Shabbat Pinkhas: The Three Weeks

חָנֵּנִי ה’ כִּי אֻמְלַל אָנִי רְפָאֵנִי ה’ כִּי נִבְהֲלוּ עֲצָמָי וְנַפְשִׁי נִבְהֲלָה מְאֹד ואת ה’ עַד מָתָי

Heal me, for I am very low. I am chaos within. My soul is in very great chaos, and you, HaShem, how long? Takhanun 

Today a man will be buried who died in the heat wave this week. Herb Weinstein ז״ל was a special human being who maintained Jewish community ties across the spectrum, from Shir Tikvah to Chabad. May his memory be a blessing and an inspiration to us all.

When we stand at a graveside or when we remember a loved one, now gone, during Yizkor prayers on the Festivals and Yom Kippur, we often encounter this passage:

There is a time and purpose for every human experience:

A time for being born and a time for dying, 

A time for planting and a time for uprooting the planted

A time for weeping and a time for laughing, 

A time for wailing and a time for dancing;

A time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones, 

A time for embracing and a time for shunning embraces,

A time for loving and a time for hating; 

A time for war and a time for peace.

 (Kohelet 3)

The tragedy of Herb’s death because of a heat wave, along with at least sixty other victims, demands that we consider the place in our lives for anguish, for fear, and for apprehension. These Three Weeks are exactly meant for that purpose. 

The Three Weeks are observed in Jewish practice as a memorial to our ancestors who were massacred in the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. In contemplating the catastrophe the Jewish people found a way to bring meaning to so much otherwise senseless death by asking 

What is the cause of this horror?

What might we have allowed to be done that contributed to it?

What can we do, within our human capacity, to ensure that this never happens again?

This kind of spiritual empowerment allows us not to be enervated by what is otherwise senseless tragedy. As we follow the daily horror of the building collapse in Seaside Florida, the natural response is to find someone to blame. Yet the more powerful and effective response urged upon us during this Three Weeks of contemplation is to allow ourselves the full learning, as we consider the three questions our tradition asks about our own ancient tragedy of Tisha B’Av.

There is a time for dying, yes, but tragic death should bring us to seek out the lesson implied. The ancient wisdom of Kohelet demands that we consider the climate emergency with all the urgency that the young leadership of the Sunrise Movement demand. 

There is a time for weeping over that which is tragically lost.

There is a time for throwing stones, which is to say, to determine what is at fault in our society and to act to change it.

We must give ourselves time to mourn, to feel the natural responses of apprehension and despair. The lesson of the Three Weeks is that we are not helpless: once we have gone through the necessary stages of mourning and of contemplation, there is a time to act upon our learning. There is a time for uprooting that which we have planted, or allowed to be planted. 

May we in our personal spiritual journey, and in that which intersects with our larger circles of belonging, make room for true wailing, so that there may again, HaShem willing, be dancing.

Shabbat Shalom, and may you find consolation along with all those who mourn

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