Here are various links giving some historical background and other explanations for the 3 Weeks
The 3 week period runs from the 17th of Tammuz until the 9th of Av. It is generally considered a negative period of time. Most people and writings speak of this period as relating to physical events in history like the Destruction of the Temple or the Destruction of Jerusalem. Our sages have us perform 2 fasts during this period - One is on the 17th of Tammuz - the beginning of the period - has a partial fast from morning to sunset. And one is on the 9th of Av - the end of the period - a 25 hour fast.
The Kabbalists teach us that there is no physical item that becomes a cause of anything in our physical world. The cause is always spiritual. So to understand this period we need to deal with the spiritual causes. There is a teaching by the Kabbalists that there is an angel who receives the energy of each day of the year. This angel is a different angel for each day of the year. Each action that is done by each person is given to this angel when the actions are done on a specific day. The Kabbalists teach that the SATAN - the Angel of Death - receives the energy on the 9th of AV. It is also taught that it takes 3 weeks to build up to any specific manifestation. The Kabbalists teach us that these 3 weeks lead to the manifestation of both the Destruction of the Spiritual Temple by the Satan and also the Birth of the Mashiach which occurs on the same day and takes 3 weeks to manifest as well.
With the above in mind, let us see what happened in this period throughout the years so that we can see the spiritual cause behind these physical actions. On the 17th of Tammuz Moshe returned from Mt Sinai with the first set of Tablets. He found the nation involved with idol worshiping the Golden Calf. He broke the Tablets. He returned to Mt Sinai on the First of Elul and returned on Yom Kippur bringing the second set of Tablets. On the 17th of Tammuz both times the Temple was destroyed; the city of Jerusalem's walls were pierced by the destroyers. The spies returned to the Nation in the Wilderness after touring the Land of Israel and choosing to become spies for the Nation rather than Tourists. The Temples were destroyed on the 9th of AV and also the expulsion from Spain in 1492 took place on the 9th of Av. Also, the Jewish Problem White Paper was issued on the 9th of Av during the German Reich and the second World War. There are many more items of destruction throughout history that takes place during this 3 week period.
It is clear from the above that 17th of Tammuz was to have been a happy period culminating in the 9th of Av with the birth of Mashiach and the entry into the Land of Israel. Unfortunately, man's actions effect our physical world in both directions - positively and negatively. Therefore, this period is considered negative. Thus, it is recommended that one mourn the loss of the Temples, and at the same time one needs to look forward to coming birth/manifestation of Mashiach. What will you do to make that happen?
In the least look forward to the 7 weeks of consolation that lead up to Rosh Hashana! Prepare your Teshuvah; Perform your Teshuvah; Turn to HaShem!
When misfortune strikes, how can you feel close to G-d? Most people feel distant and isolated wondering where G-d is and why G-d doesn’t help them. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Strangely enough, it is in these moments of calamity that HaShem is especially close to us. We need to understand why this is true.
The Talmud in tractate Yoma 54a describes G-d's love for the Jewish people. R. Kattina said: Whenever Israel came up for the Festival, the curtain (in the Temple) would be removed for them and the Cherubim (the angel-like male and female statues) were shown to them, whose bodies were embracing one another. They would then be addressed: Look! You are beloved before God as the love between man and woman.
The Gemara continues and describes the position of Cherubim at the moment when the Temple was destroyed: Resh Lakish said, "When the heathens entered the Temple and saw the Cherubim their bodies were embracing one another."
Our commentators point out (the Marasha in the name of the Ritvah): The Cherubim embracing one another at the moment when the Temple was destroyed is in direct contradiction with the Gemara in Baba Bathra 99a which asks: How did they (the Cherubim) stand? R. Johanan and R. Eleazar, are in dispute on the matter. One Says: They faced each other; and the other says: Their faces were inward. But according to him who says that they faced each other, it may be asked: Is it not written, “And their faces were inward”? This is no difficulty: The former was at a time when Israel obeyed the will of the Omnipresent; the latter was at a time when Israel did not obey the will of the Omnipresent.
