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Strength from Sorrow: The Power of Yearning and the 17th of Tammuz and Three Weeks

06/27/2021 01:22:42 PM


Rabbi Moshe Rudin



We stand in sorrow with the victims and the families of the terrible  building collapse in Surfside Florida; this Shabbat we added as many names of those injured and lost were known to our Misheberach list.  


Sunday the 27th of June, was the 17th day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz.  On this day, five catastrophes befell the Jewish people and on account of this, we fast from the morning star through nightfall.  

  1. Moses smashed the Tablets of the Covenant when he saw the nation worshipping the Golden Calf. 

  2. During the Babylonian Siege of Jerusalem in 586, the Temple Service ceased due to the extreme conditions of hunger, thirst and lack of sacrifices.

  3. An idol was placed in the Temple (Beit HaMikdash) by the Syrian Greeks.

  4. During the Roman  occupation of Jerusalem, the Roman General Apostomos publicly burned a Torah Scroll.  

  5. During the Roman Siege of Jerusalem 500 years later, the Walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Roman legions in 69 CE before the Temple was destroyed and we were sent into exile. 

These catastrophes were precursors of the worse disasters to come which we commemorate on the Black Fast Day of Tisha B’Av, the Ninth of Av, 3 weeks later.  


The period between the two fasts is known as “the Three Weeks” as well as Bein HaMeitzarim- “Dire Straits”, when the Sieges of Jerusalem reached their deadly pinnacle.  During this time, we do not hold weddings or public celebrations or make purchases of new items.  We also do not play or hear music (unless that is our profession).  During the final 9 days of the Three Weeks, known as “the Nine Days”, many do not eat meat or drink wine.  


The Rabbis are clear that these practices are not merely historical observances.  They are reminders that the world is deeply broken and that our people, no matter how comfortable, prosperous or at home we feel, is in a state of exile.  There is no space in this short essay to explore the brokenness of our world: from social injustice and destructive rivalry to blind hate, from environmental disaster to rampant materialism, from addiction to flight from personal responsibility, the Torah tells us that this is not the way that the world is supposed to be, not the way people are supposed to live.  This is symbolized by the destroyed Temple.


But the hope that the Jewish people and humanity can finally get it together, that the Temple be rebuilt and all nations gather in peace and begin a radical recreation of what it means to be human and to share the earth, persists as the greatest treasure and greatest desiderata in Jewish thought and action. 


The fasting, the deprivations and the mood of sorrow are meant to awaken us to longing, to yearning for a renewed world, a return and a raising up.  Judaism isn’t an intellectual exercise- it lives right in the kishkes, in the guts.  When our yearning for return and renewal can penetrate our deepest selves, says the Torah, then the glimmer of redemption begins to shine.


I invite all of us to reflect on the above, to explore further and to incorporate the precious spiritual opportunities of the Three Weeks into our own practice.  The Fast of Av begins the Days of Repentance leading to Rosh HaShana where this year, we will gather again in our beautiful sanctuary, G-d willing in joy and hope.  Let us see in the approaching conquest, G-d willing, of the dreadful pandemic, a sign that there truly is hope for the world.  As the Jewish people, we must embody that hope.  Shavua Tov -


Thu, June 20 2024 14 Sivan 5784