The Three Weeks

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Rabbi Ruhi Sophia, July/Aug 2015

In many cultures, midsummer is a time of heightened apprehension. In the ancient Israelite culture which shaped our Jewish calendar, the midsummer months of Tammuz and Av are the two most mournful months of the year. This is in part due to agricultural reality: in our ancestors’ desert culture, midsummer was a time when rain was a distant memory, and the land was parched.

Two somber holidays occur during this time. According to our tradition, on the 17th of Tammuz, the Romans breached the walls of the city of Jerusalem in the year 70 CE. They destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem 3 weeks later, on the 9th of Av (Tisha B’Av). Mythologically, the scouts assigned by Moses brought back their discouraging report about the land of Israel on Tisha B’Av, causing the Israelites to wander for 40 years. Historically, the expulsion from Spain in 1492 and the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto in 1942 were both initiated at Tisha B’Av.

This is a season of tremendous upheaval. In many ways it is appropriate that the Rabbinic transition is occurring now. Any apprehension about the community’s transition is certainly real and valid. Those feelings can also be keyed to what I would call a cosmic Jewish unease at this time of year.

Yet this is also a time of tremendous hope and potential growth. There is a teaching that the Messiah is to be born on the 9th of Av. Out of the ashes of destruction sprout the seeds of redemption. Eventually, rain comes again. The most joyful (though little known) day in the Jewish calendar comes right after Tisha B’Av: Tu B’Av, the 15th of Av, the “Jewish Valentine’s Day,” which is actually the day that we’ll be holding our first Shabbat in the Park of the summer.

The following month, Elul, is the time of drawing near to each other and to the Divine in preparation for the Days of Awe – the holiest days of the year.

This task of mindfully moving through mourning and anxiety to come to a place of love and community is exactly the process that we are instructed to internalize every summer, and it is the process that faces our community now. It is not a process that can be rushed or ignored. The months of Tammuz and Av are truly for mourning. But the hope is that we can make this journey through these months and come to a time of fruitfulness and new growth. I look forward to taking on this task together.