The Three Weeks of Calamity

The Three Weeks of Calamity

The “Three Weeks,” which span the 17th of Tammuz through the 9th of Av, have historically been days of misfortune and calamity for the Jewish people. Over the course of history, the Jewish people have endured many tragedies during these three weeks.

These days are also referred to as “bein hametzarim – in the midst of the distresses,” based on the prophet Jeremiah’s observation regarding the Jewish people: “She finds no rest; all her pursuers overtook her in the midst of her distresses” (Lamentations 1:3).

During this time, various aspects of mourning are observed. We minimize joy and celebration by not holding weddings or listening to music. Many also have the custom of not shaving or getting haircuts.

These expressions of mourning take on even greater intensity as we approach the 9th day of Av (Sunday 18th July. Erev Tisha B’Av is on Saturday evening at sunset), which is the anniversary of the destruction of both the first and the second Holy Temples in Jerusalem, roughly some 2500 and 2000 years ago respectively. Many other tragedies occurred on this day as well.

Just as it has been said that “if you want a change in attitude start by changing your behavior,” we similarly observe these various expressions of mourning as a way to internalize the loss we suffered as a nation. Even still, because of the privileged lives that most citizens in “first world” countries enjoy, it usually requires real focus and sombre contemplation to truly feel the sadness of what has been lost.

Not this year.

In the wake of Miami’s latest tragedy, the Champlain Towers South building collapse, those who “only” lost their homes and all their worldly possessions were the “lucky” ones. Those who lost their lives and those who are still missing – may the Almighty have mercy – leave families and friends stunned and heartbroken, struggling to comprehend the enormity of the loss.

At times like these there is a worldwide custom of observing a “moment of silence” for those who have passed. While we do this for modern tragedies, here in the United States Memorial Day is mostly celebrated by having a day off from work and going to the beach. However, in Israel it is a very different experience.