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Moshe Rabbenu is instructed to launch Benei Yisrael's war of vengeance against Midyan, to repay them for their having led Benei Yisrael to sin, which resulted in a devastating plague that killed 24,000 people. The revenge was completed as instructed. As we know, all the parshiyot in the Torah come to teach us a lesson. The redemption will soon come, at which point the powerful arm of the Al-mighty will be revealed and avenge the blood of those Jews who have been killed by our enemies, as it says in the Torah, "O nations, acclaim His people! For He will avenge the blood of His servants, wreak vengeance on His foes, and cleanse the land of His people." Vengeance will come for every victim, everyone who was wounded, for every sigh of despair and pain. We yearn for this every day in our prayers: "Please see our distress, Hashem our G-d, and fight our battles"; "and all the evil ones shall be destroyed in an instant, and all Your enemies and all Your foes shall soon be annihilated. " And like Hizkiyahu, the king of Yehudah, we will not even lift a finger for this purpose, as it will all be performed by the Al-mighty Himself: "Pour Your wrath upon them, and Your anger shall overcome them. Pursue them with rage and destroy them from under the heavens of Hashem."
The question, however, arises, was it not the Moavim, not the Midyanim, who began this entire process? It was they who summoned Bilam and who sent their daughters to lead Benei Yisrael to sin. The Midyanim merely joined them. Why was the revenge directed against Midyan, in all its fury, while it passed over Moav?
Rashi provides the answer: "Because the Moavim participated out of fear, as they feared that Benei Yisrael would plunder them. But the Midyanim involved themselves in a quarrel not their own." Here, too, we learn an eternal lesson, a powerful message that applies to each and every one of us. First, to avoid any misunderstanding, let us emphasize that the belief that the Al-mighty grants reward for every misvah and punishes for every averah constitutes one of the principal articles of our faith. It is listed as one of the thirteen principles of belief. But there are innumerable, different levels when it comes to the severity of the punishment. Hashem takes into account the severity of the transgression, the difficulty of the challenge posed to the individual, and his present level and intentions. Everything is calculated with precision by the L-rd of Judgment.
Here we find yet another consideration. Falsehood, for example, constitutes a sin. "A band of liars does not withhold the sight of the Shechina, as it says, 'He who deals deceitfully shall not live in My house'." At times a person lies due to the unpleasantness of the current situation. Last night he was tired, so he did not participate in the celebration of one of the members of his congregation. Today he will see the person in the Bet Kenesset - what will he say? If he is a man of truth, he will say nothing. If he senses discomfort with the situation, then he realizes that he now pays the price for yesterday's laziness. But if he is not so committed to truth, he will come up with some kind of business meeting or emergency call to the hospital. He will employ his imagination, the shelter for falsehood. He will have thus demonstrated that he is not strong enough to overpower his evil inclination. Undoubtedly, he has done something wrong, and for this he will be punished unless he performs teshuvah.
But in the heavens the discomfort and uneasiness of the situation will be taken into account. His punishment, therefore, will be determined accordingly. We should note that the Ramban zs"l reveals to us that the lightest punishment in the after-world is worse than all the suffering experienced by Iyov for seventy years. Of course, this is only if one does not perform teshuvah.
But unfortunately, a certain lightheadedness has emerged concerning "white lies" such as those that harm no one -- except for the soul of the one who tells them. People think nothing of throwing around words and distorting the truth. Insignificant as it may seem, it is too awful to even think about how severe the punishment is when there is no crisis, when there was not even any need. This sin resembles that of the Midyanim, who got involved in a quarrel that should not have involved them, for which they were punished with the utmost severity. Similarly, if two people get entangled in some argument, and they go around speaking evil about one another, in violation of the Torah's prohibitions concerning lashon hara, they will certainly be punished. Yet, their punishment will be lightened out of consideration for their feelings and disgruntlement. But the listeners - if they pass the discussion on further, they in effect involve themselves in an argument not their own, and will be punished, Heaven forbid, with full severity. How careful we must be, therefore, in light of the punishment of the Midyanim!
