Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,
One of the five minor fast days on the Jewish calendar took place this past weekend: 17 Tammuz, the day when we mourn the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem before the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. On 17 Tammuz we also remember the breaking of the first set of tablets of the Ten Commandments which happened when Moshe came down the mountain and saw the children of Israel worshiping the golden calf. 17 Tammuz is the beginning of the “Three Weeks,” a time also known as bein ha-meitzarim — “between the narrows” or “in tight straits” — a period of semi-mourning which culminates with Tisha b’Av.
I didn’t grow up observing 17 Tammuz or the Three Weeks (or, for that matter, Tisha b’Av.) The Three Weeks aren’t universally observed in the liberal Jewish world. (See Do Reform Jews Observe the Three Weeks?) What does it mean to mourn the siege of a city almost two thousand years ago, the breaching of the first wall which led to the fall of the Temple, especially when many of us no longer see the Temple Mount as the axis mundi, the umbilicus of creation, the place where communication with God is uniquely possible?
My colleague Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb suggests that 17 Tammuz is a day to mourn the ways in which the structures of peace are being dismantled in our time. Hearing that, some of us may think of olive trees uprooted and homes demolished; others may think of the removal of settlers from Gaza. What are the impediments to peace in today’s Jerusalem? There’s passionate disagreement on that front — which makes me also think: what are the impediments to peace between and among us, in the Jewish community, who see the situation in Israel and Palestine in differing ways?
The Talmud (tractate Yoma) tells us the Second Temple fell because of sinat chinam, “baseless hatred,” within our community. Are we any kinder than our ancestors were? How are the structures of caring and compassion dismantled in our time? The structures of understanding, gentleness, kindness? These, for me, are among the questions of these Three Weeks.
The Sefer Yetzirah, a classic text of Jewish mysticism, says that each month of the Jewish calendar is associated with one of our senses. This month, the month of Tamuz, is associated with the sense of sight; it is considered the best time of the year to “heal” our sight so that we stop seeing what’s wrong with each other and start seeing what’s right.
If we could all spend these Three Weeks healing our sight so that we truly only see the good in one another, how might the world be different? I’m not talking about superficial pretense, but about really training ourselves to see the best in people. Imagine seeing the best not only in your friends, but in the guy who cuts you off in traffic; in someone who looks different from you; in someone whose political positions are the opposite of yours.
Imagine Democrats and Republicans really figuring out how to see the good in each other. Imagine AIPAC supporters and Jewish Voice for Peace supporters doing the same. Secular Israelis and ultra-Orthodox Israelis. Soldiers and refuseniks. Israelis and Palestinians. “Us” and “them.” What might the Three Weeks mean to us if we could truly open our eyes to the best in each other?
Whether or not you chose to fast on 17 Tammuz — and for that matter, whether or not you intend to fast on Tisha b’Av! — consider donating what you would ordinarily spend on a day’s food budget to an organization which works to effect healing. Combatants for Peace works to create healing and change in the Middle East; RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) works to create healing for those who have suffered rape or abuse. Or donate to support a month of Take and Eat at CBI, or to another local organization which works to alleviate some of the brokenness of our world.
During these Three Weeks, may we learn to extend hope and kindness to all who suffer. May we learn that in our very brokenness lies the possibility of healing and transformation.
Blessings to all,