“In dire straits” or “between narrow straits” is a phrase taken from the Book of Lamentations, describing the destruction of the First Temple. It means a state of extreme distress.
“Judah has gone into captivity, under affliction and hard servitude; She dwells among the nations, she finds no rest; All her persecutors overtake her in dire straits.” (Lamentations 1:3 NKJV)
In Judaism the term refers to the squeezing, narrow, difficult days, days that led to destruction and exile. A strait is also a dangerously narrow place that a ship must get through while carefully navigating so as to not be shipwrecked on the rocks on both sides as it slowly moves forward.
In Jewish tradition the three-week time period we are in right now is also called the dire straits, at this time of the year in the Hebrew calendar. The days begin on the 17th of Tammuz – this is the date on which the Jerusalem wall was breached. And they end on the 9th of Av, the date on which the First and Second Temples were destroyed.
That siege took place thousands of years ago, but the Straits have remained with us from then until today. There are good reasons for their remaining in our consciousness and in the Hebrew calendar. These days serve as a wake-up call. It seems that every year during the hot Israeli summer we witness a great difficulty. Sometimes it is external or internal war. Sometimes it is a tearing of the social fabric holding us together – through hatred, quarreling and separation that get emotions boiling and that squeeze in upon our souls. All throughout history there have been many times in which people experienced being in dire straits.
This year is no exception. The days between the straits are hard days. The political and economic situation closes in on us all. A strait is a narrow place with only one dimension – difficulty. When I am in the strait I see only that life is narrowing in on me. Hope, joy and love seem distant. I see only how I have no room, only what is missing in my life. I don’t know how to get out of the struggle.
A narrow place is a difficult place without hope. We have all been there at one time or another, and there are many there right now who don’t think their situation can change!
But this is not the case.
How can a person get through his or her present difficulty, into a broad and spacious place, into times of refreshing? Many relevant Bible passages are in dialogue with Lamentations 1:3, such as:
“He also brought me out into a broad place; He delivered me because He delighted in me.” (Psalms 18:19 NKJV)
“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…” (Acts 3:19 NIV)
But this will also involve our will. When I decide that I no longer want the self-pity of being in dire straits; the difficulty and the pain; that I want to return to my other dimensions; to the spaces of joy and love; then the change can begin.
The strait does not open all at once. Slowly. Intentionally. Waiting. Listening.
Slowly we begin to see life in a different, better light. In recent days I have seen more and more initiatives of kindness in Israel, despite the summer heat:
- Help for a new mother.
- Help for a lone female soldier.
- Initiatives that bring individuals and groups together despite diversity.
- Distributing food anonymously to families in severe financial distress.
These days invite us to be open, to connect and to be agreeable. They invite us to selfless love, to selfless giving.
And when our “ship” finally gets through the rocky straits, new directions and endless possibilities will open up before us.