Birds of Prey
One who monitors the migration trails of the birds of prey from Northern Europe down to Central Africa will see that these birds do not make a very short, straightforward trip. Their journey is rather a considerably long one, relatively speaking. They circumvent the seas and fly only over dry land - over valleys, in between mountain chains and in between cliffs. At first glance, this seems very strange. What advantage do they gain by flying along such a trail? After all, the extra mileage requires greater effort and additional energy. As it turns out, it is specifically the longer trail that saves these birds energy. How could this be? Whoever looks closely at migrating birds will see that they actually glide. Gliding is performed mainly with the help of warm streams of air that rise upwards. These streams are formed when the ground warms from the sun's rays. The gliding bird capitalizes on these streams of warm air. It spreads its wings and, as if revolving around a hinge, it disappears into the sky. It hardly even moves its wings until it reaches the stream's peak. At this point, the bird begins plunging as if on a sled. Over the course of the plunge, the bird loses height until it meets another rising stream of air, which helps him glide upwards once again. When the gliding birds finds a trail which features many rising streams, it can travel thousands of miles almost without losing any energy. Convenient streams of air simply do not exist over the oceans, but rather over dry land of a certain tropical makeup.
The most apparent quality required of migrating birds in general and the birds of prey in particular is resolute devotion to their goal. No bird can allow itself to leave the group in the middle of their flight to rest or catch its breath, or simply because, if you will, it is sick of flying. They all must continue pressing on until they eventually reach their destination. This reminds us that firm resolve and devotion to one's goal is among the defining characteristics of the Jewish people. Jews throughout the generations yearned for the redemption. The prophets have taught us that in the period of redemption, the entirety of Am Yisrael will gather together and come to Eress Yisrael. The Holy Land will blossom and prosper, peace will prevail throughout the world, everyone will acknowledge the existence of G-d and that Am Yisrael is the chosen nation, and Hashem's Torah is the Torah of truth.
"He Who Walks Innocently Walks Securely" (5)
Flashback: The rabbi of the city of Boskovitz, Rabbi Shemuel Halevi zs"l, secured the governor's guarantee that he will protect the Jews from the blood libel, should it arise, and he assured the governor that the entire libel is utter falsehood. The governor upheld his word even when the dead body of a Christian boy was found in the Jewish street, a knife dug into his body. The governor opened a thorough investigation and was infuriated when it was discovered that the knife came from the rabbi's kitchen! The rabbi was arrested and imprisoned until his trial, and the governor declared that once the rabbi is found guilty, he will lead the rioting against the Jews!
The town went into turmoil when the news of the rabbi's arrest broke. The Jews refused to believe the accusation that was cast upon them like thunder on a sunny day, whereas the priests rejoiced as over the discovery of a hidden treasure. "We told you so!" thundered their voice from the pulpits throughout the city. "The rabbis themselves carry out the cruel blood ritual and ambush your dear children ready to kill them!" The gentiles cast glares of hatred and contempt towards the Jews, who feared what would happen next. They knew that they were living on borrowed time. The police kept a watchful eye to prevent any organization for purposes of rioting until after the trial. But soon the dams would be broken open, and who will survive after that…
Not that they cast any doubt, for even a moment, on the revered rabbi's innocence. Nobody more than they knew that the blood libel was sheer nonsense fashioned in the corrupt minds of the Jew-haters. But the air was saturated with hate and desire for revenge. The judges were afflicted with this contempt, as well, and they could not ignore the hostile public opinion that demanded revenge.
The Jews sought the best attorney to defend the rabbi, but he and his colleagues shied away. They did not want to bring upon themselves the contempt of the masses, nor were they prepared to take on a hopeless case. In the end, they managed to bring a prominent lawyer from a different town, who agreed to defend the rabbi in exchange for an enormous sum of money. The lawyer asked to meet with the rabbi, and permission was granted.
