Of late, the ancient custom of speaking “words of mild admonition” on fast days has been reinstituted. The essential thing is of course the action, that our words must lead to practice, and as in all matters of holiness, we should increase from level to level.

There is a Jewish custom to contribute additional funds to charity on fast days. When we apply the rule to increase in matters of holiness, we must then give even more tzedakah than we had planned to give.

In speaking of tzedakah, just as we must help sustain the pauper and his family, we cannot withhold from our own — and G‑d should give everyone His bountiful blessings for children, health, life and sustenance with abundance — encompassing all areas of human need.

Tzedakah also includes spiritual charity, the focal point of which is disseminating Torah and Yiddishkeit, and spreading the fountains to the outside.

Essentially these acts will merit us the true and complete redemption — which is also the purpose of the fast — to nullify negative forces associated with the destruction and the galus, and to transform the days to joy, happiness and festivals.

In the Haftorah read on a fast day, the prophet tells us:

..for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations. (Yeshayahu 56:7)

This verse clearly refers to the Third Beis HaMikdash when:

For then will I turn to the peoples a pure language, that they may all call upon the Name of the L‑rd to serve Him with one consent. (Tzephaniah 3:9)

With this in mind we may understand that on a fast day there is a special emphasis on preparing for that promise of the future: “a house of prayer for all nations.” Even before Mashiach comes we must implement actions which unite all peoples to see the house of G‑d as a place of prayer for all. How? By teaching them to observe the Seven Noachide Laws. The Rambam rules very clearly:

Moreover, Moshe our teacher commanded us by Divine ordinance to compel all human beings to accept the commandments enjoined upon the descendants of Noach. (Laws of Kings 8:10)

Thus, when we speak of spiritual charity through spreading the wellsprings of Torah and Yiddishkeit we must also include activities geared to influence the nations of the world to fulfill the Laws of Noach; these activities will lay the groundwork for the ultimate promise:

For then will I turn to the peoples a pure language...to serve Him with one consent.

and then the Third Beis HaMikdash will be a true House of Prayer for all nations of the world.

* * *

Every fast entails an aspect unique to that day, in addition to the general theme of all fast days.

The Talmud relates that on the 17th of Tammuz the first Tablets were broken, and then years later on the same day the walls of Yerushalayim were breached. It is this latter occurrence which places the 17th of Tammuz among the fast days observed in commemoration of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. On the 10th of Teves the siege of Yerushalayim began, on the 17th of Tammuz the walls were broken and on the 9th of Av the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, etc.

Let us view and analyze this phenomenon in its esoteric light and see what significance and meaning may be derived. Having discussed this subject in the past, we need only touch upon the salient points in a general way.

Esoterically speaking, walls represent separation, specifically the separation between the Jewish people and the nations of the world. Clearly, the unbroken walls are vitally necessary and the slightest breach cannot go unnoticed or be condoned. An example would be non-halachic conversions, which must not be permitted, for we are tampering with the fundamental foundation of Judaism. Even when Mashiach comes and all nations will serve G‑d, there will still be the distinctions between Jews and gentiles; the gentiles will relate to the Seven Noachide Laws and the Jews to Torah and mitzvos.

Another esoteric facet of walls relates to the existence of the Jewish people. The Talmud relates:

“I am a wall” (Shir HaShirim 8:10), symbolizes the community of Israel. (Pesachim 87a)

In this framework a breach in the wall would indicate disunity, and worse still, the loss of Ahavas Yisrael. It was this phenomenon, of course, which led to the downfall of Yerushalayim and the destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdash. This is an important concept, for even the destruction of the First Beis HaMikdash, which our sages attribute to the three cardinal sins, also came about because of unwarranted hatred, jealousy and disunity. Our sages explain that despite all their sins, if they had been united, the destruction of the First Beis HaMikdash would have been averted. As the Midrash relates:

Even if Israel practice idolatry, but maintain peace amongst themselves, the Holy One, Blessed be He, says, as it were, “I have no dominion over them because there is peace amongst them” (Bereishis Rabbah 37:6). They go out to war and are victorious. (Midrash Tehillim 7:8)

In speaking of the transformation of the fast days to days of joy, the prophet concludes with the words “therefore love the truth and peace.” Clearly, the indication here is that through Ahavas Yisrael and Jewish unity we can negate and neutralize the destruction and galus — nullify the fast days and transform them to “joy, gladness and cheerful feasts.”

