When Three Weeks Became 22 Days

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Pinchas
When Three Weeks Became 22 Days

In a non-leap year, Parshas Pinchas is always read on the first week of the “Bein Hametzarim” (in dire straits; Eicha, 1:3; an expression used to identify the Three Weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av). Ezra the Scribe was responsible for organizing the weekly portions in such a way that they correspond to the times on the Jewish calendar (Megillah, chap.4, “B’nei Ha-ir”, pg. 31b, Rebbi Shimon ben Elazar).

Why did Ezra place Parshas Pinchas at the beginning of the Three Weeks? What is the connection between the Three Weeks and Parshas Pinchas?

The Apter Rebbe (Ohev Yisrael, Parshas Pinchas) says that the connection between the two is that Parshas Pinchas mentions all the holidays that we celebrate around the year. In all, there are 21 days of holidays throughout the year. The list is as follows: Shabbos is one, Rosh Chodesh is one, there are seven days of Pesach (biblically), one day of Shavuos, two days of Rosh Hashanah, one day of Yom Kippur, seven days of Succos, and Shmini Atzeres. Altogether, there are 21 days of holidays throughout the year.

The 21 days of the Bein Hametzarim correspond the 21 days of holidays. The 21 days of the Three Weeks serve as the roots of the 21 days of the holidays. This explains why Ezra positioned Parshas Pinchas to be read at the onset of the Three Weeks. It was to teach us that these two sets of 21 days are connected to each other.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds, that although Hashem mourns the destruction of the Batei Mikdash during the whole year (Berachos, chap. 1, “M’eimasai”, pg. 3a; Rebbi Eliezer), during the Three Weeks, that mourning is intensified. When we participate in Hashem’s mourning during the Three Weeks, we comfort Hashem, so to speak, because Hashem feels like He is not alone. This brings Hashem a measure of happiness, as it were.

Therefore, Hashem says to us that if we make Him happy during the 21 days of the Bein Hametzarim, Hashem promises to make us happy during the other 21 days of chagim (holidays).

A source which states explicitly that there are indeed 21 days during the Bein Hametzarim is found in Sefer Yirmiya (1:11-12) where it says, “The word of Hashem then came to me saying, ‘What do you see Yirmiyahu?’ And I said, I see a staff of an almond tree. And Hashem said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I hasten to fullfil My word.”

Rashi (ibid) cites the Midrash Aggadah that says that it takes an almond 21 days to ripen from the time that it blossoms, which correspond the 21 days from the 17th of Tammuz until the 9th of Av.

The difficulty is that when you actually count the Three Weeks from the 17th of Tammuz until the 9th of Av – including the 17th of Tammuz and including the 9th of Av – there are 22 days! Why do we keep referring to the Three Weeks as 21 days?

To strengthen this question, let us turn to the Mishna (Ta’anis; chap. 4, “Bishlosha Perakim”, Mishna 6; pg. 26a) which says that Moshe broke the Luchos on the 17th of Tammuz. On that same day, Hashem told Moshe that, because of the sin of the Golden Calf, He was going to wipe out the Jewish people and start over again with Moshe. Moshe prayed intensely to nullify that decree. In Moshe’s prayer, he mentioned the 13 attributes of God’s mercy (Parshas Ki Sisa, 32:6-7). The B’nei Yissaschar (Tammuz-Av, 2:3) says that the reason why Moshe mentioned specifically 13 attributes of God’s mercy was because there are 13 days from the 17th of Tammuz until the end of Tammuz (the 29th of Tammuz). Each expression of mercy was meant to protect the Jewish people for the remainder of the 13 days of that month, in which the sin of the Golden Calf took place.

Then, there was another major sin that the Jews were guilty of, the spies. When the majority of spies gave an evil report about Eretz Yisrael, the Jews cried that night. That night was Tisha B’Av. Hashem said that the Jews cried for nothing. If they wanted something to cry about Hashem would give them reason to cry. That night was designated for tragedy, such as the destruction of the two Temples. Again, Hashem told Moshe that because of the sin with the spies, He was going to annihilate the Jews and start over again with Moshe. Moshe prayed intensely to nullify that decree. In Moshe’s prayer, he mentioned specifically 9 attributes of God’s mercy (Parshas Shelach, 14:18-19). The B’nei Yissaschar (ibid) says that the reason why Moshe mentioned specifically 9 attributes of God’s mercy was because there are 9 days from Rosh Chodesh Av until Tisha B’Av. Each expression was meant to correspond to those 9 days, forgiving the Jews for the sin which transpired during that time.

