The Three Weeks Challenge: By Shmuel Sackett
Now that the “Three Weeks” have started, I wish to offer you a challenge: From now until the end of Tisha B’av I want you to cry – at least one tear – for the fact that we do not have the Bet Ha’Mikdash in the holy city of Jerusalem. That’s it… just one tear. You think you can do it?
I have no doubt that you will be observing all of the laws of the “Three Weeks” and “Nine Days”. Nobody reading this article will host a simcha, attend a concert or do laundry after Rosh Chodesh Av. The question I have, however, is whether these will be real or just robotic? While keeping Halacha is very important, Am Yisrael needs more than that. We need your heart and your emotions and not just some Jew in “Shabbos mode”. We need you to feel the loss of the Bet Ha’Mikdash and what it means to our Nation. Not shaving for three weeks is what is stated in the Shulchan Aruch – and we must be careful to observe that – but our people need you to feel the part… not just look the part.
Today, while observance has increased in our community, the feelings and emotions have decreased. Forbidden music has been replaced by acapella so that – Heaven forbid – you won’t go 21 days without listening to Shwekey. Yummy, delicious meat meals have been replaced by yummy, delicious dairy meals so that – Heaven forbid – you won’t go 21 days without eating Chinese food. All we need now is the inventors of the Shabbos lamp and Shabbos toothbrush to invent the Nine Days washing machine and Nine Days swimming pool and Torah life will be complete!
What has happened to us? Is this what Hashem wants – to just keep the letter of the law while ignoring the message of what it all means? Haven’t we all heard that the purpose of a fast day, for example, is to arouse one’s heart to teshuva? The fasting is not the actual goal but only a means to the true goal of teshuva. We have all learned that by the people of Ninveh, the passuk says “And Hashem saw their actions” – it does not say “And Hashem saw their fasting!” Therefore, while we fasted on the 17th of Tammuz and will certainly fast on Tisha B’av, we need to do much more than that! This applies not only to the fast days but to these entire three weeks where we mourn millions of Jews and of course, the destruction – to this very day – of Hashem’s house.
Do you understand what it means for the Jewish nation not to serve Hashem in the Bet Ha’Mikdash? Can you comprehend that concept? Do you realize how different our religion is today because we do NOT have the Bet Ha’Mikdash? According to the Chofetz Chaim in his “Sefer Ha’Mizvot Ha’katzar” we can only keep today 103 positive mitzvot (instead of 248) and 205 negative mitzvot (instead of 365). These numbers get even worse for those reading this article outside the Land of Israel where the 103 positive number drops to 77 and the negative number drops to 194. This means that outside of Israel, the holiest, frummest Jew can keep a grand total of 271 mitzvot – just 44% of the Torah!! Imagine that; Hashem gives 613 mitzvot and a Jew in Kew Gardens Hills or Teaneck can only keep 271 of them, while a Jew in Hebron or Beersheba can only keep 308 of them… also not great!
Dearest readers; do you understand what that means? You are less than half a Jew. We are keeping less than half the Torah!! The King has instructed us to do things and we are doing less than half of it! How terrible is that? How would your boss feel if you did only 44% of what he asked you to do? Now, we can say, “Well, it’s not our fault… we would gladly do all 613 but Hashem took away the Bet Ha’Mikdash so what choice do we have?” Please, please don’t dare say – or even think – something like that because nothing can be more ridiculous. Hashem didn’t take away anything… we lost it on our own! We lost it because we refused to love each other, work together with each other and have Jewish unity. The terrible sin of “sinat chinam” is still alive and well (unfortunately) which is why the Bet Ha’Mikdash has not been rebuilt.
How many sects of Chassidim today have two Rebbes, because they can’t stop the in-fighting? How welcoming are the “black-hat” shuls to guys with no jackets and knitted kippot and how warm and accepting are the modern shuls to guys who come to daven wearing a black hat? It works, or should I say – it fails both ways! This applies to the ladies as well. Think about how you would feel if a fellow Jewish woman walked into shul on Shabbat wearing pants. Would you run and embrace her as a long-lost sister returning home or would you give her the look of death? Be honest…
This is why we must cry many tears this year. Yes, I challenged you to just shed one but in reality, we should be crying our eyes out every one of these 21 days. We are a broken people who refuse to listen. We can fix our problems – yes, it is in our hands to do it – but we get completely off the topic and instead, focus all our attention on Shabbos Nachamu and when these dreaded “Three Weeks” will end.
I am convinced that Hashem wants the “Three Weeks” to end as well. He hates to see His children suffer. He wants us back home, singing and dancing in the Bet Ha’Mikdash. He wants to see us observing all of the 613 and not just 271 of them. Therefore, this year, put down the tofu burgers and pareve Chinese food, and stop listening all day to happy songs played without instruments and start feeling the pain of what being half a Jew means.
And start crying. Cry over the fact that although Hashem has returned Eretz Yisrael to us, over half our people choose to remain outside the land. Cry over all the Jewish blood that has been spilled, especially the most recent ones whose blood has still not dried. Cry over the pain that so many of us are in and that we have no Kohen Gadol, Navi or Melech to turn to. Cry over the fact that we are satisfied with “The Chosen” being a book and movie and fail to live up to our responsibility and unique mission.
As you know from previous articles, I am generally an optimistic guy who always focuses on the positive but in these Three Weeks, there’s not much positive to write about. It’s a sad, bad time for our nation and we need to stop the fun and focus on what this all means. Most importantly of all, we need to realize that we have it in our hands to change the situation. Through loving every Jew we can repair the damage and rebuild the House of Hashem. Let’s make it happen… right after we shed that one tear.