kinot – Lamentations we will recite on Tisha b’Av, our National Day of Tragedy: our story, even in the darkness of Tisha b’Av, inspired all the words we recite. The poets speak so powerfully, “So that we who hear them may know them to be speaking not of themselves, but that God himself is the speaker, and that through them he is conversing with us.” Dare I say that, the fact that we keep the Temple alive almost two thousand years after its destruction, that we continue to connect to God even after the Holocaust, that we pray even on this horrible day, inspires God? I read the Kinot and I feel that, in some manner, God is telling us that we are His muse. That is a feeling we can take with us every time we study His Torah. We will be comforted, and we will comfort God.