THE THREE WEEKS?
Some may already be familiar with the seven weeks of counting the Omer between Pesach/Passover and the fiftieth day of Shavuot/Pentecost but…what are the “Three Weeks’? In Hebrew this period also is called Bein HaMetzarim, which means ‘In the Narrow Straits.’ Usually straits are rather dire, so that designation informs us that, basically, it is not a joyous time. To add confirmation to this, the three weeks are couched between two fast days. The first being the 17th day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz (this year, 2018, it falls on the 1st July). The second is the fast of the 9th Av – Tisha B’Av (21st July). Both are challenging in the northern hemisphere as they fall during the heat of midsummer. The second, Tisha B’Av, is the ‘heavier’ fast day as it memorializes the destruction of the First and Second Holy Temples in Jerusalem as well as all the tragedies of Jewish history, many of which occurred during this timeframe.
An understanding is conveyed in the Hebrew calendar that, while the people of God must remember and look back at the past with awe and respect and, yes, sadness at the tragedies, we must also look back with a sense of gratitude. Knowing the narrative of biblical history grounds us and gives a bedrock of God’s values upon which we can stand. It also points to the future and provides us with a clear sense of direction. So, while in the present, we take the opportunity to look back at the past in order to get a clearer understanding of the direction for the future. There also are specific lessons to be learned during this time.
For example, as we remember the sufferings of the past during the three weeks, we are reminded that suffering is a natural part of life. Ignoring suffering can desensitize and even dehumanize a person. Being aware of, and sensitive to, the suffering of others makes us more compassionate and enables us to reach through any barriers that may separate us. The simple realization that all human beings experience the same happinesses and endure the same sufferings is actually a powerful means of enabling us to reach out in compassion and to build unity. The unity where God commands a blessing! Psalm 133:
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.
WHAT HAPPENS DURING THE THREE WEEKS?
Probably more so in traditional or Orthodox Jewish communities, external actions of mourning are practiced. Essentially these are limitations of outward expressions of happiness. For example, no parties or concerts are held, weddings are not celebrated, large purchases are not made – such as a house, pieces of furniture, or a car, and major home renovations are not undertaken. Then, in addition, during the last nine days, which are the first nine days of the month of Av, music is not played, clothes are not laundered or ironed, people don’t have haircuts and men don’t shave their beards. Some people choose to not eat meat or rich foods. As the concentration on the physical elements of life become less, the focus on the internal and spiritual becomes more intense. The Sages of Israel point out the even as we are enjoined to increase our joy on the first day of the month Adar, leading up to the festival of Purim, so we are to minimize our happiness when the month of Av begins, leading up to the fast of Tisha B’Av.
The prophet Jeremiah by Rembrandt *
On Tisha B’Av the book of Lamentations, Eikah, is read while sitting on the ground or a low stool in an attitude of mourning. As a reminder that fasting is to bring us to repentance, and is not an end in itself, we read in chapter 3: 40-41,
Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!
Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven.
So, altogether, it is a time of examining our lives, and when we turn our hearts to our Father in Heaven in humility and honesty, we can with faith confront any problem, suffering or adversity, learn from it and go forward even stronger than before. We can open our hearts wide with hope to the promise of the future.
Acclaimed Jewish author and teacher, Erica Brown, in her book In the Narrow Places, [please see a review and excerpts from the book on the His-Israel website!] comments:
“It is this persistent sense of hope that gives us the strength to remember and to transform memory into action; misery into repentance; and destruction into redemption.”
After the destruction of the Temples the Jewish people suffered times of exile. One of the greatest lessons learned in exile from Jerusalem and the Land of Israel was the pain of separation and isolation – a sense that you are different and you don’t really fit or belong in the society around you. Psychologists say that a sense of belonging is one of our primary needs and not having the security of “belonging” somewhere is deeply painful.
We can praise our Father God for His love and the unity to be found in His family and Kingdom. And, even while in exile, the Jewish people had His Word to hold onto no matter where they were scattered and could believe in His promises that the day would come when we would return to the Land He had given as an inheritance – the Land which is forever His and where He has placed His Name forever.
However, now that His people are back in His Land and the desert is again blooming like a rose, does that mean that everything is perfect and we all live in blissful unity? NO! The full restoration and redemption is not yet accomplished. History is still unfolding and we still have much learning and growing to do – as individuals, and as the nation and family of God.
In our day and age it was thought that, with all the modern technology and internet and advanced means of communication it would bring about much closer connection between people. Instead it has been found that people get more isolated individually, or into groups that think alike. In and of itself this might not be bad – people at least find a place to “belong.” The problem arises when a dislike, and even hatred, emerges towards others who are not ‘like-minded,’ who don’t “belong with us.” That is the clear indication that it is not a godly place and not a healthy place of belonging!
Author Bren`e Brown, who suffered rejection from family and peers while growing up and learned, with the help of a loving husband, to work through it and overcome the pain of not belonging, defines true belonging in her book, Braving the Wilderness:
“True belonging is about breaking down the walls; abandoning our idealogical bunkers, and living for our wild [and deepest] heart rather than from our [hurt and] weary heart!”
As the title implies, these wilderness experiences we suffer and the lessons to be learned push us out of our “Comfort Zone” and we are forced to confront our fears, uncertainties, and vulnerabilities. We can try and ignore, avoid, or escape them but, in so doing, we will not move forward and learn and grow. By facing and ‘braving’ them and summoning up the courage to take the next step, we go forward and grow in becoming the person our loving Father created and purposed us to be.
This is the aim and purpose of the Three Weeks – to look back at what History has taught us, as people of God, and, with His love and guidance, to closely become aware of what still needs attention and repentance, and healing in our own lives. Rather than letting fear and defensiveness control our decisions and actions we can place our trust in our Good Shepherd, the One who is faithful to guide and teach us, and toWho strengthens and enables us to go forward with a heart filled with gratitude and joy! Then our wilderness journey through life, rather than being a lonely, sad, and pointless wandering, becomes a creative, joyous, and purposeful adventure!
~ Keren Hannah
- Photo – Shutterstock