by Rabbi Zell
Jerry and Ruth Finkleman were among my parents’ closest friends. By day, Jerry was a salesman at a clothing store where finer gentleman acquired their attire. By night, Jerry, an accomplished saxophonist, led an ensemble that brought music into people’s lives at various venues – more often than not, at Jewish weddings. At this time of year, there was always a lull for Jerry and his ensemble, in that no weddings took place from the 17th of Tammuz, a date when the Romans breached the walls of the city of Jerusalem until after Tisha B’Av, when the Romans mirroring the Babylonians, destroyed the Holy Temple.
Although there are other ways to refer to this period of time, we of Eastern European descent, would without fail, refer to it by the Yiddish term “Drei Vochen” or three weeks. Why then didn’t we refer to these 21 days as Bein HaMetzarim (excerpted from Lamentations 1:3) or the Churban (a Hebrew term meaning destruction, appropriated by Yiddish speakers, to refer to the destruction of the first and second Temple in Jerusalem and more recently the Holocaust). Why did we employ the term Drei Vochen?
We Jews are a “time” people. We Jews are forever consulting the luach or Jewish calendar to find out exactly when Shabbos begins and ends. Yahrzeit observance is determined whether the passing occurred before or after sunset. Halachah deals with a situation where one has been knocked unconscious in a horrific accident. After coming to, the injured person does not know whether he has been unconscious for a matter of minutes, hours, or days. Other than being rescued, the chief concern – aside from food – is what to do as far as Shabbat observance, in that the survivor has no idea what day it is. Halachah asks that the survivor count seven days from the time he regained consciousness. That day and every seventh day thereafter becomes Shabbat for that survivor. However unforgettable the song “Sunrise Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof may be, it carries with it far deeper implications when it comes to time. So too does the term “Drei Vochen”, especially for those of us who refuse to acknowledge that an impending tragedy engineered by an enemy of our people maybe just a matter of time.
“Nu” is a word that finds its origin in the Russian language. When used by our people, especially as an exclamation, “nu” exudes Jewishness. As Jews, we detest being held in limbo. For those who see us as being impatient, “nu shoin” (enough already) confirms their suspicions. I, on the other hand, prefer to see “nu shoin” as pointing to us as being goal-oriented. We find evidence of this each week, during the Shabbat Shacharit service in the Kedushah prayer, where we ask HaShem: “when will You (again) reign in Zion?” We find evidence of this in the Talmud. Just as the very first words of the Torah are “In the beginning”, the very first words of the Talmud form the interrogative “From what time”. Lastly, for American Jews, “Jewish Standard Time” has been part of our culture for decades. Yet, there is a certain irony to the implied “what’s the rush” for those who set their watches to Jewish Standard Time. The very same individuals who seem to have no problem taking their own sweet time showing up for meetings or dinner engagements seem to morph into “Nu Shoin Jews” when it involves long-anticipated events. Among those events, “nu shoin Jews”, in addition to the arrival of the Moshiach, long for the concurrent peace of Jerusalem.
“Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the U.S.S.R. has placed, and is placing, medium- and intermediate-range missiles and sites in Cuba? Yes or no — don’t wait for the translation – yes, or no?… I am prepared to wait for an answer until Hell freezes over…”, remonstrated Adlai Stevenson, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations during the infamous Cuban Missile Crises of 1962. Little did Adlai Stevenson realize that his remarks would go down in the annals of history. Little did Adlai Stevenson realize that he would be teaching the world an invaluable lesson in history. When it comes to justice and truth, we are prepared to wait. Time is prepared to take a back seat and put itself on hold, as long as there is reason to believe, that eventually truth will triumph over falsehood, and right will declare victory over wrong.
We begin the “Drei Vochen” the last Sunday of this month. As we do so, we would do well to keep in mind, that halachically, we as a people are defined by time. Similarly, we would do well to consider, that as much as we bear the moniker of “Jewish Standard Time” we ought to take pride in being known as “nu shoin Jews”. Perhaps most important of all, “Drei Vochen “ serves to remind us that rather than “Drei Vochen” we are prepared to wait three millennia and maybe more, provided that lamentation is replaced by celebration and mourning is supplanted by joy.