Adapted from Likkutei Sichos,
Yud-Beis Tammuz and Bein HaMetzarim
The Three Weeks between the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av are referred to by our Sages as Bein HaMetzarim ("between the straits"), and are marked by several customs associated with mourning.
As its name implies, this is a difficult period: it commemorates the calamities which occurred between the breaching of the walls surrounding Jerusalem and the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash itself. Even in our day, it is considered an unfavorable time for the Jewish people.
Despite its tragic associations, this period is characterized by strong positive spiritual influences. On the temporal plane, this is reflected in the fact that the period of Bein HaMetzarim falls in the summer. Everything that transpires in our material world is a reflection of the corresponding spiritual forces that operate in the higher realms. Moreover, the way any entity functions on the physical plane results from relationships between these spiritual forces which are the source of all material existence.
As such, every tangible entity serves as a material illustration of these forces. For example: The sun is associated with the Four-Letter Divine Name v-u-v-h. As it is written, "For Yud-Kei-Vav-Kei and Elokim are like the sun and [its] shield." The Name Yud-Kei-Vav-Kei expresses the Divine attributes of mercy and revelation. The shining of the sun, especially during the Three Weeks when it is at its most powerful, thus indicates the prevalence of intense G-dly mercy.
The tragic nature of the Three Weeks and its status as a time in which G-d's mercy is manifest, are not mutually exclusive. The inner motivating force of the Three Weeks is G-d's love. However, genuine love can at times require conduct which appears harsh. When a father chastises his son, it is unpleasant for both son and father, but the father is no doubt motivated only by a deep concern for his son's growth and development.
Likewise, cleaning a small child who has soiled himself is not always a comfortable process. For a father to subject an infant to this discomfort requires a very unselfish sort of love, a love powerful enough to outweigh his natural aversion to causing his child pain. This kind of love is the hidden content of the Three Weeks.
The positive and overtly recognizable aspect of this love will be revealed in the Era of the Redemption, when "all the [commemorative] fasts will be annulled and will be transformed into holidays and days of rejoicing." At that time, the hidden dimension of G-d's love will surface and become manifest.
In our day, we are standing on the threshold of the Redemption; we are, in fact, in the process of crossing that threshold.
The Redemption is no longer a distant dream - it is an increasingly manifest reality. Moreover, we can now already savor a foretaste of the Redemption and sense the positive dimension of the Three Weeks at present, even though we are still in exile.
Although our Sages teach that "When the month of Av begins, we minimize our joy," celebrations associated with a mitzvah are permitted. In order to express our appreciation of the positive nature of the Three Weeks, we should take every possible opportunity to celebrate such occasions. On each of the [first] Nine Days of Av, for example, one can celebrate the festive conclusion of the study of a Talmudic tractate by conducting a siyum.
Our emphasis on the positive dimension of the Three Weeks should also motivate us to intensify our study of the laws governing the construction of the Beis HaMikdash. Doing so will focus our attention on its building rather than on its destruction.
When G-d revealed the structural details of the future Beis HaMikdash to the prophet Yechezkel, He told him, "Tell the people of Israel of the House... and measure its design."
Yechezkel, as our Sages relate, replied:
"Master of the Universe! Why are You telling me to tell Israel of the form of the House?... They are now in exile in the land of our enemies. Is there anything they can do? Let them be until they return from exile. Then I will go and inform them."
G-d answered: "Should the construction of My House be ignored because My children are in exile?... The study of the Torah's [description of the Beis HaMikdash] is deemed equal to its [actual] construction. Go, tell them to study the form of the Beis HaMikdash. And, as a reward for their study..., I will consider it as if they had actually built the Beis HaMikdash!"
One of the 613 mitzvos of the Torah is the commandment to build a Sanctuary, and its fulfillment is incumbent upon every Jewish man and woman. It is clear from the above Midrash that by studying the laws of the Beis HaMikdash, a person fulfills his obligation to build a Sanctuary, for G-d describes this study as "the building of My House."
