A Change in Status

The Shabbat preceding Tishah B’Av is called Shabbat Chazon because it is the day on which the third haftarah of calamity, “Chazon Ovadiah,” is read. The harsh words of the prophet’s rebuke increase in intensity for the three weeks, culminating in the haftarah of the final Shabbat before the fast. Communities around the world have different customs that are meant to limit our happiness and increase our mourning as the Fast of the Ninth of Av approaches. This buildup is actually, on the face of it, illogical.

When one actually loses a loved one, the pain and shock to one’s psyche is so intense that one becomes totally absorbed in the obligation to complete the burial. After the task is completed, one must spend seven days in strict mourning. When the seven days culminate, a person is permitted to return to a regular routine in body care and social interaction. One may once again learn Torah and go to work and other necessary places. For a sibling, the display of mourning ceases and the healing process continues. For a parent, the initial period of mourning comprises 12 months. On an annual anniversary, yahrtzeit, the sadness is revisited with several rituals commemorating the day of passing. This system of healing mirrors the actual recovery of the mourner from trauma and pain. Slowly, over time, one is strengthened and able to function in a more normal routine. Time heals all wounds, both physical and emotional.

Why, then, did our Sages invoke a system of increasing mourning as we approach the day of destruction? Why is it the Three Weeks are before Tishah B’Av rather than afterwards?

An elderly gentleman once passed away, leaving behind quite a large family. His eldest son was 20 years old and his youngest was three. As the years passed, the older brother was always pensive and somewhat sad as the anniversary of his father’s passing approached. The younger sibling, on the other hand, dutifully kept the laws of yahrtzeit commemoration but hardly felt any emotion. The difference between the two was that the elder brother knew what it was like to be the son of the departed. The love, the devotion and the sacrifices his dad made for the family left its mark on him. The younger son, on the other hand, never knew the selfless devotion of his departed parent and did not feel the void.

The destruction of Yerushalayim, the Beit Hamikdash and the slaughter and exile of our people took place almost 2,000 years ago. Intellectually, the loss is immeasurable; however, an emotional response is difficult to arouse. The holy city and the service in the Mikdash were representative of a special relationship between the Creator and His Chosen People. The verse says (Devarim 33:4), “The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the Congregation of Yaakov.” Our Sages invoked poetic license in reading the word morashah (heritage) as me’orasah (betrothed). The special relationship of husband and wife was created and sealed at Sinai when the Jewish people accepted the prize possession of Hashem — His holy Torah. We then built a sanctuary for Him which served as a sign that Hashem dwells with His people. The loss on the day of destruction was more than a political tragedy; it was a change in status for us and also for Hashem. We became like a widow whose loss of a mate was also a change in status. No one to protect us. No one to love us. No one with whom to share our lives. Our Creator also “feels” the estrangement. This emotional tragedy is hard to feel since we never actually experienced the relationship. Therefore, our predecessors invoked a system of increasing mourning as the day approaches to help us feel as we should and cry when we must.

May this year be our last in exile and the first of our salvation and permanent joy with the coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Mikdash and re-instatement of our special relationship with Hashem. Amen.