The Three Weeks between the fasts of Shivah Asar B’Tammuz and Tishah B’Av is a period of somber communal mourning. On the surface, we observe rites of mourning and refrain from joyous activities to commemorate the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. But how do we really feel? Between the beautiful summer weather, vacations and camps, do we really attain the proper mood? The religious challenge of feeling profound loss for a Temple we never witnessed is particularly difficult in our comfortable lives.
Addressing this problem directly is Dr. Erica Brown, celebrated adult educator about whom David Brooks recently wrote in the New York Times: “Brown has what many people are looking for these days.” Dr. Brown explores the root causes of why the Three Weeks period has lost its meaning in the contemporary Jewish community. She presents a perceptive and candid view of modern Jewish life. But her book is far more than an analysis of the problem. She has crafted a practical plan for an individual to cut through the summer languor and restore the spiritual quality of his Three Weeks experience. In The Narrow Places: Daily Inspiration for the Three Weeks provides a short essay for each day of the Three Weeks to help readers understand what the Jewish community has lost so that we can mourn with greater feeling. Dr. Brown focuses mainly on developing a personal relationship with God.
Each essay is followed by a kavanah, a specific spiritual focus for the day that involves reflection, imagination or action to integrate the learning. These weeks, somber as they are, present an exciting and important time for personal growth and introspection. “All growth,” Dr. Brown writes, “comes through discomfort. . . Discomfort alerts us to the fact that something is wrong.” Under Dr. Brown’s able tutelage, readers will find that the discomfort of the Three Weeks mourning period can bring God into their lives.