The Dark Days


The Jewish calendar is perverse — at least in the northern hemisphere.  Just as the sun is high and the days are long, the fruit ripening and the leaves providing a soft canopy, what do we get?  Sadness.  A three-week period of progressively deepening sadness culminating in the deep mourning of Tisha b’Av. (For the real scoop on what this time means to the observant Jew, you can go here:  http://www.ou.org/holidays/the-three-weeks/)  No music.  No starting new projects.  No new clothes.  Darkness.

These three weeks are also called bein ha-metzarim, “between the straits”, and refer to the time between the breach of the walls surrounding the Temple and its final destruction on Av 9-10.  The exact opposite of the languorous extended days of summer, this feeling of being cramped, besieged, under pressure.  

Of course, we are a couple of millennia away from the original destruction of the Temple, and we are struggling to engage emotionally with something unconnected to our direct experience.  I suspect that for many of us, the kinot that mourn the losses of European Jewry cut deeper than the loss that Jeremiah wept for in Lamentations.

But in part this reflects how deeply alienated we are from the miraculous.  While the original temple stood, there was evidence every day of God’s presence in the universe.  (See the listing in Pirke Avot of the regularly occurring miracles that accompanied the Temple. http://www.torah.org/learning/pirkei-avos/chapter5-7.html)  But notice!  This is a list of things that didn’t happen.  This list is not composed of the big stand-out miracles that happened at the Reed Sea or at Sinai.  No earthquakes, no lightning, no pillars of fire.  Just the continuous defeating of ordinary expectations of how the world works. No sickness, no miscarriages, no dousing of fires.

So that is what we have lost–that ability to see that the world can be different than what it seems to be, can be better, cleaner, safer.  That is a heart-wrenching loss, even now, even here in the “good” galut where we find ourselves.  To see the world as merely what it is, without hope, is to dim the light inside.  Dark days indeed.

Looking toward the light,

Shayna

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