Our gathering on this fast day, in order to convey a “message of gentle reproof,” is tied to an unpleasant fact — that because of our many sins our righteous Mashiach has not yet come.

However, this unpleasant situation certainly has some concealed, loftier, good aspect which waits for revelation. All created beings exist by virtue of the “Word of G‑d” which is enclothed in them; without it they cease to exist. Well, that is something good.

Chassidic philosophy explains the rule that whatever starts out higher descends to a lower position. If so, when we see an undesirable thing we must assume that its inner, good spark is very high — which is why it has fallen so low.

Consequently, if Mashiach is still not here, and we must fast, and deliver a message of mild admonition, there must be some hidden, lofty good — which is waiting to be revealed.

In simple terms Mashiach has not yet come and the darkness of galus (exile) is getting thicker from day to day. Nevertheless, a Jew must not despair or lose spirit, for: “You have chosen us from among all the nations,” (Siddur, Holiday Amidah) “You are children of L‑rd your G‑d,” (Devarim 14:1) and “Israel is My son, My firstborn.” (Shmos 4:22) The negative forces and events we see indicate by inverse proportion the great preciousness of the Jewish people before the Holy One, Blessed be He. As the prophet says:

Only you have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for your iniquities. (Amos 3:2)

This idea is also elaborated on by the Alter Rebbe in Tanya:

.. as in the simile of the great and awesome king who, out of his great love, personally washes the filth from his only son. (Iggeres Hakodesh 22)

He does not rely on angels, seraphim, messengers, but does it by His Awesome Self.

Hence, we see that in the undesirable, dark galus there is a flicker of the loftier good — the awesome love of the Holy One, Blessed be He, for the children of Israel.

But why does this not come out in the open? This love and preciousness should be revealed to our human eyes in this lowly material world! Let G‑d’s aspect of “chassid” be revealed, and then there will not be any punishment!

The Previous Rebbe explained that when Tanya describes the lofty punishment of a loving father to his only son, it uses many adjectives — compassionate, wise and righteous; but not “chassid.” When punishment prevails we cannot use the adjective “chassid,” even for the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He.

So our prayer and our hope is that the attribute of “chassid” shall be revealed, so that we can praise and exalt the Holy One, Blessed be He, for being a “chassid.” King Dovid tells us in Tehillim:

He shall raise the glory of His people, [increase] the praise of all His pious ones [Chassidav] (Tehillim 148:14)

If G‑d will raise and praise His people as they are His pious ones (chassidav), He too must be revealed to us in His aspect of “chassid”; then all the benevolence and radiance will become revealed goodness, visible to our human eyes, in this corporeal world. This is the psalm of the “Sweet Singer of Israel.”

The focal point is that even in the unpleasant dark state of diaspora there is a flicker of the greater good. Our intention and purpose is to reveal it to human eyes with the ultimate redemption.

The above theme, that even in an objectionable matter there is also a lofty good (which must be uncovered), is also obvious on a fast day.

The term taanis (fast day) comes from the root “to suffer,” which refers to the physical discomfort one endures from not eating and drinking. This pain may also be interpolated to the soul. The Torah says:

It is not by bread alone that man lives, but by all that comes out of G‑d’s mouth. (Devarim 8:3)

Chassidus explains that the soul is nurtured from the “sparks” of holiness that are enclothed in the earthly bread; so on a fast day the soul also lacks spiritual nourishment. Clearly the fast day is quite objectionable, physically and spiritually. And yet — the day has some flicker of higher goodness!

A fast day is day of grace, “A fast and an acceptable day to the L‑rd” (Yeshayahu 58:5). Scripture gives it this title — “acceptable day,” so it must have some special goodness — even more than normal days.

Chassidus Chabad elaborates on this subject in Iggeres HaTeshuvah, chapter two, and since it is explained in “Chabad” — wisdom, understanding and knowledge — then the good aspect of the fast day is surely revealed.

Our custom of speaking words of mild admonition on a fast day adds to the discomfort and pain of fasting, and as such, it also increases the desirable aspect of the day — that it is a day of good grace before G‑d. There is a proverb which teaches:

For the commandment is a lamp and Torah is light, and reproofs of instruction are the way of life. (Mishlei 6:23)

Torah and mitzvos are very lofty subjects, yet the verse seems to indicate that “reproof of instruction” is an even higher theme.

