The 17th of Tamuz:
A Three Weeks Perspective
This time of the year is very difficult. The Jewish calendar is rich with joyful occasions gracing each month. Delicious flavors of Shabbos, Yom Tov and jovial days inspire our lives. I have often thought about the contrast of how easy it is to celebrate a Yom Tov, versus how difficult it is to get into the mind-set and feelings of the Days of Mourning. Indeed, from the 17th of Tamuz until after Tisha B’Av, we are in a twenty-one day period of national mourning, for the loss of the Bais HaMikdash. How do we connect?
Rav Shimshon Pincus zt”l gives a beautiful parable that sends chills up my spine and never fails to strike cords in my heart. If one attends a wedding, he is surrounded by hundreds of dancing and excited people. It is often hard to tell who exactly is a close friend or family member versus just an average attender. This is because people are easily drawn into the celebration and fun atmosphere. However, when attending a funeral, (may Heaven protect us) the close family and friends are easy to detect.
So too, he finishes, throughout the joyous occasions of the year, we all celebrate with Hashem and dance along. This is not the test of true closeness. It is only when we reach this sad time of the year, that we reveal our true standings between us and Hashem. The real relatives are easy to identify. True and powerful words.
So how can one work on this in a practical way? Let us understand what this fast is all about and why Chazal (Taanis 26a) saw fit to declare this time of the year one of sadness and introspection. Five significant catastrophes occurred on this day: (1) The luchos, tablets, were broken. (2) The korban tamid was stopped from being offered. (3) The city of Yerushalayim was penetrated and its downfall began. (4) Apustomus burned a Sefer Torah. (5) An idol was stood up inside the Bais HaMikdash. What is the common denominator between all five events? They all represent a downward fall, yet one that does not immediately catch the eye. Let us understand this.
There was once a man who was driving, when suddenly a small rock hit his windshield. It left a tiny crack in the glass. Insurance paperwork was too complicated and he didn’t have the $300 to get it fixed, so he decided that it could wait. As the weeks went by, the crack got larger and began to disturb his driving. Soon the crack had spread throughout a large portion of his window. One day, he was driving on the highway, and a truck tire sent a rock right towards him. This time, it took out the entire glass pane! He pulled over to clear the glass off his lap and to wait for the tow-truck. Now it would cost him more time, energy and money to fix!
In life, we often see small problems emerging; we know full well that they can be fixed, but that it would take much work and perhaps money. And so we delay. I meant to fix that, we say. I know my relationship with my spouse or child needs more work, but… I meant to apologize… I meant to bring it in…. I really wanted to go learn or daven…. Unfortunately, often, our problems do not get smaller or easier with the passing of time. Sometimes, we begin to make a change, but then one day, we stop (with valid justification!), and somehow, we never get back on track. Often, in retrospect, it is difficult to even put our finger upon where, when and how the downfall started. We just have the present situation which is a sad deterioration from where we wish to be.
We are all idealistic and growth oriented people. We truly want to use our lives productively and find enjoyment in serving Hashem. But life goes on and it is hard to change our daily routines. That is where The Three Weeks enter the scene. All five events represent a small, yet significant start towards a downward spiral. The luchos being smashed, could have been a forgotten event. After all, the Jews repented and received a second set. However, Chazal tell us that in truth the world would have been a different place had the Jews not sinned with the Golden Calf which warranted the destruction of the luchos. No one would have ever forgotten their learning, and Mashiach would have come in that generation. A small event, yet it reshaped history. The korban tamid was the last remaining merit that the Jews had to remain in control of their homeland. Its halt and the desecration of the Mikdash began a new era, one that had been unknown for close to a thousand years since the Exodus. It was called galus, exile. Yerushalayim put up a good fight to keep the enemy out. Once their wall was breached and they lost some of their bravest and strongest men (see Josephus for a full description), their morale was lowered and it was only a matter of time until the enemy would have full control of the the once illustrious city.
Catch It and Mend It
Chazal want to sensitize and train us to nip the trouble in the bud. To learn to recognize and isolate destructive and dangerous behaviors and begin to fix them, to prevent their spread. Hashem wants to be close with us. Now is the time to reawaken our hearts to pursue Him as we truly and deeply desire to.
The Seforim state a profound idea. From Rosh Hashanah (the 1st day of Tishrey) until the last day of Sukkos (21 Tishrey), there are twenty-one days. So too, correspondingly, we have twenty-one days from the fast of the 17th of Tamuz until the 9th of Av. What does this mean? Just as the days of Tishrey are days of achieving Simcha and closeness to Hashem, so too, this time period is meant to be utilized for building closeness to Hashem as well. Only, it is in a different mode. The Tishrey holidays focus on our celebration for being Hashem’s nation. The three weeks in the summer revolve around our recognizing how we strive to mourn together with Hashem in pain for our loss and lack of togetherness. They are days of recognizing how our lack of closeness has caused us terrible suffering and pain throughout history.
During this time period, we work towards mending our relationship with Hashem and each other. We strive to pinpoint the areas that are beginning to wane and to make the proper alterations. We wish to be united with Hashem and our fellow people. In this merit, may we see these days transformed into the greatest happiness and redemption, as Hashem has promised us and longs to fulfill.