The iron gates were opened, and the attorney walked down the windy, slippery and narrow corridor, following the prison warden, who led the way. The heavy, steel door was opened and the lawyer walked into the cell. On a narrow, stone shelf sat the rabbi, his countenance illuminating the otherwise dark, dreary cell. Neither the darkness nor the putrid smell could dim the shine in his face.
The lawyer introduced himself.
"You are a brave man," the rabbi remarked respectfully, well aware of the current situation.
"Dear rabbi," said the lawyer, "I am an attorney, and I see things from the viewpoint of a man of law. As for me, I fully believe that the blood libel was a cruel, wicked invention without any basis whatsoever. But my viewpoint is not going to determine anything. The public does not think like me, neither do the judges. They see truth in the libel, and now they have evidence. The knife found in the slain body is yours. They don't need anymore proof than this.
"But there is one way to disprove the entire libel - to take away its very basis and foundation. This will save the rabbi from death and the entire community from riots.
"If you will agree, please listen to my suggestion and say exactly what I tell you. Do you agree?"
The rabbi answered, "I will not promise anything in advance. Let me first hear, and then I will decide."
The lawyer presented his plan, and what a simple plan it was…
To be continued
Rabbi David Ben Shimon zs"l
Rabbi David Ben Shimon zs"l was among the great religious leaders of the city of Rabat, Morocco, who excelled in the areas of Torah study and gemilut hasadim (kindness). Around one hundred and fifty years ago, in the year 5606, he emigrated to Eress Yisrael and established the western neighborhood outside the walls of Jerusalem's Old City. He built an infrastructure of Torah and hessed and became the rabbi of the community.
The rabbi was very much respected and revered. Once, on a trip north to the Galilee to visit the graves of sadikim, he stopped in the city of Haifa. Some Jews from the area asked that he come to give his blessing. He saw there a certain young man who worked as a bookkeeper. The rabbi asked whether or not he was Jewish. The people around him answered in the affirmative, and the rabbi called the young man over and asked him what he knows to learn. He answered that all he was taught was reading and writing, but at night his father teaches him some Aggadah from the book, "Ein Yaakov." The rabbi took out a siddur from his pocket and opened to the "ma'amadot" section. He pointed to a piece of Aggadah and asked the boy to read. The boy read the passage and explained it with perfect clarity. The rabbi asked the people to bring to him the boy's father. The father came and the rabbi said to him, "This boy is destined to greatness! Allow me to take him with me back to Yerushalayim. He will live in my home and study with me. I will purchase honorable clothing for him and he will become a Torah sage." The father agreed, but the mother did not. It was hard for her to separate from her son. The rabbi said to them, "At very least, send him to nearby Tiberias for a few months so he can study in the yeshivah there." The parents agreed, and the rabbi took leave of them.
The rabbi continued along his way and life proceeded as usual. The boy continued his work as a bookkeeper and did not even go to Tiberias. Three years later, he was sent by the business for which he worked to Jerusalem to take care of a certain transaction. While he was there, he went to visit the rabbi, who was overjoyed to see him and presented him as a gift his newly-published work.
"But I do not know how to learn it," the boy remarked.
"This is exactly my intention," the rabbi replied. "You are staying here until you know!" The boy became part of the rabbi's household and grew in Torah learning. He ultimately emerged as the rabbi of that community - the well-known giant, Rav Moshe Ben Na'im zs"l.
"You shall be clear before Hashem and before Yisrael"
The mishnah in Masechet Shekalim (3:2) deals with the half-shekel tax, which were placed in a special chamber in the Bet Hamikdash. The mishnah states that the one who would enter the chamber was not permitted to wear clothing with pockets or with shoes, in order that he would not come under suspicion of having hid some of the money. The mishnah explains, "For one must satisfy his obligation vis-à-vis people just as he must satisfy his obligation vis-à-vis the Al-mighty, as it says, 'You shall be clear before Hashem and before Yisrael.'" Another pasuk likewise states, "and find favor and approbation in the eyes of G-d and man." The Tosefta (Shekalim 2) adds that the individual was checked on his way in and out so as to prove that he did not take from the sacred funds. They would also speak with him the entire time to prove that he did not hide any money in his mouth. The Yerushalmi adds that someone with long hair was not permitted to enter the chamber lest he be suspected of hiding some coins in his hair. A person must therefore ensure to remain perfectly clean of any suspicion.
