The Phase of 21 Days
“The Phase of 21 Days”
Parshas Masei falls out during this period of time known as the “Bein Hametzarim” (between the straits, referring to the Three Weeks, Eicha, 1:3). Ezra the Scribe was responsible for arranging the weekly Torah portions to be read at specific times during the year on the Jewish calendar (Megillah, chap. 4, “B’nei Ha-ir”, pg. 31b, Rebbi Shimon ben Elazar).
This begs us to ask, “What is the connection between Parshas Masei and the Three Weeks?” We will share one approach to answer this question right now.
In his Avodas Yisrael, the Maggid of Kohznitz (Rabbi Yisrael Hopstien, 1737-1814, Poland) says that the connection between Parshas Masei and the Three Weeks is as follows.
Parshas Masei begins with the words, “These are the journeys of the Children of Israel” (33:1). Rashi (quoting a Midrash Aggadah and Rebbi Moshe Hadarshan – 11th cent. France) says that when you count how many places the Jewish people encamped, there are 42 stations in all. The number 42 is very much connected to this time of year, as we will see right now.
There are 21 days during the Bein Hametzarim. We know this from a Rashi in Sefer Yirmiya (1:11) where it says, “The word of Hashem came to me (Yirmiya) saying, ‘What do you see Yirmiyahu?’ And I said, ‘I see a staff of an almond tree.’”
Rashi there cites a Medrash Aggadah and a Yerushalmi in Meseches Ta’anis (pg. 23a) who says that it takes 21 days from the time an almond blossoms until it ripens. Those 21 days correspond to the 21 days that there are between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av (which are the Three Weeks).
The coded message which Hashem showed to Yirmiya was that there would be 21 days of destruction beginning with Jerusalem’s walls being breached on the 17th of Tammuz culminating with the Temple which would be destroyed on the 9th of Av. It is clear from this source that the Bein Hametzarim consists of 21 days.
In Sha’ar Hakavanos, the Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, 1534 Jerusalem- 1572 Tzfas) says the same thing, that there are 21 days during the Three Weeks.
You might be wondering why we need Rashi and the Arizal to tell us that there are 21 days during the Three Weeks, because if you would ask just about anybody how many days there are in three weeks, the answer would be 21 days because each week has 7 days in it, and 7x3=21. In a few moments we are going to offset this question with a different question. But in the meantime, we are going to see what the Maggid of Kohznitz does with this information.
Says the Maggid of Kohznitz that once we have established that there are 21 days during the Three Weeks, these 21 days can be split into two parts. One part is the 21 daylight hours of the 21 days, and second part is the 21 nighttime hours of the 21 days. When you divide these 21 days into these two parts, it turns out that there are really 42 periods of time during the Three Weeks (21 + 21 = 42).
These 42 chunks of time of the Bein Hametzarim correspond to the 42 stations of the Jewish people in the Midbar (wilderness) that are recorded in Parshas Masei. This teaches us that we have a responsibility to fix the 42 stations during these 42 periods of time.
This means to say that during these 42 chunks of time of the Bein Hametzarim, we are supposed to serve Hashem with Torah, Tefillah, and, believe it or not, with simcha (happiness and joy). When we do, we wind up repairing the 42 stations of the Jewish people in the Midbar.
You see, we are not very proud of the 42 stations because they represent the sins of the Jews in the midbar. It was because of those sins that they had to wander about 42 stations to begin with.
Similarly, we are not very proud of these 42 periods of time because they also represent our sins. Therefore, these 42 chunks of time correspond to the 42 stations in the wilderness. If we fill the 42 chunks of time with Avodas Hashem (service of God), we will be metaken (fix) the 42 stations of the Jews.
Again, this explains why Parshas Masei falls out during the Three Weeks. It is because it comes to teach us that these 42 periods of time can fix the 42 stations.
Now let us address another question. Earlier we mentioned that some might question why we need a Rashi and an Arizal to tell us that there are 21 days in three weeks. However, we are going to ask a slightly different question which will offset this one.
That question is, “How can Rashi, the Arizal, and the Maggid of Kohznitz say that there are 21 days during the Three weeks? Although we would be quick to say that there are obviously 21 days in three weeks, when you open a calendar and actually count the number of days from the 17th of Tammuz, including the 17th of Tammuz, until the 9th of Av, including the 9th of Av, there are actually 22 days, not 21!
In his sefer, Machazeh Avraham, the Rebbe of Butchach (Rabbi Avraham Dovid Wahrman, 1770-1840, Romania; Chazon Lamoed Bein Hametzarim) says that Rashi and the Arizal got to the number 21 because they did not include the day of Tisha b’Av itself as part of the Three Weeks.
This is because Tisha b’Av itself is referred to as a holiday (Eicha, 1:15). We even treat Tisha b’Av as a holiday because we do not say Tachanun during the Mincha service on Erev Tisha b’Av (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 552:12, and we do not say Tachanun on Tisha b’Av itself (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 559:4), just like we practice when it comes to other holidays such as Pesach, Sukkos, and Shavuos.
In his sefer, Imrei Pinchas, (Rabbi Pinchas Shapiro of Koretz, 1726-1791, Ukraine) he adds why we treat Tisha b’Av as a holiday. It is because the Yerushalmi in Berachos (pg. 17b) says that Moshiach ben Dovid was, is, will be born on Tisha b’Av. Therefore, the 9th of Av is celebrated as a holiday.
The Machazeh Avraham continues to say that since Tisha b’Av is treated like a holiday, it is not included as part of the Three Weeks of the Bein Hametzarim. This is because the Bein Hametzarim are days of mourning, whereas the 9th of Av itself is a day of celebration.
