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Inside The Three Weeks

by Rabbi Simon Jacobson


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The Three Weeks

17th of Tammuz: the day when the Jerusalem walls were breached, leading three weeks later, on the 9th of Av, to the destruction of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem, the first Temple in the year 422 BCE, the second one in the year 70 CE.

This saddest time in the year, called ‘The Three Weeks’ (Tammuz 17-Av 9), is a national period of mourning for the holiness that was lost with the destruction. The Western Wall in Jerusalem – which symbolizes, more than any other object, the Jewish presence in Israel today – is the only remaining remnant of the wall surrounding the Temple.

During the Three Weeks we traditionally increase our Torah study, prayer and charity. Above all, we intensify our love and kindness to each other – counterbalancing the baseless hatred that was the ultimate cause for the Temple’s destruction.

What exactly are we mourning over for close to two millennia? Why do we pray for the Temple’s restoration? And what connection is there between human hatred a Holy building’s destruction?!

What exactly are we mourning over for close to two millennia?
The Structure of Unity

The answer is that the Temple wasn’t a mere structure of bricks and mortar. It was a window – a literal gate – between heaven and earth. “Build Me a Sanctuary,” G-d says, “and I will rest among you.”1 The Temple’s destruction marked the closing of the window between spirit and matter, between the Divine purpose of existence and existence itself. Think of it as a traveler losing sight of his destination, an entity losing touch of its mission – a world losing direction.

The first symptom of a dichotomy between matter and spirit – the misalignment of existence and purpose – is expressed in personal disunity. When an individual loses touch with his own raison d'etre, his fragmented self has to cause anxiety and ultimate insecurity and erosion of self-respect. In its extreme it escalates into a self-loathing (the purposeful soul loathing the aimless life).

This inevitably spills over into our relationships with others: When you hate another it is a projection – or deflection – of hating yourself. A secure person can co-exist with anyone. Even if he may disagree with or be attacked by another, the secure person distinguishes between the actions of the enemy and his person.

We are yearning, aspiring and doing everything in our power to reconnect with the direction, mission and destination of our lives - something we lost close to two millennia ago.
From the personal, divisiveness carries over to the collective: To the splits between communities, religions and nations.

Once divisiveness infected the people, the Holy Temple – which bridged spirit and matter – could simply no longer stand. There was no room for it in a fractured world. It no longer was appreciated and no longer served its purpose…

Eyes on the Prize

Just as divisiveness destroys the Temple, unity rebuilds it. And mind you, unity here means on a universal scale. Indeed, the Midrash tells us that had the nations of the world known how the Temple protected them, they would have built legions around it shielding it from any harm!

The true battle of life is not for land, honor or wealth. It is for the dominance of spirit over matter. Our greatest challenge is not political but spiritual. It is about finding purpose and direction.

And that is why we grieve over the Temple’s destruction and pray for its restoration: We are yearning, aspiring and doing everything in our power to reconnect with the direction, mission and destination of our lives – something we lost close to two millennia ago.

And we thus intensify our efforts in reconnecting with out inner purpose, through our increased study, prayer and charity, thereby creating internal harmony. Above all – we do all we can to battle divisiveness and foster love between each other.

© 2006 All rights reserved. More from


  • 1. Exodus 25:8


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Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
The fifth month of the Jewish calendar, normally corresponding to July-August. The saddest month of the year due to the destruction of the Temples, and the many other tragedies which befell the Jews in this month.
The fourth month on the Jewish calendar, normally corresponding to June-July.
Western Wall
The western wall of the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem. "The Divine Presence never left the Western Wall," and to this day, the Wall remains a holy shrine and a place for prayer.
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.