HERE

A Reflection For The Three Weeks 5780

Rabbi Lauren Tuchman sits at a table and studies from a Braille Talmud

With every passing year, the enduring wisdom and beauty of the Jewish calendar never ceases to surprise me and give me newfound insight. I’ve been thinking these past few weeks about the upcoming period of The Three Weeks, a period of collective mourning for the Jewish people which begins on the 17th of Tammuz and ends on the 9th of the month of Av. The 17th of Tammuz is observed as a minor fast day and Tisha B’av as a full, twenty-five hour fast. Tisha b’Av is the date on which we mourn the destruction of the temples in Jerusalem—the first of which was destroyed in 586 BCE and the second was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. Additionally, Tisha b’Av commemorates numerous other tragedies which have occurred throughout history. It has become customary in some circles to refrain from travel, making significant purchases (particularly during the 9 days leading up to Tisha b’Av itself) as well as refraining from making large, significant decisions. Put simply, our tradition understands this period to be one of travail and trial.

 

For many, The Three Weeks is a time in which they experience a lot of disconnection. What does it mean to mourn the destruction of the Temple when I may or may not pray for its restoration? Observing a myriad of mourning customs—refraining from haircuts, listening to music, refraining from celebrating—in the heat of summer—also feels hard to find meaning in if a person’s life is so different from that of their and our ancestors.

 

This year, I am noticing a tremendous difference in how I am connecting with this time. I am feeling called to go deeper into my lineage, to understand the wisdom of our rabbis and sages who crafted our calendrical cycle and who knew that even in the best of times, having a contained period of collective grief is essential. If we are not allowed to grieve, or are unable to grieve, we cannot then begin to build up our resilience. If we cannot feel fully the emotion coursing through our veins and do so in a safe container, we cannot go out into an often hostile world with a sense of equilibrium, mission and purpose. In her beautifully captivating book, See No Stranger, author and activist Valerie Kaur repeatedly asserts that for those of us who are not a part of the dominant white, Christian, able-bodied culture, we are conditioned to feel strange to ourselves and estranged from ourselves, never at home in our deviant bodies. I would argue that this applies to us even if we or our ancestors have assimilated, wholly or in part into whiteness over time. Our rituals, lifeways, mores, ways of showing up and being in the world are stigmatized, mocked, misunderstood. And, too often, fear leads to loathing leads to violence, as Kaur painstakingly catalogs through the prism of her experience as a Sikh and the experiences her community continues to endure in America, violence which too few of us even knew was happening.

 

We are living through a time of profound rupture and destabilization. Our people have traversed this road numerous times and in numerous places. And they knew, and we know in our bones in a way many of us never knew before, that a container for holding all of the rage, all of the pain, all of the tears and sorrow is crucial. Our tradition has always provided this container but too often, when these weeks would come, I would engage in the motions but I never felt viscerally connected. I might feel a flicker here and there on Tisha b’Av itself, and I always understood the utility of national mourning, but not until this year do I understand it on a much more intimate level. Our tradition understands that grief is not linear. Many of us are experiencing what many call enfranchised or recognized losses—the loss of a loved one G-d forbid—the loss of a job and a sense of meaning, and many of us are experiencing ambiguous loss—canceled travel plans, wondering when we will ever see our friends and family, life goals put on hold. And none of us knows when this time will end, may it happen speedily and in our days. May these Three Weeks of sacred container allow us to open ourselves even more to an inner process of working through that which keeps us in narrow places and may we emerge into the seven weeks of comfort and consolation resourced, knowing that we have created a container of safety and peace for ourselves, even if it is only with ourselves.



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