The Mourning Process of the Three Weeks

The 21 days that are the three weeks between the 17th
of Tammuz and the ninth of Av correspond to the 21 days between Rosh Hoshanah
and Hoshanah Rabbah. The 21 days between the 17th of Tammuz and the
ninth of Av lead to the height of mourning. The 21 days between Rosh Hoshanah
and Hoshanah Rabbah lead to the height of Simcha—Simchas Torah.

Why Twenty-one? Twenty-one is seven times three. Seven
signifies perfection in the physical world. When something happens three times
it establishes a chazakah: It is set firmly. We have Twenty-one (seven
times three) to fix the mourning for the Beis Hamikdosh and the Simcha of the
Torah firmly in our hearts.

After Tisha B’av until Rosh Chodesh Ellul is also
twenty-one days. Ellul is thirty days preparation for Rosh Hashannah and Rosh
Hashanah is followed by 21 days of preparation for the simcha of Simchas Torah.
The period between Tisha B’av and Hoshanah Rabbah is one long spiritual
process leading up the ultimate simcha. But to get there you have to go through
the ultimate mourning, the mourning for the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh on
Tisha B’av.

When you think about it, it seems that Tisha B’av should
have been set up differently because it is the invert of normal mourning, the
mourning for the loss of a close relative. When we mourn for a relative, the
most intense mourning occurs at the time of death. The first day of mourning is
the only one, according to many, that is required by the Torah. The rabbis added
another six days. The first three days are the days of crying. On the next
three, the mourning is less intense. After the seven days, there is a lesser
period of mourning that lasts thirty days. After that, for parents, the mourning
extends for twelve months. With that, mourning comes to an end. This process
makes good sense: mourning hits us hard and then dissipates. We are told that on
Tisha B’av we should feel as though the body of a beloved relative lies before
us. This is the experience of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh. Then we
would expect to have a period of seven days, thirty days and a year. It would
seem that the mourning should begin on Tisha B’av, not before.

Mourning for the Beis Hamikdosh can be compared to hearing
now that your great, great, great grandfather died 300 years ago. You’re not
going to go into a big fit of melancholy over a relative you never knew who died
300 years ago. We haven’t had a Beis Hamikdosh for 2000 years. We don’t feel
the shock of the destruction. We don’t realize what we’ve lost. The process
of mourning for the Temple is not a process of coming down from a shocking
confrontation with death and loss of a loved one. In order to mourn for the Beis
Hamikdosh we have to first come to realize what we’ve lost. We have to build
up to it. We start on the seventeenth of Tammuz. Little by little, our awareness
deepens. Little by little the destructive event of two thousand years ago
penetrates our feelings. We come to the nine days, to erev Tisha B’av, and
finally to Tisha B’av itself. Hopefully, by then we want to cry. Hopefully, by
then we have discovered that the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh represents
the loss of our deepest desire: to feel, in the most tangible way possible, the
Presence of G-d among us. Hopefully, we have come to realize that the
destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh is our personal loss, and mourn with all the
heartbreak of an orphaned child the absence of our Beloved.

There’s another reason that we build up gradually to the
mourning of Tisha B’av. The destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh was also
gradual. The calendar of mourning corresponds to the sequence of terrible events
which culminated in the destruction. The tenth of Teves marks the siege, on the
17th of Tammuz the Romans broke through the walls. It took 21 days
until they reached the Beis Hamikdosh and destroyed it. Why did G-d bring the
destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh in stages and not in one fell swoop? Because
He wanted us to do teshuva. He wanted to show us where our way of life was
taking us. He wanted to give us the time to generate a real sense of
responsibility for keeping what is most precious in our lives: the Presence of
G-d. G-d surely didn’t want to destroy the Beis Hamikdosh. Each time something
happened that marked one more fateful step towards destruction, He hoped that we
would turn around, and that the terrible punishment could be remitted. Perhaps
this idea provides us with a guideline for directing the course of our mourning.
Each day we can ask ourselves: what can I give G-d today that would have stopped
the process two thousand years ago? How can I open my heart in a way that would
have assured Him back then that we really want to live in His Presence, that we
are worthy of having His Beis Hamikdosh in our midst? The person who does this
will not only discover a great new love for G-d, he will also discover—and
they go together—the deep, deep pain of losing Him—of losing the Presence
that is only possible when G-d dwells among us in the Beis Hamikdosh.