The “Three Weeks” between the 17th of Tammuz and the Tisha B’Av, this year July 11th– Aug. 1st, have historically been days of misfortune and calamity for the Jewish people. During this time, both the First and Second Temples were destroyed, amongst other tragedies.
These days are referred to as the period “within the straits” (bein hametzarim), in ac- cordance with the verse: “All her oppressors have overtaken her within the straits” (Lamentations 1:3).
During this time, various aspects of mourning are observed by the entire nation. We minimize joy and celebration. The expressions of mourning take on greater intensity as we approach the day of Tisha B’Av.
On Shabbat during the Three Weeks, the Haftorahs are taken from chapters in Isaiah and Jeremiah dealing with the Temple’s destruction and the exile of the Jewish people. Agonizing over these events is meant to help us conquer those spiritual deficiencies which brought about these tragic events. Through the process of “teshuva” – self-introspection and a commitment to improve – we have the power to transform tragedy into joy. In fact, the Talmud says that after the future redemption of Israel and the re- building of the Temple, these days will be rededicated as days of rejoicing and festivity.
The story is told of Napoleon walking through the streets of Paris one Tisha B’Av. As he passed a synagogue he heard the sounds of mourning and crying. “What’s this all about?” Napoleon asked. An aide explained that the Jews were mourning the loss of their Temple. “When did this happen?” Napoleon asked. The aide replied, “About 1700 years ago.” Napoleon said, “Certainly a people which has mourned the loss of their Temple for so long will merit seeing it rebuilt!”
The beginning of the 3-week period of mourning is the 17th of Tammuz, a fast day commemorating the fall of Jerusalem, prior to the destruction of the Holy Temple. On the 17th of Tammuz, no eating or drinking is permitted from the break of dawn until night fall.
Five great catastrophes occurred in Jewish history on the 17th of Tammuz:
1. Moshe broke the tablets at Mount Sinai – in response to the sin of the Golden Calf.
2. The daily offerings in the First Temple were suspended during the siege of Jerusa- lem.
3. Jerusalem’s walls were breached, prior to the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.
4. Prior to the Great Revolt, the Roman general Apostamos burned a Torah scroll – setting a precedent for the horrifying burning of Jewish books throughout the centuries.
5. An idolatrous image was placed in the Sanctuary of the Holy Temple – a brazen act of blasphemy and desecration.