The Three Weeks: Days of Refuge
The Holy One, Blessed Is He, said (Bamidbar 35:11): “You shall designate cities for yourselves”. Moshe said, “Master of the Universe! One who inadvertently commits murder […], how will he know where the cities of refuge are located for him to escape to?” He said to Moshe, “Prepare the way for yourself” (Devarim 19:3), so that they will not get lost. Moshe said, “What should I do?” God said to him, “Erect signs indicating directions to the Cities of Refuge, so one will know how to get there”. Therefore David stated (Psalms 25:8): “God is good and upright, therefore He guides sinners on the way”. Now, if for murderers He establishes a path and a way by which to escape and save themselves, then how much more so for the righteous ones, as it states (Psalms 25:9): “He guides the humble with justice.” (Midrash Tanchuma, Masei #11)
We might not be inadvertent murderers, but there is a chance that our actions have caused damage. We too, sometimes are runners. And, just as there were Cities of Refuge in the dimension of space, I believe that we have Days of Refuge in the dimension of time. Just as God had Moshe prepare the way for those escaping for their lives, He has prepared the way and put up “signs” in time to guide us as we search for protection.
I imagine that those living in the Cities of Refuge felt cut off from the rest of civilization, but very intimately connected to those in the same plight. As they reflected on what had caused their life to take such a drastic turn, their individual introspection must have been magnified by those around them sharing a similar reality.
Some might consider the Three Weeks and Nine Days leading to Tisha B’Av as dreadful days, as days where we feel vulnerable to attacks, vulnerable to tragedy, and anything but protected.
Yet, I can’t help but feel sheltered in the cocoon of our People’s collective memories. It is tiring to always try to escape pain, to run, avoiding to look back over our shoulder.
I see the Seventeenth of Tammuz as the first road sign directing us to slow down, guiding us through the Three Weeks and Nine Days towards a place where it is safe to stop and feel.
It is when we mute the distractions of our daily lives, turn down the music and reduce the demands of our usual needs that we can tune in to ourselves- as a People and as individuals.
Leafing through the pages of our history- pages soaked with the tears of our suffering, and pages vibrating with the strength of our survival-, we can sense the power that connects us, and we can sense, through the layers of pain accumulated over the ages, God’s love still shining through. (see Rosh Chodesh Av: God’s Name)
It is also at this time that we can contemplate how our patterns of behavior keep on leading us back to same point; how every year, we are mourning the same loss, seeking refuge because of the same faults.
It is now that we can decide to change and fix, so that the signs that have guided us through times of sadness can become the signs pointing us towards the Final Redemption.