The Three Weeks is a tough time for many of us. And compounding the difficulty, is that for most of us, it’s a tough time for all the wrong reasons.
From an experiential standpoint, Jewish law can serve at least two functions. At times, it channels our emotions in a healthy and meaningful way, while other times it is designed to stir certain emotions within us. Rav Soloveitchik famously contrasted two different types of avelut, two different types of mourning periods. There is avelut yeshana, “old” avelut, which mourns a historical national loss, and avelut chadasha, new avelut, like the death of a loved one. The goal of halakha when we lose a loved one is to channel our grief in a healthy and meaningful way. In contrast, the goal of the halakhic restrictions of avelut yeshana, when we mourn the loss of the Beit Hamikdash, the Temple, is to stir feelings of pain and loss which we otherwise wouldn’t feel. And that’s why the Three Weeks is tough. How many of us feel this loss when we can’t have weddings or listen to music or go swimming How many of us simply can’t wait for the Three Weeks to be over so that we can have a normal summer again? How many us wonder to ourselves, why couldn’t the Romans have had mercy on us and destroyed the Beit Hamikdash in the winter instead of the summer so that it wouldn’t affect our summer swim season?
It’s hard for many of us to relate to what we are mourning during the Three Weeks. It’s hard for many of us to relate to missing the opportunity to sacrifice a goat or a sheep on the altar, or to listen to the Levites sing in the Temple – after all, we have the Maccabeats! And so, to facilitate my own avelut yeshana during this time, I try to personalize what the loss of the Beit Hamikdash truly means to me. And I try to picture what life might be like if we had the Temple once again. And when I do that, I can’t help but wonder – If we rebuilt the Beit Hamikdash tomorrow, would disputes like the Kotel controversy go away? Would the existential threats of assimilation and intermarriage be eliminated? For me, the loss of the Beit Hamikdash is symptomatic of what we are sorely lacking as a nation today. During the Three Weeks we highlight that loss, and elicit from within ourselves a yearning for what our nation so badly needs today. We ache for a strong and passionate national relationship with God, one in which He is so revealed that none amongst us would even think about assimilating. We long for Jewish unity, peace and tranquility to reign.
In his Sefer Moadim BaHalacha, Rav Zevin writes that any given fast day can contain at least one of the following elements, mourning, petition and repentance. The Three Weeks incorporates all three: mourning our national loss, petitioning God to end this loss, but also repentance, as many of the Kinot that we recite on Tisha B’Av highlight a repentant theme. Again, personalizing the repentance can also be a meaningful exercise, asking ourselves how each of us can develop a stronger and more passionate with God and how we can help foster the goals of a peaceful, unified Jewish nation.
I have often found that when it comes to solving national problems, many of us have trouble personalizing the teshuva and accepting responsibility. It’s often about what they have to do and not what I have to do. Some of us who are not passionate about prayer, Torah study and rituals only think about the problems of Jewish unity during this time period. Those of us who struggle with being sensitive to others tend to focus our critiques on assimilation and intermarriage. We are all so quick to see where someone else’s practice is deficient, and much slower to turn that critical eye inward. A paper was published three years ago by Stanford researchers Karina Schumann and Carol Dweck which studied people in long-term relationships. The researchers found that the more strongly people believed that they could change, the more likely they were to take responsibility for their mistakes. Perhaps many of us don’t personalize the teshuva and internalize its rebuke because we don’t truly believe in the power of teshuva and our ability to change.
Hopefully, though, if we think about personalizing the feelings of loss, petition and even repentance during this time period, by believing in our ability to effectuate change, then maybe the Three Weeks will be a tough time for us, but for all the right reasons.