The Three Weeks -
A 1934 year old system that can teach us how to deal with
destruction, consolation and renewal
As preparations begin to commemorate the first tragic anniversary
of September 11th, as we are reeling from fires
blazing in Western United States and in corporate America,
as Israel continues bleeding from terrorist bombings – as
the entire world remains clouded by the shadows of a devastating
year and an uncertain future – we enter a unique period in
time, which, I submit, can dramatically help us in coping
with our present and upcoming challenges and crisis.
This Thursday, June 27th, we began
the traditional period of The Three Weeks – 17 Tammuz-9th
of Av – when we commemorate and mourn over the destruction
of both Holy Temples.
On the 17th of Tammuz the besieged
wall protecting the city of Jerusalem was breached – both
by the Babylonians (according to many opinions) in the year
3338 (422 bce) and by the Romans in 3828 (68 ce). Three weeks
later the Holy temple was set ablaze and destroyed, again
both the first temple by the Babylonians, and the second temple
by the Romans 490 years later on the exact same day, the day
of Tisha B’Av – the saddest day in the Jewish calendar.
Though thousands of years have passed since
those dreadful days, we still grieve the destruction of the
Temples as we have done for the past 2424 years (since the
destruction of the first Temple) and 1934 years since the
destruction of the second one. Traditionally the Three Week
period – punctuated by the two fast days on the 17th
of Tammuz and 9th of Av – is a time when weddings
are not performed, music is not listened to. All forms of
celebrations and recreation solely for entertainment purposes
are avoided during this mourning period.
The Three Weeks are followed by the Seven Weeks
of Consolation, when we are comforted in seven stages, for
our losses and ruin. These seven weeks in turn prepare us
and lead us in to the New Year, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
So, we have before us a sequence of 12 weeks – “Three [weeks]
of rebuke, seven of consolation, two of return (teshuvah).”
Is it not fascinating that the upcoming first
anniversary of September 11th is on the 5th
of Tishrei, midway between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the
5th of the traditional Ten days of Teshuvah (return)
– in the period that follows seven weeks of comfort for the
loss and destruction of the three weeks!
The Talmud tells us that G-d “precedes the cure
before the illness.” Every challenge in life has a ready-made
inherent cure that we must discover and access.
With all the challenges facing us today I cannot
help but wonder whether our current period in time – as we
enter the Three Weeks – is not a ready-made healing process
bestowed upon us as a Divine gift to help us endure through
these difficult times and grow through the process.
Judaism teaches us that at different points
“windows in time” open up for us, and they provide opportunities
that channel special energy into our lives. The Three Weeks
– followed by the “Seven of Consolation” and the “Two of Return”
– is one of those ‘windows.’
1934 years ago Jerusalem was under siege and
the Holy Temple destroyed. 1934 years later Jerusalem is again
under siege, and this time the entire world is aware and affected
by it. The Middle East – and its Biblical roots – has rudely
arrived in the streets of downtown Manhattan and the Pentagon
in Washington in the form of murderous Islamic terrorists
crashing airplanes into 20th century buildings
in the name of ancient religious beliefs.
The Midrash says that had the nations of the
world known how much they benefit and are blessed by the Holy
Temple they would have surrounded it with legions of armies
to protect it from any harm.
In the following weeks I will attempt to review
in this space some of the lessons we can glean from these
unique “windows” in time, and the strengths we can draw from
these channels, strengths that empower us to forge ahead in
these trying times with fortitude and clarity.
The underlying message and ‘energy’ of the current
time period is that we grow through our losses by first acknowledging
them and understanding their core roots. The first Three Weeks
is about not escaping or desensitizing ourselves to the difficult
– and even tragic – events around us. We do not escape into
denial or distract ourselves; we face the destruction around
us – we cry and grieve for every family being amputated in
Israel, we cry for every child being hurt today.
In the Three Weeks we recognize that physical
turbulence is a consequence of a spiritual vacuum. The geo-political
upheaval, corporate breakdown and social unrest in our times
are a result of the misalignment between matter and spirit.
No business can function without a mission statement. No human
being can survive without a personal sense of urgency. No
society can last without a Divine calling.