"You shall be clear before Hashem and before Yisrael"
The Tosefta (Pe'ah 4:15) writes that charity is to be collected by two people in order that people do not accuse the single collector that he took for himself. Hazal said that those in charge of sedakah would have to remain together; they may not separate from one another. They were not allowed to take any other money as they collected, such as if someone owed them or if they found money on the street. All this is based on this pasuk - "You shall be clear before Hashem and before Yisrael." The Gemara (Pesahim 13a) writes that if charity commissioners collected food for the poor but did not find any poor people to whom to distribute the food, they must sell the food to others. They may not purchase it themselves, lest they be suspected of theft.
"You shall be clear before Hashem and before Yisrael"
The Gemara (Yoma 38a) tells of the "Garmu" family who were expert bakers, and knew how to bake the special "lehem hapanim" ("show-bread") used in the Bet Hamikdash. Hazal criticized them for their refusal to divulge the secret. Hazal praised them, however, for the fact that their children were never seen eating fine bread, in order that they would not be suspected of feeding the children from the lehem hapanim. They thus fulfilled the pasuk, "You shall be clear before Hashem and before Yisrael."
Another family, "Avtinas," knew how to produce the ketoret (incense) in the Bet Hamikdash. They, too, were criticized for not teaching the craft to others, but they were praised for the fact that no bride from this family ever went out with perfume. When the men from this family would marry, they would stipulate that the bride could not wear perfume at the wedding, in order that they would not be accused of using the spices of the ketoret for this purpose, thus fulfilling the halachah of "You shall be clear before Hashem and before Yisrael."
"You shall be clear before Hashem and before Yisrael"
Hazal (Tanhuma, Pekudei 5) say that although G-d Himself publicly expressed His trust in Moshe - "he is trusted throughout My household" - he had others come and calculate the expenses involved in the construction of the Mishkan, as the pasuk there in Pekudei states, "through Itamar, the son of Aharon the kohen."
The Gemara (Ta'anit 11b) asks, in which garments did Moshe perform the avodah during the seven days of "milu'im" (the formal consecration of the Mishkan)? The Gemara answers that he wore a shirt with no folds. Rashi explains that this was to avoid any suspicion that he concealed money from the Mishkan treasury in the folds of his clothing, in fulfillment of the pasuk, "You shall be clear before Hashem and before Yisrael."
The question, of course, arises, would anyone have suspected Moshe Rabbenu? Furthermore, he was extremely wealthy, as Hazal comment (Shabbat 92a). The Binah L'itim (2, 35) explains that a person should not seek to avoid suspicion simply out of concern for his reputation, but rather to obey Hashem's command. This is what Moshe told the tribes of Reuven and Gad, concerning the condition that they must help the nation conquer their land across the Jordan River. If they failed to do so, they will have sinned against Hashem by virtue of the suspicion they would arouse - for avoiding suspicion constitutes a misvah like any other, and failure to do so violates this command.
A Treasury of Halachot and Customs of the Festivals of Yisrael, Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
The Halachot of Warming Food on Shabbat - continued
Warming Liquids on Shabbat
One may not warm cold, liquid foods on Shabbat. However, a liquid that had been on the fire and removed may be returned, so long as the following four conditions are met: the food has been fully cooked; the fire is covered with a metal sheet, or an electric hot plate is used; the food is still hot, at the level of "yad soledet bo" (such that one's hand would instinctively recoil on contact); and the food has not been placed on the ground since it had been taken from the fire, but has been placed only on a bed, chair or bench. (One must ensure not to place the pot on a moist towel or garment, since doing so cooks the water in the towel or garment, and is also considered as laundering the towel or garment.)
