Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah: Parashat Pinchas

In his D’var Torah for The Three Weeks, the Chief Rabbi explores how we can grieve genuinely for tragedies that occurred millenia ago.

We are currently in the three weeks between Shiva Asar B’Tammuz and Tisha B’av. These are three weeks of Jewish national mourning.

Rav Soloveitchik pointed out that when it comes to personal sadness, we commence with the most intense day of our sadness. G-d forbid somebody has passed away and then there is a funeral. That is followed in turn by the first three days of the shiva, the most intense period of mourning, they are followed by the rest of the shiva, then the shloshim, the thirty days after the funeral and then for parents, the year of mourning.

With regard to these three weeks however, the sequence is just the opposite. We commence with three general weeks of mourning and then we have the nine days with the commencement of Rosh Chodesh of Av. Then we have shavua shechal bo, the week in which Tisha B’av falls, and eventually we have that very sad day of Tisha B’av.

‘Why the difference in these sequences?’

So why the difference in these sequences? I would like to suggest as follows. When it comes to personal sadness, nobody needs to inform me or educate me about it because I am right at the centre of it. What I benefit from is that in the course of time, gradually I will climb down and emerge into a healing process through which I can come to terms with a fresh new rhythm of life.

When it comes however to historic events, when I should feel the intensity of the day, it will not come automatically. I need to be informed. That is why you cannot just expect people on Tisha B’av to sit shiva and to feel passionately the loss of two temples and other tragedies. We need to be introduced to the subject; that is why we have got three general weeks.

We start off with the less intense, we become more informed, we study, we are educated, we are provided with historical context. The more aware we are, the more ready we will be for Tisha B’av, so that on that day, as a nation, we will collectively sit shiva to mourn the tragedies of the past and we will feel it in an appropriate way.

‘It is so easy for days such as Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim and Yom HaShoah to come and to leave us without them really feeling anything’

I believe that there is an important message that emerges from this for us today. You see, there are many young Jewish people who were not alive during the Shoah. They did not experience the establishment of the State of Israel, they were not here during the Six Day War and so on. It is so easy for days such as Yom Ha’atzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim and Yom HaShoah to come and to leave us without them really feeling anything on those days.

That is why it is so important to introduce them to these concepts, to provide a solid Jewish education, to include within it Jewish history, modern Jewish history, so that they will know what happened during those dark periods of our past and also how G-d has blessed us so often to enable us as a nation to celebrate. Once they understand what took place, when the day arrives, just like the three weeks leading into Tisha B’av, they will be able to have the appropriate feeling.

Once again we see how central Jewish education is in order to guarantee our Jewish consciousness and survival. When it comes to marking important days on the calendar, if you do not know, you will never feel.

Shabbat Shalom.


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