At the time of our utmost destruction and devastation the Cherubim were embracing one another. If this is a measurement of HaShem's love for us then why should it coincide with such a terrible punishment? Yet the fact is that HaShem had a great love for us at the time of the destruction of the Temple.
We see from the Ramban in Bereishis 19:17 an example of this principle from the destruction of Sodom and Amorrah: Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer chpt. 25 states: "The angels said to them, 'Do not look behind you since the Divine Presence of the Holy One, blessed be He, has descended to rain brimstone and fire upon Sodom and Gomorrah.' The compassion of Edis, Lot's wife, welled up for her married daughters who were in Sodom, and she looked behind her to see if they were following her. She thereupon saw the back of the Divine Presence and she became a pillar of salt.
Within the fire and brimstone HaShem was close and revealed to those who were receiving His fury. Why can’t HaShem punish the wicked from a distance? Can’t the judgment be carried out by the heavenly hosts? Why does HaShem need to be there?
The Talmud in Nedarim 40a states: Rabin said in Rab's name: From where do we know that the Almighty sustains the sick? From the verse, The Lord will strengthen him upon the bed of languishing. Rabin also said in Rab's name: Whence do we know that the Divine Presence rests above an invalid's bed? From the verse, The Lord doth set himself upon the bed of languishing. It was taught likewise: He who visits the sick must not sit upon the bed, or on a stool or a chair, but must reverently robe himself and sit upon the ground, because the Divine Presence rests above an invalid's bed, as it is written, The Lord doth set himself upon the bed of languishing.
When HaShem chastises someone he does so with a special love and closeness. Why is this such and essential ingredient in the execution of HaShem's punishments?
There was once a child in cheder (school) whose inappropriate behavior demanded a strike from his Rebbi. The Rebbi calmly sat down and read from the Book of Psalms for several minutes then went outside for a walk. When the Rebbi returned, he walked directly up to the child and implemented the punishment which was justly needed to set the boy back on the proper path. Though difficult at the moment, the young boy decided to correct his ways for he knew that his Rebbi acted out of love and truth and not from his personal anger or resentment.
When we know that HaShem is close to us and loves us, his judgments and punishments will bring us to repentance and the perfection of our deeds. It is only within the embrace of HaShem's love for us and the awareness of His altruism that we can perceive the truth and justice of His degrees. The three weeks is a time when we mourn over the destruction of our holy Temple. Let us take to heart this terrible and dreadful degree and rebuild the Temple with our whole hearted repentance and good deeds.
The Talmudic sources were quoted from Rabbi Chaim Smulowitz, the late Rav Rosh Yeshiva of Mirrer z’tzal
A series of restrictions is associated with the period of time between the 17 of Tammuz and Tisha B'Av.
By Rabbi Robert Goodman
Reproduced with permission from Teaching Jewish Holidays: History Values and Activities (A.R.E. Publishing, Inc.).
The three weeks prior to and ending with Tisha B'Av are known as Bayn HaMetsarim, which means "in the Straits." The haftarah portions [prophetic readings] for these three weeks are Jeremiah 1:2-28, 2:4-28, 3:4, and Isaiah 1:1-27. They call for the people to perform acts of repentance and to be firm in their faith. God will not abandon them even though all seems lost.
While these are three weeks of mourning, the nine days prior to Tisha B'Av are more intense in observance of the rules of mourning than the first 12 days. No weddings or other joyous festivities are held during the entire 21-day period. During the last nine days of the period, no meat is eaten. There are to be no haircuts, no clothes washed unless they are to be worn again during these nine days, and no ironed clothes are worn.
The practice among Reconstructionist, Reform, and Conservative Jews ranges from full observance of the 21 days to observance of the nine-day period to observance of only Tisha B'Av itself.
