On the Jewish calendar, we’ve entered “The Three Weeks” – a very sad time on the Jewish calendar.  The Three Weeks began last Friday evening and culminates with Tisha B’Av (August 11).  Tisha B’Av (which means the 9th of Av but falls this year on the 10th of Av because it can’t be observed on Shabbat) is one of the darkest days of the Jewish year.  It’s on this day 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. While invaders technically swept into Jerusalem and pillaged the Temple, 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.

Unfortunately, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Three Weeks is a perfect time to step back and reflect on how we treat each other. Are we kind? Are we helping to unify our community? Or are we adding to the division that is pulling us apart? Are we contributing to modern day sinat chinam?

To get us thinking about this, I share a story about the great Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760):

There was a certain prominent Torah scholar in the town Medzibuz (presently in the Ukraine) who was not respected by the townspeople, which was surprising. Finally, this scholar himself asked the Baal Shem Tov (also known as the Besht) what the reason was. The Besht did not immediately answer him. But later – and this was during the winter – he told some of his disciples to visit the man’s home and see if his house was cold inside. When they visited him, they found that his house was indeed very cold and that he did not heat it properly, although he could have afforded to do so. When they reported this to the Besht, he said, “A cold house, a cold Jew!” Asked to explain his remark, he said, “He’s cold to himself and cold to others. So people are cold to him, measure for measure.” This scholar did not want to spend money on himself, even when there was a real need, and he did not want to spend on others. Because of his stingy nature, people treated him accordingly. When the scholar later spoke again to the Baal Shem Tov, the Besht told him, “Be a warm Jew, and others will be warm to you!” (Yitzhak Buxbaum, The Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov, p. 190)

As folks living in South Florida, we’re always physically warm. But, are we spiritually warm? The Three Weeks is a time to check out our internal, spiritual thermostat and make sure it’s set to toasty. With everything going on in the world, many of us have turned our spiritual thermostats down. Some of us have turned them off. But the Jewish story, the dangers of sinat chinam, call out to us, imploring us to turn our spiritual thermostats back on and crank them up.

Leave a Reply