According to the custom of the Ashkenazim, the following five conditions must be met: the food must be fully cooked; the fire is covered with a metal sheet, or an electric hot plate is used; the food has not cooled completely (even if it is no longer at the temperature of "yad soledet bo"); the food has remained in one's hand, and has not been put down, even on a chair or a bench; the individual had intended to return the food to the fire when he took it off.
When the need arises, such as if one has no other food for Shabbat, those following the practice of the Ashkenazim may be lenient even if the final condition is not met - meaning, the individual did not have intention to return the food to the fire at the moment when he took it off the fire. Similarly, those following this custom may be lenient if all the conditions were met except for the fourth - meaning, if the individual placed the food down on a chair or bench (so long as he did not place down on the floor).
In cases of dire need, such as for a baby or ill patient, one may place a liquid, fully-cooked food that had cooled completely on a covered fire or electric hot plate in order to warm it a little, so long as it is removed before it reaches the temperature of "yad soledet bo."
Warming Foods in an Electric Oven
It is proper to be stringent and refrain from warming food in an electric oven on Shabbat, even if the food is dry and had been fully cooked, and even if the heating element is covered and the temperature is non-adjustable. Certainly one should not warm food in a an electric oven that operates with a thermostat, as opening and closing the oven door affects the operation of the heating element.
In our parashah, the tribes of Gad and Reuven ask to receive as their territorial possession the region of the East Bank of the Jordan River. The land was fertile, and they had a lot of cattle. Moshe Rabbenu grants their request after securing their promise that they will lead the battle across the Jordan, until everyone from among Benei Yisrael receives their possession of land.
Hazal applied to these tribes the pasuk in Mishlei (20:21), "An estate acquired in haste at the outset will not be blessed in the end." Rashi explains, "that the individual rushed to seize and acquire hastily, like the children of Gad and Reuven who rushed to take their portion across the Jordan." 'Will not be blessed in the end' refers to the fact that they were exiled several years before the rest of the tribes. Their exile preceded the exile of their brethren, the ten tribes, by nine years, as explained in Seder Olam Rabbah, chapter 22.
Upon further reflection, this Midrash becomes frightening. If a Jew makes an effort to hastily acquire some profit, which involves no prohibition whatsoever, but in another thirty generations (say ten times: the grandson of the grandson of the grandson…) some crisis will surface a few years early - then already it is not worthwhile.
What an immense responsibility, then, do we bear, as parents, to send our children to the best educational systems, so that our children and grandchildren will not come to us with complaints and will not pay a price, Heaven forbid, for our hasty and superficial decisions.
"Hashem said to Moshe, saying: Avenge Benei Yisrael on the Midyanim." What did the Midyanim do to warrant Benei Yisrael's vengeance? They participated in Bilam's plot to lead Benei Yisrael to sin. The proof is that Kozbi was a Midyanite woman. Moshe said about the women of Midyan, "They are the very ones who, at the bidding of Bilam, induced Benei Yisrael to trespass against Hashem in the matter of Peor, so that Hashem's community was struck with a plague." Pinhas was therefore sent to destroy the nation of Midyan.
The question, however, arises, were not the Moavim the ones who summoned Bilam in the first place? Balak, the king of Moav, initiated the entire campaign, and it was he who accepted the advice and carried out the corrupt plan: "Yisrael dwelled in Shittim, and the nation began straying after the daughters of Moav. They invited the nation to the sacrifices of their gods, and the nation ate and bowed to their gods. Yisrael became attached to Ba'al Peor, and Hashem became incensed against Yisrael." Midyan is not even mentioned here at all. They played a subordinate role in this entire plan. Why, then, did Am Yisrael launch this battle of annihilation against Midyan, rather than against Moav?
