A Different Perspective for the Three Weeks

Jews around the world are in a state of national mourning now during "The Three Weeks," a period that commenced July 15 and will end on August 5. Bracketed by fast days, the three weeks commemorate the destruction of the two Jewish temples in Jerusalem by the Babylonian and Roman empires.

But that's not why Jews fast, or mourn, the Talmud states.

Jews really mourn and the temples were destroyed because of Jewish in-fighting. The political motives were all just a divine foil: God could no longer be present in his house if the Jews couldn't see God's presence in one another.

This year, Jews worldwide got an early start to this annual soul-searching with the murders of the three Jewish teenagers in the West Bank, and then the subsequent murder of the Palestinian teen in Jerusalem.

Genesis teaches that God resides in every human being, and God's ethical mission to humanity resides in every Jew.

What the Bible offered the ancient world and what was revolutionary about monotheism was the idea that a piece of God could reside in each human being, a divine reflection -- "tzelem elokim."
As we continue to struggle with this fundamental idea thousands of years later, it continues to confront us.

In recent weeks the world got a glimpse of that divine reflection: It resides in the photos of the four innocent teens whose faces have wedged their way into many of our hearts.
Their snuffed out divine spark seems to have ignited something divine within us.

While the media is replete with the usual news stories, analyses and blogs regarding the righteousness of one's cause, yet this time there is new voice, too; one that intones a desire to abandon old beliefs, ideologies, and to take an entirely new road.

Ruchama Weiss writes in Ynet, an Israeli daily, (my translation)

"whoever really wants to end the violence needs to begin with himself. Maybe we will find a solution that is not 'right' or 'left.' I am prepared to let go of all of my assumptions, but I will not let go of the spark of divinity in each human being."

During the 18 days the Israeli Defense Forces were searching for the Israeli teens Eyal, Gil-ad, and Naftali there was such a strong sense of unity among Jews worldwide, but when one of its own children murdered Muhammed Abu, it was impossible not to feel that this political-ideological battle was only hurting what they want most to protect: their children and ethical values.

After the murders, calls for revenge seemed invalid at best and shameful at worst. To many, who have taken to express their humanity in social mediums, the conflict didn't make as much sense as it did just a few weeks ago.

Now, during what is already a historical time of reflection, there is a sense of immediacy with new layers of pain, fresh tears and graves. Our mourning is no longer just ancient.

If the Three Weeks are 'successful' then a Jew can point to having reached deep inside oneself to identify his/her own spiritual losses, and as a collective, identifying the current spiritual malaise. Then the personal and national work can begin.

Because of the intensity and sadness of this period, the Three Weeks always culminate with the reading of Isaiah, "Comfort, comfort my people, says your G-d, speak consolingly to Jerusalem and call out to her." (Isaiah 40: 1,2)

But the comfort can only come if we do the introspection. The yardstick by which we measure the distance to salvation is our personal work and collective desire to confront the darkness within us.

Hatred and revenge is the easy road to reaction and even action, but they are never to be confused as the catalyst for change.

Following the murder of Muhammed Abu, David Horovitz, editor of the Times of Israel, wrote:

"We can try to comfort ourselves by claiming that our thugs and killers are aberrations, reviled by the mainstream, while their thugs and killers are widely exalted heroes. But our aberrations are multiplying. . .We are masters of our own destiny and we must urgently reassert our higher values."

Jerusalem will only be able to console us when we shape her destiny. It will take a lot of hands, and hearts, clean of hatred.

If we violate Jerusalem's children, haven't we violated G-d? Is it not in the cherubic faces of children that we see the divine? And where will the divine spirit rest if we have violated Jerusalem and her children?

One of Judaism's End of Days visions is of bringing the disparate group of Jews to the land of Israel and fusing them into one people. Meaning, there is no magic formula-only the hard work of learning how to get along. This is what paves the way toward the divine -- the prelude to God's presence on earth.

In fact, the Israelite prophet informs the Jews that the future temple that they long for will be a habitat within every person, not so much a physical structure: "And I will place my sanctuary within them, and my presence shall rest over them." (Ezekiel 37:26) And that the end to this perennial mourning is largely dependent on human initiative.

Now that Jews have galvanized a united spirit, and are in the midst of war, let us not lose our moral compass during these Three Weeks. Let us allow ourselves to experience deep sadness -- not callousness or even joy -- when a human life is snuffed out, whomever that life belongs to.

Where hatred reigns, it has the full real-estate of our hearts.

We owe it to our children.

They deserve to have the temple rebuilt within them.

If we can keep ourselves from hatred, maybe our children will mirror the temple within us-the adults who they have entrusted to run their world.

Perhaps then the consoling Jerusalem will be the House of God.