The Fox and the Chair
The ninth of Av resists closure. It dredges up the nameless dead, some half-forgotten deeds, a long-forgotten Temple, scratching at secret scabs until we remember that we bleed. But since books can’t indulge in the ceaselessness of the ritual, since writing has to end somewhere, the narrator of Lamentations finds his next-to-final words in an appeal to Divine memory:
על הר-ציון ששמם שועלים הלכו בו. אתה ה' לעולם תשב כסאך לדור ודור. למה לנצח תשכחנו תעזבנו לארך ימים
On Mount Zion the destroyed, foxes (shu’alim) tread through it. You, God, will sit forever. Your chair is from generation unto generation. Why do you forget us eternally, abandon us for an extent of days?
This parting shot didn’t curl up and die. The mourning Rabbis dug it up again for reuse when they watched a fox scamper out of the Holy of Holies, when Rabbi Akiva produced the famous laugh that would resound through innumerable source sheets and many a Bnei Akiva skit. If the prophets were right to claim that this sacred place would become a threshed field, he chortled, then they were right to claim that elders would again sit in the streets of Jerusalem.
But why foxes? I suspect that an acrid pun scurries beneath our furry marauders. The lamenter, even as he demands God’s remembrance, recalls a very different moment. Once upon a time, Isaiah witnessed the Divine presence, heard the seraphim proclaim the holiness of God, and received the call to prophesy. The scene opens as follows:
.בשנת מות המלך עזיהו ואראה את ה' ישב על כסא רם ונשא ושוליו מלאים את ההיכל
The year that King Uzziah died, I saw my Master sitting on a lofty and elevated chair, and His skirts (shulav) filling the temple.
The Temple was once full of the shulayim of the Divine. Now, the lamenter mourns, it is full of shu’alim. But this lamenter borrows something else from Isaiah: a report of God forever perched on a throne. “You, God, will sit forever. Your chair is from generation unto generation,” he murmurs, just as Isaiah spoke of the Master “sitting on a lofty and elevated chair.” Something remains constant despite the instability of words and temples, a remnant of Isaiah 6:1 amid the devastation of Lamentations 5. As Rabbi Akiva saw, the foxes that prowl the sacred premises encode within their raids a hint of another verse, an unbreakable promise slipped into a pun, the eternal chair of Someone without closure.