1. Today is the seventeenth of Tammuz. Because today is also Shabbos, the fast usually commemorated on that date is postponed until the next day. There are two ways of explaining this phenomenon: a) It is forbidden to fast on Shabbos, because no element of sadness should be associated with this day. In particular, this applies in regard to those fasts which commemorate national calamities. On the contrary, Shabbos is a day of joy — “ ’And on the days of your celebrations,’ these are the Shabbasos” — and a day of pleasure — “And you shall call Shabbos, ‘a delight.’ ” Therefore, the fast is postponed. b) On a deeper level, this postponement serves as a foretaste for the revelation of the true nature of the date of the fast which will surface in the Era of the Redemption when, as the Rambam writes, “all the fasts will be nullified... and will be transformed into festivals and days of joy and rejoicing.” This is alluded to in the statement of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi in regard to a Tishah BeAv which fell on Shabbos, “Since it was postponed, it should be nullified entirely.”1

Indeed, in microcosm, we see such a transformation when a fast falls on Shabbos. The date is characterized by Shabbos pleasure instead of fasting. Thus there are two dimensions to such a day: the negation of the undesirable elements associated with a fast and the emphasis on the inner positive nature of the fast which is openly revealed on Shabbos.

To explain: On an obvious level, a fast day is obviously undesirable. The suffering endured on a fast is surely not pleasurable, nor appreciated. Nevertheless, the inner dimension of a fast is good, as the prophet states, “It is a day of will unto G‑d.”

This contrast is openly expressed in regard to the Seventeenth of Tammuz. On an obvious level, it is associated with negative factors, the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem which led to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. Nevertheless, its inner, essential quality is good. This is even alluded to in the date itself, for 17 is numerically equivalent to the word טוב. This points to the intent of the exile, that it should lead the Jews to the Era of the Redemption.2

The connection to the Redemption also relates to Shabbos which is a foretaste of “the era which is all Shabbos and rest for eternity.” Moreover, the mitzvah of delighting in the Shabbos by partaking of material delicacies is also paralleled by “the feast which the Holy One, blessed be He, will make for the righteous in that future era.” Although the different elements of that feast surely have spiritual connotations, that feast will be an actual physical meal. For, as Chassidus explains, the ultimate reward of the Era of the Redemption will not be on the spiritual plane — like the reward experienced by the souls in Gan Eden where they are not enclothed within a body. Rather, it will be experienced within this material world, as the souls are enclothed within the body.3

Thus when a fast day falls on the Shabbos and we fulfill the mitzvah of taking pleasure in material delights — indeed, that mitzvah should be fulfilled to a greater extent on such a Shabbos than on other Shabbasos during the year to show that there is no room for sadness on such a day — we have a heightened sensation of the positive dimension of the fast day which will be experienced in the Era of the Redemption.

In particular, this is reflected by partaking of the Melaveh Malkah meal Saturday night, the meal associated with King David, Malkah Meshichah, “the anointed king,” and progenitor of the Mashiach. Despite the fact that the fast is being held on the following day, the meal of Melaveh Malkah should be held in the same manner as usual — and perhaps with more happiness and celebration.4 And this emphasizes the connection to the Era of the Redemption, when the fast will be transformed into a day of celebration in a full and complete manner.

2. The transformation of the negative dimensions associated with the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the foretaste of their ultimate transformation in the Era of the Redemption, is also connected with this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Balak. Parshas Balak contains allusions to the Mashiach’s coming as the Rambam writes:

The Torah has testified about... the King Mashiach. In the portion of Bilaam mention was made of him, for there prophecy is made concerning two anointed kings. The first anointed king was David, who saved Israel from her enemies and the last anointed king is Mashiach who will arise from his sons and save Israel in the end of days.

By mentioning that it was “in the portion of Bilaam” that the Torah mentions Mashiach, the Rambam alludes to the concept of transformation as reflected in the verse, “And G‑d, your L‑rd, did not desire to listen to Bilaam. And G‑d your L‑rd transformed the curse into a blessing.” Similarly, this implies an allusion to the transformation of the fasts into festivals in the Era of the Redemption. The redemption is also alluded to in the Torah portion of the coming week, Parshas Pinchas. Firstly, our Sages identified Pinchas with Eliyahu who will announce the Redemption. Secondly, the primary subjects mentioned in this Torah portion all point toward the Redemption: a) the census of the Jewish people — the final census of the Jewish people will be in the Era of the Redemption. b) The division of Eretz Yisrael — the description of the division of Eretz Yisrael in this week’s portion deals with only the manner the land was divided. In contrast, the mention of this subject in Parshas Matos-Maasei centers on more particulars about the division of the land among the twelve tribes. Thus the passage in this week’s portion is more general in nature and can be seen as a preparation for the ultimate division of the land among the thirteen tribes in the Era of the Redemption. c) The festive sacrifices — this is an allusion to the concept that the fasts will be transformed into festivals. Indeed, they will be on a higher level than the festivals which are celebrated in the present era. Our Sages state that the festivals of the present era will be “nullified” in the Era of the Redemption, while it is then that the fast days will be celebrated.5

* * *

3. Today, the Shabbos of the Seventeenth of Tammuz, possesses an advantage over the other Shabbasos of the Three Week period of Bein HaMetzarim. The three Shabbasos of Bein HaMetzarim are described as preparing the cure before the malady, i.e., these Shabbasos rectify the undesirable elements of Bein HaMetzarim.

