The Three Weeks – Week One
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 one organism.
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 world.
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 2:2-4).