A similar concept is expressed in the Rambam's choice of the verse, "Seek out the welfare of Jerusalem, those who love you shall find repose," as the introductory verse of Sefer Avodah, "The Book of Divine Service." This choice implies an obligation to "seek out the welfare of Jerusalem" and to concern ourselves with the structure of the Beis HaMikdash, even though we are at present incapable of actually constructing it.
Though these concepts were known in previous generations, they are of much greater relevance at present, because there is a difference between studying laws relating to a mitzvah one is about to perform, and studying a theoretical subject. We should study the laws of the Beis HaMikdash with the anticipation of a bar-mitzvah boy learning the laws of tefillin. For in the very near future, we will actually participate in building the very structure we are studying.
This kind of study will serve as a catalyst to uncover the positive dimension of the Three Weeks. And then we will merit the fulfillment of the prayer, "Rebuild Your House as in former times and establish Your Sanctuary on its site; let us behold its construction, and cause us to rejoice in its completion." May this take place in the immediate future.
- (Back to text) See the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 551:16-18, and the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, ch. 122.
- (Back to text) The dates of the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av are discussed in Taanis 26a, 28b ff. Note also the statement of our Sages (ibid. 29b, quoted by the Shulchan Aruch, loc. cit., para. 1) that a Jew who has a lawsuit with a gentile should postpone it until after the month of Av.
- (Back to text) Tehillim 84:12.
- (Back to text) As explained in the Kabbalah and in the Midrash (Shmos Rabbah 3:6), the various Names of G-d represent different manifestations of His attributes.
For example, the Name v-u-v-h is associated with the power of revelation (represented above by "the sun"), while the name "Elokim" is associated with the power of self- concealment (represented above by "[its] shield"). See the maamar entitled VeYadata 5657 (English translation; Sichos In English, N.Y., 1993) for a more detailed explanation of the mystical connotations of these names and their interaction.
- (Back to text) See Bereishis Rabbah 12:15 and the Zohar I, 173b, 251b.
- (Back to text) See Torah Or, Parshas Yisro, p. 69d; Tanya, Shaar HaYichud VehaEmunah, ch. 6; and other sources.
- (Back to text) This analogy is used by the prophets; see Yeshayahu 4:4.
- (Back to text) See also the essay below entitled "From Exile to Redemption," which elaborates on the Divine love underlying the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and the exile of our people.
- (Back to text) Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Taaniyos 5:19, based on Zechariah 8:19.
- (Back to text) See the essay entitled "On the Threshold of the Redemption," as well as the essay entitled "Open Your Eyes," in Sound the Great Shofar (Kehot, N.Y., 1992).
- (Back to text) Taanis 26b, cited by the Rambam, loc. cit. 5:6.
- (Back to text) See Rama, Orach Chayim, loc. cit. 551:10.
- (Back to text) This allows for a non-literal interpretation of our Sages' statement cited above, "When Av enters, we minimize [its apparently negative dimensions] with joy"; i.e., happiness serves as a medium to minimize the month's severity.
- (Back to text) Even on Tishah BeAv itself a siyum should be held, for it is permitted to conclude the study of Tractate Moed Katan on that day.
- (Back to text) Such siyumim are not simply intended to provide opportunities for eating meat. As noted in Sefer Minhagim (English translation; Kehot, N.Y., 5752), p. 95, the meal with which the Rebbe Rashab used to honor each such siyum during the Nine Days, included neither wine nor meat.
- (Back to text) Yechezkel 43:10.
- (Back to text) Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Tzav, sec. 14.
- (Back to text) See Sefer HaMitzvos, Positive Mitzvos 20; Sefer HaChinuch, mitzvah 95.
- (Back to text) Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Beis HaBechirah 1:12.
- (Back to text) Tehillim 122:6.
- (Back to text) The prophet Yirmeyahu (30:17) laments that "Zion has none that show concern for her." This shows that we ought to show concern for her (Rosh HaShanah 30a).
- (Back to text) The Mussaf service for festivals (Siddur Tehillat HaShem, p. 263).