Category Archives: the Three Weeks

Shabbat morning, Tzom Tammuz, and a meditation update

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends:

17 Tammuz and the Three Weeks

This coming Shabbat is a minor fast day in Jewish tradition — the fast day of 17 Tammuz (also called Tzom Tammuz — “tzom” means “fast”) when we commemorate the breaching of Jerusalem’s city walls. For those who are interested, here are a couple of things I’ve written about 17 Tammuz over the years: 17 Tammuz: the walls begin to fall (2012), Descent for the sake of ascent: the fast of 17 Tammuz (2014.)

I know that most of us in this community do not observe the minor fasts, but I think we can still find meaning in the way our calendar unfolds. 17 Tammuz begins a period known as the Three Weeks, which will culminate on Saturday August 13 with the fast of Tisha b’Av.

Although this is the week of parashat Balak (the only parasha in Torah featuring a talking donkey!) we will not read from Balak this Shabbat morning. We’ll read instead from the portion that goes with the fast day of 17 Tammuz, and enfolded into our morning service (in lieu of Torah study afterwards) will be a conversation about the Three Weeks and how their teachings about brokenness can be meaningful in our lives today.

A meditation update

On an unrelated note: once again this Friday there will be no meditation. I will be at shul on Friday! But I won’t be there in time to meditate. Thanks for bearing with me as I continue to navigate the changes in my life and my son’s shifting summer schedule. We will meditate again on August 5 (also the day of our next Kabbalat Shabbat / potluck!); I will need to miss August 12; and after that we should have smooth sailing for the rest of the summer and into the fall.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Interpretive haftarah for Shabbat Hazon

Here is the translation of the haftarah for Shabbat Hazon (“The Shabbat of Vision,” the special Shabbat immediately before Tisha b’Av) which we read and discussed at CBI today. It was translated by ALEPH rabbinic student David Aladjem.


Haftorah for Shabbat Hazon  

An Interpretive Translation of Isaiah 1:1-27
David Aladjem

The vision of redemption
The vision of peace
The vision of the Prophet Isaiah
Of Judah and Jerusalem reborn.

Hear me, oh earth and heavens
Hear me, my children and the Children of Israel
We all know that G’d is our Parent, Friend and Teacher
But – oh how quickly – we forget.

Rather than turning from evil to do good
We rush to do evil
Even when we could do good
Even when we could heal the world.

And what do we reap from our lust for evil?
A bruised body, heart and soul.
A desolated world
Burning up through our desire for more, ever more.

Yet we ask, why have You forsaken us?
We have brought our sacrifices
We have done Your bidding
Yet You do not answer us.

You have always thought only of yourselves
Not of others’ needs
Not of what might be right and true
But only of what is easiest to do
And that which puffs you up with pride.

Come, let us learn together
You can act justly and heal this world
Clothe the homeless, feed the hungry
Defend the powerless
That is My desire.

Turn your hands to My work
And I will give you all that you desire
Food for your bodies
Contentment for your hearts
And love for your souls.

On that day
Zion will be redeemed with justice
And all will dwell within her walls in peace.
Jerusalem will again be
My holy city

And war and destruction will never come again.

Dvar Torah for Shabbat Hazon: listening to the holy space between

Here’s the d’var Torah I offered this morning at CBI. (Cross-posted to Velveteen Rabbi.)

שָׁמֹ֤עַ בֵּין־אֲחֵיכֶם֙ וּשְׁפַטְתֶ֣ם צֶ֔דֶק בֵּין־אִ֥ישׁ וּבֵין־אָחִ֖יו וּבֵ֥ין גֵּרוֹ

Hear out your fellow man, and decide justly between any man and a fellow Israelite or a stranger.

This line leapt out at me this year. Literally the first phrase means “Listen between your brothers.” Listen to the different perspectives of your brothers, your kinsfolk, those who are part of your tribe. Because even your kinsfolk will have diverse opinions and perspectives. And it’s important to listen not only to “each side,” but also to the Torah of the in-between, the space between their perspectives in which is held the truth that multiple truths can coexist, that “you don’t have to be wrong for me to be right.”

Our mystics teach that each letter of Torah is holy, and even more holy is the white space of the parchment which contains the letters and the infinite possibilities between them. The lived Torah of every human experience is holy, and even more holy is the space between us, the space in which we can choose to interact with lovindkindness and compassion, even when we disagree. Maybe especially when we disagree. It’s easy to relate in an I/Thou manner which acknowledges the full dignity of every human being when we’re on the same side. That becomes a lot harder when our disagreements are impassioned and heartfelt.

