I always disliked these next few weeks, three to be exact, mostly because of what they brought out in me. The “Three Weeks,” which began on Tuesday with a fast on the 17th of Tammuz and end with the fast of Tisha B’Av exactly three weeks later, mark a mourning period that commemorates the destruction of the Temple, the Beis Hamikdash, in Jerusalem.
There are all sorts of laws to observe around this time–no weddings, no haircuts, no music, limited shopping. Things get stricter in the “Nine Days” as we get closer to the day of destruction on Tisha B’Av– no swimming, limited laundry, meat only on Shabbos, and definitely no vacations. These days always felt like a no-win situation. To approach them matter-of-factly is to minimize the tragic truth that we are still in golus, exile; a world without a Temple is a world where G-d’s presence is hidden. He doesn’t want it this way and we aren’t supposed to want it this way either. It is said that if we don’t witness the rebuilding of the Temple in our lifetime, it is as if we witness its destruction.
For most people, “mourning” connotes sadness, but I used to get mad, and it wasn’t just because I wanted to go swimming.
You can imagine how challenging these Three Weeks were in the early years of observance; I still wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into. For most people I knew growing up, summer meant fun. My old friends and family members had no idea about the Three Weeks or the Nine Days or Tisha B’Av, so they were happily taking vacations and making barbecues while I was sitting home in the middle of summer with a bunch of kids with nothing to do.
It was quite the annoying predicament, and I have to say that I didn’t always view my fun-loving friends so kindly. The irony, of course, is that any time I look at another Jew disparagingly, I am the one holding up the rebuilding. I was well aware of that, which meant that I didn’t especially like myself this time of year either.
Here’s the Temple back story on one foot:
The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 425 BCE and the Second was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. Rampant idol worship caused the first destruction and the Second Temple was destroyed because of sinas chinam, known as “baseless hatred.” Jews just couldn’t get along back then and, apparently still can’t, at least not well enough to undo the damage. Otherwise, our sages say, the Temple would be rebuilt, Moshiach would be here, and we wouldn’t have Hamas (or anyone, for that matter) committed to the Jewish people’s destruction. G-d would not be a matter of “belief” but of “knowledge.” The spiritual force that animates the physical world would be obvious and undeniable, sort of like gravity, with G-d finally ending His game of “hide-and-seek” and rewriting the natural order for good.
Talk of the Temple was what intrigued me the most during that fateful Shabbaton almost thirty years ago, probably because it symbolized the depth of my ignorance. We were sharing a cabin with my husband’s cousins, the Shlomos, and Yitzchak Shlomo told me about G-d’s open miracles that occurred in the Temple on a daily basis. Somehow I assumed the Temple was just a gigantic synagogue; we called our gigantic synagogue in Pittsburgh “Temple,” so I figured the “Temple” in Jerusalem was just a bigger version. If I ever heard any talk of G-d’s presence being openly revealed in the Beis Hamikdash, it went over my head.
I still hear myself asking Yitzchak the question, “so you mean that when there was a Temple, everyone knew there was a G-d in the world?”
“Yes,” he answered me without hesitation.
“So, how long has it been since the Temple was destroyed?” I asked.
This was a key point for me. If it had been, say, five thousand years since this whole experience, it was possible this “G-d” was just Jewish mythology.
Yitzchak told me it had been a couple thousand years since the destruction, not exactly yesterday, but recently enough that I could still believe the whole story was true.
So we went for it.
But the Three Weeks set me back every year for many years.
It’s only in the last few years that I’ve seen the change in myself; something shifted in my relationship to G-d and the world. I am able to make room for others in a way that I couldn’t before–to accept, care about, even love them. Which means that I like myself much better as a result.
And this time of year, that feels really good.