Therefore, we need Rashi and the Arizal to teach us that there are 21 days during the Three Weeks because they were aware of the fact that a person might open a calendar and count and come up with the mistaken number of 22 days.
In order that nobody makes that mistake, they had to teach us that there are really only 21 days during the Bein Hametzarim. But I repeat, during the 21 days, there are actually 42 chunks of time (21 daylight hours and 21 nighttime hours), and those 42 periods of time are meant to atone for the 42 stations in the Midbar, as we mentioned above.
In his sefer, Ohev Yisrael, (Likkutim Chadashim, divrei hamaschil “l’Yamim Noraim”) the Apter Rebbi (Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Apt, 1748-1825, Poland) says that although the month of Elul has been set aside as a month of teshuvah, nevertheless, we must already start the teshuvah process from the 17th of Tammuz.
A hint which supports this idea is found in the word “Tammuz” because the word “Tammuz” is spelled with four Hebrew letters which are: taf, mem, vov, and zayin. These four letters serve as the acronym of, “Zemanei Teshuvah Mimashmishim Ubaim” (the time for repentance is approaching).
The letters in the word “Tammuz” also serves as the acronym for, “Zerizim Makdimim V’osim Teshuvah” (people who do things with alacrity already start doing teshuvah). These hints support the idea that we should start doing teshuvah already in the month of Tammuz. This idea leads right into another time period during which we should do teshuvah.
The Maharsha (Rabbi Shmuel Eidels, 1555-1631, Poland; Chiddushei Aggados, Berachos, chap. 1, “M’eimasai”, pg. 8b) adds that besides the 21 days between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av, there is another set of 21 days which are from Rosh Hashanah, including Rosh Hashanah, until Hoshanah Rabbah, including Hoshanah Rabbah.
These two sets of 21 days atone for our sins. However, there is a distinction between them.
The 21 days of Bein Hametzarim are days of pain and mourning. Therefore, the teshuvah (repentance) that we do at this time of year is motivated by pain and suffering.
However, the 21 days between Rosh Hashanah and Hoshanah Rabbah are Yomim Tovim (holidays). Therefore, the teshuvah that we do at that time is motivated by happiness and joy.
The Shvilei Pinchas adds that if we merit to do teshuvah from a place of love during the 21 days between Rosh Hashanah and Hoshanah Rabbah, we will not need the other set of 21 days between Shiva Asar b’Tammuz and Tisha b’Av to motivate us to do teshuvah from fear, because we already did teshuvah from love.
However, if we do not seize the 21 days between Rosh Hashanah and Hoshanah Rabbah to utilize them as days of teshuvah from happiness, then we will need the 21 days of the Bein Hametzrim to encourage us to do teshuvah from fear.
This insight will bring us to a deeper understanding of dividing the 21 days into two parts: daylight hours and nighttime hours.
The Degel Machaneh Ephraim (Rabbi Chaim Ephraim of Sudilkov, 1748-1800, Ukraine; Parshas Masei) quotes his grandfather, the Ba’al Shem Tov, who said that the Torah went out of its way to enumerate the 42 stations of the Jews in the Midbar, even though it may seem to be superfluous. The reason why the Torah took out the time and space to mention every single encampment was to teach us that every single Jew has 42 stages in his or her life.
The Shvilei Pinchas adds that we are supposed to repent every single day we are alive (Avos, chap. 2, “Rebbi Omer”, Mishna 15, Rebbi Eliezer). However, there are certain stations or stages in life which bring us to teshuvah from a place of happiness, joy, and love. On the other hand, there are other stations or stages in life which force us to do teshuvah from a place of tragedy, sadness, pain, and suffering.
The teshuvah we do from love is represented by the 21 days between Rosh Hashana and Hoshanah Rabbah, and the teshuvah we do from fear is represented by the 21 days between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av.
Or, we could put it this way. The teshuvah that we are encouraged to do from love is represented by the 21 days of daylight hours of the Bein Hametzarim, whereas the teshuvah we are awakened to do from fear is represented by the 21 days of nighttime hours of the Bein Hametzrim.
The Shvilei Pinchas concludes by saying that the two sets of 21 days of the Bein Hametzarim (days and nights) equal 42, which correspond to the 42 stations of the Jews in the Midbar, and the 42 stations represent the 42 stages in every person’s life. There are some stages in life which bring us to teshuvah from love, represented by the 21 daylight hours of the Bein Hametzrim, and there are other stages in life which bring us to teshuvah from fear, represented by the 21 nighttime hours of the Bein Hametzrim.
As a means of a practical application of this teaching, let us start the teshuvah process today. Even if one may not feel in the mood of doing teshuvah at this time of year, we can jump-start the process with an easy verbal declaration.
Staring today, until the remainder of the Three Weeks, let us say the following prayer:
“Dear God, please forgive me for my sins. Please forgive me for not taking full advantage of this past year’s 21 days from Rosh Hashanah until Hoshanah Rabbah by not returning to You from a place of love. Please forgive me for making You punish me with these 21 days from the 17th of Tammuz until the 9th of Av.”
In this way, we will be able to transform these 21 days of the Bein Hametzarim into days of joyous celebration with the building of the Beis Hamikdash.
So, may we all be blessed to take full advantage of these 21 days of the Bein Hametzarim by doing a teshuvah shileima, and may we continue on this path during the 21 days from Rosh Hashanah until Hoshanah Rabbah, and may we continue on this path during the 42 stages of our lives, by day and by night, and thus deserve to belong to the generation who will merit to build the Beis Hamikdash.