This is a tough time of the year to be Jewish.
Colloquially known as “The Three Weeks,” this is the period of time on the Jewish calendar each summer when we commemorate the various stages of the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians and later, the second Temple by the Romans, over 2000 years ago. The three weeks progress in intensity and are bookended by two fast days.
When I was a kid, I used to hear the adults talking about “The Three Weeks” and “The Nine Days” (which are the final, most intense days of this period). I had no idea what they were talking about, but I did learn to dread this time period, because the adults, in talking about the three weeks and the nine days, always projected a note of despair and dread. During the three weeks, we do not listen to music or have weddings. In the final nine days of the three weeks, depending on Sephardi or Ashkenazi custom, we also do not drink wine or eat meat or chicken. While we can bathe and shower for hygiene, we are supposed to reduce the time and enjoyment in those activities. We also don’t go swimming, which, for the kids, is the biggest lifestyle change of them all.
It’s interesting how the Jewish calendar cycles through various emotional realities in the human experience. I’ve noted in previous columns that the journey through the Jewish calendar is basically an adventure through the entire gamut of human emotion. We have joy, celebration, mourning, family time, community time, a time to dance, a time to sing, a time to be outdoors in a sukkah, a time to come indoors and light candles. There is a time for the sound of the shofar and a time for the taste of the matza and a time for the smell of the spices on Saturday night.
Judaism is so emotionally rich in every way. There is no human emotion that is discouraged or squashed in Judaism. We are taught that it is our responsibility to manage and control our emotions with our minds, but no particular emotion is bad or wrong or off-limits.
While ”The Three Weeks” has never been my favorite time of year, it is an opportunity to get pensive and reflective. It is the time to give voice to our feelings of despair and sadness for all the things that might have been and are not. The Temple was the epicenter of spiritual connection, and, with its destruction, that easy pipeline was taken away from us. The rampant spiritual disconnect and loneliness that so many of us feel is directly linked to the destruction of that Temple 2000 years ago.
So while I am counting down the days until the three weeks are over, and we can once again enjoy all the pleasures of life, I feel secure in the structure of Judaism that leads us through all of our emotional states with grace and leadership. I feel connected to a community of Jews all over the world who are feeling my feelings. And I feel a sense of yearning for better times, which I believe and hope and pray are just around the corner.