Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Summer And The Three Weeks

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

As the Three Weeks come upon us, we wonder how to make them meaningful. We observe the mourning-related customs conscientiously, not cutting or trimming hair, nor making weddings or listening to music, but by and large, life continues on as before. The outward customs of mourning which we observe during this period are meant to be manifestations of the emptiness we feel in our souls.

But it is summer time. Everyone wants to be on vacation and having a good time. It’s time to hang loose, chill out and basically switch modes to a more lackadaisical pace of life. Where do the Three Weeks, with their undertones of sadness and mourning, fit in? Why do they have to intrude in middle of the summer, getting in the way of everything?

This past weekend, we spent Shabbos in the beautiful new home of dear friends. Like all good Jewish homes, they have a zeicher l’churban opposite the front door. They have a little something in it which calls attention to it. As I was discussing the Shabbos with my 9-year-old son Ari, the only thing he mentioned about the magnificent home was the zeicher l’churban there. He said to me, “Abba, did you see their zeicher l’churban?” I said, “Of course. But what’s the big deal? We also have one. Everyone has one.”

With the innocence of a child, he said, “Yes, but I never notice ours, and this one I noticed every time I walked into the house.”

I thought to myself, you know what? He’s right. We have a zeicher l’churban right opposite the entrance to our homes, so that when we come home, we should be reminded that the home of the Jewish people is destroyed. But we don’t even notice it.

When we construct a new home, we leave an area unpainted opposite the entrance, to commemorate the destruction of the Botei Mikdosh. Every time we see that blank space on the wall, we are to 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 permanent abodes we will build upon the arrival of Moshiach.

I was thinking that maybe we should also put a little something in the ‘zeicher l’churban’ so that little Ari and everyone else should notice it and it should make an indent on our hearts when we walk into the house. We really do need a reminder that we are in exile far away from where we ought to be physically and spiritually.

And then I thought that perhaps the Three Weeks is also not only a mourning period, but sort of a ‘zeicher l’churban’ for life.

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 truly been good to us and we lose sight of the fact that we have been evicted from our homes and land.

The United States of America celebrates its 231st birthday this week. We must recognize the greatness and kindness of this country which has provided such a comfortable home for us. This unprecedented malchus shel chesed endows us with so many freedoms, 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. 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 l’churban 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 l’churban of our lives. Sometimes we go through life without 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, and that we should not take our blessings for granted.

Throughout the centuries, wherever Jews found themselves, good times were mixed with bad, blissful 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 during this period of time, Jews encountered more suffering and sadness than any other people in history. They remind us that during these weeks, the Botei 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 period of the Three Weeks 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 l’churban 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 that the government is capable of safeguarding our security. We tell ourselves that we are safer here than we have ever been.

But we are wrong.

When we realize that neither the armies of Western governments nor their police can protect us, when we recognize that only the Yad Hashem can prevent bin Laden from annihilating yet more innocents, we will be immeasurably closer to the time when the Three Weeks will no longer be a period of mourning.

Just last week in London, terrorists attempted several acts of terror. They were all stymied, and the police had nothing to do with stopping them. Miraculously, the bombs did not go off. Security personnel played absolutely no role in preventing the deaths of untold hundreds, which could have resulted if the bombs detonated and the Jeep had made it through into the area of the airport it was aiming for. The media and political leaders described it as “blind luck.” We, however, recognize the hand of G-d.

When we realize that it is not the New York City police nor the London Bobbies 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 we think we are, beasts of prey masquerading as humans can fill cars with gas and propane or strap bombs to their bodies and kill innocent people wherever they want.

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 wind down, exercise and enjoy the wonderful world G-d has given us. But we also need the Three Weeks to intervene and remind us of the realities of golus and of churban.

It’s not enough just to leave a blank space opposite the door as a remembrance of what we are lacking. We need to actually look at the space and hear the message it proclaims to us.

The zeicher l’churban and the Three Weeks say to us that we can never feel too safe as the cloud of golus hovers over us, a constant reminder that the grim reality of churban may rain down upon us once again.

We look forward and pray for the day that the sun will break through and fill in all the empty spaces, with the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our day.


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