Thursday, July 28, 2005


By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

The Three Weeks are upon us and we wonder, as we do each year, how to make them meaningful. We observe the mourning-related customs conscientiously, not cutting or trimming hair, making weddings or listening to music, but by and large, life continues on as before. The days flow together, and we are hardly conscious of time passing.

After all, it’s summer. Outside, the thermometer is hitting 100 degrees. It’s time to hang loose, chill out and revel in the leisurely, carefree pace of life. Where do the Three Weeks with their somber undertones of sadness and mourning fit in? Why do they have to be in middle of the summer vacation time, getting in the way of fun and enjoyment?

Perhaps we should learn to see the Three Weeks not only as a mourning period, but as a ‘zeicher lechurban’ manifesting itself in our individual and collective lives.

When we construct a new home we leave a noticeable area unpainted opposite the entrance, to commemorate the destruction of the Batei Mikdosh. Every time we see that blank space in the wall, we remind ourselves that we are in Golus and our true home has been destroyed. Our homes here in Golus, beautiful and luxurious though they may be, are but temporary replacements for the true abodes we will build upon the arrival of Moshiach.

Even though we all have our own personal ups and downs, the lives we Jews lead here tend to lull us into thinking that we are in the Promised Land. We forget that we are in exile. The Golus here has been good to us and we lose sight of the fact that we have been evicted from our homes and land.

True, we are treated humanely and endowed with many freedoms by a malchus shel chesed, for which we are grateful. We are permitted to engage in any field of human endeavor we choose. We can live where we want and how we want. We can openly observe our religion without fear of retribution. Just last week we published a photograph of a Shomer Shabbos senator going about his business in the U.S. Senate, the most powerful body of lawmakers anywhere on earth, unshaven - with a shloshim beard. Anti-semitism, while still present, is not only officially disdained and condemned, it is prosecuted as a crime.

It is so comfortable here that we really need that zeicher lechurban, to call out to us as we walk into our homes and tell us that we are not really home.

The Three Weeks serve the same purpose. They are the “blank space,” the zeicher lechurban of our lives. Sometimes we go through life on automatic pilot, not paying enough attention to all the details, not always behaving exactly as we should. We glide through the months of July and August thinking that the sun will always shine; that life will always be warm and cozy. We silence the voice inside of us reminding us that Jews ought to know better, ought not to take their blessings for granted.

Throughout the centuries, wherever Jews found themselves, good times were mixed with bad, languid summer days were swallowed up by days of unbearable suffering.

The Three Weeks remind us not to grow too complacent. During times of plenty, during the days of sunshine, they recall for us the times of hardship, hunger and darkness. And they prompt us to be more cognizant of the lives that we are supposed to lead and the goals we are meant to achieve.

They remind us that in this period of time, Jews encountered more suffering and sadness than any other people in history. They remind us that in these weeks the Batei Mikdosh were destroyed and untold misery has been our lot throughout the ages. They proclaim that the churbanos happened because of our sins and that we have to mend our ways if we want all our days to be summer-like, peaceful and harmonious.

But sometimes we sail through the Three Week period simply going through the motions. We pay little heed to the message the signs of mourning are meant to impress on us. We barely take note of them, much as we don’t even see that zeicher lechurban when we walk into the house.

We think catastrophe won’t happen here. We think this century is different; we imagine we are protected here by laws and police. We deceive ourselves into thinking the government is capable of safeguarding our security. We tell ourselves we are safer here than we have ever been.

But we are wrong.

The British Bobbies who look so proper in their fine uniforms and hats act as though they are in control of the situation, fully equipped to keep England safe. But as all of us have witnessed, nothing can be further from the truth. Just weeks before the 7/7 bombings, police officials declared that it would be impossible for terrorism to erupt in England.

Last week terror struck again—in almost the same place—two weeks after an attack that they said could never happen, quite clearly did happen. Miraculously, for reasons they haven’t yet been able to figure out, no one was killed and very little damage, if any, was caused.

