Three Weeks, Why?
What a lachrymose people we can be. In three weeks we will sit on the floor as mourners, crying about the destruction of a Temple two millennia ago. “How lonely sits the city that once was filled with people. She has become a widow. She cries alone at night, and tears scar her cheeks. None of her beloved are left to comfort her.” [Eicha, the Book of Lamentations] Isn’t it sad enough to fast and mourn through Tisha B’Av, the Ninth Day of Av?
But, no. Instead we position ourselves for ongoing sorrow. We establish a mood of mourning with no weddings or community celebrations for three complete weeks leading up to a crescendo of grief on Tisha B’Av. This period of time began yesterday with the fast of Shiva Asar b’Tamuz, the 17th of Tamuz, commemorating the day that the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem in 70 CE, the beginning of the end of Jewish sovereignty for the next 2000 years.
Why do we do this? Why do we, as a religious people, enforce sadness?
One answer to this question can be found in the Talmud where we read, “All who mourn over Jerusalem merit to see her in her joy.” [B.T. Ta’anit 30b]. Commentators on this statement note that we do not read that we will see Jerusalem’s joy in the future; we read that we merit today seeing her in her joy. At a wedding, at the height of joy, we smash a glass to recall the destruction of Jerusalem. We are meant to truly appreciate the enormity of loss, the fragility of life, the precariousness of our plans and yet still embrace life. When we recognize how difficult life is and still insist on making meaning and contributions to the world, we thereby experience life in its fullness and joy.
In the Jewish Artist’s Way class this morning, one student asked about a heartbreaking realization. She explained, “Thanks to this class, I write my morning journal pages and plan an enjoyable artist’s date. I feel peaceful and creative. Then I listen to the news and hear about a world gone crazy. What meaning can my contentment hold in a world filled with violence and hatred? How can I harmonize these two opposing forces?
The wise answers that came from fellow classmates all derived from one central idea: we cannot fix things out of our control. But we can make the world a better place by staying present and appreciative. We choose to do what we can in our own corners of the world. We decide to be kind and compassionate and loving. To live in this world is to live in vulnerability and yet still be tender and courageous, thoughtful and creative.
The act of grieving teaches us how to be joyful. The act of remembering tells us that we can choose to reaffirm our faith despite the reality of life around us. Perhaps Judaism teaches us to mourn so that we can learn how to truly live.
May we all find profound meaning and also joy in the weeks ahead,
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill