Rabbi Yosef Levinson

The period of Bein Hametzarim, the "Three Weeks", is the time of year that we contemplate the loss of the Beis Hamikdash. We mourn its destruction, yearn for its rebuilding and hope for the coming of Mashiach, may it be speedily in our days. Although this is something that we should focus on the entire year -" even though he may tarry, nevertheless I anticipate his coming every day "- 1, the "Three Weeks" correspond to the time of year that we actually suffered the loss and is therefore more conducive to reflection.

We are taught that the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed because of sinas chinam, baseless hatred 2. As we hope for the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash we must strengthen our Ahavas Yisrael, fostering love between our fellow Jews, and eradicate sinas chinam from our midst. As the Chafetz Chaim writes 3, if Hashem destroyed the Beis Hamikdash because of sinas chinam and lashon hara, all the more so He won't permit it to be rebuilt if we have not cured ourselves of these spiritual maladies 3.

Mourning the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and ahavas Yisrael, are seemingly two unrelated mitzvos. The former is bein adam l'Makom, between man and Hashem, whilst the latter is bein adam l'chaveiro between man and his neighbour. However, Chazal teach us that in avodas Hashem we have to be single-minded. It is difficult for us to focus simultaneously on two separate concepts 4. Perhaps we can find a connection between the two and thereby enhance their fulfilment.

Rav Tzadok Hakohen writes that the essence of a concept can be found where it is first mentioned in the Torah 5. To get a better understanding of why we mourn over the churban, let us examine where this idea is first alluded to in the Torah. After Yosef was reunited with his brothers, the Torah states "and he [Yosef] fell upon his brother Binyamin's neck and wept; and Binyamin wept upon his neck" 6. The Gemara 7 explains that Yosef wept over the two Batei Mikdashos that were destined to be in the portion of Shevet Binyamin and would ultimately be destroyed. Binyamin wept over the Mishkan (tabernacle) that was established in Shilo which was part of Yosef's portion which would eventually be destroyed.

It seems very strange that Yosef and Binyamin were crying at this time over the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash. A mother who gives birth to a child knows that he is destined to die, yet she rejoices over the baby's birth - it is a time of joy. The knowledge that he will one day leave this earth does not diminish the happiness of the hour. Only when he eventually dies is he mourned 8. If Yosef andBinyamin foresaw the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash in their respective portions they should have rejoiced. Why did they have to spoil their reunion by weeping over events that would occur hundreds of years later?

Some explain that the root of the dispute between the brothers and Yosef was sinas chinam. Yosef and Binyamin were crying because through Ruach Hakodesh they perceived that their descendants would not learn from their mistakes and they too would be guilty of this terrible sin. As a result they would suffer tragic consequences and the Shechina would depart from their midst. However this only explains why Yosef cried over the second Beis Hamikdash. Seemingly they had no reason to mourn over the first Beis Hamikdash and Mishkan Shilo 9. Why then did they weep at this time?

David Hamelech said, "How good and how pleasant is the dwelling of brothers in unity" 10. Every individual has unique strengths and qualities. When there is an atmosphere of brotherhood, each individual perceives their brother's noble qualities, thus raising the character of the whole group. In Koheles 11 it is also written "Two are better than one…for if they should fall, one can lift the other". We all need chizuk (strengthening) from time to time. We sometimes need someone to help pick us up when we are down, to offer guidance and counsel to navigate through life's trials and tribulations.

Shlomo Hamelech continues 12 "Also, if two sleep together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone?" The Alter of Kelm 13 explains that even if they do not strengthen each other and even if they do not offer advice, they are warmed just by being in each other's proximity. Human nature is such that seeing someone else learning Torah or performing a mitzva is encouraging in and of itself. When two learn in each other's presence, both are uplifted. In truth, one can only reach his potential with the assistance of others - to learn from their qualities, from their chizuk and counsel. Furthermore, there is the encouragement that comes from the knowledge that they are not alone.

