Behold a People
"Behold a people that rises up as a lioness, and as a lion he lifts himself up; he shall not lie down until he eat of the prey, and drink the blood of the slain."
Today, the seventeenth day of the month of Tammuz, (July 3), begins the three week period which culminates on the ninth day of the month of Av. The three weeks commence with the dawn to dark fast of the seventeenth of Tammuz, commemorating, among other things, the breeching of the walls of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, and concludes with the twenty five hour fast of the ninth of Av - Tish'a b'Av - the day that the Holy Temple was destroyed, (by the Babyloniams in 586 BCE and by the Roman legions under the command of Titus, in 70 CE). The three weeks are commonly referred to as beyn hameitzarim - "between the straits," or "narrow places." During the three weeks Jews around the world take upon themselves various customs associated with mourning: music and dancing and frivolity are shunned. Men do not cut their hair or trim their beards. From the first of Av to the ninth, more stringent mourning customs are adopted. For this reason the three weeks are commonly perceived as being three weeks of simply mourning for the loss of the Holy Temple, and nothing more. This is a most unfortunate conclusion. When one mourns the loss of a loved one he is accepting the fact that the deceased has gone forever, and only at the end of time, when G-d wills it, will the laws of nature be overturned and the resurrection of the dead will bring back our loved ones. We adopt the customs of mourning concerning the Holy Temple at this most difficult juncture on the Hebrew calendar - the time period which led up to the Temple's destruction - in order to internalize the breadth and depth of the loss of the Holy Temple. But in measuring up to the enormity of our misfortune we cannot and must not allow stoicism or passivity to enter our hearts and cripple us spiritually.
The world without the Holy Temple is an unacceptable proposition. It was forced upon us nearly two thousand years ago and we have toiled under the staggering influence of its loss from that day until this day. But what about tomorrow? Will the Holy Temple still not be standing tomorrow? Or should we ask the question more honestly: Will the Holy Temple continue being destroyed tomorrow? Our sages teach us that every generation that does not witness the rebuilding of the Holy Temple is a generation that has destroyed the Holy Temple. If we allow our listlessness and apathy to rule our lives then we are as guilty as if our own hands have destroyed the Holy Temple, G-d forbid! For unlike the resurrection of the dead, the rebuilding of the Holy Temple is not dependent solely upon the will of G-d. It is not a function of the suspension of the laws of nature. As with every one of the 613 commandments received by the children of Israel at Mount Sinai, the building of the Temple is ours for the doing. The building of the Temple is eminently achievable. The desire to draw nearer to our Creator, both as individuals, and as a nation, is what is needed to move our hearts and our hands into action. Dedication and determination is what will propel us forward towards completing our task.
Simply mourning for three weeks of the year, and then going on about our business is an unsustainable act of self-deception. We aren't marking time, we are losing time. We aren't dutifully observing a time honored custom, we are ignoring the very words we are to be fulfilling, and we are mocking tens of generations who have preceded ours, and are looking toward us who have returned to Zion, to return the heart to our beloved nation.
In this past week's Torah reading we meet Balaam, the great heathen prophet. We are told that his spiritual prowess was such that he could have been the equal of Moshe rabbeinu - Moses our master - the greatest of the Israelite prophets. Yet we refer to Balaam exclusively as Balaam harasha - the evil Balaam. There is a strong kindred spirit shared between Balaam and Lavan - the father-in-law of Yaakov avinu - our patriarch Jacob. Lavan, like Balaam, also tried to destroy the Jewish nation in the person of Yaakov. Yet we are not instructed to refer to Lavan only as Lavan harasha - evil Lavan. What makes Balaam so special? Why do our sages single him our for opprobrium? Balaam was gifted spiritually. He possessed within his grasp the power to do great good in the world. He chose to do evil.
We are living in a moment in history of unprecedented potential for good. The Jewish people is sovereign in its land for the first time in two millennia. We posses the intellectual resources and technology to create anything that we set out to create. Politically we are presented with endless opportunities to press forward and reach out toward our destiny as a nation of priests and kings. All that we are lacking is the will to choose: to lay down our sackcloth forever, and build a house for G-d, that He may dwell among us.
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK, and join Yitzchak Reuven and Rabbi Richman as they discuss Balaam harasha, and the three weeks of beyn hameitzarim.
Click to hear: