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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Taking the Messiah out of the Three Weeks (and Putting Joy In)

Today is the 17th of Tammuz, the day when five big catastrophes happened in Judaism:

* Moses smashed the original Ten Commandments;
* The daily tamid offering was not offered in the Temple for the first time since it was constructed;
* The walls of Jerusalem were breached by Roman armies;
* A Torah was burned by a Roman general; and
* An idol was erected in the temple.

Last night was singer, pianist, and storyteller Rabbi Raz Hartman's last night in town. I got there late (I had a show of my own, and I was running late, and on low energy. But when I heard Raz singing, I bolted down the hall. (Being as though this was a fancy Upper West Side apartment building, with single-and-well-jobbed Jews all over the place, it was probably the first time the hallway had ever seen bolting.) It was a sudden rush of adrenaline, a memory of the first time I sat at his table for Shabbos. There's probably something in Hasidus that talks about the need for sudden devekut, but I don't know the quote. All I knew is, I needed to be there, right now.

And it was a joyous time. It was a really good time. I used to stay on the Upper West Side a lot, back when I was single and weird. I went to a bunch of social gatherings, and they were almost uniformly uncomfortable -- lots of "you're a professional poet? No, but what about for money?" -- and I was almost ashamed of my initial reaction that night, which was to gloat that I was the only male present (bli ayin hara) with a full head of hair.

But I pushed it to the side. Oh, there were the bankers and the lawyers and the people with their shirts tucked in and girls who wouldn't look twice at me, but I have my own girl, and I have my own job. And Raz was singing songs about rebuilding Jerusalem, and telling everyone in the audience that we need to come over for Shabbos dinner when we're in Israel. And it was so awesome and holy and joyful that it was hard to remember that we were on the precipice of a fast day, and that the next three weeks were the anniversary of the amazing city that we're singing and storying about getting ransacked and destroyed by the Roman army.

Occasionally, here at MyJewishLearning, we get in theological debates. (It is a Jewish website, after all.) When I wrote our article on The Three Weeks, I originally included a concluding paragraph that talks about the coming of the Messiah, and how the Jerusalem Talmud prophecies that the Messiah was born on the climactic day of the Three Weeks, on Tisha B'Av. It was cut out -- because, as one editor noted, some people don't believe in the Messiah.

Yeah, I'm Orthodox, and saying that you don't believe in the Messiah is like saying you don't believe in fairies -- you're either a heartless bastard or a 10-year-old boy with something to prove. The Messiah and the World to Come represent hope, and goodness, and that one day we'll have better things to worry about than bills and nuclear war.

To my surprise, though, they let me keep in a quote from the Munkacs Rebbe, who is totally awesome (and, by the way, is a cousin of our site's good friend Dan Sieradski) which closes out the article:

The Talmud says, "When the month of Av enters, one should decrease in joy." The Hasidic rebbe Rabbi Chaim Elazar Spira (1861-1937) said that, though the Talmud says to "decrease in joy," it should be read, " joy." In other words, though it is proper to mourn, even in that mourning, we should do so joyously, knowing that better times are ahead.

That, I hope, is a sentiment that everyone can get with. Whether they're balding or not.


Marie said...

I can't believe I missed your gig yesterday!


matthue said...

Oh, like you're not busy enough already? No worries! I miss enough of the readings you throw!

And there will be another. MMK was super into the show (at least, he said so) and wants to do another gig...

s(b.) said...


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