Tragedy To Joy

maayan_jaffe_squareWe are now in the period known as the Three Weeks or Bein ha-Metzarim, a period of mourning commemorating the destruction of the first and second Temples.

The Three Weeks and then Tisha B’Av (the Ninth of the Hebrew month of Av) mark the loss of our Jewish spiritual center. The loss is not just the physical structure of the Temple, but what it stood for — the loss of community and the gain of a more distant relationship with God.

Three times a year, the Jews would travel to the Temple — on Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot — and bring offerings. You can picture this: hundreds of thousands of Jews in one place, all there for the same reason, all together despite their differences.

We don’t have a universal shared sacred space anymore. Nothing like the Jewish pilgrimage to Jerusalem exists today.

During the Three Weeks, we refrain from rejoicing.  Among the traditional customs: Weddings should not be performed during this period; and dancing and playing or listening to music is prohibited. The custom is to refrain from reciting the “sh’hecheyanu” on new garments or fruit, except on Shabbat.

But it is also a period for reflection. We learn that the Temple was dest-royed because of sinat chinam (baseless hatred).

Is there ever a base to hate — a reason to hate?

I often think about those who hate, who use the word hate and who are so angry at people different from them or who hold different opinions than theirs. My guess is those people aren’t comfortable with themselves — and they are also likely not very happy.

When someone is happy — deeply happy, internally content and confident — the world is rainbows and sunshine. Think about a time when you felt this way. Perhaps the day you got engaged or had your first child. Nothing could mar that moment.

When you are happy, you don’t have time to be resentful or judgmental. Rather than focusing on life’s shortcomings, you are focused on the present. You look forward to the future.

Pirkei Avot (2:4) teaches us, “Do not judge another until you are in his place.” Most of the time, people have good intentions, and there are many reasons why they act or believe the way they do. If we hate them, we close ourselves off to the possibility of learning from them — and from them learning from us.

Plus, it takes a lot of energy to hate. Why ruin your life with the bitter venom of contempt?

Tisha B’Av is on July 16. That’s about two weeks from today.

I am planning to use this time to think about how I can love more and better. I am going to think about what it means to love and how I can do so in a more active way. Not just in thought, but in action.

And I am going to start at home. With my kids. With my husband.

Agonizing over the destruction of the Temples (and the events leading up to those horrifying moments) can help us conquer the spiritual deficiencies that brought about these tragedies. Self-introspection and a commitment to improve empowers us to transform tragedy into joy.

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