The period of time in the Jewish calendar known as The Three Weeks falls during summer months here in the United States. This is a time of mourning for the Jewish people, and we spend these weeks deep in solemnity and regard for the destruction of our Holy Temple. The Three Weeks (Bein Hametzarim) are bookended by a minor fast on the 17th of Tammuz and a major fast on the 9th of Av.
During the 9th of Av, it is a custom to read the Book of Lamentations. For many of us – knowing nothing other than Diaspora living – the mourning of the Holy Temple and subsequent exile may feel foreign and void of meaning. “Hasn’t the world evolved? Do we still need the Temple?” we might ask. These questions are the reason that our return is necessary, and they illuminate the ignorance many of us live with. The Three Weeks are a great time to immerse ourselves in education for the sake of understanding and to embrace ancient relics that still hold important meaning today.
In Ketuvim (Prophets), we find the Book of Lamentations. It is one of five scrolls found in Prophets that are read at various time throughout the year. The author of Lamentations was a prophet named Jeremiah, who lived through the destruction of the Temple. It is said that he may have even written Lamentations prior to the destruction of the Temple.
Lamentations begins with the word “Eicha” which (how), and the sentence continues “how lonely sits the city once full of people”. Jeremiah continues to talk about the destruction of the Holy Temple, providing details and descriptions of the physical horror that occurred. He also points his finger at the Jewish people and their apathy toward G-d at that time.
Israel’s continued suffering remains prominent throughout the chapters of Lamentations, and Jeremiah’s dark words fill the pages. His struggle with faith in G-d is uttered, and he is tormented by questions of G-d’s role in the world. At the same time, he acknowledges the lack of presence by the Jewish people and how their actions led to the punishment they have endured. Jeremiah moves through a process that, hopefully, as we continue to learn, to reach, to question, and to connect - we can emulate in today’s world.
Jeremiah finally calls out to G-d, and G-d’s mercy is returned to him. Jeremiah is comforted – enlightened, perhaps, and is able to move from despair toward hope. The final chapter of Lamentations is a summary of what the Jewish people have experienced along with an appeal for G-d to restore us to the “days of old”.
We remain in exile today, uttering the words of Jeremiah every year during The Three Weeks. We are without our Holy Temple but we await the arrival of the Messiah, the restoration of the Temple, and our return to the Land of Israel.