It is written that King Solomon built the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the 10th century BCE. It stood for about four centuries before being destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE. After the Hebrew exiles returned from Babylon in 539 BCE, they built the Second Temple, which lasted over 500 years before being destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. According to tradition both were destroyed at this time of the year, called the Three Weeks (17 Tammuz – 9 Av on the Hebrew calendar). Every year we observe the Three Weeks as a time of mourning and solemn reflection.
In ancient times the rabbis reflected on the question: what are we to learn from the destruction of the Temples? Their inquiry took them to two themes: what we value, and how we treat each other.
Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 9B:
The First Temple, why was it destroyed? For three things within it: idol worship, sexual transgression, and bloodshed.
But the Second Temple, where they were immersed in Torah, mitzvot, and acts of lovingkindness, why was it destroyed? Because there was senseless hatred. This comes to teach that the weight of senseless hatred is equivalent [to the total of all the other three].
(Oral tradition committed to writing around 5th century CE)
This year with the Three Weeks falling on June 30 – July 21, I’ve been reflecting on events in the U.S. today. A national government that no longer represents the majority of its citizens, wantonly engaging in senseless hatred, cruelty, destructiveness.
In the U.S. our “holy temple” has been in the values and ideals of American democracy. Although we’ve been painfully slow to live up to these ideals, they’ve always served as the guiding light that unites us, and toward which we, the American people, aspire and progress. But today my heart is breaking as I stand by helplessly, forced to watch the daily destruction of our democracy.
Is this the “Three Weeks” for America? Am I exaggerating? Can we still save our country?
Soon I’ll be joining with thousands of Americans in California and across the country to do what we can to help save our democracy by helping people vote in the coming election. But for now I’m sitting quietly with the question: what can we learn from the Three Weeks about the right course of action for today?
Ibn Ezra commenting on Leviticus 19:17:
“Don’t hate your brother.”
This is the inverse of “love your neighbor as yourself.” Behold how these mitzvot, both of them, are planted in the heart. And those who cultivate them shall remain in the land. Because it was senseless hatred that destroyed the Second Temple.
(Spain, 12th century CE)
Since we destroyed ourselves and the world through senseless hatred, then surely we can restore ourselves and the world through senseless love.
Orot Hakodesh (Holy Lights), Israel, 1938
Rabbi DovBer Pinson:
[The Three Weeks] is a harsh time to be sure, a time of Din / judgment, yet despite this, or perhaps because of this, it is also a time where we can more easily feel close to [God]…. It becomes clear that all of our sufferings are meant to wake us up to our higher self and purpose, if we but heed the call.
(The Months of Tammuz and Av, U.S., 2018)
Senseless love is good for the world!