A day later, British police claimed they had shot and killed a man linked to the bombings. It took a while for them to admit that, in fact, the man shot to death by the police had nothing to do with the attacks and was shot by mistake.

These are the officials in which citizens of the world place their faith? These individuals are going to ensure that terror is wiped out?

British Arabs kill British citizens in London, and who gets blamed but the Jews living in Israel. You expect such nonsense from Egypt, where state-run television ran interviews with experts who pointed the blame at Israel. Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, which broadcast around the Arabic world, also promoted commentators who pinned the blame on the Jews and Israel.

But we like to think that the British Prime Minister and the London Mayor are more sophisticated. In a time of war, we hope they are able to distinguish between senseless, anti-Semitic scape-goating and the truth.

Americans seem, so far, to have a better understanding than the British, and President Bush to date seems to be determined to bring “justice to the killers and the killers to justice.”

But what makes us think our local police are better able to fight terror than the British Bobbies? We respect the men in blue who put their lives on the line to keep our cities and towns safe, but at times our interactions with them leave much to be desired. Can we depend upon glorified meter maids to protect our highways, trains and buildings from bloodthirsty young men bent on destroying the West?

Security officials who insist on random checking of baggage and people are more intent on being politically correct than in maintaining safety. Instead of singling out people who fit the profile of a suicide bomber, they pick obviously harmless people out of a line and submit them to the rigorous checking reserved for a hard-core terror suspect. To single out those who actually fit the profile would be ethnic profiling, something shunned in this country.

Heavily armed police walking through airports and public places cannot prevent acts of violence from happening. The most they can accomplish is to give people a perception of safety so that the masses can go about their lives without anxiety.

Israelis who nebach have become experts in security inform us that once a bomber has approached his target, there is little that can be done to prevent him from detonating. The goal ought to be preventing suicidal murderers from reaching major population centers to begin with.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent beefing up security at the country’s ports to prevent terrorists from importing deadly weapons through the water. Yet, all an ocean- borne terrorist has to do is bring his boat to an unprotected shore but a few miles from major urban centers.

Authorities have set up elaborate security screening in airports to check the documents of incoming travelers, but there is nothing stopping Al Qaeda from shipping in their murderers through the porous borders of Canada and/or Mexico.

When we realize that neither the armies of Western governments nor their police can protect us, when we recognize that only the gentle hand of G-d can prevent Bin Laden from annihilating yet more innocents in this country, we will be immeasurably closer to the time when the Three Weeks will no longer be a period of mourning.

When we realize that it is not Ariel Sharon and his colleagues who determine the borders of Eretz Yisroel, or who can save us from the evil designs of barbarians bent on our destruction, we will be on the path to redemption.

When we absorb the truth that our actions carry consequences, we will be able to effect the deliverance of the third Bais Hamikdosh.

The Three Weeks caution us to stop putting our faith in men, well intentioned as they may be. The Three Weeks proclaim that we will never be truly safe until we remove malice from our hearts. The Three Weeks tell us that no matter how powerful the Israeli army thinks it is, beasts of prey masquerading as human beings from Gaza and the West Bank can strap bombs to their bodies and kill innocent Israeli Jews.

The Three Weeks tell us that we shouldn’t be surprised when Secretary of State Rice lectures Israel that in addition to granting the poor Palestinians all of Gaza without compensation, Israel should stop hounding PA President Abbas about security and curbing terror. It shouldn’t surprise us when Rice also insists that Israel keep the borders of Gaza open so that Arabs (with terrorists among them) can travel back and forth unimpeded.

Chazal spared us from the pain of a continuous Three Week existence. We need summertime to unwind and recharge our batteries and we don’t take this gift for granted. It is a time to dance, rejoice, celebrate and have fun. The Three Weeks intervene, shocking us back into the realities of golus and of churban.

Even when lifted, the cloud of golus hovers close by, a constant reminder that it may rain down upon us the grim reality of churban once again. Until the day will shine with the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our day.


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