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Beit Midrash Shabbat and Holidays The Laws of Three Weeks

The Three Weeks

Rebuilding the Temple

The Three Weeks between the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av are a time of sadness and danger. Rav Kook shows that they are also a time during which we can rebuild the Temple if we learn the secret of Causeless Love.
Dedicated to the memory of
Hana Bat Haim
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The Three Weeks
Between the fast of Tammuz and the fast of Av there are exactly three weeks, and this period is often referred to as "The Three Weeks". In Hebrew it is also given the name "Bein haMetzarim," between the straits, between the narrow places. This name is a reference to a verse in the Book of Eichah, Lamentations, "All those that chased after her caught up with her between the straits" (Eichah 1:3). The Midrash interprets this as a reference to this sad time that falls between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av (Eichah Rabbati 1:29).

These two fast days are viewed to be like constricting mountains that bind us on both sides during these three weeks. Both these fasts are sad days that commemorate different stages in the destruction of the Temple. Therefore, this whole period is a very sad one.

This has a number of applications that are recorded in the halachic literature. "One should have less business dealings and should not occupy himself with cheerful building (for example, decorating a house), but if the building was about to fall it is permitted. One does not get married nor make engagement parties; however, it is permitted to get engaged without making a party" (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 551:2). We do not get haircuts or partake in joyous gatherings. The general rule is that this is not a time for rejoicing. Rather it is a period for contemplating the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash and the reasons behind that event.

A Time of Danger
In addition, this period of time is viewed as being one fraught with danger. As it is traditionally a time when calamities befell the Jewish people, one should be careful not to bring danger on oneself. "Whoever has a court case with a non-Jew should try and get out of it (during this time), as he will have bad luck" (Shulchan Aruch, ibid. 551:1).

The Shulchan Aruch records the custom of not making the blessing "Shehechiyanu" during this period. The blessing reads, "Blessed are You...Who has kept us alive, and sustained us, and brought us to this time." It is made over new items, such as new clothes and new fruits, and also over pleasant events, such as the festivals or at a circumcision.

During the Three Weeks the custom is not to make this blessing.1 This could be understood due to the sad nature of this period. As one is supposed to be thinking about the destruction of the Temple, it is inappropriate for one to be happy and involved in happy events that require this blessing.

However, the Mishnah Berurah explains that the custom is not due to sadness but rather is connected to the potentially dangerous nature of these three weeks. He records that a mourner is allowed to make this blessing even though he is required to be sad and not to forget his sadness. From this we can deduce that the reason behind not reciting the blessing during the Three Weeks is not due to sadness. "During this time, as this is a period of trouble, it is not advisable to recite the blessing to bring us to this time" (Mishnah Berurah on Shulchan Aruch 551:17, note 98). As this is a dangerous time we do not praise God for bringing us to this time.

In this vein there is another prohibition recorded by the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Law. "One should be careful between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av not to hit one’s students" (ibid. 551:18). Rav Yosef Caro explains that the reason for this is that it carries with it a danger during these fraught times (See Beit Yosef ibid.). If the rabbi were to hit his charges during the Three Weeks he may accidentally cause more harm than intended. It is advisable never to employ such tactics with students, but particularly during this time it is forbidden. This is due to the added problem of the danger of the time.

Rav Kook used this halachah to teach an important concept about education in general and bringing others closer to Torah in particular.

To Hit or Not to Hit
In Rav Kook’s poem for the month of Tammuz he wrote:
From between the straits the people are redeemed By teachers armed with spiritual strength Who do not need a hitting rod (Meged Yerachim, Tammuz, 5674).

Rav Kook is inferring here an approach to education that is essential for our generation and is also connected specifically with the period of the Three Weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av.

Rav Kook was well known for drawing near the irreligious and even anti-religious pioneers. This approach brought him many opponents. They were concerned that these heretics would have a negative effect on the religious youth and would destroy the Land of Israel. The only way to deal with them, claimed Rav Kook’s critics, was to demonstrate against them and even employ force when necessary to show clearly their disdain for the pioneers and their irreligious ways. Only this would prove to them that their ways were not desirable. This would encourage them to mend their ways and return to Judaism.

Rav Kook disagreed. He could never justify using force against another and he also felt that this would eventually be ineffective and counter-productive. Instead of drawing these youth closer, it would drive them further away from Judaism.

