Guest contributor: Rabbi Aryeh Winter
We see in the Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chayim 751 that during the three week period between the fast of the 17th of Tamuz and the fast of the 9th of Av, we are supposed to reduce our rejoicing. This law is derived from the Gemora in the tractate of Ta’anis (26b) which states that “”When Av enters, we are to lessen our rejoicing.”” During these “”Three Weeks”” we do not have weddings, we do not take haircuts, and we do not listen to music. During the time between the beginning of the month of Av and the fast on the 9th, we do not eat meat, drink wine, and for many purposes, one may not bathe. (For exact application of these laws, please consult your Halachik authority. -YP) These are some of the examples of the signs of mourning that we demonstrate during this period of time. If we take a step back from our actions, and think about what we are or are not doing we should ask ourselves “”Why are we doing this, what are we to learn from this?””
The answer lies in what role Jerusalem and the Temple play in our lives.
We see in the Medrash a quote from Reb Levi: “”All good blessings and consolations that the Almighty is destined to give to the Jewish people come only from Zion.”” The Rabbis in the Gemora have described for us what it means not to dwell in the Holy Land when they wrote that “”one who dwells outside of Israel is compared to one who has no G-d.”” Reading these passages and others like it, one can only imagine the devastating spiritual toll the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem has had on the nation of Israel. Yet, often it appears that we have lost that yearning for the arrival of Moshiach and our return to a rebuilt Jerusalem and Temple. When a Rabbi concludes his sermon with the words “”may we all merit to be in Jerusalem next year”” and we answer “”Amen,”” do we at that time really feel the loss of our Temple and holiest city? Do we feel all too comfortable living in America or anywhere in exile, even with the knowledge that there are people who are still persecuted because they are Jewish? The Rambam (Maimonides) writes in his Mishnah Torah (Chap. 11 – Laws of Kings) that “”one who is aware of the suffering in exile and does not eagerly await the redemption, denies belief in the redemption.”” Any complacency on our part is tantamount to giving up on our future.
So what are we to do? The laws of mourning observed during the “”Three Weeks”” are not meant solely as a demonstration of mourning for a destruction and exile that occurred 2000 years ago. This period of time is supposed to remind us that we, as individuals and as a nation, are not complete as long as there are Jews who are scattered all over the world in exile. We have to internalize this exile and the effect it is to have on us. However, the process does not end here. We also have to try and understand what led to this terrible destruction, and how we can better ourselves so that we can merit being brought out of this exile that our evil deeds led us to in the first place. Only a stronger commitment to the Torah and our religion will bring the redemption. Rabbi Yonason Eibshitz, (1690-1764) wrote that the verse “”And the land will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the sea”” is a prerequisite to the coming of Moshiach and our eventual redemption. This surely increases our duties in the area of our responsibility to hasten the arrival of our redemption.
We have been assigned a task: to do what we can to hasten our redemption. May we all merit to be inspired by the solemnity of these Three Weeks, to realize the totality of the loss we have suffered, and to act on all of these feeling, so that we can be returned to a rebuilt Jerusalem and Temple speedily, in our days.
We now know why we fast. May we merit to all take this lesson to heart, and see the Temple rebuilt speedily, in our days.