Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The Three Weeks

In the class of Monday, July 2, 2007, Alexey, Peter, Jason, and Adam attended.

We discussed the lessons of "The Three Weeks." This is a period of mourning starting from the Jewish date of the 17th of Tammuz.

On this day Moses descended from Mount Sinai and, upon seeing the Golden Calf, broke the first set of Tablets carrying the Ten Commandments. (Exodus, 32:19; Talmud, Ta'anis, 28b) The priests in the First Temple stopped offering the daily sacrifice (ibid.) due to the shortage of sheep during the siege by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian forces, and the walls of Jerusalem were breached after many months of siege in the following year 3184 (586 BCE). Titus of Rome also breached the walls of Jerusalem on this day in 3760 (70 CE). And the list goes on ...

This period continues until the 9th of Av, which is the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, when the two Holy Temples were destroyed. Many other tragic events also occurred in this general time, most recently the mass expulsion of Jews from their land and homes in the Gaza Strip and North Samaria in 2005, and the Second Lebanon War of 2006.

Thus, this is a serious time designated for introspection and repentance.

In a broader sense, this highlights the general principle that the Torah lays a strong emphasis on the deeper significance of time. Each day seems the same as the previous one, but in fact, every day has its own unique spiritual character. This is reflected in the various holidays throughout the year. Each holiday has its own special moral, not found in the other holidays. Similarly, there are "lucky" times and "unlucky" times. The three weeks and the month of Av in general are regarded as an "unlucky" time. This is expressed in the Talmudic dictum, "Good things come to pass on an auspicious day, and bad things on an inauspicious day." (Talmud, Erchin, 11b)

The Holy Temple served as a beacon of spirituality and G-dliness for all mankind: The Holy Land is the source of spiritual life-force of the entire universe. Jerusalem is the source of the spiritual life-force of the Holy Land. The Temple Mount, and especially the site of the Holy of Holies, is the ultimate focal point of all.

Thus, by serving G-d in the Holy Temple, the Jewish people, in their role as "a Kingdom of priests and a holy nation," (Exodus 19:6) drew holiness and blessing down into the entire universe, and for all the gentile nations (who were also welcome to come and offer sacrifices to the One G-d in the Holy Temple, provided that the offerings were unblemished). Indeed, the Medrash states, "Were the nations of the world to know how beneficial the Holy Temple is for them, they would surround it with encampments of troops to protect it." (Numbers Rabba, 1:3)

Thus, the destruction of the Holy Temple, and the exile of the Jewish people, the priests of mankind from their G-d-given Land is a universal tragedy, and should be mourned by all. Of this it is written, "He who mourns for Jerusalem merits to see its rejoicing." (Talmud, Ta'anis, 30b) May it be speedily rebuilt by the Jewish Messiah (in Hebrew, the Moshiach) and may we all—Jew and non-Jew alike—merit to offer sacrifices in it again!

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