Overview of the Three Weeks Part 2:

12 07 2012

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rabbi Ilan Segal

The Tur notes that the source for the three weeks of mourning is in the book of Daniel. Rav Sadya Gaon writes, “The prophet Daniel saw the destruction of the second temple and he mourned for three weeks. And upon the end of these three weeks on the 21st of Nisan he had his next vision.” Why was Daniel mourning the churban in Nissan?

There are only two occasions during the year when we have a custom to eat eggs: the night of the seder and at the seudat hamafseket on the eve of Tisha B’av. Why do we eat an egg, a symbol of mourning, on the joyous night of Pesach? The Rama explains that these two time periods are connected. The first night of Pesach always falls on the same night of the week as Tisha B’av. Secondly, although the seder night is a celebration of freedom, there is an element of mourning. We sense the acute absence of the beit hamikdash and the korban pesach.

The Gemara in Bechorot records an interesting discussion regarding the different gestation periods of various creatures and their parallels in the plant world. The Gemara says a chicken takes 21 days to lay its eggs. Similarly, the luz tree, which Tosfot tells us is the almond tree, produces its fruit in 21 days.

The Gemara relates a story about a Roman ruler who challenged Rabbe Yehoshua to bring the wise men of Athens to him. Rabbe Yehoshua discovered their secret hideout and they began a debate with him. The commentators say that they asked deep philosophical questions couched in riddles. They brought two freshly laid white eggs and said, “Tell us which egg was laid by a black hen and which by a white hen.” In reply, Rabbe Yehoshua placed two white cheeses before them and asked which was produced by a black goat and which by a white goat.

The Maharsha notes that the egg represents two 21 day periods in the Jewish calendar, the 17th of Taamuz through Tisha b’av and the 1st day of Tishrei through Hoshana Rabbah. The wise men asked Rabbe Yehoshua, you maintain that the 21 days of Tishrei are days when one’s sin can become white like an egg. It is a period of joy and connection to Hashem. But you also have another 21 days of disaster and churban. It seems everything you have achieved in Tishrei is cancelled out in Av. He responded with goat cheese. Two goats are offered on Yom Kippur, one l’azzazel and the other L’Hashem. Although they are identical, one represents white, pristine atonement and the other represents the darkness of sin. Yet both produce white cheese, libun avonot, whitening of sin.

We can come close to Hashem in many different ways. In Tishrei we do it through good deeds and joy, and and in Av through exile and suffering. Yet both ultimately lead to repentance and atonement.

If we look at the three weeks of Nissan, Av, and Tishrei , we can see a structure. Nissan begins with “hachodesh hazeh lachem,” the uniqueness of klal yisrael, the birth of the Jewish people, their leap of faith culminating with the revelation of the Divine Presence at the splitting of the Red Sea. These weeks built klal yisrael and elevated them. The bein hametzarim is the reversal of that process. Everything created in Nissan unraveled in Tamuz. The descent begins on the 17th of Tamuz when the luchot (tablets) were shattered and continues with the downward spiral of Klal Yisrael to the destruction of the beit hamikdash.

Following the bein hametzarim, there are seven weeks of consolation, shiva d’nechemta , which lead up to Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the next three week period. Then we reconstruct what was destroyed through repentance and good deeds.

We are commanded to eat the korban pesach together with matza and maror. The sweetness of the matza and the bitterness of the marror are intertwined. Daniel mourned the churban in Nissan because he saw the potential for destruction. Likewise, when we mourn the beit hamikdash on Tisha B’av we must see the potential for rebirth.

The Gemara discusses the prayer Ashrei, which follows the order of the aleph beit. Even though it follows the order of the alef bet, it is missing the letter nun. Rabbe Yochanan explains that this is because it represents the downfall of the Jewish people. “Nafla lo tosef kum betulat yisrael.” The daughter of Israel has fallen and will not rise again. The Gemara suggests that we can read the verse with a small change. “Nafla lo tosef, kum.” She will no longer fall, arise! With the minor insertion of a comma, the verse is transformed from a message of despair to one of hope and promise. We can choose to focus on the misery and desolation or we can accept our failings and resolve to get up again. On Tisha B’av, after midday, we rise from the ground. We recognize that although the bein hamitzarim are days of sadness, they have the potential for rebirth.

The Midrash says that Mashiach will be born on Tisha B’av. Hashem planted the seeds of compassion and redemption within the darkest day. We must not focus on sadness and despair but use these days to come closer to Hashem. The time when we feel His distance is when we can reach out to Him. Eicha ends with the words, “Hasheveinu Hashem elecha.” Bring us back to you. Ultimately if we utilize these days correctly, we will merit to return.

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