Parsha Matot-Masei JULY 26, 2003 Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum
We are now in the midst of a very special time of remembrance, called the period of the "Three Weeks." These 21 days are designated by the sages to be a specific time to get in touch with feelings with sadness and loss. It starts on the day 17th of the Hebrew calendar date in the month of Tamuz, which concludes on the Ninth of Av. This year it corresponds to the English date of August 7th. So, why are we called to emotionally tune and feel a bit down during these days, and why is it so important?
I want to give you an overview in Jewish history. I know and understand that not everyone observes all of our special days, but it is helpful to be acquainted with history and learn more about ourselves. In the 2nd Book of Kings, published almost 3,000 years ago it is written that the Jewish people brought idols into the Holy City of Jerusalem and turned their backs on G-d by creating abominations such as idol statues. G-d was angry. The event or the straw that broke the camel’s back was the audacity of King Menasha--he actually brought an idol into the Temple in Jerusalem. In Chapter 21 and further on until the end of the book of 2nd Kings, we see the consequences of this disloyalty. G-d sent the Babylonian King to overthrow Jerusalem. His armies broke the walls around the city of Jerusalem during the 17th of the month in the year of 586 BCE. This foreign king destroyed the city of Jerusalem little by little over the three week period. During the 9th and 10th days of the month of Av, he burned the Temple and annihilated almost all of the Jews that were left. Only 4,600 Jews survived this genocide--out of millions. It is written at the end of the 2nd Book of Kings that this evil King expelled the remnant 4,600 to Babylonia. Right after that, the Rabbis that were left and their children decided to establish the Three Week Mourning Period as a remembrance to this awful period in history.
Jewish Law tells us that during this period we are not allowed to conduct joyful celebrations, weddings, and the like. Some men don’t even shave, particularly, during the time of the nine days. Years later, when the second Temple was built, the sages stopped this observance. Afterwards they hoped this destruction would never occur again and hoped to close this chapter in Jewish history. But unfortunately, in 70 CE, the destruction of the second Temple occurred on the same day, the 9th of Av. The sages and rabbis brokenheartedly reinforced the idea of the Three Week mourning period by having two fasting days, one at the beginning of the period and one at the very end.
As we look back through the ages, on this day historians have made a special discovery. They found out that in this day, the 9th of Av, not by coincidence-- terrible things have happened to our people throughout the generations. Some examples include, the story of the spies, a special decree from G-d that all the generations would die in the desert before reaching the Promised Land, the destruction of both Temples, in 1492, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella expelled the Jews from Spain on the 9th of Av. At the beginning of the 1800’s, 4,000 Jews were expelled from England on this day. The atrocities of the Ghetto’s began on the 9th of Av. In many communities under siege by the Nazis, the day that the Germans chose to burn synagogues and the Torah was on the 9th of Av.
We may learn from that, that there is a continuation of tragedies that have happened. WWI began on the 9th of Av. I can go on and on with many more examples, in world history with significant events and tragedies that occurred on this day. So, what is the message that we can learn from this in our day?
You know friends, since 9/11, the whole world, especially the Western world has a changed attitude of looking at life in a different perspective. Since 9/11, many significant global events have transpired rapidly. Many occurrences followed another. In Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the United States. If I ask two people to give an analysis, I will get many different opinions. If we look at our sacred text we can extrapolate understanding from what is written. In the 2nd book of Kings, it concluded that tragedy happened not only because of King Menasha’s deeds, but also because of problems with man’s relationship to one another. During the era of the 2nd Temple, the same friction and negativity happened with people’s relationship to one another. It is written clearly in the Talmud that the reason the 2nd Temple was destroyed was because of the prevalent hatred, bigotry, jealousy, animosity among men. This evil atmosphere created a barrier between people and between G-d and man.
Our goal today is to improve our relationships with one another. Sometimes it is difficult, but we have to work at this, within our families, with our friends, our co-workers, our communities. It is not simple, but if we want to turn around and fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah, who prognosticated that these fasting days will end one day with a joyous celebration at the reconstruction of the Third Temple when the Jews will reconcile with one another and the rest of the world will also live peacefully with one another. Isaiah, the prophet, said that there will come a time when nation shall not raise sword against nation and never again will they learn war.
As G-dly creations, we have the power to do something to bring these prophecies to fruition. In our text, at this moment, we are called to soul-search---how can each one of us improve our relationships with our fellow humans? It is through our personal choices and through loving one another. My hope is that this year will be the last year of suffering and this great prophecy will come true. And we all respond…AMEN.