Rav Kook argued for a different approach, one of spiritual strength. In the words of the poem, "The people are redeemed by teachers armed with spiritual strength." Rav Kook argued that what the generation needed most was to educate a large group of people who would be able to spread Torah throughout the country.

These rabbis and teachers would study how to interact effectively and influence the young Israeli populace in a positive and constructive atmosphere. In order to do so, the teachers would have to arm themselves with spiritual strength. What characterizes spiritual strength?

Who Is Strong?
When we think of strength and strong people we often conceptualize a person who holds a weapon, or a place that is well protected. We refer to these as being strong. However, there is a Midrash that seems to suggest otherwise.

When the Jews approached the Land of Israel after leaving Egypt, they sent spies in to examine out the Land. Moshe instructed these men in what to look for. "See what the land is like and the inhabitants if they are strong or weak, many or few. Is the land good or bad, and their cities are they open or fortified?" (BeMidbar 13:18-19).

The Midrash explains, "This is what Moshe instructed them; how are they to ascertain their strength? If they dwell in open cities it is a sign that they are strong and rely on their own strength; if they live in protected cities it shows that they are weak and afraid" (Tanchuma, Shelach, 6).

If people live in fear they are more likely to add another lock to their door. One who is unafraid does not even bother to lock the door. If you feel safe you do not need to arm yourself; only when you sense danger do you feel the need to fight and defend yourself.

This is the source of spiritual strength, a strength that does not require any external aids, only an inner spiritual strength. One who is strong in his own path does not need to criticize others. It has been said that there are two ways to get higher than another person. One is to rise above him, the other is to knock him down. Someone who believes firmly that he is doing the right thing only raises himself up, he does not need to resort to degrading his opponents.

The Hitting Rod
Rav Kook described these powerful teachers as not needing a hitting rod. Their belief in themselves is sufficient to allow them to fulfill the task at hand, that of teaching Torah to those who are far from the Torah. They do not need to rely on pressure or violence, even verbal, to make their point and to be heard.

In the Jewish world we are sometimes too quick to criticize each other, to defame opponents and degrade those who disagree with our chosen position. There is nothing new in this. Indeed, the rabbis explained that the Beit HaMikdash itself was destroyed due to the sin of causeless and senseless hatred. Even though the people living at the time were apparently righteous, studied Torah, and did good deeds, the sin of hatred ultimately brought down the Temple (Yoma 9b). The question should not be whether today we have a unique situation or not; rather, our efforts should be directed towards finding a solution.

There is a famous saying in the Yerushalmi: "Every generation that does not build [the Temple] it is as though they destroyed it" (Yerushalmi, Yoma 1:1). This saying of the Sages takes the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash out of a purely historical context. The destruction of the Temple is not just something that happened in the past due to past sins. Rather, it is a living entity and is connected with our daily actions. Were we worthy, the Temple would be rebuilt. It remains in ruins because we have still not learned the lessons of the past.

Causeless Hatred and Causeless Love
The period of the Three Weeks should not only be a time to be sad and to remember. It should also be a time to reflect on the past and to consider the future. We should recall during this time the sin of hatred and make a concerted effort to rectify this blemish in our character.

The opposite of causeless hatred is causeless and senseless love. In the words of Rav Kook, "If we were destroyed and the world was destroyed together with us, through senseless hatred, we will rebuild it, and the entire world will be rebuilt, through senseless love" (Orot HaKodesh, Volume III, page 324).
The time between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av should be a time to increase acts of senseless love. It should not be a time to hit and shout, but rather a time to listen and learn. When people are sure of themselves they are not afraid of listening to another opinion. Only one with a weak position will viciously defend it and attempt to silence the opposition.

Let us be guilty of causeless love, of performing acts of kindness even for those whom it is difficult to love. Let us learn to listen, and listen in order to learn. Let us grow together, when in the past we grew apart. If we can do all these things, then we will be well on the way to rectifying the mistakes of the past and rebuilding the Temple for a better future.

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Rabbi Gideon Weitzman is the Head of the English Speaking Section of the Puah Institute for Fertility and Medicine in Accordance with the Halacha. He studied for many years in Yeshivat Beit El and teaches in various educational institutions.

This essay is taken from his second book, "In Those Days, At This Time - Essays on the Festivals Based on the Philosophy of Rav Kook." The book is available in bookstores or directly from the author. Contact him at: rabbiw@growingjewish.com

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