Re-enacting the sorrow felt by those who survived the destruction of the Temple
By Rabbi Irving Greenberg
Reprinted with permission of the author from The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays.
In classic Jewish style, the fundamental model of Tisha B'Av is a reenactment of that tragic historical orienting event. In going through the four historical fast days, Jews relive the stages of destruction of the First and Second Temples as well as the loss of Jewish sovereignty. (It is interesting, in light of the role that food plays in Jewish culture, that intense grief and guilt are expressed by giving up food!)
While the primary model is reenactment, the halakhah [Jewish law] also draws upon its imagery of grief for a dead member of the immediate family. There is this difference, however, between grief over death of a loved one and mourning an historical tragedy: In the case of a death in the family, the shock of loss sets in motion the sorrow and mourning that come pouring out in the shiva, the seven days of mourning that come after the death and burial. When reliving historical tragedy, one knows the outcome at the outset. Thus, the sense of doom and grief builds up before the day actually arrives. The day of Destruction is a culmination of the grief, but immediately thereafter--since nothing can be done to prevent the tragedy from happening--the psychological balance shifts toward the renewal of life.
The first fast day in the sequence is the 10th day of Tevet, the day on which the siege of Jerusalem began in 586 B.C.E. However, since the day occurs more than six months before the date of the actual Destruction, the pang of recollection on this day has not had so much resonance. The same can be said of the last day in the sequence, the Fast of Gedaliah, occurring the third of Tishri. Coming two months after Tisha B'Av and dwarfed by the propinquity of Yom Kippur, the Fast of Gedaliah has had a limited impact. Both of these fast days begin at dawn, whereas Tisha B'Av starts at sundown on the previous night. On Tisha B'Av, the sorrow is so total that it goes beyond fasting to giving up such other pleasures as washing, cosmetic anointing of the body and sexual relations. Not so the other three fast days, on which deprivation is limited to fasting.
The primary liturgy of grief for the Destruction is acted out in the three-week period between the 17th day of Tammuz and the ninth of Av. It should be noted that these two days antedate the Talmud. When the Rabbis brought the two days together in a choreography of grief reenactment, the three weeks were gradually filled in, to help the mourners recreate the rising crescendo of destruction. The halakhah structured the entire period into five stages of grief, corresponding to the imminence of catastrophe. The underlying experience that the individual should live through is that of a first-century Jerusalem defender who goes through the siege from inception to becoming a prisoner of the Romans at the climax.
17 Tammuz: The wall of Jerusalem has been penetrated by the Romans, a clear signal that the end is coming. Jews, feeling the shock of forthcoming destruction, do not eat from sunrise to sunset. Penitential prayers are recited, summoning up the many terrible occurrences on this day.
After this day, the intensity drops as people settle in for the terminal state of siege. The final part of the siege is reenacted during we three weeks between the two terminal days (17 Tammuz to 9 Av). While the city of Jerusalem is gradually reduced, Jews correspondingly intensify their grief and anxiety. Weddings are prohibited because the joy of marriage is incompatible with the mood of sorrow. Engagements are permitted for fear that by postponement they may be lost, though engagement parties are not held.
There are other grief rituals during the three weeks: taking no hair-cuts (in ancient times, letting hair grow long was a sign of mourning) and performing no acts that would inspire a blessing of Sheheheyanu (the blessing for something new and joyful), such as buying new clothes, a new home, a new car, or eating a new fruit for the first time in a year. (If the fruit will no longer be available after Tisha B'Av, this restriction is waived on Shabbat because on the Sabbath the fantasy of a perfect world still operates).
The symbolic statement in these self-denials is: Who has the faith to go out and buy new things or plan for the future? Who has the heart to try to look good when the end is clearly drawing near?
