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

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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.

Posted on July 9, 2009

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