In most years, when these Shabbasos come in the midst of the Three Weeks, the negative aspects of this period, the destruction and the exile, are far more prominent. In contrast, in years like this, when the beginning of the Three Weeks (the Seventeenth of Tammuz) and the conclusion of the Three Weeks (Tishah BeAv) fall on Shabbos, there is a greater emphasis on the positive nature of this period,6 that this period of distress is a preparatory stage for — and thus part of — the ultimate Redemption.

Thus, the Shabbasos of the Three Weeks in other years allude to the negation of the undesirable elements of this period. In contrast, the fact that the beginning and the conclusion of this period falls on Shabbos in the present year alludes to the transformation of that period into a positive force as will be realized in the Era of the Redemption.

There is an intrinsic relationship between this concept and Parshas Balak. Parshas Balak is never read as one of the parshiyos of the Three Weeks. The parshiyos, Matos, Maasei, and Devarim are always read in this period, and at times, Parshas Pinchas is also read.7 Even when Parshas Balak falls on the Seventeenth of Tammuz as in the present year, the unfavorable aspects associated with the Three Weeks do not begin until the week associated with Parshas Pinchas.

This implies that there is a difference between the connection shared by the Redemption with Parshas Pinchas and that shared by Parshas Balak. Since Parshas Pinchas falls in the midst of the Three Weeks, its emphasis is on correcting and compensating for the destruction and the exile. In contrast, Parshas Balak speaks about the Redemption as an independent subject without any relation to exile, redemption as it would apply even were there not to have been an exile.

(In this context, we can appreciate a deeper understanding of the Rambam’s choice of prooftexts in regard to Mashiach’s coming. First he quotes the verse, “And G‑d will return your captivity...” which describes the redemption of the Jews from exile and afterwards, he quotes the prophecies of Bilaam which speak of Mashiach from a completely positive perspective, describing the establishment of the House of David and the revelation of Mashiach in turns of their positive achievements alone.)8

3. The above receives additional emphasis in the present generation due to the influence of the redemption of the Previous Rebbe on Yud-Beis Tammuz. In the previous generations, Tammuz was associated with unfavorable events. In contrast, the Previous Rebbe’s redemption has caused Tammuz to be associated with redemption and happiness. Furthermore, this redemption was not individual in nature. As the Previous Rebbe writes:

The Holy One, blessed be He, did not redeem me alone on Yud-Beis Tammuz. Rather, [the redemption included] all those who hold our holy Torah dear, those who observe its mitzvos, and all those who are called by the name Israel.

Since all redemptions are interconnected, his redemption brings us closer to the ultimate Redemption. This is particularly true in light of the great achievements made in spreading the wellsprings of Chassidus outward that resulted from that redemption, including the transfer of the center for Chassidic teachings to America, “the lower half of the world.”9

According to all the signs mentioned by our Sages regarding the coming of the Mashiach, ours is the last generation of exile and the first generation of the redemption. Therefore, it is appropriate that we look at the period of the Three Weeks, not as a time associated with exile, but rather as part of the preparatory stages leading to Mashiach’s coming.

This has been enhanced by our efforts in spreading the wellsprings of Chassidus outward. The Previous Rebbe stated that all that is necessary to do is to “polish the buttons” — and even that service has been accomplished — and we need do no more than “stand together prepared” to greet Mashiach.

In particular, this is true in the present year, a year when “I will show wonders,” a year in which will be fulfilled the prophecy “As in the days of your exodus from Egypt, I will show you wonders.” We have seen wonders of the nature that indicate — as mentioned in the Yalkut Shimoni — that this is “the year when the King Mashiach will be revealed” and that it is “the hour when the King Mashiach comes... and announces to the Jewish people, ‘Humble ones. The time for your redemption has come.’ ”

We are standing at the threshold of the Era of Mashiach, at the threshold of the beginning of the Redemption, and in the immediate future, it will be brought to its completion. In such a year, there is the potential, not only for the Three Weeks to be seen as a preparation for the Redemption, but for the Redemption to actual come, even on the present Shabbos, and thus transform the Three Weeks into a positive period.

In this context, a greater emphasis has to be put on the custom of studying the laws of the structure of the Beis HaMikdash in these Three Weeks. As G‑d told the prophet Yechezkel, through this study, it is considered as if we have been involved in the actual construction of the Beis HaMikdash.10

Also, the approach to studying these laws must be different than the approach in previous years. The emphasis must be on, not on mourning over the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, but rather, on the desire and the yearning for the Third Beis HaMikdash of which it is said, “The glory of this later house will surpass the glory of the previous house.”

