The “Three Week” period, a.k.a. Bein Hametzarim, has various minhagim concerning how we are to exhibit our pain and anguish over the churban Beis Hamikdash and Klal Yisrael’s galus, a dispersion over the four corners of the globe. Yes, we are to refrain from various forms of joy and cheer. It goes without saying that the point of these hanhagos is a chovos halevavos — a matter of what we are meant to feel, not so much what we are to do. We are meant to feel distress and sorrow regarding those historical events which cast a shadow over so much of our history. And the actions which we refrain from doing are supposed to be a vehicle through which we attain the proper emotions. And ultimately there is also supposed to be a bounce-back, i.e. our emotions should direct us to not do this or not do that. In other words, our emotions should be expressing themselves in the actions (or non-actions) as expressions of our innermost feelings. And so we are supposed to come full-circle; the actions stir the emotions, and then are manifestations of them. How in the world can I buy a new suit? How in the world can I enjoy a satisfying feast of meat and wine? How can there be the unbridled joy of a wedding… while I am supposed to be reflecting upon the tragedies of the degradations of Klal Yisrael, the Beis Hamikdash, and the resultant chilul HaShem and galus haShechina?

But certainly these actions and inactions are not enough. They cannot alone create the necessary feelings and reactions. Every individual has the responsibility, no, the obligation, to reflect, to think about, to imagine, to envisage, the status of the Shechinah, the Beis Hamikdash, and of Klal Yisrael — what was, and what is. It is only through such contemplations that one would be able to stir one’s heart and soul and sensitize oneself.

Think about the long and bitter galus. Think about the Jewish people being chased from place to place. Think about the expulsions that occurred after we thought we had “settled in.” Think about the persecutions, both religious and otherwise; the oppression, the decrees, the economic restrictions; the physical beatings, the violence, the assaults. And of course think about the unthinkable attempted annihilations of the Jewish people. Think about the great spiritual decline, and all we are missing as a people.

Think about the constant chillul HaShem. Think about the destruction of His Beis Hamikdash, of the missing dwelling-place of the Shechinah, of the loss of closeness and bonding between G-d and His people. Of the lack of kapparah inherent in the bringing of the korbanos.

Just as there are times in the year — mo’adim — for joy and celebration, when every Jew feels that he or she can celebrate the joyous events which occurred to Klal Yisrael (for after all, he/she is, too, part of that Klal Yisrael), so too are there times which commemorate our tzaros; and the avodah of those days, those mo’adim, is to seek out ways to feel the pain, to get in touch with the aveilus, and to appreciate the destruction visited upon Klal Yisrael. Every Jew is obligated to feel the nation’s pain, the Shechinah’s “pain,” for every Jew is part of our nation. One must strive to fill one’s heart with the misery of our present situation. And coupled with that should be the act of turning to HaShem, our go’el Yisrael, in prayer, to finally put an end to our current status, to have pity on Tziyon V’Yerushalayim and to rebuild the nation, Yerushalayim, and of course the Beis Hamikdash. There certainly are enough brachos in the Shemoneh Esrei which focus on these matters, giving us the opportunity to dwell and concentrate on them at least during the Three Weeks!

And this in turn brings us to teshuvah — to thoughts of repairing what is broken in our spiritual lives. Whether it be sins of commission (dishonesty; eating something questionable; lashon hara) or sins of omission (filling our lives with nonsense instead of with Torah-learning, chessed, and davening properly ), we would do well to start rebuilding the Beis Hamikdash with the bricks fashioned of our own lives. This ultimately, after all, is the narrative of the churban, and during the time devoted to the remembrance of its events and the mourning and regret of our losses, it is most logical to decide on a course of action to change things.

But this should not take away from striving for broken-heartedness and agony. For that is the avodas hayom of the Three Weeks.

Perhaps it would help to contemplate how superb things were when life was the way it was supposed to be. Part of the problem undoubtedly is the length of the galus and the destruction; we have forgotten long ago just how abnormal our situation is. We have gotten used to a life bereft of so much ruchniyus and other types of beneficence that we think that this is how it is supposed to be! It’s as if a person used to have the ability to read thoughts, and to fly through the air, and then, for two thousand years man lost that ability; how do you think a person would feel about the stories of what his multi-grand-grandfather and grandmother used to be able to do?

When you read this, there will be two weeks left to Tisha B’Av. Let us pick specific areas to focus on. Four areas — think about them, read about them, talk about them, find out about them, two each week, or one every three to four days.

  1. The tribulations and tzarrs of Klal Yisrael throughout its long and painful galus
  2. The churban Beis Hamikdash and losing our foothold in Eretz Yisrael
  3. The loss of our closeness to HaShem and cognizance of the Shechinah in our midst
  4. The resultant spiritual decline of the Jewish people over the centuries