During the 3 weeks from 17 Tammuz leading up to Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, the Jewish people mourn the loss of the Holy Temple. The Talmud attributes this loss to the prevalence of Sinas Chinam, baseless hatred, among the Jewish people. While hatred towards others is a serious offense, how does it explain the loss of the Temple, and sending the Jewish people into a bitter, arduous exile for nearly 2000 years? Surely there are much greater crimes!
Recall that our relationship with the Al-mighty is not simply servant to master — it’s much deeper. He’s not only Malkeinu, our King, but Avinu Malkeinu, our Father, our King. A mere servant follows orders, but a child does what he knows his father wants most. While G-d did not record baseless hatred in His Torah as a punishable crime, we know that the deep pain it causes the Al-mighty, as it were, far exceeds even the most cardinal of sins. (Nesivos Shalom, Bamidbar 146)
I encourage you to read the words offered in eulogy (pgs 1 & 16) by Rabbi Binyomin Eisenberg , spiritual leader of the synagogue attended by Leiby Kletzky’s family, and one who had a close personal relationship with the pure, innocent Neshama (soul) summoned back to heaven last week. While one can only speculate what G-d’s message is to us, and undoubtedly there are many amidst such a profound tragedy, Rabbi Eisenberg noted the outpouring of assistance, thousands of volunteers, who helped in the search for Leiby and eventually helped lay his body to its final rest. He then asked a painful question: “Why do we need a tragedy to provide water in the streets for strangers?” “Let’s help each other – always,” he said. “If you pick up the phone, it stops ringing. If we Daven (pray) and help each other, we hopefully won’t need tragedies.”
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
Program Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org
The three weeks of mourning, which started on Tammuz 17, began on July 19th this year, and will culminate on August 9th; Tisha b’av. The 9th day of the month of Av observes a series of tragic events that have befallen the Jewish people throughout history. It is said that both the First and Second Temples were destroyed on the 9th of Av. The Bar Kochba revolt (133 CE) was ended with the slaughter of the Jewish rebels by the Romans on the 9th of Av. On this same date in 1290 CE, the Jews were expelled from England and Spain banished Jews from their land in 1492 on the 9th of Av. Chabad.org has more facts on this day, which holds so many harsh events for the Jewish people.
Why continue to mourn? What purpose could continuing to commemorate the three weeks serve except as a depressing reminder of so much suffering, pain, and death? Why would the Jewish people want to make this a permanent part of their religious calendar and to relive such terrible times?
What did Rabbi Dixler say?
The reminder isn’t what the world has done to the Jews. The reminder is how they failed God, defining the failure as “the prevalence of Sinas Chinam, baseless hatred, among the Jewish people”.
I don’t say this to insult or denigrate the Jewish people. In fact, we all fail God, each and every one of us, and on a rather frequent basis. What lessons can Christians take from the three weeks of mourning and the fast days of 17 Tammuz and 9 Av? Christianity often focuses on how we are saved from sin and death, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but we have a tendency to gloss over our own faults, mistakes, and errors, all because we are “saved”. In fact, our salvation seems to make some Christians a little cocky and even arrogant. For them, being “saved” means if you mess up, all you have to do is shoot a quick prayer of “I’m sorry, God” up to heaven and you’re good to go.
I think not, but sadly, I do think a lot of Christians proceed on this rather self-satisfied and self-serving assumption. If Christians would take their failures a little more seriously, consider displaying a more contrite attitude toward God and other people they have failed, and humble themselves (ourselves) before God and those people, wouldn’t we be better servants of God and better disciples of Jesus? Jesus emptied himself of all glory and honor and humbly accepted an unjust and undeserved death on a stake as a criminal. Where is our fasting, our mourning, our prayers of sorrow for the failures of our lives?
Rabbi Yehudah Prero offers a description of what observant Jews practice during these three weeks:
We are now in the final days of the Three Weeks, the period of time between the fasts of the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av. These three weeks are spent in a state of mourning. We do not conduct weddings, we do not cut our hair, and we refrain from enjoying music. During the last nine days, we do not eat meat, drink wine, nor do we bathe. The sorrow of our exile surrounds us at every moment during this time of the year. While we are to mourn the loss of the Holy Temple, the Bais HaMikdosh and the destruction of Jerusalem, and pray for the end of this lengthy exile, we must remember that Hashem is with us, watching us, ready to lift the burden of exile from upon us at the proper time.
Granted, this type of observance is more common among Orthodox Jews, but it does set a standard of behavior that includes solumn reflection and prayer among the Jewish people as well as the reassurance that God is with them and, at the right time, that He will rescue them. It commemorates the “incompleteness” of the redemption of the Jewish people from exile and the desire for the coming of the Messiah to accomplish the final return of the Jews to Israel and to God:
We have been in exile for a long time. Our families have been subject to spiritual and physical persecution. During the Three Weeks, our behavior reflects the sadness of this time period, the recognition of the great suffering which we still endure. Although we mourn and lament, we must still keep in mind that Hashem is watching over us. He has already put in place the mechanisms for our redemption. We cannot allow that spark of hope within us to be extinguished. We must recognize that the exile will end. That end has been planned for and provided for by G-d. With our striving to be better people, with our repenting, our studying of the Torah, the redemption, our light at the end of the tunnel, is clearly within sight.
Christians don’t consider themselves in exile, but perhaps we should. Although Christianity doesn’t have the same relationship to Land of Israel as the Jewish people, there is definitely something we are missing. We still live in a broken world. We still live in a world where sin and immorality reign and where the values of God and truth are treated with contempt. When will we be “returned” to our “homeland”, where we will live in peace and be ruled by our just and merciful King? When will Jesus come?
As long as we are waiting for him, we are also in exile. While we celebrate our salvation, let us mourn the fact that it was for our sins that Jesus suffered terribly and died. We share some measure of grief and sorrow for the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jews from Israel, because these are all events that are inexorably tied to the death of the Messiah and the spreading of the Gospel of Christ. The Prophet Micah said that someday, all people from the nations will stream to the mountain of God. For that reason, we too must long for the day of its return and for the restoration of the Jews to Israel, as we do for the return of Christ. Let us fast and mourn as for an only son who we have lost and pray for the day when he will come into the world again, in glory and honor and joy. One day, we will all be restored in the courts of our Father and our King.
In the last days
the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and peoples will stream to it.
Many nations will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He will judge between many peoples
and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
Everyone will sit under their own vine
and under their own fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
for the LORD Almighty has spoken.