Listen between your brothers, and bring justice and righteousness to bear on how you respond. Bring tzedek to interactions between your kinsfolk, and also to interactions between your kin and those who are different from you. If someone of our community is in a disagreement with an outsider, an “other,” we’re still called to treat both parties with tzedek, justice and righteousness. Imagine the ultimate “other,” the kind of person who are you naturally inclined to mistrust and to doubt. Now imagine one of “those people” disagreeing with one of “us.” Now imagine what it would mean to respond to that disagreement with justice and righteousness, instead of with anger and fear.

The space between us is holy, like the parchment surrounding the letters of Torah. Because on white space, anything can be inscribed. It’s infinite possibility. The Torah, midrash says, is written in black fire on white fire. The white fire is the blank parchment; the white fire is the endless universe of our interpretations and commentaries. The white fire is the space between us, and the space between us is holy. But how often do we fill the space between us with the stubborn insistence that one party is right and the other party is misguided? That one party knows the truth, and the other party is deluded?

As we approach Tisha b’Av, that day when we commemorate calamities from the shattering of the first tablets of the covenant, to the destruction of both Temples, to the expulsion from Spain, to the Chmielnicki massacres, to the expulsion from the Warsaw Ghetto, to every brokenness we experience in the world even now… As we approach Tisha b’Av, knowing that the fear, suffering, and devastation in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza are at an extreme… As we approach Tisha b’Av, it is our job to remember the holiness of the space between us. To treat one another with justice and righteousness, and give each other the benefit of the doubt, even when our perspectives differ.


Thoughts before 17 Tamuz

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

EJmR3188046On Tuesday, July 15, many Jews will observe Tzom Tamuz, “the fast of Tamuz” — one of Judaism’s minor fast days, commemorating the breach of Jerusalem’s city walls which led (three weeks later) to the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 C.E.

I say “many Jews” because I know that the minor fasts are not universally observed, especially in liberal Jewish communities. The notion of commemorating the first chink in Jerusalem’s armor almost two thousand years ago may seem strange to us.

But I think there’s value in observing 17 Tamuz, and being conscious of the Three Weeks which link it with Tisha b’Av, even if you do not fast, and even if you aren’t certain you actually want to mourn the fall of a Temple you can barely imagine.

There is a deep wisdom in the way the Jewish calendar unfolds. Our festivals and fast days are waypoints along the journey we travel each year. 17 Tamuz marks the beginning of the descent toward Tisha b’Av. At Tisha b’Av, we mark the beginning of the ascent toward the Days of Awe.

In Hasidic tradition there’s the idea that often in order to rise, one first has to fall. Yeridah tzorech aliyah: one has to go down in order to be able to go up. Descent for the sake of ascent. This drama plays itself out in a variety of places in Torah — for instance, in the Joseph story, in which “descent for the sake of ascent” is a recurring motif. The downs are necessary precursors to the ups.

For Lurianic kabbalists, the whole of creation was a shattering which it is our unique privilege to be able to rebuild. If there had never been a rupture, then there couldn’t be a healing.

EMy+barn+This drama also plays itself out on the stage of every human life. We fall down, we get up again. I believe that there are gifts to be found when circumstances have laid us low. As the 17th-century Japanese poet Mizuta Masahide wrote, “My barn having burned down, I found I could see the moon.”

17 Tammuz, the Three Weeks which follow it, and Tisha b’Av which comes at the end of those weeks, are a time for us to delve together into descent. It’s not only “my barn” which has burned down — it’s our barn, the place which was spiritual home for all of us together. It’s not only my life which sometimes contains brokenness or sorrow — it’s all of our lives. We’re in this together.

17 Tamuz is a day to consider: when and how do your “walls,” the boundaries of your emotional and spiritual integrity, feel breached? What is it like to feel that something painful has come through your defenses? What issues, subjects, or sore spots make us feel defenseless and alone?

The tradition says that 17 Tammuz is the anniversary of the day when Moshe came down the mountain, saw the people worshipping the golden calf, and in heartbroken fury shattered the first set of stone tablets containing God’s words. What are the idols our communities have fallen into holding sacred? Can we allow ourselves to grieve the ways in which our communities are not yet what we most yearn for them to be?

The point of 17 Tammuz and the Three Weeks and Tisha b’Av isn’t wallowing in anger and sorrow. It’s allowing ourselves to recognize the things that hurt, the places where we are broken, so that together we can emerge from those places humbled and energized to begin the climb toward the spiritual heights of the High Holidays. Descent for the sake of ascent. If we’re willing and able to go down together, we build bonds of community which will lift us to greater heights when it’s time to climb up.

This year the 17th of Tammuz falls during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when our Muslim cousins are fasting from dawn to nightfall every day. (This “minor fast” in our tradition is observed in the same way — morning to night, not 25 hours like Yom Kippur.) And this year, 17 Tammuz arises amidst tremendous bloodshed and suffering in the Middle East.