Once again, we see that there are 22 days altogether from the 17th of Tammuz until Tisha B’Av because those days correspond to the 22 attributes of God’s mercy which were mentioned by Moshe during that period of time (13 + 9 = 22). How then, can Rashi and the Midrash on Sefer Yirmiya say that there are 21 days during the Bein Hametzarim? There are actually 22 days.

Due to the strength of this question, some commentaries actually write that there are 22 days during the Bein Hametzarim. For example, the Pri Tzaddik (Rabbi Tzadok Hakohen from Lublin, 1823-1900; Parshas Matos, #10) says that the 22 days of the Bein Hametzarim correspond to the 22 letters of the Hebrew Alpha Beis. The Torah is composed of those 22 letters. Since the Jews damaged those 22 letters by disobeying what it says in the Torah, therefore, we were given 22 days of mourning. Each day mourns another Torah letter that was damaged.

For transgressing the 22 letters of the Aleph Beis, we were also “punished” with the Book of Eicha which lambasts and rebukes the Jewish people with the constant repetition of the acrostic of the Aleph Beis (Sanhedrin, chap. 11, “Cheilek”, pg. 104a; Rebbi Yochanan; Also see Pesichas to Eicha Rabbasi, #’s 20 & 24; based on Daniel, 9:11).

The first time that the Jewish people clearly damaged the 22 letters of the Aleph Beis was when they sinned with the Golden Calf. When Moshe saw the Calf and the dancing, he also saw how the letters flew off of the Luchos. Therefore, he threw the blank tablets down (Parshas Ki Sisa, 32:19; Shemos Rabba 46:1, Parshas Ki Sisa; Yalkut Shimoni, Parshas Pinchas, Remez 393). The letters flew off because they were damaged by the sin. This also supports the idea that there are 22 days during the Three weeks to mourn the 22 letters that were damaged.

However, there is a difficulty with this approach. The letter “tes” was missing from the first Luchos. Only on the second set of Luchos does it say, “L’ma’an Ya’arichun Yamecha U’L’ma’am Yitav Lach” (so that your days will be lengthened and so that it will be good for you) in the fifth commandment about honoring parents. The word “Yitav,” from the word “tov” (good), is spelled with a letter “tes” at the beginning of the word. Therefore, the letter “tes” does appear on the second set of Luchos.

But, in the first set of Luchos, it only says, “L’ma’an Ya’arichun Yamecha” (so that your days will be lengthened) in the fifth commandment about honoring parents. It does not say, “L’ma’an Yitav Lach.” The word “yitav,” or “tov,” is absent from the first set of Luchos. This means that the letter “tes” is missing from the first set. There is no other “tes” in the first set.

Therefore, how can we say that the 22 days of the Bein Hametzarim is to mourn the damaged 22 letters that flew off the Luchos, when in fact, only 21 letters were damaged and flew off? Now, Rashi and the Midrash above from Sefer Yirmiya is sounding a little bit better. There must be only 21 days during the Three Weeks. But, what about the fact that we can count 22 days on the calendar? What about the 22 attributes of Hashem’s mercy that Moshe used to pray with which corresponded the 22 days from the 17th of Tammuz to the 9th of Av? Will the real number please stand up!

The Maharal (Tiferes Yisrael, chap. 56) says that when the Beis Hamikdash stood, Torah emanated from Tzion. Proof of this is that the final decision on matters of Jewish Law came from the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Supreme Court) which convened in the Lishkas Hagazis (a chamber hewn from stone in honor of the Sanhedrin who sat there) which was by the Beis Hamikdash (Parshas Shoftim, 17:8-11; Mishna Sanhedrin, 10:2, “Eilu Hen Hanechnakin”, pg. 86b). After all, it says, “Ki M’Tzion Teitzei Torah” (Torah goes forth from Tzion; Yeshaya, 2:3).

However, once the Temple was destroyed, the Torah itself was exiled, as it says, “Gone from the daughter of Tzion is all her splendor” (Eicha, 1:6). Torah was scattered across the globe. This explains why the Jewish people were sent into exile. We must go to all those places to retrieve the Torah that was exiled there.

