On the Jewish calendar, we’ve entered “The Three Weeks” – traditionally a time to mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples that stood in Jerusalem. The Three Weeks began on Monday evening and end on Tisha B’Av (August 1). Tisha B’Av (which means the 9th of Av), is one of the darkest days of the Jewish year. It’s on this day, we’re taught, that the Temple – the very heart of ancient Jewish life – was destroyed not once, but twice. The first destruction took place at the hands of the Babylonians on the 9th of Av 587 BCE. After being rebuilt by our ancestors, the Temple was destroyed again on the 9th of Av 70 CE by the Romans.
During this dark time, Jewish tradition teaches us to mourn the destruction of the ancient Temple and the sacrifices that took place within this sacred space. Many of us, however, have a hard time with this. We can’t embrace the rituals of the Temple and we are not yearning for these rituals to return. How can we mourn? For us, what can we learn from The Three Weeks?
While there are many powerful lessons that can be gleaned from the destruction of the Temple (Check out my blog post from 2013 on Tisha B’Av), this year I find myself drawn to one specific lesson pertaining to why the Temple was destroyed. Yes, invaders technically swept into Jerusalem and pillaged the holiest site in Judaism. However, our sages teach us that the real reason the Temple came crashing down was because of sinat chinam – baseless hatred among Jews. People treated each other with disdain. Kindness, compassion, civil discourse was nowhere to be found. This led to a fracturing of the ancient Israelite community. Our ancestors were not united. They were vulnerable and those who sought their destruction took advantage of this. As a result, Jewish civilization was almost wiped off the face of the earth.
There’s quite a lesson here for us. The issues surrounding conversion in Israel and the egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel (Western Wall) are just two issues that remind us how divided the Jewish community is today. Sadly sinat chinam is still something we wrestle with. And it continues to make us vulnerable. It weakens us as a people.
For those of us who struggle to find relevance in mourning the Temple, I urge you to use these three weeks to reflect on the need we have to rise above the hatred that has infested not just our Jewish community, but our larger community as well. As we approach Tisha B’Av, we can find deep meaning in this period of mourning by doing what we can to promote a kinder, gentler way of living with each other.