Eliaz Cohen, a poet who lives in the settlement of Gush Etzion, has suggested that in the midst of so much sorrow and violence in Israel and Palestine, Jews and Muslims can choose to consciously fast on this day in solidarity with one another, as a “Hunger Strike Against Violence.” You can learn more at Fasting Together, Jews and Muslims Choose Life (mostly in Hebrew) 0r War Looming: Make Fasts of 17 Tammuz and Ramadan Hunger Strikes Against Violence (English).

Whether or not you fast from food and drink on 17 Tamuz (next Tuesday), I invite you to consider spending the day fasting from negative assumptions about others and from unkind thoughts and actions.

May the minor fast day of 17 Tamuz, and the following Three Weeks of opening ourselves to grief, bring us together in our low places so that together we may begin the work of building a better world.

Wishing everyone a Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Rachel


Adapted from a post on Velveteen Rabbi.

Tisha b’Av Date Correction

Dear CBI members and friends,

I’m writing to correct the dates of Tisha b’Av; the announcements which went out this week contained a date error, for which I most sincerely apologize! The days of the week were correct (Monday night, Tuesday afternoon) and the Hebrew dates were correct, but the Gregorian calendar dates were off by one day.

We will indeed be meeting for our evening service at 8pm on Monday — which is July 15th, not the 14th as was in the original announcements. And we will gather for afternoon study at 3pm on Tuesday — which is July 16th, not the 15th as was in the original announcements.

All are welcome to attend one or both of these observances, regardless of whether or not you are fasting. On Monday night we will read the book of Lamentations in English, hear a little bit of it in the mournful melody unique to this day of the year, and immerse in some poetry designed to open us to the loss and grief of the day. On Tuesday afternoon we will study texts about repentance and fasting as the day takes a turn from despair toward hope.

Wishing everyone a sweet Shabbat —

Rabbi Rachel

Entering the month of Av

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Chodesh tov: a blessed new month to you!

Today we enter into the lunar month of Av. During Av, we experience the low point of the Jewish liturgical year — and some sweet high points, too.

For members of our Rosh Chodesh group, there is a nondairy potluck lunch at CBI today at noon (bring a salad of some kind to share) — we’ll ring in the new month with a lunch-and-learn focusing on some of the unique spiritual gifts of the month of Av.

Next Monday night and Tuesday (July 14-15) we’ll observe Tisha b’Av, the 9th of Av. On this day we remember the fallen Temples and the brokenness of creation. It is traditional to fast from the sundown beginning the 9th of Av (next Monday night) through the sundown marking the end of the 9th of Av (next Tuesday night.)

This year at CBI we’ll observe Tisha b’Av both with an 8pm service on the night of July 14 (featuring Lamentations, poetry, and a guided meditation) and a 3pm study session in the afternoon on July 15 (featuring texts relating to Tisha b’Av, to communal cohesion, and to the spiritual impact of fasting.) We’re inviting the folks at Beth El in Bennington to join us for both of these as well.

This year, our month of Av overlaps with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. (The Muslim sacred calendar, like ours, is lunar; but we have a system of “leap months” in seven out of every nineteen years, to keep our fall festivals in the fall and our spring festivals in the spring. They don’t have that system, so their holidays move around the secular calendar. This year, the month of Ramadan overlaps with our month of Av.) We’ll learn a bit more about that, and about how our two traditions understanding fasting, at our Tisha b’Av study session.

One week after Tisha b’Av comes Tu b’Av, the 15th of Av, which was once a great festival of romance and dancing — a kind of corrective to the solemnity of Tisha b’Av. Stay tuned for more on that.

Wishing all of y’all a meaningful passage through this month!

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

Donate used eyeglasses during the Three Weeks

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Do you have outdated eyeglasses in a drawer or cupboard somewhere? If you do, please consider bringing them to CBI between now and the end of this month. All eyeglasses collected will be donated to OneSight, a nonprofit organization which provides eyeglasses to those in need around the world.

Right now we’re in the lunar month of Tammuz, which ancient Jewish mystics associated with the sense of sight and with the need to “heal” or “rectify” our sight so that we only see the best in one another. This is a meaningful spiritual endeavor! But while we’re working on healing our ability to see what’s good in each other and in the world, we can also do our part to help others simply see in the first place.

Between now and Tisha b’Av, which we will observe beginning at 8pm on Saturday, July 28, we’ll be collecting eyewear at CBI. If you have old prescription glasses, please bring them to the synagogue and place them in the box in the foyer with the “donate used eyeglasses here” sign.

May we bring blessings to others through our generosity, and in so doing, may we ourselves be blessed.

Reb Rachel