The esoteric concept of walls also has a bearing on the individual Divine service of every Jew. The Talmud sees each individual person as a “micropolis,” the Jew must strive to make his “little city” a Yerushalayim — Yerushalayim — the perfection of fear of the Divine. While working on his “micropolis,” the Jew must also work on the “macropolis,” to make the world a fitting abode for G‑dliness.

A partial wall must also be created between the inner Yerushalayim — the perfect awe — and other aspects of personal Divine service. This must not be an absolute separation, rather one in which there are gateways and doors which open and close.

There are times when one must emerge from the “microcosmic” Yerushalayim and sally forth into the lowly world to create a dwelling place for G‑dliness.

And then there are times to gather in the sparks of holiness which are refined as a result of his Divine service in the mundane world.

Consequently, the walls and gates provide a separation between the mini Yerushalayim, and the outside as well as a connecting conduit to the outside world.

The 17th of Tammuz commemorates the breaching of those walls of Yerushalayim. The fast on this day serves the purpose that:

By remembering these things we will repent and do good. (Rambam, Laws of Fast Days 5:1)

Our goal is to rectify that breach and refortify the walls even better than they were before. As the Alter Rebbe explains in Iggeres HaTeshuvah that a penitent increases his previous study patterns and prayer patterns.

The goal is to convert the fast days to festivals, darkness to light, which is perhaps especially inherent in the fast of the 17th of Tammuz, since 17 is the gematria (numerical equivalent) of the word “tov” — good! At first the good is hidden, but then it will be revealed when the days of mourning become days of rejoicing — may it be even before the conclusion of this day.

Then, Mashiach will have come, and the rabbis will have to debate whether or not to complete the fast!

The time of Minchah is most propitious, as the prayers of Eliyahu the prophet were answered at the time of Minchah (see Berachos 6b). We are praying Minchah in a place of Torah, prayer and tzedakah, the three pillars which support the world, with that we will merit to see the “world” of our righteous Mashiach.

* * *

The Torah portion which we read this week is Pinchas, who, our sages say, was Eliyahu, the heralder of the redemption. In the study section for today we read of the sacrifices offered in the Beis HaMikdash, which of course is connected to the time of the redemption, when the Beis HaMikdash will be rebuilt and we will once again offer sacrifices on the Altar. Then, when Mashiach comes, our offerings will truly be “in accordance with the command of Your will” (Siddur), the consummate state of sacrificial offerings, which will attain the loftiest spiritual heights. Then, too, all areas of Torah and mitzvos will attain a similar state of perfection.

In the previous reading section of Pinchas, Moshe turns to G‑d with the request that He should appoint a successor to lead the Jewish people. Rashi (Bamidbar 28:2) refers to this request and cites a parable, which the Sifri uses to amplify the discussion between Moshe and the Holy One, Blessed be He.

Rashi tells us of the parable of a princess who lay on her death bed and asked her husband to take care of her children. Thus, in the analogue, Moshe our teacher, who (like a wife) had received all his needs from the Holy One, Blessed be He, before he passed away asked the Holy One, Blessed be He, to care for the Jewish people. G‑d answers Moshe: “Before commanding Me about My children, you should command My children about Me.”

However upon careful perusal of the story we find that Rashi had changed the language of the Sifri.

In the Sifri the story is told of a king whose wife lay on her death bed. In other words, the title of royalty is attributed to the husband — the king! and the wife is not referred to as a princess.

When Rashi retells the story, he calls the dying woman a princess (king’s daughter) and refers to the man simply as her husband (no title of royalty).

Clearly, the change which Rashi makes must make a distinction between the halachic approach to Torah as presented in the Sifri — and the plain meaning of Torah as postulated by Rashi.

“Give to the wise and he will become yet wiser.” [Hopefully this question will be analyzed and someone will suggest a fitting answer.]

* * *

In today’s section of Tehillim we read Psalm 83:

O G‑d who sits in judgment, silence does not become You, You cannot hold your peace and be still O Almighty One. (83:2)

The Jewish people plead with G‑d not to be silent in face of the prolonged galus. This plea is very apropos, for the Sages of the Talmud two millennia ago already agreed that “all the predestined signs for redemption have passed” (Sanhedrin 97b). Moreover, the description of the tragic events of the pre-Messianic age, as depicted in the tractate Sotah, has also been fulfilled in the most dramatic and worst possible way — “more than enough.”

As such, certainly the time has come for the blessing and benevolence to be bestowed on the world in all its radiance. This same theme is followed through in Psalms 84 and 85. These words of Dovid HaMelech, “the sweet singer of Israel,” were said in the name of all the Jewish people. And when we recite Tehillim we close with a prayer that our recitation should be acceptable to G‑d as if Dovid HaMelech had said it!

