May 27, 2024
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Summer vs. the Three Weeks

I’ve always found it a bit ironic that the three weeks before Tisha B’Av—including the nine days of more intense mourning, so-to-speak—happen during what should be the happiest time of year, at least for kids and teenagers. It’s summer! We’ve gotten past the school year and made it to two months of rest, relaxation and enjoyment! We’re on top of the world! And then, all of a sudden, we’re saddled with extra obligations that often take away a lot of our enjoyment. Fourth of July fireworks (at least if they’re happening a bit after the Fourth of July, which is the case in some places)? Nope. New summer blockbuster in theaters? Hopefully it’ll still be out after the fast. Summer concert in Central Park? Wait for the autumn one. The nine days directly before Tisha B’Av seem even worse. Is it the perfect time for a summer barbecue? Not quite, because you probably weren’t planning on making dairy pizza on the grill. What about a dip in the pool? Sure—if it’s for a swim lesson. Okay then, maybe get some laundry done instead. Oh, wait.

True, out of the whole summer, it’s only three weeks total; it doesn’t take away that much from everything. But why do we need to have so many obligations during a period where we want to feel freer?

Of course the reason is tied to the raison d’être of Tisha B’Av and the three weeks preceding it. (Side note: Do not ask me to actually pronounce raison d’être, as my French is pas tres bien, not very good, without the help of Google.) The three weeks begin with Shiva Asar B’Tamuz, the fast commemorating the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem. In this day and age, it’s really impossible for us to understand how dire a siege could be. We always feel connected to the world, physically and virtually; we can go out and buy food, see friends and family and so on. I mean, this past week I went into New York City and back four times for an internship; I certainly wasn’t cooped up in one place! But imagine if we were cut off from all that, stuck in one place, with our supply of food and water rapidly declining. Imagine if we were trapped, at the mercy of our captors and unable to contact anyone on the outside. That’s what I imagine the siege of Jerusalem to have been like, but it was probably worse than what any of us can imagine.

Then there’s Tisha B’Av itself, when the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed—twice. There’s probably no building in the world right now that could match the scale of the Beit HaMikdash. (Okay, it probably wasn’t as tall as a skyscraper, but it probably dwarfs any building in beauty and complexity.) I visited Israel last year for the first time and of course went to the Kotel, admiring its beauty and how special it was. It seemed pretty big and tall. Yet it’s only a small fragment of the whole building—one wall, perhaps even just one part of one wall. Imagine what the whole building must have been.

But of course, on Tisha B’Av we aren’t just remembering a building. We’re remembering what it represents and what we lost on the fateful day of its destruction. It represented a central place for Judaism, the home of many rituals and korbanot. We lost a symbol and a home that anchored us, and the Jewish people found themselves weakened and defeated—and as history showed, it took many, many years to recover. We’ve made a lot of progress, of course; there have been many bursts of wondrous Jewish thought over the years and now we have the state of Israel and Jerusalem under our control. But we still have much more to do if we want to make it back to where we once were during the time of the Beit HaMikdash.

Given all of that…three weeks isn’t that much to give up to remember it, to ask God for forgiveness and to pray that one day we’ll get back the Beit HaMikdash.

Oren Oppenheim, age 17, is a rising senior (yes, he did survive junior year!) at Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan and lives in Fair Lawn, NJ. He spends his free time writing and reading, and hopes to become a published novelist, but currently is drowning in emails from colleges. You can email him at [email protected] and see his photography at facebook.com/orenphotography.

By Oren Oppenheim

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