In The Narrow Places
Daily Inspiration for the Three Weeks
By Erica Brown
Maggid Books & OU Press, 2011, 131 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - June 2, 2011
The three weeks is a period of mourning for Jews beginning on the seventeenth of the Hebrew month Tammuz, which is a fast day, and ends with the fast of the ninth of Ab. Tradition states that the fasts of both 17 Tammuz and 9 Ab commemorate ten events, five each, associated with the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem in 586 BCE and 70 CE.
Traditions differ what Jews do during the three weeks. Some Jews do not fast on either of the two fast days and behave as usual during the three weeks. Some fast only on 9 Ab and ignore the other days. Some fast on both days but vary how they treat the middle period. Some mourn for the loss of the two Temples by refraining from pleasures either for the entire three weeks, the nine days of Ab, or for the last three days before 9 Ab. Many do so by not eating meat dishes during the nine days, because they consider meat better foods, improper consumptions during periods of mourning, and by not getting hair cuts or men shaving.
Erica Brown devotes her book about the three weeks to the inspirations that one can achieve today by recalling the ancient destructions. She has a twenty-five page introduction that discusses the three week period. This is followed by short essays for each of the twenty-one days of the three weeks and one for the following day. She writes that her goal is to help her readers understand what was "lost so that we can mourn with greater feeling" and meaning. She refers to biblical texts, history, and rabbinic legends and parables for her messages. Her primary goal is to "focus on our relationship to God."
"Each essay," she writes, "is followed by a Kavana, a specific spiritual focus for the day that involves reflection, imagination or action to integrate the learning." For example, she speaks about the value of setting aside a time and place when and where the person can be receptive to the spiritual. She speaks as well about learning how to cry, how to speak about suffering, how to respond to reversals of fortune, what the Western Wall means to people, and how to deal with our most important question, to cite some more of the close to two dozen reflections.
Rather than ending her book on a sad note, she concludes with a message of hope. She notes that Judaism does not dwell on persecutions or the past without focusing on the possibilities of the future. "We are the people who rebuild ruins. And when, as the Talmud teaches, we get to heaven and God asks each of us, 'Did you work for redemption?' we can each say, 'Yes, I did' with a full heart."