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Thought for the Day: Using the Three Weeks to Prepare for תשעה באב

I was asked last Shabbos to discuss some of the ideas of the Three Weeks and תשעה באב.  As I sat down to prepare, I knew I would start with something like: We now find ourselves in the Three Weeks, also know as בֵּין הַמְּצָרִים; which means "between the straits", so named because it the like the lull between two waves of disaster.  Then I stopped.... "between the straits"?  תשעה באב commemorates the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash -- may it be rebuilt soon and in our days -- that is a disaster of unimaginable proportions.  But שבעה עשר בתמוז commemorates the breach of the wall of Yerushalayim.  Putting those together sounds like someone complaining about stubbing their toe before being hit by a truck.  Really?

If breaching the wall were considered the beginning of the destruction, then I would understand.  But it's not.  The term "בֵּין הַמְּצָרִים"/between the straits, puts the breach of the wall as (a) an event in and of itself, just like the actual destruction, and (b) a disaster of such proportion that it makes sense to put the two together in one sentence, and (c) the period of time between the two events also has its own independent importance.

What's going on?  Many years ago, I got a call that my father had had a heart attack.  It was bad.  He was left overnight in a terrible local hospital being treated for severe heartburn (no joke; that's what they thought).  Finally, in the morning a cardiologist who made rounds to many of the local hospitals in a 60 mile or so radius, happened to see my father.  She said, "Get him out of here!"; he was immediately air-lifted to Reno, which had a good cardiac intensive care unit.  That's when I was called.  I flew out.  By the time I got there, he looked fine.  The heart attack had been severe, but he was fine now.  They ran a battery of tests and determined that he needed triple bypass surgery.  I figured they would be rushing him into surgery.  Nope.  They scheduled it for about three weeks later so he could recover enough to be strong enough to withstand the bypass surgery.

That was a long three weeks.  The day of the surgery finally arrived.  It was scheduled for early morning, and I flew out that morning so I could spend the most time with him during the recovery.  I arrived at the hospital just as the surgery was finishing.  Once he was settled into his corner of the cardiac intensive care unit, I was allowed in.

When I was younger, I occasionally worked with the chevra kadisha preparing corpses for burial.  When I was even younger, I had worked around cadavers.

When I first saw my dad, my first  thought was that I had never seen a live person that color.  There was a tube coming out of his chest filled with blood.  The next several days were very stressful.  He had to be taken back to surgery once because of "leakage" (horribly evocative term).  I was there every waking minute.  At one point a nurse told me that maybe I should let my dad just rest for a bit a take a nap myself in another room.  My dad was awake, but couldn't talk (still had breathing tube); the look of panic on his face told me not to leave.  After a few days he was moved to just regular intensive care.  The worst was over and we all relaxed a bit.

The heart attack was bad, but on the surface was not nearly as bad as the bypass surgery.  Of course, without the bypass surgery he would have died within a month or two.  It was only after he completely recovered that we all realized how bad things had been before the heart attack.  The heart attack was both a symptom of years of festering disease and a warning that drastic measure were needed to save his life.

On שבעה עשר בתמוז the walls were breached -- Klal Yisrael suffered a heart attack.  For three weeks we recovered enough to be able to withstand the surgery -- destruction of the Beis HaMikdash on תשעה באב.  Every year we come back to the same spiritual environment that existed when the walls were breached and when the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed.  Every year was relive the horror of שבעה עשר בתמוז and then prepare ourselves -- no music nor haircuts, then no meat, wine, nor even laundry -- all in preparation for the fast of  תשעה באב itself; no eating, drinking, nor even greeting each other.  That intense mourning and introspection is the cure for the centuries of festering diseased spirituality that ended with the loss of our most intense venue for communicating with Our Father, Our Creator.

I realize that those minutes, hours, days, weeks, and months of caring for my father is an intensely personal experience and that I cannot really share that with anyone.  It seems to me that the real cure that this time of year can bring to Klal Yisrael is for each of us to make תשעה באב as intensely personal ia possible.

May be all merit seeing a complete recovery and celebrate with each other our grand reunion with the Divine Presence in Yerushalayim in the newly rebuilt Beis HaMikdash.


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