Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Three Weeks – Revisited

It’s that time of year again. In a few weeks we will once again enter that time warp where we obsess over our past suffering, self flagellate for three weeks with a variety of not too original methods of suffering and denial. Everyone I know is pretty much swept up with the calamity that has impacted viciously on our national psyche. We feed off of it and tread in the ocean of rabbinic halachot that will encumber us for three of the otherwise most beautiful weeks of the year.

The summer quiet and beauty is thrown out of kilter by the observance not of Tisha B’Av but of the three week compulsive obsessive marathon race as to who is more extreme in their performance and attention to the details of rules and regulations established after the destruction of the first and second Temples. During the Second Commonwealth there was an observance of the fast of Av. We know this because of references to R. Eliezer ben Zadok observing the Fast of Tisha B’Av and other discussions in the Talmud, and we know that during the Mishnaic period the Fast of Av was observed. But there is no indication from text that there was this obsessive compulsive behavior. As a matter of fact there was a tendency during that period to slightly relax the mourning laws already by the afternoon of the 9th of Av.

Our ancestors were right on target when it came to observing the Fast of Av. They understood the gravity of loosing the Temple the first time around. And Jeremiah understood the ramifications – so much so that he even confused his dates. Jeremiah claimed that the walls were breached on the 9th of Tammuz, according to the Jerusalem Talmud. (Ta’an 4:6) But they were lucky, because the exile was short lived, relative to our second exile of two thousand years.

Our sages tell us that the Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam, which one can interpret as baseless hatred or perhaps self hate. That instead of being a united people extending appropriate courtesy to our neighbors we became a factious, balkanized people, promoting self interests not necessarily in the best interests of the nation. The tragedy of it all is that we never learnt from our grizzly history how to pull together as a nation.

Throughout our history, even when in the Diaspora we were corrupted by our own particular and narrow interests, never really putting up front and center the concerns of the nation. It is a miracle that we survived as a people.

It was probably the shock of the holocaust that brought us together, albeit for a very short time. It was a time when there was love in the hearts of every Jew, regardless of his religious or political beliefs. He could have been an atheist or communist. It didn’t matter. The sinat chinam transmorphed to ahavat chinam, just long enough for us to create Medinat Yisrael.

Unfortunately the ahvat chinam didn’t last all that long and we’ve reverted back to our natural state of backbiting self interest groups, willing to sell out the good of the country for the benefit of the few. I’m not picking on any one interest group. It is endemic. It matters not if you are a charedi or daati leumi, atheist or a socialist. The factiousness of the Knesset, the corruption of the political system staggers the mind. How Ehud Olmert has still managed to hold on to power is the most shocking indicator that “not all is alright” in the moledet. How he survived the Lebanon war two years ago is telling enough, but how he has survived the corruption charges screams out to me that we are in desperate need of a collective cheshbon hanefesh, not another fast day.

What good is fasting on the 17th of Tamuz and again three weeks later on the 9th of Av if we aren’t paying any attention to what it is we are doing it for? We aren’t doing it because God commanded us. He only commanded us to fast on Yom Kippur. This is a fast day instituted for a purpose which is intended to put us back on track. But we are skimming that part and focusing on the ritual. What good is the ritual if you are missing the whole point!!! Olmert is in power, the country is tearing itself apart, it has no direction regarding peace and security, its moral compass is out of whack, but we’ll be self flagellating at the Kotel come Tish B’av as if “business was as usual”. The way things look it may more sense to take a pass on the 9th of Av this year and go straight to celebrating the 15th of Av – makes more sense!