June 16, 2024
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The Three Weeks: ‘Bein Hametzarim,’ Turning Us to Hashem

With the recent tragedies of the Surfside building collapse, the Meron tragedy and for the Passaic-Clifton community, the recent passing of our special, sweet 14-year-old Binyamin Gonsher (Binyamin Yisrael ben Shlomo Halevi z”l), all of us feel that the time period of the Three Weeks—a time of mourning—was considerably expanded this year.

We are now in the middle of the Three Weeks, referred to as “Bein Hametzarim,” and this Shabbos is Rosh Chodesh Av, the beginning of the period referred to as the Nine Days. The designation Bein Hametzarim is taken from the pasuk in Eicha, “All her pursuers overtook her Bein Hametzarim.” Rashi provides two interpretations of Bein Hametzarim: 1) between two cliffs—a small, tight narrow ravine, in which Bnei Yisrael had nowhere to run or escape. 2) Rashi quotes the Midrash as offering a different interpretation based on an alternative translation of the word “meitzer” as “border” or “marker.” In this interpretation, all the enemies pursued klal Yisrael during a specific time period bordered by two calendar dates—Shiva Asar B’Tamuz (17th of Tamuz) and Tisha B’Av (9th of Av).

The Koznitzer Maggid says there is a positive and hopeful reading of the above verse in Eicha. When it says kol rodfeha, all her pursuers, the word rodfeha can be split into two words: rodef kah—pursue Hashem. In this version the verse reads, “All those who pursued (followed) Hashem during this time period were successful.” It was a time for great growth and spiritual achievement. Yet, how could a time period burdened with such loss and destruction be a time intended for a special connection to Hashem? How could a verse in Eicha synonymous with sadness and destruction be interpreted with a positive spin?

Fortunately, just last week my good friend Dr. Chaim Moeller gave me a copy of a new sefer by Rabbi Daniel Glatstein, “The Darkness and the Dawn,” which Dr. Moeller formulated and wrote using recordings of Rabbi Glatstein’s shiurim. Rabbi Glatstein quotes a novel explanation by the Ben Ish Chai whereby each verse in Eicha has a dual meaning. The simple understanding of the words seems filled with destruction, but in a deeper view there is goodness and blessing. This deeper view makes more sense, since Eicha was written with prophecy by Yirmiyahu. Prophecy can only exist when a navi is in a state of happiness. How could Eicha be written in happiness after the destruction? The Gemara answers that Yirmiyahu actually wrote Eicha many years prior to the destruction, which allows the verses to be explained as written in a state of happiness.

Rabbi Glatstein quotes the Ben Ish Chai further, explaining the words “Galsa yehuda me’oni—Yehuda was exiled because of suffering and great servitude.” The word galsa means exiled but can also be translated as revealed. When read with this understanding, the pasuk says, “The greatness of Yehuda (klal Yisrael) was revealed in the face of all the poverty and challenges.” Even when they dwelled amongst the nations, they still clung to the mitzvos. He translates metzarim as the boundaries set forth by the rabbis. Thus, in spite of the difficulties that seemed to chase after them, the Jews adhered to the stringencies required by the rabbis.

In this light, I believe we can explain the two interpretations of bein hametzarim quoted by Rashi: stuck in a narrow ravine or the calendar bordering times of destruction and loss.

Additionally, the word metzarim has the same letters and spelling as Mitzrayim, just with different vowels. Mitzrayim was a tight, constricted place in which no slave could escape, and spiritual growth was suppressed. Yet, Mitzrayim served as the forging pit of the Jewish nation.

During these three weeks, the halachic restrictions related to mourning help us connect to the loss and destruction of this period. We experience ourselves in the narrow ravine. We are forced to feel uncomfortable. And still, our own recent tragedies and the Three Weeks force us to turn to our reliance on Hashem for comfort and salvation. Hence, we transform these days of challenges to days of fortitude and strength.

May our renewed commitment and reliance on Hashem bring Moshiach and the days when Eicha will be read with joyful blessing.


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected]. For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.

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