It is customary to say divrei kivushin on a fast day after Minchah. We should first mention the special quality of the Minchah prayer. Our Sages said (Berachos 6b) that, "The prophet Eliyahu was answered only at the Minchah prayer." We see from this that it is an auspicious time for prayer -- when everyone's prayers are readily received.
Certainly the Minchah prayer on Shabbos is special, as seen from the fact that we recite the verse stating that it is, "an auspicious time." The Zohar explains that all negative forces are transformed at this time to the positive. However, from the description of the story of Eliyahu and the various actions which were done, it is apparent that it took place on a weekday.
The fact that his prayer's acceptance was attributed to the fact that it was Minchah proves that even a weekday Minchah has a special quality. This is also seen from the well-known saying of the Previous Rebbe that Minchah comes out in the middle of the day, unlike the other prayers, which come either before or after the day's work. In order to daven Minchah, though, one must make the extra effort to tear oneself away from work, making it extremely precious in the eyes of G-d.
In such a special time, it is obvious that everything must have reached a high level of holiness, and even things which were negative have been transformed to good. In our case, the divrei kivushin, which could indicate admonishment for transgression, instead take on a positive tone. In this context, the word kivushin comes from the phrase, "He will suppress (yich'bosh) our iniquities and cast all their sins into the depth of the sea." Even moreso, the sins should be transformed into merits, and everyone should reach the level of a baal teshuvah, which a tzaddik cannot even hope to reach.
The abovementioned applies to every fast day. There are also particular lessons to be derived from a) the 17th of Tammuz, b) of the weekly parshah, c) of the daily section of the parshah, and d) of the daily section of Rambam.
The Mishnah tells us that five tragedies occurred on the 17th of Tammuz. Each one contains a lesson for us, and it is difficult to pick one for discussion. However, since in today's Selichos there is a pizmon which repeatedly stresses the breaking of the wall of Yerushalayim, we will discuss this aspect.
A wall has both physical and spiritual meaning. In the physical sense, a wall protects those within from undesirable invaders, and in addition, unites those within its boundaries into a single existence. When this wall is broken, both these functions are disturbed -- enemies can enter the city, and people can freely leave the city, thereby affecting its unity.
The "spiritual wall" has corresponding characteristics. The wall which surrounds "Yerushalayim" unites all Jews into a single existence through total ahavas Yisrael. This unites not only them, but all their possessions. This can be readily understood from the law of an ir ha'nidachas (an idolatrous city), of which all the inhabitants are executed, and all their possessions -- including the animals, plants, and parts of the inorganic kingdom -- are destroyed.
If this is the case in the negative, certainly the same applies in the positive -- that the wall of Yerushalayim affects all the inhabitants and all their possessions. This can be explained in a Jew's service of G-d, as explained in the beginning of Torah Or, that every person has within him aspects which correspond to the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms.
Therefore, when this wall is broken, everything within its boundaries is affected. And since physical matters derive their existence and evolve from the spiritual, this spiritual breakage eventually became manifested in the breach of the physical wall.
As mentioned above, however, we must find a positive meaning within the concept of the wall being breached. We can understand this by first comparing it to another event which occurred on this day, the breaking of the Tablets. In spite of the fact that this was a negative event, we still find that G-d thanked Moshe for breaking them.
Rashi explains this by bringing a metaphor. Imagine a king who went on a trip and left his queen behind. The queen's servants behaved immorally, and a rumor spread that the queen herself had been involved. Fearing that the king would execute her, his advisor destroyed the proof that they were married. Here, the king is G-d; the queen, the Jewish people; her servants, the mixed multitude; the advisor, Moshe; and the proof, the Tablets. Knowing that only the mixed multitude had served the Golden Calf, Moshe broke the Tablets in order that G-d should differentiate between them and the Jews, and spare them. In a deeper sense, breaking the Tablets caused the Jews to do teshuvah, and thereby reach a higher level than was possible beforehand.
"Breaking the wall" can also be explained in a positive sense. A wall is a boundary and limitation which denotes where the city ends. There is an idea of breaking limitations in a holy way, by going beyond all limitations in the performance of holy deeds. This is indicated by the verse, "To live in a Yerushalayim without walls" (prozos teisheiv Yerushalayim).
There is a special lesson to be derived from the fact that the 17th of Tammuz falls out this year on Tuesday, the third day of the week. On this day, G-d said twice that, "It is good," meaning that it is, "Good for the heavens and good for the creations" (tov lashamayim v'tov la'bri'os).
This combines the highest and lowest levels imaginable. The Alter Rebbe explains in Tanya (Ch. 32) that the term "creations" (bri'os) is used to refer to people who are so low that the only positive thing one could possibly say about them is that they were created by G-d. On the other hand, he explains (Iggeres HaKodesh, Ch. 20) that the word "heavens" (shamayim) includes the highest levels, even the very essence of G-d.