In this case, our prayers should be answered by the Holy One, Blessed be He, to nullify the bitter galus and immediately bring the true and complete salvation.

This idea is clearly paraphrased in the verses:

Show us O G‑d Your kindness...give us Your salvation... let Your honor dwell in our land. (Ibid. 85:8-10)

We want “Your kindness” O G‑d, for the kindness of the Holy One, Blessed be He, is infinite and extends from the Ein Sof down to the lowest level of existence. “Your salvation” comes after a state of repression, referring to the pain of the diaspora. And we emphasize that we have suffered under many persecutions. The Mitteler Rebbe wrote that after the terrible pogroms and evil decrees which the Jewish people suffered in that era, they had satisfied the need for the birth pangs of Mashiach! How much more so now, after we have seen so much more destruction, horror and “birth pangs” in our own generation!

After all this we most certainly deserve and need salvation. It is now that we supplicate and implore G‑d to send us His salvation. King Chizkiyahu said: “I will sleep on my bed” and the salvation will come. Similarly, we beseech G‑d that the redemption should come now, in a pleasant and calming manner, materially and spiritually, for all Israel.

Give” — as one who gives with a pleasant countenance and good eye.

To “us” — in a manner that we will be able to internalize the goodness as living beings. We have done our share and spread the wellsprings of Torah even to such outside places where it was never imagined that Torah could take hold and flourish — but now we need the redemption for ourselves!

Let Your honor dwell in our land” — in the Third Beis HaMikdash which will be an eternal edifice just as the salvation will be eternal. For then all the Jews will come back to Eretz Yisrael as the promise which was made to Avraham our father that the entire land will be given to his progeny.

May we see the “clouds of heaven” that will bring the redemption, truly soon.

* * *

Today’s Tanya section (Iggeres HaTeshuvah ch. 3) discusses aspects of teshuvah very pertinent on a fast day, and which will bring the redemption and transform the fast to a festival.

There are different opinions regarding fasting to expiate sins, and the Alter Rebbe discusses several opinions and then concludes that in contemporary times it is most appropriate to redeem the necessary number of fast days by donating money to charity even if the sums are more than 20% of income. In this type of tzedakah one is not limited by the 20% ceiling. This practice is more appropriate on a fast day, since we especially increase tzedakah during a fast and we pray that our tzedakah will in fact neutralize the galus and eliminate the fasting.

At the close of chapter three in Iggeres HaTeshuvah the Alter Rebbe writes, “as explained on the verse ‘the kindness of G‑d,’” a reference to chapter 10 in Iggeres Hakodesh.

There, in Iggeres Hakodesh, the Alter Rebbe explains, that because we are not perfect we must depend on the kindness of G‑d which is infinite, by acting in a manner consonant with the infinite good, e.g. distributing unlimited funds to charity. However He also explains that our imperfection is also only relative to the perfection which will be attained in the time to come.

Therefore, our sages have said the redemption will come in merit of the charity which Jewish people give — for it engenders and reveals the infinite goodness and kindness of G‑d.

* * *

The Rambam section which we study today deals with the laws of “confession of maaser (tithe)” which had to be recited at the close of the maaser (tithing) cycles: After explaining that only those who own land in Eretz Yisrael are required to recite the “confession,” the Rambam goes on to say that Kohanim and Levi’im also recite the confession, because they were given the “appointed cities” with open land around them. All of these laws apply only when the Jewish people were living in Eretz Yisrael and clearly have a direct bearing on the time of Mashiach.

In speaking of the Levite cities, the Rambam also reminds us that when Mashiach comes the Levi’im will be given three more “cities of refuge.”

The subject of Messianic “cities of refuge” represents one of the biblical sources of Messianic faith. For in speaking of the future cities the Torah states:

G‑d will eventually expand your borders... you will have to add an additional three cities (of refuge) to the above mentioned three. (Devarim 19:8,9)

Since this never happened in our history it has become a basic element of our faith in the coming of Mashiach. Consequently, we believe that when Mashiach comes the boundaries of Eretz Yisrael will include the lands of the Keini, Kenizi and Kadmoni, a total of 10 nations, and three more cities of refuge will be established by Mashiach and assigned to the Levi’im.

