Food For the Soul
Bein HaMetzarim – Between the Straits
The three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz (July 9) and the 9th of Av (July 27) are called Bein HaMetzarim (“Between the Straits”), and during this period Jewish people the world over enter into a period of constriction, minimizing outward expressions of joy and observing different customs associated with mourning. As their name so clearly implies, these three weeks are hard. We reflect on the spiritually and physically destructive events that occurred between the breaching of Jerusalem’s walls on the 17th of Tammuz and the fall of the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple) on the 9th of Av in the year 70 CE. Even today it’s considered to be an inauspicious time, when negative forces manifest more freely in the world.
But despite their connection with energies of destruction, these three weeks are, on a deeper level, permeated with powerfully positive spiritual influences as well. In our timebound world, Bein HaMetzarim occurs during the summer, when the sun is at its strongest. Kabbalah teaches that every detail of our world here below is a reflection of what’s going on behind the scenes in the spiritual worlds above. Every physical object and circumstance is the manifestation of its corresponding spiritual force, and of the interactions between individual spiritual forces. The sun is associated spiritually with the Divine Name Havayah,2 a Name of G_d that expresses His attributes of compassion and revelation. So the strength of the sun during Bein HaMetzarim tells us that during the darkest period on the Hebrew calendar, G_d’s love and compassion are in truth shining the brightest.
From an article by Ani Lipitz
The Three Weeks
During the Three Weeks, we commemorate the conquest of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Holy Temple and the dispersion of the Jewish people. Weddings and other joyful events are not held during this period; like mourners, we do not cut our hair, and various pleasurable activities are limited or proscribed. (The particular mourning customs vary from community to community, so consult a competent halachic authority for details.)
Citing the verse (Isaiah 1:27) “Zion shall be redeemed with mishpat [Torah] and its returnees with tzedakah,” the Rebbe urged that we increase in Torah study (particularly the study of the laws of the Holy Temple) and charity during this period.
Mind Over Matter
Think good and it will be good
Rabbi Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov said, “There are two things it is forbidden to worry about: that which it is possible to fix, and that which it is impossible to fix. What is possible to fix –fix it, and why worry? What is impossible to fix –how will worrying help?”
The power of positive thinking is an oft-referenced Chassidic teaching, evidenced by the Tzemach Tzedek’s famous epigram, “Think good and it will be good.”
From an article by Rabbi Levi Welton
You have a purpose
If the world did not need you and you did not need this world, you would never have come here. God does not cast His precious child into the pain of this journey without purpose. You say you cannot see a reason. Why should it surprise you that a creature cannot fathom the plan of its Creator? Now is the time to dig your hands into the earth, to tend to the garden, to care for life. Soon will come a time to understand, when the fruits of your labor blossom for all to see.
Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Have I got a Story
One who is static may not fall, but will definitely not rise
I was making my rabbinical rounds; visiting various businessmen, chatting with them and offering them the opportunity to put on tefillin with maybe a short Torah thought. One of my regular stops has always impressed with the cheerful attitude of the owner and the atmosphere of industry that is always buzzing around the joint. Here was a place, I used to think, with a well thought-out business model, led by an entrepreneur with vision, working to his plan, and rightly enjoying his much-deserved success.
But that day was a shock: Instead of the usual sight of workers cheerfully gossiping as they packed the products, the place was like a ghost town. A couple of desultory menials listlessly sealing a half-empty container, lights dimmed all over the place, a skeleton crew of secretarial staff filing their nails; light years from what I have come to expect.
In all this inaction, one exception stood out like the beacon of light which shone from his office: the owner; shirt sleeves way up his biceps, piles of papers sliding around the desk and a phone welded to his ear. His face lit up in the usual manner at my tentative tap on his door. He eagerly stood to wrap the straps, all the while chitchatting with me as if nothing at all was amiss. I was almost afraid to ask, but couldn’t contain my curiosity. Turns out a major customer had gone bankrupt overnight; left him with a huge unpaid back-order and warehouses of overstock.
Though I tried to summon some platitudes of comfort, he was having nothing of it. “I started off with nothing,” he declared, “God blessed me till now, and this is just a temporary setback. Gives me the opportunity to try some other products, take the company in a whole new direction.”
I am in awe of his determination and focus. It reminds me of the explanation brought in the classic book of Tanya to the verse “For a righteous man may fall seven times, and yet he rises”: Man is obliged to constantly reach for new heights. One who is static may not fall, but will definitely not rise. Even someone content to take finite, baby steps wouldn’t abandon his former level before establishing a foothold on the next. Only someone who has the energy and imagination to attempt to fly needs to “fall,” if only in comparison with his previous level.
In spirituality, your finite previous self actually hinders your progress, and if you aspire to mature you must first purge yourself of your previous level. The same is true of life. My friend has faith that this setback is just the opportunity he needed to clear his mind from the small-stakes he was bidding for till now and a chance to focus on taking his rightful seat at a new table. And with that determination and attitude, how could he not succeed?
At this time of year our focus is on commemorating the national calamity that has been our lot over the two thousand odd years since the destruction of the Temple. We fast and pray in an effort to persuade God to redeem us and build us a third, permanent, Temple. The setbacks we as a nation have suffered are not just some cosmic joke played out on us by an unfeeling, malicious Divinity; rather they have been the longest and greatest training run in history, forcing us to build up our stamina for the blastoff that lies ahead. Only a people who have suffered as we have, can anticipate a payoff of the magnitude that we deserve. The vicissitudes of fate have toughened and tempered us, awakened us to look for new opportunities, and guaranteed us a future of redemption and happiness, beyond even our expectations.
Condensed from an article by Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum