May 29, 2024
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May 29, 2024
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As the Three Weeks come to a conclusion this week—with the fast of Tisha B’Av—let us analyze the stages of personal aveilut (mourning) compared to that of the Three Weeks. Aveilut begins with the intense pain and emotional trauma of losing someone close to us —these are the periods of pre-burial aninut and the seven days of shiva—which then give way to the less restrictive 30-day period of the sheloshim. The 12 months of mourning follow, which are even less restrictive than the sheloshim.

The Three Weeks follow the same pattern, but in a reverse order: The opening 12 days—beginning with the fast of 17 Tammuz—introduce a general mood of sadness and the lessening of festivities. Then, on Rosh Chodesh Av, that sadness intensifies—culminating, finally, in the saddest day of the entire year, Tisha B’Av.

Why are these two similar events—personal aveilut and the collective churban Beit Hamikdash—not done in the same exact order? Why are they “mirror-images” of one another?

Picture inverted triangles: The top one represents aveilut. It begins with a very small point; the intense moment when a loved one dies. We are constricted, left all alone with our pain and our deepest, personal feelings. We are the “ani”—the “I”—of aninut, for no one can fully empathize with the grief we are feeling. We even separate somewhat from God in this initial stage, and don’t perform positive mitzvot or even recite brachot. During shiva, we “open up” a bit more, as friends and family console us with love and praise the deceased. As more time goes by, we slowly begin our return to wider society. Our activities expand and the triangle becomes wide again, opening up to the fullness of the world in which we live.

But in the Three Weeks, it’s quite the opposite dynamic. We had a vibrant, expansive community in ancient Israel, with unlimited spiritual opportunities. We were the envy of the world, with our magnificent Temple and majestic royalty. But we did not appreciate the blessing Hashem had bestowed upon us.

And so, on 10 Tevet, a siege was put upon Yerushalayim, shrinking our contact with the outside world and confining our space. It was a Heaven-sent “wake-up” call to us to clean up our act, to decrease internecine fighting and increase derech eretz. But, sadly, we did not get the message, and so, six months later, on 17 Tammuz, the walls were breached and our fortunes shrank even further.

Yet, we still had the chance to do teshuva and reverse the coming tragedy but—as Yirmiyahu reports—we dismissed the danger and ignored the call to repent and so, our fate was sealed. Jerusalem was sacked, the Beit Hamikdash burnt and a great people became very small.

Indeed, we almost disappeared completely, like that tiniest point of the bottom triangle.

But there is good news, too. For when the triangle reaches its smallest stage, it begins to regenerate, to grow and expand. While the expansion has been long and slow, we have once again become a great nation. We have reclaimed Eretz Yisrael and enlarged its borders, made the desert bloom and gathered in our people from far and wide. In just three generations, our Jewish population has grown more than 1,000%! Zion again brims with Jews and Torah study and vibrant life; perhaps, greater than ever before.

None of this has happened by chance; it is the result of a determined partnership between Hashem and His people. It is the “chazon hatikvah—the vision of hope” that we could do what no nation has ever done before—return, rebuild, renew and rejoice. Our mission is not yet complete—to be sure—but we are almost, almost there. The moment is close, so close your eyes and visualize geulah.


Rabbi Stewart Weiss is the director of the Ra’anana Jewish Outreach Center and a member of Mizrachi’s Speakers Bureau (mizrachi.org/speakers).

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