Of that future time the Prophet Yechezkel tells us that the Levi’im will have a gate on the Temple Mount assigned to them indicating that they will also have land assigned to them. Thus, the Gemara says:

In the future Eretz Yisrael will be divided among 13 tribes. (B. Basra 122a)

The Kohanim and Levi’im will be required to recite the maaser confession because they too will be landowners in Eretz Yisrael.

It remains only to be seen what system will be instituted to divide the inheritance of the land among the Levi’im, as they will control nine cities of refuge, 42 Levite cities and the “land of heritage” which will be given to them then.

* * *

Another subject connected to this period of the “Three Weeks” is the practice of studying the laws of the Beis HaMikdash.

The Midrash discusses the prophecy of Yechezkel: to teach the plan of the Beis HaMikdash to the Jewish people:

Yechezkel said to the Holy One, Blessed be He: “Master of the Universe, we are still in the diaspora in the lands of our enemies, how can You tell me to go teach the plan of the Beis HaMikdash to the Jews?... Can they build it? Leave them until they come out of the galus and then I will go and teach it to them.”

The Holy One, Blessed be He, replied to Yechezkel: “And just because My children are in exile should the construction of My House be suspended!?”

The Holy One, Blessed be He, further said: “Studying it in Torah is tantamount to building it, go tell them to occupy themselves in studying the plan of the House in Torah and in the merit of their diligent study I will consider it as if they are involved in building it.” (Tanchuma, Tzav 14)

Thus, studying the plan of the Beis HaMikdash can be counted as building it, and then the construction is not suspended.

Now as the period of the “Three Weeks” has begun and Mashiach is not yet here, the need is intensified to set time to study the subject of the Beis HaMikdash and this will speed the actual building of the Beis HaMikdash. As Halachah has a special importance, it is good to study the Laws of the Beis HaMikdash in Mishneh Torah. These halachos are also pertinent for the future Beis HaMikdash. It is therefore necessary to “brew up a storm” that Jews in all places should set times for the study of the laws of the Beis HaMikdash, especially during the “Three Weeks.”

On the same subject. A question comes to mind why the Rambam named this section “Laws of Beis HaBechirah” (the Chosen House)? He clearly states that the requirement to build a Sanctuary and Temple is based on the Scriptural verse “Make for Me a Sanctuary” and he used the term Mikdash (Sanctuary) in the “Laws of entering the Sanctuary.” Why then does he choose the name “Chosen House”?

We may say:

The Rambam states that “the holiness of the Beis HaMikdash and Yerushalayim is dependent upon the presence of the Shechinah and the Shechinah is not suspended.”

When holiness evolves from a commandment and that precept is transgressed the holiness is lost — but when the holiness is an expression of G‑d’s will and choice, then there can be no change or weakness.

True free choice exists only in the Essential Being of the Ein Sof. Chassidus explains that when man ate of the Tree of Knowledge and saw the choices of good and bad he inherited that power of free will from the Essential Being of the Ein Sof. Anything less than the Essential Being is limited in some way and consequently its free choice is limited. The Essential Essence is above even the oneness of G‑d as He gives life to the world.

Coming from so lofty a position, we must say that in this choice there can be no change or diminutions.

In the case of the Sanctuary there were several undesirable scenarios — the First Beis HaMikdash was destroyed. It was then said that the Second Temple would be even greater than the first — yet when it, too, was destroyed, that promise was transferred to the Third Beis HaMikdash.

The destruction should have brought desecration to the place of the Temple for “foxes roamed there?!” For this reason the Rambam explains that despite the exile and destruction — “the holiness is dependent on the Shechinah” — and the Shechinah never left! Although the Temple stands destroyed the holiness has not vacated the site.

For this reason the Rambam enlightens us from the outset, by calling the section of halachos — the laws of the “Chosen House.” It is on the place chosen by G‑d. All other places have been eliminated and this place was chosen, and no matter what may occur, it causes absolutely no change to the holiness of the place.

Just as G‑d chose the Jewish people and does not exchange them for any other, so, too, the holiness of the Sanctuary and Yerushalayim depends on the Shechinah and the Shechinah was not suspended.

May it be G‑d’s will that through studying the laws of the Chosen House we will speedily merit the fulfillment of the command, “Make Me a Sanctuary” — with the true and complete redemption.

We will conclude with tzedakah which “brings the redemption closer.” So that we will see, immediately, the kindness and salvation of G‑d. And with our youth and elders as one entity — “as one man with one mind,” “one great company” we will return to our Holy Land, in peace, to the full, extended boundaries of Eretz Yisrael. Speedily and truly in our days. Mashiach Now.