Throughout the three weeks, prophetic portions that proclaim Israel's sin and the forthcoming destruction are read in the synagogue. The last of these prophetic phillipics, Hazon Yeshayahu, the Vision of Isaiah (Isaiah 1), is a devastating critique of the sin and corruption of Israel. In anticipation of sorrow, the portion is sung in the melody of Eichah, the Lamentations of Tisha B'Av. Chazon is always read on the Shabbat preceding the ninth of Av; that Shabbat has become known as Shabbat Hazon (vision).
From the beginning of the month of Av, there is a countdown of nine days to Destruction. The grief intensifies. In the initial Talmudic phase, the most intense mourning rituals were observed during the week in which Tisha B'Av itself occurred. Over the years, however, the entire nine days have become a unit of mourning among Ashkenazic Jews. Sephardic Jews generally restrict these deprivations to the immediate week in which Tisha B'Av occurs.
A folk saying goes, "When Av begins, cut back joy." Home construction or painting is held off (with exile imminent, who would build or improve his home?). Orthodox practice prohibits the eating of meat and the drinking of wine. (Symbolically, "The anxiety is crippling my capacity for enjoying life"; "I'm losing my appetite.")
Interestingly, these deprivations are also rituals of an onen (that is, one who has lost an immediate family member but has not yet buried him.). It is as if people know the Temple is doomed but have not yet reached the full acceptance symbolized by burial. Fresh clothes are a source of pleasure, so laundering and dry cleaning are postponed (diapers are exempted). Total bathing is given up except for Shabbat, hence there is no swimming in that period, according to the Orthodox tradition. Symbolically, the noise of the Roman armies approaching disrupts the ease and order of daily life.
The last meal on the day before Tisha B'Av--the Seudah Mafseket, the meal that separates eating from fasting--is highly restricted. It is as if Jews already feel the grief of the survivor or the severe loss of appetite felt by a war prisoner. Since people want to be able to fast well, lunch is generally a full meal, but in the late afternoon, a simple meal is eaten without multiple courses. In many families people even eat separately to avoid the festive aspect of a mezuman (a trio for grace). Some people eat eggs and/or beans (the food of mourners because their circularity evokes the idea of the wheel of fate and of silent mourning). Some eat only bread and water, even dipping a piece of bread in ashes before eating.
In Jewish ritual, mourners give up wearing leather shoes because they are comfortable. Besides, those who have just experienced the powerful loss of death do not want to wear something manufactured from animal skin, that is, something derived from death of another. Therefore, shoes are exchanged for canvas sneakers or sandals before sundown (unless the day preceding Tisha B'Av is Shabbat, in which case public display of mourning is inappropriate; in such a case, sneakers are not put on until after Shabbat ends).
For approximately 24 hours (adding on as is usual with Jewish sacred time), Jews act out total grief on Tisha B'Av. The symbolic acts draw from the rituals of a mourner sitting shiva, but the powerful paradigm is that of an overwhelmed defender of Jerusalem, now a Roman prisoner of war. From sundown to sundown, traditional Jews neither eat nor drink nor wash nor anoint themselves (recall the scenes of Jews in the Holocaust, kept sitting in the open squares all day without food or water). In the same spirit, they give up sexual relations that night. The story of the Destruction is retold vividly by reading the Book of Lamentations. Unshaven, unwashed, hungry, people re-experience the tragedy of the Destruction.
Rabbi Irving (Yitz) Greenberg is the president of Jewish Life Network and founding president of CLAL--the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. He is also the author of numerous books and articles dealing with Jewish theology and religion.
The Three Weeks from the 17th of Tamuz to Tisha B'Av
By Rabbi Ariel Bar Tzadok.
From the 17th day of the Hebrew month of Tamuz until the 9th day of the following month Av is a period of national mourning for the Jewish people. Five devastating things that affected all Israel occurred on the 17th of Tamuz. Five catastrophic events that affected all Israel occurred on Tisha (the 9th) of Av.