This is what it means when it says that Torah cannot be found in one place (Shabbos, chap. 20, “Tolin”, pg. 138b; Parshas Vayeilech, 31:21; Amos, 8:12). This is because the Torah has been dispersed across the planet.

Based on this Maharal, perhaps we could suggest an alternative meaning behind the Mishna in Avos (4:14; “Ben Zoma”) where Rebbi Nehorai says, “Hevi Golah L’makom Torah” (exile yourself to a place of Torah). The conventional understanding of this Mishna is that if a person goes into exile, at least go to a place that has already established Torah institutions so that he can remain connected to Torah.

However, an alternate understanding of this Mishna could be, “Go into exile to all those places that have Torah buried in them” so that we will be able to draw the Torah out of those places and bring it back.

The Sefas Emes (Parshas Balak) says that the first time that the Torah was exiled was when the Luchos were broken. When the letters of the Luchos flew off of the Tablets, they were scattered across the entire Earth. Therefore, we had to be exiled as well, in order to retrieve those letters.

The Imrei Noam (Parshas Shemos, #2) and the Yismach Moshe (Parshas Shmini, #23) add that when the commentaries speak about the kabbalistic reason for exile, which is so that we gather in the “Nitzotzos of Kedusha” (the Holy Sparks; See Ohr Hachayim Hakadosh, Parshas Beha’alosecha, 10:35), those “sparks” are actually the holy letters of the Aleph Beis with which the Torah was composed.

At this point, let us share a secret regarding the power of the letter “tes.” The letter “tes” has the capacity of gathering all the other letters that have been dispersed. This is the “tov” (good) of the letter “tes.” Since Hashem never wrote the letter “tes” into the first set of Luchos, the letter “tes” was never damaged by the sin of the Calf. Rather, Hashem was protecting the letter “tes” so that the Jewish people would be able to use it to gather the rest of the letters.

Therefore, there are really only 21 days of the Bein Hametzarim. You see, the 22 days of the Three Weeks that you find on the calendar, do indeed correspond the 22 letters of the Aleph Beis, but, the letters are out of order. After all, when the letters flew off of the Tablets, they went into a chaotic mixture. For now, let us focus on the 9th day of Av. That day corresponds to the letter “tes.” We know this from the name of the day, “Tisha B’Av” (the “tes” or 9th day of Av).

Just like that letter was never damaged, similarly, that day was never damaged. Although we fast, mourn, and sit on the floor on Tisha B’Av, which implies that Tisha B’Av was damaged, that is only when we view Tisha B’Av from the outside. Externally, Tisha B’Av is a sad day.

However, when you dig into Tisha B’Av, you will find that it is a very happy day. Moshiach is born on Tisha B’Av (Yerushalmi Berachos, 2:4). Tisha B’Av is called a “Moed” (holiday; Eicha; 1:15). We do not say “Tachanun” on Tisha B’Av (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 559:4). Underneath it all, Tisha B’Av is a festive day. As such, we do not include Tisha B’Av as one of the Bein Hametzarim. There are only 21 days of mourning, because Tisha B’Av is different from the other days.

Therefore, with respect to the question of whether there are 21 or 22 days of Bein Hametzarim, the answer is, “Yes!” It depends. If you choose to view Tisha B’Av externally, it is just as much a day of mourning as the days leading up to it. Therefore, there are 22 days. However, if you choose to delve into the essence of Tisha B’Av and assess it from that perspective, it is dissimilar to the other days. Therefore, it is not counted with the other days. Therefore, there are only 21 days of Bein Hametzarim.

Practically speaking, we could suggest an exercise for these Three Weeks. Each day recite the entire Aleph Beis out loud. When you get to the letter “tes,” slow down and emphasize it. Then, add the following personal prayer, “Dear God, please grant me the power of the good letter “tes,” which is the gift of gathering all the chiddushim hidden within the other 21 letters, and thus transform these 21 days from mourning to dancing, celebrating the coming of Moshiach and the Geula.

So, may we all be blessed with the gift of “tes” to reveal the novel secrets hidden beneath the other 21 scattered letters, and thus deserve the birth of our Moshiach when we will witness the transformation of these 21 days of mourning into 21 days of moadim and simcha, as we bask under Hashem’s almond tree, soaking up His Presence, immersing ourselves in the entirety of His Torah that was contained on the first Luchos which will be whole once again.