July 23, 2024
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The Three Weeks: It’s Time To Restore Days of Happiness

People get a little down when thinking about the time period of bein hametzarim, the Three Weeks between Shiva Asar B’Tamuz and Tisha B’Av. The halachos of this period set a somber tone, starting with not listening to music and not getting a haircut. The restrictions increase with Rosh Chodesh Av (for Sefardim, the week of Tisha B’Av) to a state of mourning with limited bathing, no swimming or eating meat. The restrictions cause us to feel uncomfortable and imbue a sense of sadness.

Alas, the somber feelings many times come with a sense of annoyance rather than a feeling of loss, since none of us has actually experienced the Beis Hamikdash. Still, we do understand it’s a time of tragedy for the Jewish nation, and it culminated in the destruction of the two Batei Hamikdash on Tisha B’Av. There is a hidden dimension to this time period that I would like to uncover, so we can transform these weeks to a time of anticipation and appreciation.

Shiva Asar B’Tamuz to Tisha B’Av (the Three Weeks) is a 21-day period of mourning. The Maharsha (Bechoros 21a) tells us there is another 21-day period that is a counterpart of the Three Weeks. The 21-day period from Rosh Hashanah to the end of Sukkos is a time of great happiness, when we become closer to Hashem and hope for and anticipate a good year.

Rav Avrohom Schorr quotes the Sefer Zera Kodesh, which says these two periods are alluded to when Hashem instructed Moshe to tell klal Yisrael He was taking them out of Mitzrayim. Rashi says that when Hashem said, “Eh’yeh Asher Eh’yeh”—“I will be…I will be,” it meant that He will take them out of their troubles in Mitzrayim at that time and will be with them in times of future troubles as well. The numerical value of the Hebrew word “eh’yeh” is 21. Hashem was hinting to Moshe that He will be with klal Yisrael both during the 21 days of happiness between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos as well as the future 21-day period of darkness and mourning bein hametzarim.

This 21-day period of mourning was originally going to be very joyous, with our receiving the holy luchos formed by Hashem. Instead, the first day is Shiva Asar B’Tamuz, which marks (among other things) the smashing of the luchos (tablets) when Moshe saw the Jews dancing around the golden calf. The last day of the 21 days is Tisha B’Av, which first saw the tragedy of the bad report from the spies about Eretz Yisrael, which the Jews unfortunately accepted and cried over, and later saw the destruction of the Batei Hamikdash. Yet, this could have been one of the greatest days in history had the Jews been given a good report, based on faith in Hashem, and confidently marched into the Promised Land. Since the Three Weeks are sad, but could have been joyous, they have the opportunity to once again revert back to their original state and become a great time of joy and accomplishment.

The Meshach Chochma notes that the parchment inside the tefillin shel yad (worn on the arm) has the name of Hashem written 21 times! The same is true for the tefillin shel rosh (worn on the head). Each of the boxes of tefillin is alluding to these two 21-day time periods. The head tefillin is supposed to be worn with its box uncovered, representing the 21-day period between Rosh Hashanah and Succos when the presence of Hashem is clear. Conversely, the arm tefillin is supposed to be covered by another box, representing the 21 days (Three Weeks) when Hashem’s presence is concealed. It’s safe to say that wherever there is a concealment of Hashem, there is also a potential for Him to be revealed.

This year the Seventeenth of Tamuz and the Ninth of Av are on Shabbos. Shabbos is a propitious time to reveal the hidden presence of Hashem. We can use this Shabbos to re-calibrate ourselves from the primal mistake on Shiva Asar B’Tamuz—when the Jews in effect traded in the luchos for the golden calf, opting for their own method of worship instead of following the word of Hashem. This three-week period of time was originally destined for happiness and great achievement. Shiva Asar B’Tamuz was destined for kabalas haTorah and Tisha B’Av was destined for entering Eretz Yisrael.

May we now merit to transform the Three Weeks back to their true joyous state, revealing Hashem’s presence with the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash.

By Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim


Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch. PTI has attracted people from all over northern New Jersey, including Teaneck, Paramus, Rockaway and Fair Lawn. He initiated and continues to lead a multi-level Gemara-learning program. He has spread out beyond PTI to begin a weekly beis medrash program with in-depth chavrusa learning in Livingston, Springfield, and Fort Lee. His email is [email protected].

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