Indeed, the Gemara (Bava Kama 38a) says that Moshe indeed followed this line of reasoning. He figured, if Hashem commanded waging a vengeful battle against Midyan, who only came to help Moav, then certainly he should fight against Moav! Hashem, however, instructed otherwise. He told Moshe that from the nation of Moav will emerge two righteous women - Rut, the great-grandmother of King David, and Na'amah Ha'amonit - the wife of King Shelomoh. The Siftei Hachamim (31:2) asks, did Moav deserve to get away without any punishment because of these two women? Certainly Hashem, the cause of all that happens in the world, could have arranged that the families of Rut and Na'amah would be spared!
But all the stories in the Torah come to teach us a lesson and offer us guidance. Here, too, we have a beautiful lesson to learn. If there is even a single kernel of goodness in a nation, if it will yield even a single, fine fruit in several generations from now, then it cannot be harmed. This brings to mind that which the "Netivot" wrote, that a single good item in a book saves the entire book. In the introduction to the work, "Nidrei Zerizin" by Rav Shelomoh Kluger zs"l, the author cites proof to this effect from the very existence of man. Who has the merit of ascending to the heavens and bringing with him a perfect life without any mistakes or wrongdoing? The sadikim, "who are complete and whose lives are complete" (Beresheet Rabbah 58:1), are few. But we rely on the fact that the flowers in our lives will be selected from among the many weeds.
Similarly, no one will publish a book replete with nonsense and rely on the one reasonable thought found among the absurdity. Every author hopes that his book will be perfect and filled entirely with meaningful content. The same applies to the "Sefer Toledot Adam," the book of a man's life, his record of deeds and accomplishments. Optimally, one should remove all the weeds and thorns that destroy the vineyard, and care for the fruit and beautiful flowers. For every weed that is removed and every fine seed that is sown, one receives reward in the eternal world. For ourselves, we must strive for spiritual greatness and shoot for the stars when it comes to our spiritual pursuits.
All this applies with regard to ourselves. But with regard to "the revenge of Benei Yisrael," when it comes to criticism of others and avoiding them, here we must take a much different perspective. If there is even but a single ray of light, one kernel of goodness, even if it will sprout only who-knows-when, and it will yield one good fruit (even if that fruit will be accompanied by Orpah, Goliath, and the sinful residents of Nov), then we must withdraw.
Once we realize that "even the empty ones among Yisrael are filled with misvot like a pomegranate" (Eruvin 19a), that they are all humble, compassionate and kind, believers and children of believers, children of the Al-mighty Himself - then how much care must we take not to be burned by the coal of any Jew!
The Saba of Kelm zs"l said that it would have been worthwhile for Hashem to create the entire world and govern it for thousands of years in order for a single Jew to declare - even once in his life - "Baruch Hashem." This alone would have fulfilled the dictum, "Everything the Al-mighty created He created only for His honor," and, "This nation I created for Me - so that they shall tell My praise." Is there a Jew who has never said the term "Baruch Hashem" once in his life, who did not thereby justify his existence?
Let this awareness serve as a basis for our love for one another, for genuine ahavat Yisrael, which has the capacity to render us deserving of the final redemption, speedily and in our days.
A Summary of the Shiur Delivered on Mossa'ei Shabbat by Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
The Halachot of Shivah Assar Be'Tammuz and the Period of "Bein Hamessarim"
Five calamities took place on Shivah Assar Be'Tammuz: the two tablets were broken, the daily "tamid" sacrifice ceased to be offered, the city of Jerusalem was breached during the time of the destruction of the second Mikdash, the wicked Apostamus burned the Sefer Torah, and a graven image was brought into the Sanctuary of the Mikdash. The Gemara (Ta'anit 28b) notes that during the period of the destruction of the first Mikdash, the city was breached on the ninth of Tammuz (Yirmiyahu 52:6-7); during the destruction of the second Mikdash, however, the enemy breached the wall on the seventeenth of Tammuz. The Yerushalmi (Ta'anit 4:5), however, argues, and claims that as a result of the crisis, the people erred in their calculation, and in truth, even during the destruction of the First Temple the breach of the wall occurred on the seventeenth. In any event, even according to the Talmud Babli, Hazal established the seventeenth of Tammuz as a fast day, since for us the second destruction, from which we still suffer, is more harsh. Hazal did not want to establish a fast on both days, since this would pose too great a difficulty for people.
