I always dread this time of year: The Three Weeks. It is kicked off by fasting on Tzom Tammuz, then the Nine Days happen, and, finally, we have to endure the hardest fast of the year: Tisha B’Av. I mean, the list of rules is a mile long, the two fast days are during the hottest, longest days of the whole calendar, and it just feels like such a disruption that I never really get the meaning of all of it. Do you have any advice on how to cope with this period and, most importantly, get some spiritual meaning out of it?
I love this question! I have long wondered how to unpack all of the rules, fasting, and inconveniences that this part of the Jewish calendar encompasses. We are finally in some sort of summer rhythm and “bam!” things turn sober real quick. And I’m not just talking about not having wine here, Gitty.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to delve into this a little bit. Now, I am not a rabbinical authority, but I am a frum lady, so I am coming at this question as a person who observes the restrictions, not as an authority. If you have a real halachic query, ask your LOR (local Orthodox rabbi).
First, let’s talk about what the Three Weeks represent. It begins with the fast on 17 Tammuz, when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans in 69 CE. So, if you think about this fast, it is kind of “getting us in the mood” of mourning the destruction of Jerusalem. Further, we take on just four restrictions between Tzom Tammuz and the Nine Days: no haircuts, no parties, no music, no Shehechiyanu (blessing on new items). OK, so that’s not too bad. I even get a break from the obsessive Jewish music videos watched by one of my children (as lovely and spiritually uplifting as they are, of course).
Then we get to the Nine Days, and things get taken up a notch. No wine, no meat, no swimming, no laundry, no decorating. I mean, that’s, like, the big leagues of mourning. But, remember, we are leading up to the big kahuna of fasts — Tisha B’Av — when we commemorate the destruction of not one, but two, Batei Hamikdash (Holy Temples).
All of these things can be difficult, on a practical level. As you say, the fast days are long, the restrictions are hard, and the period of time represents a good chunk of the summer. So, in order to put this in perspective, let’s take a step back. Here are the good things about this time:
Our friends and community are doing it too. We are not alone in this.
Our rabbis are there for us to ask sh’eilahs (halachic inquiries) and guide us appropriately.
We are lucky to be part of a community: We are not only part of the Greater Washington Jewish community, but we are also part of the community of all Jews. We are part of a tradition that has lasted thousands of years.
And, finally, guess why we have lasted thousands of years? Because we commemorate this stuff, just as we spin the dreidel on Chanukah, sit in the sukkah, dance with the Torah on Simchas Torah, and on and on (and on).
So, Gitty, this time period has also helped us survive. As Napoleon said about Tisha B’Av, “A nation that cries and fasts for over 2,000 years for their land and Temple will surely be rewarded with their Temple.”
You asked what you can gain spiritually from the Three Weeks. Here is what Chabad.org has to say:
There is more to the Three Weeks than fasting and lamentation. Our sages tell us that those who mourn the destruction of Jerusalem will merit seeing it rebuilt with the coming of Moshiach [the Messiah]. May that day come soon, and then all the mournful dates on the calendar will be transformed into days of tremendous joy and happiness.
On a deeper level, a fast day is an auspicious day, a day when Gd is accessible, waiting for us to repent.
The sages explain: “Every generation for which the Temple is not rebuilt, it is as though the Temple was destroyed for that generation.” A fast day is not only a sad day, but an opportune day. It’s a day when we are empowered to fix the cause of that destruction, so that our long exile will be ended and we will find ourselves living in messianic times; may that be very soon.
I like it! Here we are, still around after all these generations, in 2017 (5777), where we scroll through our iPhones with abandon, use all the modern luxuries afforded us, but still yearn for the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash and the coming of Moshiach. This is how we stay true to the Word, sister.
And just think: it’s never boring being Jewish. There’s always something to celebrate and commemorate. Hang in there, and enjoy that big juicy burger on 10 Av. And don’t forget about me, who will be listening to my kid’s favorite song, “Bas Kol,” 20,000 times — and maybe appreciating the Three Weeks, after all.
All the best,