These two characteristics of the day -- that it is both "good for the heavens" and "good for the creations" -- do not merely exist at different times of the day. One might think that when involved in Torah study, for example, it is "good for the heavens," and when praying for one's personal needs, it is "good for the creations." However, each moment of the day is equally good both for the "heavens" and the "creations."
According to this we can understand the special quality of the 17th of Tammuz falling on a Tuesday. Through the service of teshuvah -- which, as mentioned above, is the idea of the fast day -- one can instantaneously transform one's personal matters (which resemble the idea of "creations") and holy matters ("heavens") to a state of perfection. Even if a moment before one was totally lacking in both areas, teshuvah can elevate one to a level higher than that of a tzaddik.
The lesson from parshas Pinchas is evident from the simple story. There was a serious lapse in the behavior of the Jewish people which was stopped by Pinchas. As a result, he was rewarded with an eternal covenant. This is similar to the idea of teshuvah -- that a negative event can lead to something positive. Furthermore, our Sages point out that, "Pinchas is Eliyahu," who will be the one to announce that the Jewish people have done teshuvah, and that the time has come for redemption.
In the daily portion, from the beginning of the third to the beginning of the fourth section, it is written (Num. 26:53-55), "Among these people you shall divide the land...However, the land shall be divided by a lottery system." A lottery transcends all rational considerations, corresponding to a type of G-dly service which breaks through all limitations. This is the idea of teshuvah, which transforms the person into a totally new kind of existence. This is similar to "breaking the walls" in a holy way, which leads to the Messianic redemption, which also transcends all boundaries.
Another concept inherent in the idea of this lottery is that also it is so extremely high, it nevertheless affects the low physical realm -- that it determines the division of the physical land. Since high and low are opposites, there must be a completely new type of revelation in order to combine the two. This is a level which is so intense that both high and low are equal before it, and can therefore turn the most extreme regression into the most sublime ascent.
In the daily portion of Rambam it is explained that just as a sacrifice -- indeed anything brought for G-d -- has to be free of blemish, so too the Kohen who brought the offering had to be free of blemish.
The sacrificial service exists even today in the idea of prayer, which was established to correspond to the sacrificial order. In a way, it exists in an even stronger way than before, since the sacrifices could only be offered by Kohanim, whereas prayer is incumbent upon every individual -- he cannot rely on someone else, even the Kohen Gadol himself. From this we can understand that the law that a Kohen must be without blemish also applies to every single Jew.
In today's portion (Hilchos Bias HaMikdash 6:1), the Rambam writes, "Any Kohen with a blemish, whether permanent or temporary, may not enter the Temple." This law contains an extraordinary lesson regarding teshuvah.
We must first explain that even teshuvah can be used in a negative way. This is when the person says, "I will sin and later do teshuvah," and then performs the transgression. In such a case, teshuvah actually caused him to sin, and for this reason such a person, "doesn't get the opportunity to do teshuvah."
However, the Alter Rebbe explains in Tanya (Iggeres HaTeshuvah, Ch. 11) that even in such a case it is only that he "doesn't get the opportunity." If he tries hard enough, even in this case his teshuvah can be accepted. This being the case, a person might say, "I will sin and later do teshuvah," then push himself hard enough that his teshuvah is accepted, and then be tempted to say "I will sin and later do teshuvah" a second time!
Here the lesson from the law regarding a temporary blemish becomes relevant. Why is it that even a temporary blemish renders the Kohen unfit? It is not because we are in doubt whether it is indeed temporary or permanent -- even if we would be certain that it is temporary, he would still be ineligible. The reason is that since at this very moment he has a blemish, this is enough to render him unfit, even if at a later time it will disappear.
In spiritual terms, a Jew has no such thing as a "permanent blemish" -- such a thing is impossible! The only thing which could be is a temporary blemish; the person thinking that, "I will sin and later do teshuvah," thereby even gaining the special advantage of a baal teshuvah.
The answer to such an attitude is contained in this law -- being unfit for that single moment is enough to disqualify one from entering the Temple and bringing a sacrifice. Even if one knows for sure that it will be corrected in the immediate future -- and even if through it one will reach an even higher level (that of a baal teshuvah) -- it does not take away from the lack in the present. At that moment he may not bring a sacrifice (korban), which brings him close (karov) to G-d, which is something of permanent, not just temporary value.
We will conclude with the distribution of dollars for each one to pass on for charity, with himself adding on. And since, "Charity hastens the redemption," we should immediately merit the fulfillment of the promise (Zechariah 8:19), "The fast of the fourth month [Tammuz]...shall be transformed to joy, gladness and holiday," with the arrival of Moshiach.