Thus the subject must be approached as a present reality. It is not that in the distant future these laws will be relevant, but rather that at any moment the Third Beis HaMikdash which is already built in the heavens will descend and be revealed on earth.

In this context, the study of these laws — as the study of the subjects of Mashiach and the Redemption — should not be looked at as merely a means to hasten the coming of this future era. Rather, it is the beginning of the efforts to live with the concept of Mashiach, to “live with the times,” with the Era of Mashiach. When these concepts are perceived intellectually, they will affect our feelings, and ultimately our deeds and our actions. Our conduct will be appropriate to the present era, a time when we are at the threshold of Mashiach’s coming.

Although our Sages declared, “Mashiach will come when our attention is diverted,” this is no contradiction to the emphasis on studying the subjects of Mashiach and Redemption. A diversion of attention can also be interpreted as referring to a step above our ordinary conscious processes. After one has deepened his awareness of Mashiach to the extent that he appreciates that we are standing on the threshold of Mashiach, that we have completed all the service necessary for his coming, and at any moment, he will come, one can step beyond one’s ordinary thinking process and consider the Redemption in a new light.

These words are meant as a directive for action. Despite the outcry that has been made in the last months, and despite the wonders that we have seen in the present year which indicate that this is “the year when the King Mashiach will be revealed,” there is a difficulty in having this concept permeate people’s consciousness, that they should be aware that we are actually on the threshold of the Redemption, and that they should begin living with the concepts of Mashiach and the Redemption.

Although this is a year when “I will show you wonders,” and wonders have taken place, they have not been shown to us in a complete manner. On the contrary, it has been necessary to explain and elaborate on the fact that we have seen wonders. When G‑d Himself will show the Jews the wonders in a completely manifest way, there will be no need to explain that we are on the threshold of the Redemption. But until that time, it is difficult for these concepts to make a thorough and effective impression on our thought processes.

How can this be changed? By studying about the concepts of Mashiach and Redemption. The power of the Torah, which is G‑d’s wisdom and His will, transcends the world and has the potential to change man’s character. Thus, even though someone feels on the outside when it comes to the Redemption, through studying about these matters, they can begin to live with the idea of Mashiach’s coming, and sense that he is coming in the immediate future.

* * *

4. The sixth chapter of Pirkei Avos begins:

The Sages taught in the language of the Mishnah. Blessed be He who chose them and their teaching. Rabbi Meir declared: “Whoever occupies himself in [the study of] the Torah for its own sake, merits many things. Furthermore....”

Among the points requiring clarification in this teaching are: a) The opening phrase, “The Sages taught in the language of the Mishnah,” is intended as an introduction to the chapter as a whole. It emphasizes that although these teachings were not included in the Mishnah proper, and are a collection of Beraisos which were added at a later date, they are still “in the language of the Mishnah.

On the surface, this is problematic. Why was a chapter added that is not part of the Mishnah and yet was written in the Mishnah’s style? b) The inclusion of teachings in a single unit is not a matter of chance. Thus the fact that this introduction is included in the same unit as Rabbi Meir’s teaching indicates that they share a connection. And the nature of that connection requires explanation. c) Rabbi Meir lists many particular rewards which a person receives for studying Torah for its own sake in his teaching. If so, why is it necessary for him to preface that teaching with the statement that one “merits many things”?

These difficulties can be resolved as follows: The Beraisos are teachings that were transmitted outside the School of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi. Indeed, the very word Beraisa has the connotation outside. Nevertheless, they are part of the Torah tradition for “Every new concept developed by an experienced sage was given to Moshe on Mount Sinai.”

This reflects the continuity of the Torah tradition mentioned at the beginning of Pirkei Avos, that “Moshe received the Torah... and transmitted it....” Similarly, in each generation, through “raising up many students,” our Torah tradition was maintained and perpetuated. And in each generation, the Torah scholars “taught in the language of the Mishnah,” i.e., extended the chain of our Torah heritage.

In a homiletic sense, the concept of Beraisa can be applied to the totality of the Torah we have now when compared to “the new [dimension of the] Torah that will emerge from Me” in the Era of the Redemption. As our Sages taught, “the Torah... of the present era is like wind compared to the Torah [to be revealed by the] Mashiach.

Herein lies the connection to Rabbi Meir’s teaching. The “many things” he mentions do not refer to the particular qualities that are listed afterwards. Instead, it is a reference to the ultimate reward a person will receive for studying the Torah for its own sake, that he will merit to study “the new [dimension of the] Torah that will emerge from Me” in the Era of the Redemption.

This also is a lesson for a person who feels himself “on the outside” when it comes to the concept of Mashiach. Through studying the Torah, he can “merit many things,” including a transition in his state. He will no longer be outside. On the contrary, he will feel inside, at home, with the concept of Mashiach, and eagerly waiting to receive “the new [dimension of the Torah] that will emerge from Me.”