The first 4 Perakim of Eicha are written in the order of the Aleph Bais. However in Perek 2, 3, & 4 the Pesukim for פ are written before the Pesukim with the ע. Why? And then why in Perek 1 is it in the correct order?

2 Answers 2


The Gemara (Sanhedrin 104b) says that it is because peh means "mouth" and ayin means eye, and it therefore symbolizes the sin of the spies, "who said with their mouths [false reports about the Land of Israel] that they did not see with their eyes."

Maharsha there adds that the regular order was retained in the first chapter of Eicha, because otherwise we would think that Yirmiyahu simply had a different ordering of the Hebrew alphabet than we do. (Indeed, some modern scholars claim exactly that.)

Lechem Dim'ah (R. Shmuel de Uceda, a disciple of the Arizal) offers a different reason: in ch. 2 the verse for פ tells of how our non-Jewish enemies gleefully "opened their mouths... hooted and gnashed their teeth," while the ע verse describes Hashem actually carrying out the destruction. In other words, the gentiles began harassing the Jews even ahead of Hashem's granting them license to do so - which in turn was punishment for the spies' sin, as above. Thus, it is appropriate to change the order only beginning here.

Etz Yosef cites Nachalas Binyamin, who says that another reason is because, after all, the spies did start out by speaking the truth - in other words, at first they did put their ayin before their peh. He also cites Alshich, that it is because the צ verse in ch. 1 is King Yoshiyahu's deathbed confession for having disobeyed the word of Hashem's peh, and we don't want to incorrectly imply that he also sinned against Hashem's ayin, which would be implied if they were juxtaposed.

  • Do we have any other alphabetic acrostics with those two letters switched? Perhaps in Tehillim somewhere?
    – Double AA
    Jul 29, 2012 at 19:03
  • 1
    BTW why would it be so bad to say the order did used to be different, or used to be lav davka?
    – Double AA
    Oct 14, 2012 at 15:59
  • @DoubleAA I would think the problem is that it would suggest that the switch of letters would carry no meaning. (I actually did read a book (though I didn't complete it) that suggested what Alex attributed to "modern scholars" (I am sorry to say I don't remember the title or author), and it suggested that in ancient times ayin and peh were interchangeable (they found some ancient tablet that had peh before ayin), though I personally am not so convinced by that argument, seeing that that would have totally messed up communication between the two groups in terms of 70-80.)
    – b a
    Oct 14, 2012 at 21:24
  • @ba I agree with you that "lav davka" is the weaker of the two options, but certainly if the order ever did flip there was probably an in between stage where it was sorta lav davka.
    – Double AA
    Oct 14, 2012 at 22:23
  • see also dovbear.blogspot.com/2011/06/…
    – Double AA
    Oct 14, 2012 at 22:23

According to this article on Seforimblog:

It turns out that pe preceded ayin in the order of the alphabet in ancient Israel!

As noted, some Dead Sea Scrolls (such as 4Q111, here) have the pe preceding the ayin in the first chapter acrostic as well.

  • Any authoritative sources that agree? And then the question can be inverted for Ashrei and other places where the Ayin precedes the Pei. Jul 6, 2015 at 12:44
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    @GershonGold There are no "authoritative sources" that i've heard from other than a casual mention from Rabbi David Forhman over at alephbeta.org But i do know that they have found archaelogical inscriptions of the letter order of Hebrew that shows the Ayin and the Pei switched. So the only source is archaeology, and it's up to you to decide how important that is in your daily walk.
    – Aaron
    Jul 6, 2015 at 16:45
  • @GershonGold the author of said article noted that this assertion had implications on dating Tehillim.
    – mevaqesh
    Jul 6, 2015 at 17:31

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