On the 17th of Tamuz, Moshe Rabbeynu descended from Mt. Sinai after receiving the Tablets of the Commandments. On that day, the people were worshipping the Golden Calf. Moshe shattered the Tablets. The ones that replaced them were not the same as the first. The first Tablets contained a higher form of the Ten Commandments than those revealed on the second Tablets. With the giving of the Torah, we were supposed to have entered the messianic age. Moshe was supposed to have been Mashiah. Yet, we lost this marvelous opportunity. We were thwarted as we were centuries earlier in the Garden of Eden.
Years later, other horrible events occurred exactly on this day. Prior to the destruction of the holy Temple by the Babylonian ancestors of today's Iraq, the continual offering, which maintained the balance between Heaven and Earth, ceased on this day. On this day, years later, during the period of the Greek occupation, a pagan authority destroyed the oldest and most authoritative scroll of the Torah. On this day, that same Greek pagan then proceeded to place a pagan image in the holy Temple. On this day, years later, in their conquest of Israel and the genocide of her people, the walls of Jerusalem were breached. The 17th of Tamuz therefore, has become a day of fasting. From sunrise to sunset, every adult Jew (except nursing mothers and the ill) is to fast, neither eating nor drinking to commemorate all that we have lost on this day.
Three weeks later, on the 9th of Av, even greater catastrophic events occurred. When Moshe Rabbeynu sent out spies to the Promised Land, they came back and brought a bad report, filling the hearts of the people with fear. The entire nation mourned their fate and wanted to return to Egypt. This happened on Tisha B'Av. Years later, both the First and Second Temples were destroyed on this day. Years later, the Roman occupiers destroyed the final Jewish stronghold against them and murdered the entire population of the city, which numbered close to a hundred thousand innocent men, women, and children. This horror happened on Tisha B'Av. One year later, to the day, the Roman Nazi emperor decreed that a pagan temple be established on the holy Temple Mount. Tisha B'Av therefore is the day of days of national mourning for the entire Jewish people. All fast for a full 24-hours on this day. Also forbidden are bathing, adorning, marital intimacy, the wearing of leather shoes and the study of Torah.
There are numerous laws regarding the proper preparations and observances of the Tisha B'Av fast. One should consult with one's local Orthodox Rabbi for full and proper instruction regarding these laws in accordance to one's communal origins.
The history of this time speaks for itself about the tragedies that occurred therein. Yet, we must ask why did so many bad things happen all during the same time of the year and exactly on the same dates? As intelligent adults, we recognize that there is far more than a coincidence here. In order to understand the "why" of the Three Weeks, we must delve into the mysticism of the Torah. The secrets of time are revealed within Torah mysticism. They will provide for us the necessary insights to understand why all these terrible things happened and continue to happen in Tamuz and Av.
As is known each month of the year is dominated by an astrological influence. This was ordained by G-d. Insights into astrology help us to understand the mechanics of the universe. Yet, G-d created more than mere astrological influences. Over each month of the year and over each day of the month there is also the influence of the Sefirot. Aside from the Sefirot, each day and month also are influenced by one of the four elements: fire, air, water, and earth.
The month of Tammuz is under the astrological sign of Sartan (Cancer). This is itself insignificant until we recognize that Sartan is a water sign. In other words, the element of water, which represents Divine mercy, is the dominant influence for this month. The month of Av (Aryeh, Leo) is under the influence of fire, the element that manifests G-d's severity.
Two other times in the calendar do water signs precede fire signs. In those cases, great things have happened to the Jewish people. Adar and Nisan are times of joy filled with holidays that celebrate redemption. Heshvan is the month when the Third Temple is destined to be dedicated. Kislev celebrates the rededication of the Temple with Hanukah.