Each of the twelve shevatim, tribes excelled in a different area. Both Yaakov Avinu and Moshe Rabbeinu blessed them to strengthen and to channel their traits properly. Yosef andBinyamin had their unique strengths, however since they were both b'nei Rachel, they also shared many qualities. The Torah 14 teaches that Yosef is Esav's nemesis: "The house of Yaakov shall be a fire, and the house of Yosef a flame and the house of Esav for straw". It was Yehoshua who first battled Esav's descendant Amalek, 15 and David Hamelech required warriors from Shevet Menashe to defeat Amalek 16. Also, l'asid lavo, when Mashiach comes, Edom (Rome) will fall in the hands of Mashiach ben Yosef 17. Yet Chazal 18 reveal to us that Esav will fall into the hands of both of Rachel's children. Amalek was defeated by Shaul and later by Mordechai both descendants ofBinyamin 19.

Yosef andBinyamin were separated for twenty-two years. In that time they surely made great strides in their personal avoda - alone. Who knows how much greater they could have become if they grew up together? Binyamin is one of only four individuals who never sinned 20. Yet he constantly yearned to be re-united with his older brother, naming each of his ten children after him 21. He sought Yosef's guidance and encouragement - to be warmed by him.

Exiled and enslaved in Mitzrayim, Yosef earned the title Yosef Hatzaddik. Yet, at least according to one opinion, 22 he almost succumbed to the frequent persuasions of Potiphar's wife. Perhaps withBinyamin at his side, he would not have lapsed even momentarily.

This is why the brothers wept. They yearned for perfection and they strove for greatness. Yosef cried over the two Batei Mikdashos, because he saw thatBinyamin's nobility and refinement would have been enhanced all the more so if they had they lived together. We find later that the entire shevet of Binyamin was almost wiped out in the incident of pilegesh B'Givah and Shaul, the Jewish nation's first king fell from grace. Perhaps if Binyamin had the opportunity to learn with Yosef these tragedies could have been averted. The Shevatim bequeathed their traits to their descendants. A seemingly minor flaw can magnify into catastrophe centuries later. If Binyamin had been influenced by Yosef, he would have been greater and his descendants continuing in his ways, might have also been a more positive influence for the Jewish nation. Perhaps then a Beis Hamikdash built in his portion would not have been destroyed. That is truly reason to mourn.

Binyamin also wept over the missed opportunity to strengthen and encourage Yosef. If Yosef was greater, so too, his offspring would have been greater. Then perhaps the destruction of Shilo could have been prevented.

HaRav Aharon Kotler zt"l 23 writes that this is why we must mourn over the Beis Hamikdash. We must strive for greatness. Today, we cannot reach our potential, because the Shechina is not in our midst. When the Beis Hamikdash stood, Hashem's presence was clearly felt. No one could deny His existence. The Shechina was not only present in the Beis Hamikdash, but also b'sochum inside each and every individual 24. Under those circumstances there was a great hashpo'a, spiritual influence, which enabled the people to grow great in Torah and knowledge of Hashem. With the destruction, such darkness and confusion descended to the world that even the produce of the land was effected. We mourn our loss and yearn for the coming of Mashiach when Hashem's presence will once again be clearly felt and we will be able to approach Him.

When we strive for greatness we realise the necessity of our fellow Jews. There is something to learn from everyone. As we explained above, we need their advice, encouragement and guidance. In fact, just being in the presence of other Jews and knowing that they share our goals and aspirations can be uplifting and give us a needed boost. One who truly wants to grow will strengthen his ties with his Jewish brethren.

More than this though, it is only through Ahavas Yisrael that one can achieve any success in avodas Hashem. The Torah was given to the Jewish nation as a whole. One must therefore view himself as part of that entity. The Shechina too only rests in the Beis Hamikdash in an atmosphere of unity. This is perhaps what R' Akiva meant with his explanation that "v'ahavta l'reiacha kamocha..." love your friend as yourself - "...zeh klal gadol baTorah" - this is the great principle of the Torah. The entire Torah is dependent on ahavas Yisrael. It is only when we perceive ourselves as brothers and sisters that we can grow in Torah and mitzvos.

