Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Scrambled Eggs

As we fasted 17 Tammuz yet again, we have begun the mourning period known as "Bein Hametzarim" or "The Three Weeks." During this time it is customary for many to display signs of mourning and to reflect on the destruction of the Batei Mikdash. As the weeks progress the intensity of the mourning increases with the 9 days starting a much more severe expression of it. The week of Tisha B'Av is even more of a pronounced mourning time and Tisha B'Av itself is the ultimate display of public mourning.

The Gemara in Bechoros (8b) discusses the debate that Rebbi Yehoshua ben Chananya had with the elders of Athens. The questions and answers posed from one to the other were in the form of riddles and part of the challenge was to understand what was being asked. At one point the elders of Athens brought two eggs before Rebbi Yehoshua and demanded that he tell them which had been laid by a black (dark feathered) chicken and which was laid by a white chicken.

The Maharsha explains that the elders were bothered with the concept of "The Three Weeks." The Gemara earlier had stated that the incubation period of chicken is three weeks. The elders saw that there were two segments of three weeks in the Jewish calendar in which the Jewish people can achieve atonement. One is the three weeks beginning with Rosh Hashana and going until Hoshana Rabbah. This was understood by them as providing atonement as people focus on repentance during this time. As such they saw this as the white egg which will produce a white chick that came from a white chicken. Since white is symbolic with purity they were comparing this time period to a white chicken and the egg is symbolic of that which is being produced during this time period, purity. They understood that a white chick, a completely pure person, can emerge from such a pure time period.

What they did not understand is how a black chicken can also have a white egg and a white chick come about. The Three Weeks are a time of mourning and destruction. It is a time of sadness and retribution for sin. They did not understand how this can produce a pure person. To this Rebbi Yehoshua ben Chananya showed them that Klal Yisrael gets cleansed in one of two ways. Either we repent and come close to Hashem, or through his punishments He directs us back to Him. Either way, the outcome can be a purified Klal Yisrael.

May we merit to the transformation of these days of mourning into days of joy!

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