Yet, with Tamuz and Av, instead of joy we have sorrow. The reason for this is because just as the Sefirot, elements and stars influence time, so more so does human behavior influence it. All things in creation have two sides to them, a side of good and a side of evil. This is based on the verses in Kohelet made famous by the sixty's rock and roll song 'Turn, Turn Turn." There is a time to be born and a time to die. A time to kill and a time to heal. Each of these "times" is explained by the Sefer Yetzirah as being related to the individual months of the year. These "times" are the forces underlying astrological influences.
In addition, the days of the month express sefirotic influences. A month is made up of four weeks, each of seven days. Each one of the four weeks of the month manifests one of the letters of G-d's holy Name YHVH. The four letters of G-d's Name also correspond to the sefirot. Yod corresponds to Hokhma and the first week of the month. Hey corresponds to Binah and the second week of the month. Vav corresponds to the six sefirot with Tiferet at their center and corresponds to the third week of the month. The final Hey corresponds to Malkhut and the fourth week of the month.
The seven days of the week correspond to the seven lower Sefirot. Day 1, Sunday, corresponds to Hesed. Day 2, Monday, corresponds to Gevurah. Day 3, Tuesday, corresponds to Tiferet. Day 4, Wednesday, corresponds to Netzah. Day 5, Thursday, corresponds to Hod. Day 6, Friday, corresponds to Yesod. Day 7, Shabbat, corresponds to Malkhut.
The 17th day of any month, therefore, is the third day of the third week. The third week corresponds to Vav/Tiferet. The third day of the week corresponds also to Tiferet. Thus, it was on the day of the Tiferet of the week of Tiferet under the influence of G-d's mercy (Tammuz) that Moshe brought down the Tablets of the Commandments to the Jewish people. This was the most appropriate time, for the Torah itself emanates from Tiferet. What better time to receive the Torah of Tiferet than on the day and week of Tiferet?
Yet, instead of this day becoming a holiday, it became a day of mourning. Tiferet corresponds to the heart. Yet, Tiferet is also the Sefirah of Divine justice. Justice turns in two ways. It exonerates the innocent, but it also punishes the guilty. The hearts of Israel were led astray by the sin of the Golden Calf. In this case, the people were indeed guilty. They had blemished the supernal Tiferet. From that day of Tiferet onward, the supernal Tiferet was blemished. Until the hearts of the collective Jewish people are purified, the supernal Tiferet will never be able to shine its balanced light of Divine justice. Because of their being unrepentant, collective Israel therefore receives their judgement on the day that they blemished the source of judgement.
The 9th day of any month is the second day of the second week. This corresponds to the Gevurah of Binah. Binah is the Supernal Mother. She is the source of all Divine severity and punishment. The 9th day of Av augments this severity by being a month influenced by fire, the symbol of Divine severity. Thus, the 9th of Av is a sign of multiple severities.
the children of Israel cried out to G-d because of their fear to move forward to conquer the Promised Land, the nature of the Divine severity of that day flared against them. On this day, instead of blemishing the Tiferet/justice/heart, they blemished an even higher place. On the 9th of Av, the children of Israel blemished the source of severity and caused it to become imbalanced against them. Unlike the 17th of Tammuz, which blemished the heart, the 9th of Av blemished the Sefirah Binah, which is the mind, specifically that aspect of mind that connects with the heart.
The mind/heart connection between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av is also seen in that there are 21 days between them. 21 is the numerical value of the holy Name Ehyeh, the Name that corresponds to (the mohin of) Binah, the realm of the Mind. Thus on the 17th of Tammuz, Israel blemished the supernal Heart (Tiferet) and 21 days later (on the calendar) they blemished the supernal Mind (Binah). There are yet other aspects to this blemish.
The months of the year also correspond to the various spiritual aspects within the two Sefirotic Faces (Partzufim) formed by the lower seven Sefirot. The two sefirotic faces formed by the lower seven sefirot are Zeir Anpin (ZA) and the Shekhina (Nok). The entire year is split between their influence. The six spring and summer months are influenced by the Female Partzuf, Nok (the Shekhina). The six fall and winter months are influenced by the Male Partzuf, ZA (Zeir Anpin).
