This week begins the three week period between the fasts of the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av. Both of these are dates of tragedy, the Seventeenth of Tammuz commemorates the sin of the Golden Calf and the breaking of the Tablets and, years later, the breeching of the walls of Jerusalem. And the Ninth of Av commemorates the destruction of the Temple by both the Babylonians and the Romans, and many other tragedies that occurred throughout Jewish history. During these three weeks, we focus on the concept of exile and how we can overcome it.

Each one of goes through a series of emotional cycles. At times, our spirits are elevated and we feel satisfaction, joy, and pleasure. On other occasions, our spirits sink and our mood is characterized by sorrow and perhaps, grief. The ebb and flow between these two states is a natural fact of the human condition. But the acid test for one’s spiritual sensitivity is the motivating factor for these emotions. What prompts our highs and lows?

Chassidic thought explains that there are two basic influences in our personalities: our animal souls and our G‑dly souls. Traditionally, the same two influences are referred to as the yetzer tov, the good inclination, and the yetzer hora, the evil inclination. The change in terminology represents a change in focus.

Evil means immoral, something which deliberately causes harm or pain. An animal, by contrast, isn’t immoral and does not intend to harm anyone. It is just driven by its own instincts and drives and follows them without thinking, using its powers of thought only to devise how to fulfill its natural instincts and drives.

By calling our basic inclination an animal soul, chassidic thought emphasizes that we are not speaking about a person who is sinister, just one who is concerned with himself and seeking his own natural satisfaction. Putting it bluntly, animals’ eyes look downward; at best, they can see objects on their eye level. Humans can point their eyes heavenward. A person motivated by the animal soul is primarily concerned with his own desires. The most that can be expected is that he do so morally, without harming others.

A person motivated by the G‑dly soul, by contrast, looks upward. He thinks of self-transcendence. His life focuses on doing something for others and for G‑d; that’s what matters to him.

Often, our individual mindsets are determined by the prevailing spiritual climate of the world at large. When the Temple was standing in Jerusalem, the G‑dly soul had a powerful source of inspiration. The three pilgrimage visits to the Temple each year left an indelible impression that continued to prevail on a person throughout the year. He thought about higher things and his moods and emotions revolved around them. This is what motivated his highs and lows.

Galus, exile, by contrast, represents a situation where that uplifting influence is lacking and, as a result, the transition between our emotional states stems from worldly matters, our finances, our relationships, with others, and the like.

In these three weeks, as we contemplate the motivating factors for our feelings, it is natural to feel bitterness and lack. This should inspire a sincere desire to change.

Motivation, however, is not enough. Action is necessary. Generations ago, the prophet Isaiah advised how to reverse the conditions of exile, stating: “Zion will be redeemed through judgment and its captives, through charity.”

Judgment refers to Torah study, training our minds to look at the world through G‑d’s glasses. Charity is understood simply, going out of our way to do something charitable for someone else. Increasing these two activities enables an individual to achieve redemption on a personal level. As this motif is followed by many, the ripples will turn into waves that will bring about change in the world at large.

Looking to the Horizon

One of the customs observed during these three weeks is studying the laws of building the Temple. The Midrash relates, G‑d showed the prophet Ezekiel the form of the Temple to be built by Mashiach and declared: “Tell the people of Israel of the House.”

Ezekiel replied to Him: “Master of the Earth, why are You telling me to go and tell Israel the form of the House?... They are now in exile in the land of our enemies. Is there anything they can do about it? Let them be until they return from the Exile. Then, I will go and tell them.”

G‑d answered: “Should the construction of My House be ignored because My children are in exile.... The study [of the Temple’s design] in the Torah can be equated to its [actual] construction. Go, tell them to study the Temple’s form. As a reward for their study and their occupation with it, I will consider it as if they had actually built the Temple.”

Our Sages teach that the Third Temple already exists in the heavens. When the time is right, it will descend to the earth. Studying the laws of the Temple’s construction is a catalyst that creates a setting for it within the world and hastens the time when it will actually descend.