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Entering the 3 Weeks: July 9, 2020 | 17 Tammuz 5780

Last night, my friend Catherine Miller shared this article on their Facebook page entitled “Digital Theater Isn’t Theater. It’s a Way to Mourn Its Absence”, about artists grieving the loss of live theater performances during the pandemic. The author essentially says: there are a ton of virtual theater offerings on the internet right now, and you might be tempted to think that they’re some sort of substitute for the real theater experience, but they are not. They can’t compare to the real thing, sitting in a theater next to other human bodies and experiencing a live performance - but they aren’t meant to. They are the artists’ way of holding a vigil, of keeping the candle lit until we can return again to one another. 

And I feel that if you substitute “shul” for “theater”, the piece remains just as true. 

There’s a temptation to say that this current reality is our new normal, so we have to just shift, readjust, and get used to it. Let’s just call Zoom shul the next best thing. Let’s just focus on the bright side - “at least” we get to see each others’ faces in little boxes. “At least” we still get to have Shabbat. 

We’ve been trying to focus on the bright side and lean into the “at leasts” for the last four months. But don’t you hate it when someone “at leasts” you when you’re grieving? “No!” I want to say - it’s not enough! 

And now, we have a moment where we can actually carve out space to lean into our grief. 

Today begins a period of time on the Jewish calendar known as “The Three Weeks” between the fast days of the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av where we enter into a period of collective mourning. We recall the embodied memory of trauma that is lodged deep within us from our past, beginning with the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem two thousand years ago and continuing on through Jewish history as we were dispersed into galut/exile around the world, estranged from one another. 

So here we are again, estranged, distant, frightened, and completely uncertain about the future. And the purpose of these three weeks is to descend together into the depths so that we can fully feel the loss in this moment, and not immediately try to make it okay. 

This is what the chasidic masters called ירידה לצורך עלייה  “yeridah l’tzorech aliyah”, a descent for the sake of ascent. We’ll come out of the other side after Tisha b’Av and begin the slow uphill climb toward the High Holidays. But not immediately. For now, we are still in the depths. 

And while we’re here, we are holding a candle, keeping the flame alive. What we are doing in this moment is holding a vigil, zecher l’ma’aseh kehillah, a remembrance of the act of truly gathering in community. It is not the same. But it is keeping the thread of connection between us alive, for now, until we can return to one another again. 

So until that moment, this final line of the book of Eicha/Lamentations is the song and prayer that remains on my heart, and this version of Hashiveinu written and performed by Micah Shapiro and Aaren Alpert really nails it:

השיבינו ונשובה, חדש ימינו כקדם.
Hashiveinu v’nashuva, chadeish yameinu k’kedem.

Bring us back to each other again, and we will return.
Make things like they used to be. Please.

Rabbi Lauren Henderson

Tue, August 11 2020 21 Av 5780