Israel embodies the Presence of the Shekhina. Thus when they sinned before G-d, they blemished all the months under the dominion of the Shekhina. Tammuz and Av correspond to the Sefirot Netzah and Hod of the Shekhina. Netzah and Hod are the manifestations of the justice of Tiferet. Therefore, when Tiferet was imbalanced, so were its manifestations. Netzah and Hod are also the two Sefirot from which comes forth the spirit of prophecy. When the people of Israel blemished the Tiferet in Tammuz and Binah in Av, they thus caused the Netzah and Hod to be disconnected from them. This caused the loss of the spirit of prophecy. The months of Tammuz and Av also correspond to the two "eyes" of the Shekhina. When Israel sinned, it is as if the Shekhina was blinded.
Thus, we see that by our continued bad behavior by not being faithful to the covenant of Sinai we reinforce all the negative aspects in nature to work against the collective Jewish people. The Beyn HaMitzarim three-week period is a time of great spiritual severity for the Jewish people. While an individual Jew may be righteous, he/she is still nonetheless a part of the nation and shares the nation's destiny, be it for good or for evil. Therefore, during this three-week period Torah Law stipulates for us a specific code of practice. These three weeks are not a time for joy. Music should not be listened to. New clothing should not be worn. Marriages are not held at this time. These three weeks are a time of national mourning and retrospection, a time for us each to look within to repair our broken hearts and our faulty minds.
In spite of all that we have learned above, these three weeks are not a time for us to be mourning over the episodes of the past. Practically speaking, we have enough to mourn over our present. We cannot change the past. We cannot undo what has already been done. We can, however, change the future before it happens. We do this by changing our present.
Mourning the past is well and good. However, mourning the present is what is necessary. Changing the present is more than necessary, it is essential. Unless we change our course of action as individual Jews, as a collective nation, renew our covenant with G-d, and obey His commandments, we will inevitably come to experience new tragedies to mourn during these days. These three weeks emanate G-d's judgment upon the Jewish people, therefore, be careful during them. During these three weeks, Murphy's law is here most applicable - if anything can go wrong, it will, and at the worst possible time.
Personally speaking I wish to avoid these and any other future problems or sorrows. Therefore, I share with you this material. Yet, I (we) need something from each of you. I (we) need each of you to join with me (us) to make a difference, to correct the mistakes of the past by not repeating them in the present or in the future.
Mourn the past with all the appropriate Halakhic details, for if you do not do this then you dishonor the past and thus disgrace the Shekhina. Sins of this nature will bring upon us another Holocaust. Yet, when you fast and mourn, also contemplate well how you may improve yourselves by not only being better Jews but also better human beings. Centuries ago, a serious lack of action on our parts led to our national destruction. Today it will only be serious action that will lead to our individual and national survival and salvation.
May G-d bless all those who mourn over the destruction of Jerusalem to see its rebuilding and the restoration of its former glory, and more. Amen.
Shalom, HaRav Ariel Bar Tzadok
Five calamitous events occurred on the Seventeenth of Tammuz.
The first Tablets-of-the-Law were broken, when Moshe descended from the mountain and saw the golden calf and the accompanying dancing.
The daily sacrificial offering ceased in the first Temple (since the cohanim no longer found available sheep for the offering).
At the time of the destruction of the second Temple, the walls of Yerushalayim were breached.
Apustumus-the wicked, burned the Torah.
An idol was placed in the Sanctuary.
At the time of the destruction of the first Temple, the walls of Yerushalayim were also breached in Tammuz (on the ninth of the month). In order, however, not to burden the community excessively, the Rabbis did not designate both days as fast days, because of their proximity. They rather designated the commemoration of both events for the seventeenth of Tammuz, since the destruction of the second Temple is to us a greater calamity than that of the first Temple.
