"[Israel] crouches, lies like a lion, like an awesome lion, who will dare rouse him?
Those who bless you are blessed, and those who curse you are cursed."
This coming Wednesday evening, the 17th day of the month of Tammuz, begins the three week period of mourning during which the nation of Israel increasingly occupies its thoughts with the Holy Temple. The 17th of Tammuz marks a dawn-to-dark fast day. The three week period ends with its climax on the 9th day of Av, the date of the destruction of both Holy Temples, observed as a 25 hour fast. These three weeks are also marked by the observance of various customs of mourning, which progressively intensify in stages from the beginning of the month of Av.
While Jewish law specifically designates this time period as one of mourning, the appellation may be misleading. When a family suffers a loss, the Jewish mourning customs help the mourners to come to grips with their loss, to work their way through it, both physically, spiritually, and emotionally, and ultimately to enable the mourners to return to the fullness of their lives. They are unable to make that return until they "get over" their loss.
These three weeks take on the various aspects of mourning, however, with quite the opposite intention. We are never supposed to "get over" this loss! Mourning the loss of the Holy Temple each year is intended to jar us into realizing that our lives as Jews, as human beings on this earth, cannot and will not return to the fullness that G-d has intended for us, so long as the Holy Temple is not standing on its destined spot on Mount Moriah, and the Divine Service has not been reinstated.
The purpose of the three weeks is not to provide a convenient means with which we can compartmentalize our suffering the loss of the Holy Temple. As Jews and as righteous Gentiles we must use these days for taking personal stock, and for recommitting ourselves toward realizing the vision of Isaiah: "... and My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." (Isaiah 57:6)
Our sages teach us that three things are acquired with great travail: the knowledge of Torah, the Land of Israel, and the World to Come. Referring to this concept, Rabbi Moshe Goldsmith, the mayor of the Samarian town of Itamar describes how his community has coped with many tragedies over the past six years, including most recently, the murder by terrorists of Eliyahu Asheri, may G-d avenge his blood, and the death of elementary school student Shimon Zwicker, of blessed memory. Nestled in the hills overlooking the Biblical city of Shechem, (Nablus), within eyesight of the tomb of the righteous Joseph, and the tombs of Itamar, the son of the high priest Aaron, Pinchas, the grandson of Aaron, and the seventy elders of the Sanhedrin who entered the land with Yehoshua, this vibrant and resilient community draws its strength from the knowledge of the role they play in the prophetic promise of redemption. (To learn more about the Torah community of Itamar, please click .)
This past week's Torah reading, Balak, (Numbers 22:2 - 25:9), teaches us that there have always been those among the nations who are bent upon preventing Israel from fulfilling its role in G-d's promise of redemption for all mankind. Bilaam, the greatest heathen prophet to ever walk the earth, assisted by the evil Balak, king of Moav, pulls out all the stops, as it were, in an attempt to curse the Israelite nation. Yet G-d turns the curses into blessings, as the words of the prophet are stymied by the deeds - the performance of the Torah commandments - of the children of Israel.
It is our fervent prayer that this year the three weeks of introspection will kindle within the people of Israel a new spirit, and that we shall, at long last, rise up like a lion, give chase to our enemies, and establish, for once and for always, the House of G-d in the holy city of Jerusalem.
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