On the Jewish calendar, this is the time of year that we observe the Three Weeks. The Three Weeks are anchored at the beginning by the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, and at the end, by the fast of Tisha b’Av. During the Three Weeks, we remember and mourn the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem, and the exile of the Jews from Israel.
It is very interesting to note that much of the literature and prayers during the Three Weeks focus on the importance of charity. The Torah readings on both fast days emphasize how, as a people, we can be redeemed through charity.
Who are our role models that can teach us how to do charity?
Does that seem like a foolish question? To do charity, we should just do charity. But, it’s not really that simple. We live in a complex world, and in order to be successful at anything, we must have an organized system in place, or, in reality, nothing significant will really take place. Yes, even our giving of charity needs to be done in an organized and efficient matter. So, who are our role models? Sometimes, our best role models are right in our own backyard.
When I moved to Rhode Island a few years ago, one of the first things I noticed in our own backyard, was the roll out of a new project by the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island called, The Living on the Edge initiative. I was intrigued by that title. What did they mean by living on the edge? Did it have something to do with the fact that Rhode Island was surrounded by water? Gradually, as a member of the board of rabbis, I started to learn more about this important project, and I even participated in helping to execute the project.
The Living on the Edge initiative seeks to understand and assist those Jewish families living in Rhode Island that face economic challenges. As a rabbi, I was very moved by the first recommendation of the initiative, which states the following: “To teach the Torah of giving and receiving help.” I was very impressed, that not only did the leadership of our community want to improve the lives of all its families, but it wanted the Torah to be a major part of that process.
What better way for our community to observe the Three Weeks than to make sure that we are on board with this important initiative. By studying and understanding, and participating in the goals of this initiative, we are helping our community, and the Jewish world, move toward redemption during this pivotal time on the Jewish calendar. May we all merit to see a strong and unified Jewish people speedily in our time.
Rabbi Marc Mandel is the rabbi at Touro Synagogue in Newport.