This year the 17th of Tammuz falls on Tuesday, July 11. The fast starts before dawn and ends after dark. No eating or drinking. Special services at shul morning and afternoon. The money saved by not eating should go to charity; the time, to Torah-study and mitzvot-performance.
2. Among the five events which occurred on the seventeenth of Tammuz is the destruction of the city of Yerushalayim. It is a day when gentiles (and, figuratively, a gentile lifestyle) broke through the wall that surrounded and defended Jerusalem.
This concept has a parallel in our lives. The Hebrew name of the city, Yerushalayim, is a composite of two Hebrew words, yirah, and shaleim, which combined mean “complete fear.” This is a level of fear that includes within it the totality of our service to G-d; affecting every aspect of our behavior.
Complete fear, as all other aspects of Torah and mitzvos, must be surrounded by a wall, as our sages said (Avos 1:2), “make a fence around the Torah.” In our personal lives this wall represents the practice of meditation, the acceptance of G-d’s yoke and the quality of self-annulment. When the wall around Yerushalayim is destroyed it is necessary to institute a fast. Through “losing fat and blood” we can correct the fault of lacking a wall, The fast is a mitzvah; by fulfilling the mitzvah we reestablish our connection with G-d and make ourselves one with Him.
There is another lesson to learn from the destruction of the wall around Yerushalayim. A wall is intended to separate those inside the city from all the influence that exist on the outside. Hence, the wall of Yerushalayim separated those who have complete fear from those who lack this quality. There are gates and passageways in the wall so that no two Jews will be completely separated from each other.
The above is true in normal times. However, in times such as these, the concept of “the city was destroyed,” and the wall of Yerushalayim being broken down, has a positive connotation as well. That connotation is that we must involve ourselves with other Jews, even those outside the wall around complete fear, over and beyond the call of duty—using the “doors and passage-ways.” We must show self-sacrifice, not considering any obstacles, and even put our own lives in danger in order to reach out to a Jew who lives outside Yerushalayim, and even one who lives outside the holiness of Israel in general. (Based on Sichos in English vol. 6)
3. "A Kind Suffering"
The Hebrew word Chesed, kindness, has a numeric value of seventy-two. Kabbalah teaches that the last seventy-two days of the Hebrew calendar year are permeated with Chesed, divine benevolence. This period begins on the seventeenth day of the Hebrew month, Tammuz.
This day is also the first of a three-week (plus one day) period during which we mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple and the exile of the Jewish nation from Israel in the year 69 CE. Fasting and severe mourning mark the first and last days of this period as we respectively commemorate the anniversaries of the breach of Jerusalem's walls and the fall of the Holy Temple.
This begs a question. How can a period of such suffering be simultaneously permeated with divine benevolence?
The Hebrew word Tov, which means "good," has a numeric value of seventeen. The Bnei Yissachar teaches that this "good" is tied into seventeen days of this three-week period. What sort of goodness is connected with these seventeen days? A hidden one. The Talmud teaches that upon creation of the world G-d withheld a large measure of "goodness" and kept it in store, to be revealed when the Mashiach comes
These seventeen days may appear negative on the surface but are in fact fully permeated with divine goodness. Just below the surface lies an intense measure of "goodness," yet to be revealed.
The Talmud teaches that all punishment and suffering are veils drawn by G-d over kindness that is too powerful to be directly perceived. Yet the Psalmist promised that when Mashiach comes this veil will be removed and we will come to understand the positive import of our nation's suffering. At that time we will recognize the true character of divine benevolence that characterizes these seventeen days.
What of the Additional five days of this Period?
These five days are in fact not sad at all. They are comprised of three days of Shabbat and one day of Rosh Chodesh, all which fall during this period. The fifth day is the Ninth of Av, which was declared a festival by the prophet Jeremiah because the potential for Mashiach was born on this day.
May we merit the immediate unveiling of this goodness and may these days of mourning soon be transformed into days of celebration and joy.
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