A religious act or observance is a juncture of law, custom and superstition. It’s also an expression of belief in a system that is, at its heart, irrational. We can’t tolerate the irrational, so we come up with rationales that give it meaning. This is a process that has been repeated throughout religious history.
The observance of three weeks, too, has its roots in law, custom and superstition. The true measure of its validity is how reflects a value that is worthy of our belief.
Summer for many of us has become a time of escape and relaxation. The sun is out, it’s either too hot or too nice to work, the kids are off from school, so let’s take it easy. Let’s have some fun. Hofesh hagadol. in Jewish tradition, we approach summer with a sense of impending dread. The 3 weeks – bein hametzorim (between the straits). Don’t start any new project, don’t get into dealings with non-Jews, don’t get a haircut, don’t dress up, etc. In this 3-part article we will look at the story behind this season, not only the do’s and don’ts (and there are a lot of those), but also some of the thinking that went into it and still applies. We’ll also examine how it fits into our outlook on life, on our shared history and nationality, and ultimately our common purpose in all our calendar years.
RAMBAM, and later Mishnah Brurah talk about fast days. In Hilchot Ta’aniyot (The laws of Fasts) RAMBAM writes that we fast because it open us to teshuuvah –repentance. The Mishnah B’rurah in (549:1) goes on to say that without teshuvah, fasting is meaningless.
Why, then, do we fast on specific days? What’s so special about fasting for Gedaliah – what did Gedaliah ever do for us? If Teshuvah is so important we should fast all the
The answer is that fasting on specific days has a collective dimension. Fasting all the time would be extreme. Much as we moderate our joy so too we have to moderate our sadness. A shared opportunity, however, is an educational moment, whose collective experience not only bonds us through our shared history buts also guides and supports us as we work towards a common goal. When that opportunity arises, how can we not take advantage of it!
The season provides us with a mnemonic for peoplehood. Judaism is, after all, a collective experience. It is built on the principle of mutuality and shared experience. These three weeks represent that experience for us.
Next: The Three Weeks — Part 1