Reflections on the Three Weeks: The Week's End July 7
Jul 7th 2023

This Shabbat begins the three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av, the major fast and day of mourning that commemorates, among other things, the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem. It is a period of diminished joy. In these three weeks, it is customary not to have weddings, and in the eight days preceding the 9th of Av, there are customs not to cut hair and not eat meat

I admittedly find it difficult to connect to this part of the Jewish calendar, as many of you might too. I don’t long for a rebuilt Temple. We have re-established Jewish sovereignty in our ancestral homeland; the longing that the destruction and exile represented has now been replaced by the State of Israel’s existence. The other tragedies commemorated on Tisha B’Av, including the 1492 expulsion of Jews from Spain, are so far back in our history that they don’t seem meaningfully (or mournfully) relevant to me. Furthermore, the most massive Jewish tragedy, the Holocaust, is commemorated on its own days, not on Tisha B’Av.

So, what is a modern, liberal, Western, and Zionist Jew to do with this period of weeks? I challenge myself with this question every year. One consistent answer is to look to the ancient texts our rabbis selected for these days, the Haftarot of this Shabbat and the coming two, plus the Book of Lamentations read on Tisha B’Av itself. The ancient words from Jeremiah and Isaiah are beautiful, even while describing impending doom and tragedy. It is an excellent opportunity to engage with Biblical text and read it through the prism of the calendar.

My other answer, which feels even more crucial this year, is to reflect on how I can treat others better and how Jewish and Israeli society can do the same. The Temple’s destruction, we are taught, was due to Sinat Hinnam, baseless hatred. Challenging ourselves to find the good in other people, and using the power and agency we have now to call out injustice in our world, is a modern response to this ancient period of destruction. Hopefully, we can improve our world over these next few weeks, even if by a little bit.