For someone who grew up in the age of instant gratification, the Three Weeks has always felt restrictive. When technology has put everything right at our fingertips, time stretches out for what seems like forever when there’s a list of activities we suddenly can’t do.
Meant to be mourning the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, we must reduce our simcha out of respect for the multiple tragedies that befell the Jewish people. No saying shehecheyanu, which implies not doing anything that would warrant the blessing. Playlists are filled with a capella, rather than the popular new songs we’re used to hearing on the radio, since instruments, live or recorded, are a no-no. No shaving (thank God for being a woman—it’s times like these that you get a whole new appreciation for the bracha “she’asani kirtzono”) or haircuts, although, according to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, women of marriageable age may cut their hair. This is why it’s good to be a “kallah maidel,” as my mom likes to call me, but weddings are off-limits, too (feel free to get engaged, though).
It gets even tougher during the Nine Days. On top of all the prohibitions already in place, tack on no swimming for pleasure, doing laundry, bathing unless dirty, flying or eating meat. Sure, we can always eat ice cream, but that doesn’t make us feel better about everything else.
As a kid, I always dreaded waving goodbye to free swim in camp. When I was a counselor taking the bus, listening to music was the only good way to drown out the loud, high-pitched voices of the campers early in the morning, and a capella just didn’t seem to cut it. Summers were always a good time to go shopping, so you can imagine the annoyance at having a whole chunk of time where that wasn’t allowed. Isn’t it bad enough that Bergen County has Blue Laws, and the mall is closed on Sundays? And there are always new movies coming out, yet we couldn’t go see them despite the fact that there was no homework getting in the way. Driving four hours home from a weekend spent in Maryland, the temptation to put on the radio was palpable. Small though it may seem, even now I feel the effects of these three weeks.
I may not have started going gray yet, but being older and wiser has definitely given me a new outlook on this period. It can be tough to understand the method to this madness. After all, isn’t Pesach supposed to be the “night that’s different from all other nights”? Why are we switching our routine for so long? They say it’s a sign of mourning, but can we even truly lament something that we ourselves never had?
The Beit Hamikdash is a central theme in Judaism, something that we pray for every day. From a young age its importance is drilled into our psyches. My first time at the Kotel, I felt as though I had more of a grasp on the loss that the Jewish people have suffered. But that sense was dependent on location, location, location, on being physically present to see the remnant of what was. Our modern daily lives revolve around other aspects of our religion, the mitzvot that we can fulfill in the here and now.
Growing up in this modern age, a little bit more removed from the calamities than each previous generation, true mourning seems like a lofty goal. But it’s far from unattainable. Think of it like Shabbat, when we shut down technology and refocus, before heading back out into the world for the coming week. We’ve been given a chance to take a step back and remember, to pay tribute to that which we have lost. It’s an opportunity also to realize how much we have gained, regain our appreciation and cease, at least for a little while, taking privileges for granted.
Claiming this as the grief the rabbis intended Jews to experience strikes me as a bit of a stretch. But the times, they are a-changin’. And if this is how we millennials hit pause on our fast-paced and instantly gratified lives, perhaps this is the path we need to follow.
Sara Linder is a JLNJ summer intern. She is a Teaneck resident and a student at the University of Maryland-College Park.