The reason we find it difficult to appreciate the loss of the Beis Hamikdash and the severity of sinas chinam is because we lack higher aspirations. Instead of yearning for greatness, we content ourselves with the little that we have. It has been so long since we had the Beis Hamikdash, that we are accustomed to not having it. We focus more on material accomplishments. This is perhaps the biggest tragedy and punishment of all.

There once was a king who had an unruly son. He rebuked and threatened the prince time and time again. But each time the prince broke his promises and returned to his bad ways. The king finally realised that he had no choice but to banish his son from the palace and send him into exile. "You will be taken to one of our most distant colonies where you will struggle to earn a livelihood. Only then will you learn to properly evaluate the comforts you enjoy as a prince and be prepared to live up to the responsibilities that go with your title".

And so it was. The prince was soon on his way to a far-away village. There he worked hard together with the other peasants, barely making a living. Every limb ached with longing. And what hurt him even more was that his father seemed to have completely forgotten about him and no longer cared what happened to him.

Little did he realise that his father had been keeping track of him through secret agents all the time. They told the king of the prince's struggles and about the poor hut in which he lived. But the king was sure that the time had not yet come to bring his son back home.

One day, several years later, a company of royal carpenters came to build the prince a beautiful home in his land of exile. "You see," cried a friend of the prince, "Your father hasn't forgotten you after all. Now you can rejoice that he really cares for you." "No, no," sighed the prince, "You have it all wrong. I have always comforted myself with the hope that some day my father would return me to the royal palace. But now I see that he is going to such pains to make me comfortable here, I'm afraid that my years of exile are far from over."

The Chasam Sofer used this parable in answer to a question posed by a wealthy Jew in his community of Pressburg. "Why do we, who are so comfortable here in Austria, still observe the three weeks of mourning? Surely our circumstances are nothing to complain about!" The Chasam Sofer explained that our exile is like that of the prince. We have also been sent away from our sacred palace in Eretz Yisrael because of our sins. While we suffered, we always comforted ourselves with the thought that we would eventually be redeemed and returned to our home by our merciful Father in Heaven. But now that He has made us so comfortable here, it is apparent that there is a long exile in store for us - and that is a powerful reason for mourning 25.

We must awaken ourselves from this complacency. Chazal 26 declare that one is obligated to say "When will my actions reach the actions of the Avos, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov". The Sages are not just offering good advice. They are giving us a directive to strive for greatness, and it is not enough to emulate the giants of previous generations. We must aim for the lofty level of the Avos, even though it is impossible to achieve. One who has an insatiable desire to serve Hashem who realises that his accomplishments pale in comparison to his goals will be driven to grow and strengthen his deeds 27.

When we start to aspire for more Torah and deveikus (closeness to Hashem), we will appreciate the tragedy that we are now suffering because the Shechina is in galus. We will also seek the assistance of our brethren to help us reach our goals. Perhaps we will then be worthy to the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash because it is through this midda that one merits the Divine presence.

The Beis Hamikdash was divided between the portions of Binyamin and Yehuda. Binyamin was not satisfied with his lot and he anguished over this. He was rewarded and merited to host Hakadosh Baruch Hu 28. The aron was located in his territory 29.