The destruction of the Temple heralded in a
new era. It manifested a schism, a divorce between heaven
and earth. The Temple was a ‘bridge’ between the sublime and
the mundane. “Build me a sanctuary and I will rest among you,”
G-d tells the people. The Temple is a channel and vehicle
for the Divine presence among us in the material world. When
the Temple was destroyed more than a building went up in flames;
a dimension of innocence was lost, and a new challenge appeared
on the horizon. The split between our soul and our body became
much more glaring. The world began to face a new challenge
– a growing dichotomy between accelerated material prosperity
and decelerated spiritual integrity, between unprecedented
technological unity and unparalleled personal disunity. This
dichotomy would grow until the two poles would wander so intolerably
far part that they would cause a global explosion, necessitating
a major ‘market correction.
The Three Weeks is about bringing this truth
to our awareness. As we mourn the destruction of the Temple
we are cognizant of the fundamental split that we suffer from:
A split between who we truly are and our activities, between
our essence and our expression, between truth and the vanity
of life, and between the multiplicity of existence and its
underlying, inherent unity. The Three Weeks is a time when
we become extra sensitive to those around us. When we make
sure to empathize with the loss of others, when we are saddened
about lives lost as if they were our own families, and we
are saddened by the fact that we do not feel that the pain
of another is our own pain because we are essentially all
The destruction of the Temple caused all this
and much more. Every time one man harms another, every injustice,
every holocaust is ultimately a result of the split between
matter and spirit, between body and soul. Were we constantly
aware of the G-dliness among us, of the underlying unity that
connects us, no person would be able to harm another, as no
part of a body would ever harm another part. The destruction
during the Three Weeks shrouds this unity, thus allowing for
self-contained narcissism to emerge in its place.
After we have reached this level of awareness
during the Three Weeks, we then can be ready to be comforted
during the following Seven Weeks of Consolation. And this
in turn prepares us to return to our source and to achieve
renewal in the New Year.
More on this, in the coming weeks.
I do want to conclude with these few words.
Though the nations of the world allowed the Temple to be destroyed
because they were unaware of its power and blessing, today
we can learn from the past, and this time not allow Jerusalem
– both the literal Jerusalem and its spiritual counterpart
– to be destroyed.
This year the Three Weeks presents us with an
opportunity and challenge, one that is perhaps unprecedented
in history. The opportunity to declare to the entire world
and to each individual citizen: Protect and preserve Israel
and Jerusalem. Protect the Divine Presence in Israel and in
the world. Let us announce to ourselves and to others: Every
confrontation and clash between nations and peoples, every
problem – political, corporate, social – is ultimately rooted
in the dichotomy between body and soul. As long as we do not
make our peace with G-d, as long as we do not make our lives
a “sanctuary” to the Divine, we will continue to face problems
and crisis that will continue to erode the security of
As long as religions do not recognize the true
meaning of G-d and the Divine unity with the material universe,
as long as they don’t respect the Divine sanctity of each
individual life (even those unlike you), we will continue
to bear the brunt of brutal terrorism. As long as nations
do not embrace the seven Divine principles upon which civilization
is built (the Noachide Laws), there will be no peace in the
As long as our corporations and our financial
structures do not recognize the principle “In G-d we Trust”
engraved on US currency, we will continue to suffer from greed
and corruption. Isn’t it interesting – and ironic – that as
corporate America is undergoing a soul search, the 9th Circuit
Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that that the words
“(one nation) under God'', added in 1954 to the Pledge of
Allegiance is unconstitutional, and in defiance the Senate
and House all gathered Thursday to declare their commitment
to “under God”! – What about the “In God we trust” engraved
on our currency? Wasn’t that instated by the Founding Fathers
who established the separation of church and state…
The Talmud tells us, “every generation that
does not rebuild the Temple is considered as if they destroyed
it.” We must rebuild the Temple in our times. We must transform
our lives, communities, societies into a Divine Sanctuary.
And thereby prepare the ground for the rebuilding of the physical
Temple in Jerusalem. Indeed, we are taught that the Temple
above is spiritually ready; all it needs is to descend below.
And this is precipitated through our actions – through our
study, prayer and charity.
“Zion will be redeemed with Law and its captives
with charity.” Let us use these Three Weeks to add in Torah
study and charity.
Let us do all we can to reintroduce the Divine
into our lives, to reconnect our soul and our body, to reintegrate
spirit and matter – and to prepare the world for the fulfillment
of Isaiah’s prophecy:
It shall come to pass in the last days, that
the mountain of G-d’s house shall be established on top of
the mountains and all the nations shall flow unto it. And
many nations shall go and say, let us go up to the mountain
of G-d and we will teach us of his ways and we will walk in
his paths, for from Zion shall go forth the Torah; and the
word of G-d from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their
spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift up sword
against nation, neither shall they learn war any more (Isaiah