The Seventeenth of Tammuz. The Three Weeks.
After the euphoria of the Summer Wedding Season, we are
suddenly plunged into a period of national mourning. Our
everyday activities are curtailed step by step until Tisha
B'Av, that most sorrowful of evenings, when we sit on the
floor and weep.
Of course, the joy of each simcha was supposed to be
diluted by the memory of the destruction of the Temple.
Didn't we place ashes on the chosson's forehead and
break a glass under the chupa?
We are supposed to be a people of mixed emotions. But that is
very difficult. We lost our precious Holy Temple almost two
thousand years ago. With the excitement of the wedding right
before us, it is hard to place the sorrow and the joy on an
Generation by generation, the mourning for the Bais Hamikdosh
has gotten more and more diluted. If only we ourselves could
feel the pain more deeply, we could give over that sense of
desolation to the children.
Let me tell you a story:
I grew up in Newark, New Jersey, where my father had a
wholesale live poultry business. During most of the twentieth
century, there were Jews in the chicken business in the Mid-
Atlantic states. The chickens were grown by Jewish farmers in
South Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Almost all of the
commission merchants like my father who handled poultry in
New York and North Jersey were Jewish. A large amount of the
poultry found its way to markets in New Jersey, Williamsburg,
the lower East Side and other Orthodox Jewish enclaves.
I remember as a very young child standing by a window on a
dark winter day. I looked out and saw an amazing sight. White
things were floating down from the sky, covering the branches
of the trees, the sidewalks and even the cars on the street.
I called out to my mother to come and look. My mother glanced
out the window and became very serious. She explained to me
that what I was watching was called snow.
"Snow!" I shouted gleefully. "Snow!"
At that point, my mother said to me in alarm, "How can you be
happy that it is snowing? The chickens will die." The worry,
deep concern and pathos in my mother's voice was enough to
make me regret my happiness over the snow.
It is now three decades since my father passed away. I don't
even know anyone who is currently in the poultry business. I
am thousands of miles from New Jersey. However, to this day,
I cannot fully enjoy the pristine beauty of a snowscape. A
little voice inside my head whispers, "The chickens will
When my mother saw the snow, her first reaction was that it
would diminish the livelihood of hundreds of Yidden, and that
Hashem's creatures would die. Poultry was shipped to market
in open baskets stacked high on flatbed trucks. The tarp
placed atop the baskets and tied down to the truck secured
them and provided some protection from the sun, but little
relief from cold and moisture.
In those days, it could take a truck five or more hours to
get from Vineland to North Jersey in a snowstorm, and
protracted exposure to the harsh weather could do in even the
hardiest of birds.
Yes, the snow was beautiful, but how could we enjoy it when
it had a `down' side? It was because my mother's sadness was
so complete and so real that it has carried with me even
The Jews who lived through the Crusades, the Spanish
Inquisition and the pogroms in Eastern Europe knew every day
of their lives that they were in golus. The taste of
the ashes of erev Tisha B'Av was real to them all year
long. They spoke longingly of the Redemption and they passed
that longing on to their children.
The Jews of Chevron and other parts of the Yishuv who
survived the massacres of 1929 and 1936 did not have to be
prompted to cry when they heard the plaintive words of
Here in Yerusholayim, between the War of Independence and
1967, people would go to Har Zion or another nearby high
place to catch a glimpse of the destroyed Jewish Quarter of
the Old City. The churban of 1948 was very real to
them. They remembered the siege and the evacuation and they
It did not take much for those Jerusalemites to extend that
sorrow two millennia into the past to another generation that
experienced siege, expulsion and exile. Today, we don't even
have that. Boruch Hashem, we can go to the Kosel every day.
We can stand, or even sit, in a beautiful plaza and
daven, say Tehillim and pour out our hearts in
It is hard to mourn properly when we can't truly appreciate
what we have lost. And if we can't cry convincing tears, how
can we influence the next generation?
Maybe that should be our homework. Let us learn about the
glory of the Holy Temple. Let us remember the Priestly
garments, the altar, the show bread, the golden Menora. Let
us try to visualize in our minds how it was to ascend to
Yerusholayim on the three Yomim Tovim, what it meant to bring
a sacrifice, how it felt to join the thousands who escorted
the Kohen Gadol to his home after the Yom Kippur service.
Then the real tears that we shed for the destruction of the
glory of our Holy City will be a fitting atonement for the
false tears that were shed when the Spies came back with
their slander concerning Eretz Yisroel, and we will finally
deserve the complete Redemption, speedily in our day.
[We would like to remind our readers of a book reviewed in
this section, Three Special Days, which depicts very
vividly the vibrant daily life in and out of the Mikdash, a
Feldheim publication, available also in Yiddish!
Also very worthwhile reading in simple enough Hebrew, the
Hebrew version of the series, Bechatzros Hashem:
Hazechya Hagedola and the yet- untranslated work for
children and adults, Mul Kisei Hakovod. These can be
ordered from the author himself, Rabbi Yaakov Straus, a
cheder rebbe who was asked by his principal to transcribe the
vivid and very popular lessons he had been giving all along.
His number is 03-674-8058.
Also excellent adult reading for this period is the classic
Am Olom, either in Hebrew or English, written by Rabbi
Shlomo Rotenberg z"l.]