Everyone must observe the four fast days commemorating the destruction, and one may not absolve himself from the national commemoration. Hazal say (Ta'anit 11a) that during times of trouble, one who removes himself from the community does not merit to see the eventual salvation. By contrast, the Gemara says (Ta'anit 30b), "Whoever mourns for Jerusalem earns the merit of seeing its joy." This fast begins at daybreak and continues until nightfall. "Daybreak" refers to one and one-fifth hours (as defined by halachah) before sunrise. "Nightfall" means thirteen and a half minutes (as defined by halachah) after sunset.
Someone who is ill, even if he faces no threat to his life, is exempt from this fast, as are pregnant and nursing women, even if they do not experience substantial discomfort as a result of the fast. When we speak of an ill patient, we refer to someone who is bedridden as a result of his illness. A person who simply does not feel very well is nevertheless obligated to fast.
Pregnant and nursing women must fast on Tisha Be'Av and not to mention on Yom Kippur. A woman within thirty days after childbirth is automatically considered a sick patient and is exempt from the fast of Tisha Be'Av.
A bride and groom who married within a week of Shivah Assar Be'Tammuz must nevertheless participate in the fast. Even those involved in a berit milah on Shivah Assar Be'Tammuz must observe the fast. If, however, Shivah Assar Be'Tammuz fell on Shabbat, in which case the fast is delayed until Sunday, the bride and groom, or the father of the circumcised child, as well as the mohel and sandak, may eat.
The three weeks in between Shivah Assar Be'Tammuz and Tisha Be'Av mark a period of mourning for Am Yisrael called, "Ben Hamessarim" (based on the pasuk in Eichah 1:3). Hazal, in Midrash Eichah Rabbah, found an allusion to this period in Hashem's first prophecy to Yirmiyahu, when He likens the imminent destruction to an almond tree (Yirmiyahu 1:11), which takes three weeks to fully blossom from the time it first produces flowers.
The almond Hashem showed Yirmiyahu alluded to the haste with which Hashem brought on the destruction. (The almond tree blossoms very quickly.) Hazal (Gittin 88a) explain that this haste was out of compassion for Benei Yisrael: Hashem saw to it that the exile would occur while those who had been exiled during the time of Yechanyah were still alive in Babylonia, since they were the ones who preserved the Torah.
One may not listen to music on the radio or cassette player during these three weeks. The practice among the Ashkenazim is to refrain from conducting weddings during this three-week period, but the Sefaradim in Yerushalayim permit weddings until Rosh Hodesh Av, particularly for those who have yet to fulfill the missvah of "peru u'rvu" (procreation). It is a praiseworthy custom to recite after midnight during this period the "Tikkun Rahel" over the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash; it should not be recited on the eve of Shabbat. The custom is to refrain from eating new fruits from the night of Shivah Assar B'Tammuz until after Tisha B'Av in order to avoid having to recite the joyous berachah of sheheheyanu. Similarly, one should not wear a new garment during this period. Some authorities permit reciting sheheheyanu on Shabbat during Bein Hamessarim. If a pidyon haben falls during this period, the father recites sheheheyanu. Similarly, those communities following the practice that a father recites this berachah at his son's circumcision should observe this practice during Bein Hamessarim, as well. If the father wishes, he may - at his son's berit milah or pidyon haben - place a new fruit in front of him and have in mind for his sheheheyanu to apply to the new fruit, and then eat the fruit afterwards. A sick patient may recite sheheheyanu over a new fruit during Bein Hamessarim, because fruits give one an appetite to eat foods beneficial for his health, and Hazal never intended for their decree to apply to someone who is sick. The same applies to a pregnant woman who must eat a new fruit. A young child who does not know the difference between this period and the rest of the year may eat a new fruit if he so desires.
Eliyahu Ben Masuda and Yis'hak Shaul Ben Leah
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