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Chaim Ingram

The Psychodynamics Of The Three Weeks

The three weeks leading up to the fast of Tisha b’Av, and especially the nine days of Av, are replete with restrictive customs.  These restrictions are intended to bring home to us our loss: the loss of the Bet haMikdash,  the Holy Temple, spiritual powerhouse for the whole of the Jewish people and ultimately the world.  They also reinforce the need for us to approach with renewed fervour the Assessor Supreme to make good those losses.  In so doing we remind ourselves of the reasons for these losses: primarily failure in interpersonal relations, a lack of outward-directed ahavat yisrael,  in short the kind of sin’at chinam (gratuitous hatred) that is still with us, else the Bet haMikdash would have been rebuilt already. And “any generation in which the Temple is not rebuilt is reckoned to have destroyed it” (Jer. Talmud Yoma 1:1).

One of the restrictions of this period is that we do not bless Shehecheyanu.  This is essentially an inward-directed blessing, recited when we are the beneficiaries of something new intended for our personal use or benefit: a new fruit, a new dress, an inheritance of which one is the sole beneficiary.

In contrast, another blessing ha-tov ve-hametiv is made when others also benefit.  This is an outward-directed blessing. It might be said on purchasing new household silverware or on inheriting a legacy also shared by others (siblings, etc.). We do not find that the reciting of this latter blessing is in any way restricted during this period.  If it were it would teach the wrong lesson.  The correct lesson is that we should at all times find pleasure in others’ pleasure.  This is part of ahavat chinam (boundless love). Only inward-directed, selfish pleasure is to be curtailed.

We do not shave or have a haircut during the Three Weeks.  We are not to take a self-centred pride in our appearance.  Yet, as in mourning, if our appearance is offensive to others to the extent that they reproach us for it, the halacha expects us to act.

During the Nine Days (not Shabbat), the prevalent Ashkenazic custom is to deny ourselves the pleasurable consumption of meat and wine. But for the celebration of a simcha where someone else’s joy is involved (b’rit or pidyon haben)  or to celebrate the completion of a portion of Torah learning which one intends to share with others (a siyyum), meat and wine are de rigeur even up to Erev Tisha b’Av at noon.  Inner- directed pleasure is restricted; outer-directed relations, however, must not be affected by any such restrictions.

Self-deprivation should, of course, accentuate a sense of loss.  Regrettably the Three Weeks and the Nine Days have become routine.  Soya and fish products abound and we hardly notice the lack of meat.  Our wardrobe spills over with shirts and skirts and so we scarcely experience sartorial deprivation.  Music, or rather ‘muzak’, pervades the department-stores and we barely miss its presence in our homes.  So we fail to feel a sense of loss; thus we will not cry out to the One Above to make good that loss.  And the ge’ulah (redemption) still does not come.

Let us ponder on the psychodynamics of the Three Weeks.  Let us become outer- directed, reflecting on the needs of others and of k’lal Yisrael as a whole.  Let our concern, our care and our love for others be boundless. In this merit, HaShem will surely reciprocate and send us His messianic reedeemer!

Rabbi Chaim Ingram  OAM                                                                                                  

About the Author
Rabbi Chaim Ingram is the author of five books on Judaism. He is a senior tutor for the Sydney Beth Din and the non-resident rabbi of the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation. He can be reached at judaim@bigpond.net.au
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