R' Meir said 30 when Bnei Yisrael stood by the edge of the sea of reeds, the Shevatim competed with each other, each one saying, "I will be the first to descend into the sea". Meanwhile, Binyamin jumped and descended into the sea first. As it is written "there, Binyamin, the youngest, rodeim" 31. Do not read "rodeim" - rules them, rather "rad yam" - descended into the sea, etc... Therefore Binyamin merited to be the host of the Almighty and the Kodesh Kadoshim, Holy of Holies was in his territory 32. Through their tremendous faith and desire to do Hashem's will, they jumped into the sea. They inherited Binyamin's lofty aspirations and they demonstrated that they too, were worthy to have the Beis Hamikdash built in their land. The sea split to allow them to receive the Torah and to continue on to Eretz Yisrael where they would build and utilise the Beis Hamikdash to reach their potential. As Bnei Yisrael sang: "You will bring them and implant them on the mountain of Your heritage, the foundation of Your dwelling place that You, Hashem have made - the Sanctuary, my L-rd that Your hands established." 33. As we explained above, the Bnei Rachel shared the same middos. So it must be that Yosef too aspired and strove for greatness. We find that the Yam split in Yosef's merit. We say in Hallel "When Israel went out of Egypt … the sea saw and fled" 34. The Midrash 35 asks "What did it see?" and answers "Yosef's coffin". HaKadosh Baruch Hu declared - "Let the sea flee for the one who fled from sin". As it is written "And he left his garment with her and fled outside." 36. Yosef left his jacket, evidence that would eventually incriminate him, and ran from the scene. He wanted to distance himself from sin regardless of the consequences. He remembered that he was the son of Yaakov Avinu and wanted to remain true to him, to live up to his expectations. He proved himself worthy to have the Mishkan in his territory, therefore the sea split for him.

May we too yearn for greatness, appreciate our loss and all together merit the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash.


1 One of the Rambam's 13 Principles of Faith. There are also many halachos (laws) of mourning that apply the entire year. See Orach Chaim Simanim 560,561.
2 Yoma 9b.
3 Chafetz Chaim, introduction.
4 See Makkos 24a. Moshe taught us 613 mitzvos... until Chavakuk came and established one requirement, a righteous person will live because of his faith, Chavakuk 2:4. Chavakuk obviously did not discard all of the other mitzvos, for the Torah is eternal. Rather he sought one principle to focus on. Any Mitzva that one performs can be seen as a reminder of Hashem's existence, a strengthening of faith. See also Shabbos 31a. A potential ger asked Hillel to teach him the entire Torah on one foot. He was not making a mockery of the Torah, for we will see Hillel answered him. Rather the Maharsha explains, since he desired to embark on an odyssey to learn Torah and observe its Mitzvos, he sought a principle to guide him, a goal that incorporated the entire Torah. Hillel responded, "what is hateful to you, no not do to your friend. This is the entire Torah. The rest is commentary, go and learn it. See Rashi and other commentators to understand how Hillel answered his question.
5 Machshavos Charutz p.86; Yisrael Kedoshim p.34.
6 Bereishis 45:14.
7 Megilla 16b.
8 See Rashi, Bereishis 6:6.
9 See K'sav Sofer, Parshas VaYigash.
10 Tehillim 133:1.
11 4:9,10.
12 ibid, 11.
13 Chachma U'mussar, 1:92.
14 Ovadia 1:18.
15 Shemos 17:9-13.
16 Bavra Basra 121b.
17 Bereishis Rabba 99:2.
18.Ibid ,Yalkut Shimoni, Beshalach.
19. See Matnas Chaim, Moadim P 188.
20. Shabbos 55b.
21. Rashi, Bereishis 43:30.
22 Sota 36b.
23. Mishnas R"Aharon vol 3, P 49.
24. Alshich, Parshas Teruma.
25. Adapted from "On wings of prayer", pp 131-133.
26. Tanna d'vei Eliyahu 25.
27. Mishnas R' Aharon, ibid.
28. Zevachim 53b-54a.
29. Rashi Yoma 12a; Megilla 26a.
30. Sota 36b.
31. Tehillim 68:28.
32. Rashi.
33. Shemos 15:17.
34. Tehillim 114:1-3.
35. Midrash Shocher Tov 114:9.
36. Bereishis 39:12.

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