We may not notice it as much as previous generations did due to the relative good relations with the non-Jewish world (though recent events have shaken us), but we are in exile and have been for almost 2000 years. The prolonged exile has devastated normal Jewish life in numerous ways.
The period of the Three Weeks of mourning the Temple’s destruction, from 17th of Tamuz until 9th of Av, is designed to remind us of all that we are mourning. While it is true that the Three Weeks have now passed and we have reverted back to our relaxing summer vacations, it is important particularly now to reflect on the growth that we were supposed to have attained.
We do this in the spirit of the Talmud in Brachot 32b, “The early pious ones would prepare for prayer for an hour, pray for an hour, and contemplate their prayers an hour afterwards”, in order to apply and bring the growth they just experienced into their regular lives. At the end of our reflections, we will see a strong link to our weekly Torah portion, Shoftim
The Three Weeks determines the “who we are and how we live” as Jews. When we mourn for the Temple, when we feel the pain of its loss and the sufferings that our ancestors experienced during this period, it is not a “pain” that we are mourning. Pains don’t last 2,000 years. The most intense and sharpest of pains dissipate. A year later they’re weak, ten years later they’re weaker, and a thousand years later they’re not felt at all. It isn’t the pain that our ancestors felt which we are mourning; it is the loss that is affecting us to this day.
This is the recognition and the statement that we make when we fast on 17th of Tamuz and keep the laws of mourning of the Three Weeks and Tisha B’av. It is a statement that not having a Temple renders us a broken people, unable to live a normal life. It means that we have been thrown to a state of spiritual disease and illness, where we cannot think correctly, feel correctly or live correctly.
We are in a state of darkness, unable to reach out and to relate to our Creator as we should to live spiritual, healthy and full lives. It is not simply that extra opportunities are lost to us, but we are crippled and we live as cripples. This is the most important and tragic effect of all. A blind man reaches the point where his blindness is so accepted that he is not aware of a sense of loss. He is not aware that he does not live a normal and full life, that he is handicapped and that there are whole areas of experience and existence that are closed to him. He starts thinking that this is life at its fullest. He doesn’t know that the inability to see colors, the inability to see the magnificence of God’s creation, is a lack and a loss. He accepts it as being the norm. That is tragic because in doing so, he reduces God’s creation.
If this is true in material matters, how much more so is the effect when it comes to accepting a spiritually crippled life as being the norm. If we come to feel that as a people without a Temple we are living a full life, think of the effect this has on our understanding of what existence is all about, of what our relationship with our Creator is all about. We accept as a normal way of living life without God’s face turned to us. Somehow it seems to us as though the way we live is perfect. It doesn’t make sense to us to go and bring animals, slaughter them in a Temple, put them on an altar and burn up the meat. As a nation, we have begun to feel that maybe sacrifices aren’t necessary after all.