July 7, 2020

These Three Weeks … A Message from Cantor Lorna Wallach

 

Following the death of a close relative, Judaism has very specific laws and guidelines for what is restricted during this period of mourning (30 days for a spouse, sibling or child; a year for a parent). During this period of personal grief, the mourner is supposed to avoid parties, celebrations, concerts, dancing, avoid listening to live music and, for thirty days, they cannot shave or cut their hair. Within each calendar year, Jews also have periods of communal mourning where similar restrictions are imposed. One such period is known as “Sefira”, or the 49-day period of the counting of the Omer, which begins on the second night of Passover and goes to Shavuot. The other period is the three weeks leading up to Tisha B’Av (commemorating the destruction of the Temple). The three weeks begin on the minor fast day of Shiv’ah Asar B’Tammuz, the 17th day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, (this Thursday, July 9th) which commemorates the first breach in the walls of Jerusalem, before the First Temple was destroyed.

The earliest written source for these communal mourning customs dates back to the Geonic period (6th to 11th centuries C.E. in Babylonia). It appears that the first semi-mourning custom that was established for the Counting of the Omer period was to prohibit marriages, followed at a later date by the prohibition against cutting one’s hair, followed still later on by the prohibition against listening to live music and playing musical instruments.

There aren’t many liturgical adjustments for this three week period, however, there are 3 special Haftarot that are always read in this period, and if you attend our Kabbalat Shabbat services in these next three weeks, you will hear me sing L’Chah Dodi to the somber melody of Eili Tziyon (a Middle Ages acrostic elegy recited on Tisha B’Av) as a reminder of this period of communal mourning.

While mourning is the general theme of this three-week period, the loss of the Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, can be seen as symbolic of something special that we once had and is now missing in our lives. When we are in our “normal” routines, most of us are less likely to pause and think about what is lacking in our lives. During this pandemic, however, it has been so hard not to focus on all of the losses we have each experienced during these past 4 months — such as in- person family and communal celebrations including B’nai Mitzvah, weddings, birthday parties and graduations; also hugging, gathering in our beautiful sanctuary to pray together and especially to sing together.

Sadness, tragedy and disappointment are a part of life – no one can escape such experiences, but there is a reason that Jewish tradition delineates a finite period for communal mourning as opposed to having it be a constant state of being.

There is a Chassidic saying that says, “Sadness is not a sin, but its effect on the person is worse than any sin’s.” Chassidic teaching differentiates between two types of sorrow: merirut, a constructive grief, and atzvut, a destructive grief. Perhaps the message of this mourning period THIS year is for all of us to find creative ways to connect and come together, and with one another’s support, we can turn our sadness into a springboard for action to improve ourselves and the world around us rather than losing hope and becoming indifferent.

I wish you all good health and strength.

Cantor Lorna Wallach