Yesterday began “the three weeks,” the annual mourning period that begins on the 17th of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, a fast day which marks the day when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans, and ends with the fast of the 9th of Av, the day when we mourn the destruction of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem, as well as other tragic events that occurred on this day.
This three week period prompts me to look again at the teachings of Rabbi Steinsaltz that relate specifically to this time on the Jewish calendar.
Rabbi Steinsaltz teaches:
“The gloomiest day in the entire Jewish calendar is Tisha B’Av – the 9th day of the summer month of Av.
A long series of national disasters, from the destruction of the first Temple to the Spanish Expulsion, is historically identified with this date.
Moreover, in every generation this day has been looked upon as the essence of all national mourning, and the lamentation prayers of Tisha B’Av recall not only the events that occurred on that day, but also the story of the sufferings of our people throughout its exile.
Nevertheless, the focus of mourning is the destruction of the Temple, both the beginning and the symbol of all that occurred thereafter.
The destruction of the Temple is not an isolated event (important or even basic as it is) in the chronicles of our sufferings.
The destruction of the Temple constitutes both a key to, and a definition of, all of the troubles of Israel.
It is this destruction which lifts isolated events, persecutions, exiles, and oppressions from the plane of mere historical episodes and gives them a transcendent significance.
For the Jewish people, the Temple was the only place for complete worship.
It was the recognized center for all the Children of Israel, however scattered they were.
Indeed, the Temple was the only holy place recognized by Judaism.
The central importance of the Temple can only be fully appreciated by studying Maimonides’ list of the mitzvot.
Of the 613 listed, less than half of them are applicable (and some of the others only partly so) following the Temple’s Destruction.
And the situation is similar in the Oral Law and in all the other areas which make up the life of the nation.
It may be said that much of the structure of Judaism was suddenly cut out from under it with the Destruction, not only in activities directly connected with the Temple and the worship there, but also a large body of mitzvot and customs indirectly bound to it.
This picture of the effect on Jewish law gives us some conception of what really occurred with the destruction of the Temple.”
From the essay “Tisha B’Av: Destruction and Redemption” by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz