It is the custom of many Jews to refrain from listening to instrumental music during the Three Weeks, and many people – myself included – often struggle to cope with this eerily silent period of the year. But what we often forget is how the destruction of the Temple was, in a very real way, the day the music died.
While the Temple was the place for sacrificial worship, it was most significantly a place of song. In fact, we are told in the Gemara (Erchin 11a) that a sacrifice could not bring atonement if it was not accompanied by song.
However, as the final years of the Temple drew close, the song of the Temple ebbed away. According to Mishna Sotah (9:11) ‘when the Sanhedrin ceased, song ceased from the places of feasting’, and the Gemara (Gittin 7a) relates that song was forbidden following the destruction of the Temple. Basically, just as music and song enabled the Temple worship to provide atonement, it was incomprehendible to sing or enjoy music without the Temple.
As Jews went into exile, Jews continued to abstain from music. However, over time, music was re-introduced in certain communities, although it was avoided when played alongside wine drinking and excess levity.
Though we do not adhere to the original practice of refraining from listening to music throughout the year, at times of national tragedy such as the Three Weeks when we mourn the destruction of both Temples we adopt this position and avoid listening to instrumental music. In doing so, our discomfort from the eerie silence is meant to reflect our national pain and discomfort about the lack of a Temple.
But is this period only about discomfort and sadness? I don’t think so. Instead, in place of listening to song, our task during these days is to live our life as a song. According to Rav Kook (Orot HaKodesh Vol. II p. 445), the name ישראל is made up of the words שיר א-ל – the song of G-d, and I believe that this teaches us that every Jew is expected to live their lives as a song of G-d by reflecting His laws, His mercy and His kindness.
The period of the Three Weeks may be when many Jews no longer listen to music, but it is also a time when we should work a little harder to live our life as a song that brings joy and comfort to others.
May we merit the rebuilding of the Temple and the return of the ultimate song!