War makes us feel acute pain, anger, hatred and despair – things we would rather avoid if we could. But in this as yet unperfected world, these things are part of our reality. And just as our calendar, in tune with the natural cycles of the sun, moon and earth, offers us seasons for rejoicing and celebrating, so too does it provide us with this season, a time for growth through facing all that is destructive, inside us and in the world around us. This period is known as The Three Weeks, and this year it is especially poignant, as our people are locked in a tragic and bloody conflict in our homeland.
It may be difficult under such circumstances, but we are obligated to remember, and to remind each other, that facing adversity is not something we do because we enjoy suffering. Rather we face all that is dark in ourselves and in our world only in order to fix it. As the prophet Zechariah taught, all of our days of mourning will be transformed into days of celebration, when we are ready (see Zechariah 8:19 and Rambam, Hilchot Ta’anit 5:19).
Do you know what happened in Times Square last New Year’s Eve? Or the one before that? Of course, whether or not you were there, you know what happened. You know because the human carryings on in that location on that date since who-knows-when have become part of a well-known story. Whether or not you identify with the story, you can imagine what it must have been like to have been there, in 1912, 1958, 1983, and last year.
In the same way, our people has been marking our sacred days of celebration and mourning for thousands of years, creating a story which we can tap into simply by taking a minute to imagine ourselves present with our ancestors. The current period of mourning, the Three Weeks, saw the destruction of the epicenter of both of our previous commonwealths – the Holy Temple. The Temple was many things for our people: our primary gathering place and site of spiritual communion, a microcosm of the universe, and a gateway to higher realms of consciousness. Not only Jews, but many other peoples and faiths appreciate the Temple’s unique sanctity, for example Muslims believe that their prophet, Mohammed, ascended to Heaven from the place where the Temple stood.
The destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE was a traumatic paradigm shift for our people, and presented difficult questions: who and what were we now, how would we express ourselves in the world? In short, the destruction of the Temple was the midwife for the birth of Judaism as we know it today. But, as I will discuss in the next part of this article, post-Temple Judaism’s views about the destruction are far from simple.