In a similar view the words of “mild admonition” spoken on a fast day constitute a higher theme than the Torah and mitzvos of the day. The fast day is intrinsically a day of “grace.” Add to that the increased Torah and additional prayer of the day, which certainly have effected good things for the Jewish people, and we may be sure that G‑d has certainly heard and answered our prayers. After all this we add “the words of remonstrance,” as “reproof of instruction,” and we reveal the loftiest levels of benevolence beyond the “commandment-lamp, and Torah-light.” This matter is so important that the quantity does not matter, only the action — it matters not who the speaker is, for “accept the truth from whoever says it.” (Rambam, Commentary on Mishnah)

* * *

Having discussed the general theme of a fast day, we should note the special theme of those fast days, which are related to the Beis HaMikdash and the Holy city of Yerushalayim, “The great city of a mighty king,” (Tehillim 48:3) and with the Holy Land, where “the eyes of L‑rd your G‑d are on it at all times from the beginning of the year until the end of the year.” (Devarim 11:12)

Being that this negative aspect of the fast days (the destruction of the Temple, etc.) makes them fall to the lowest nadir, we may understand that the concomitant good aspect is very lofty; and it must be revealed and brought into action. “Not study but action is the essential thing.” (Avos 1:17)

When the Torah says: “They shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them,” (Shmos 25:8) the commentaries have interpreted that as it does not say to dwell in “it,” rather “in them,” therefore every Jew must make a dwelling place for G‑d in his heart and soul. From the Jewish soul the ‘sanctuary’ grows and infuses the entire Jewish home so that, although at first glance (superficially) it appears to be an average home, in its true essential existence it is a house where “G‑d dwells” and is thereby a microcosmic Temple.

Consequently, the individual’s positive action on the fast day is to increase those activities which will effect the dwelling of the Shechinah, and hopefully this will lead to the ultimate investiture of the Shechinah in the Third Beis HaMikdash.

I would therefore like to remind everyone of the good custom to study about the Beis HaMikdash during the “Three Weeks”: from the Book of Yechezkel, Tractate Middos and Laws of the Structure of the Temple of the Rambam. And as the Midrash states:

By virtue of this study ... I will consider it as if you are involved in building the Beis HaMikdash. (Tanchuma, Tzav, 14)

* * *

Let us now look at the specific happenings which are commemorated on the 17th of Tammuz. The Mishnah states: “Five calamities befell our forebears on the 17th of Tammuz,” the first being, “the tablets were smashed.”

In this cataclysmic incident we will also find a silver lining for we know that as a result of the smashing of the first tablets, G‑d gave the Jewish people the second tablets which were much loftier than the first:

G‑d said to Moshe: “Do not grieve about the first Tablets, they only contained the Ten Commandments, but in the two tablets I am about to give you now, there will also be Laws, Midrash, and Aggados.” That is the meaning of, “and that He would tell you the secrets of wisdom that sound wisdom is double.” (Iyov 11:6, Shmos Rabbah 46:1)

So the second tablets were greater than the first, “and maidens without number” (Shir HaShirim 6:8) alludes to the magnitude and multifariousness of Oral Torah.

Regarding the first tablets we have learned: “... with the writing visible from either side,” (Shmos 32:15) on which the Talmud Yerushalmi elaborates that in it were apparent all the deductions and exegetics of Torah. Yet it was not to be revealed, and only with the second tablets were the inner homiletics, laws, Aggadah, etc., revealed, to the degree of the infinite.

Do you wonder that we describe it in terms of infinity? Why, the Previous Rebbe once said that when a Jew is “called up” to the Torah all the supernal levels of his soul, in their infinite existence, are raised and uplifted!

Now, these details are also related and connected to their source — the letters of the tablets. And on the 17th of Tammuz we are directed that our Divine service can and should be similar to the engraved letters of the tablets — one essence, engraved and carved into one soul; so that our Torah, prayer, and charity, and also words of admonition, should not be superficially inscribed, but rather intrinsically engraved.

* * *

When the fast of the 17th of Tammuz is postponed to the 18th we find a unique emphasis which will reveal the “good” in a more obvious way. When the 17th of Tammuz occurs on Shabbos we do not forget the date! Rather, Shabbos modifies the day, so that only the good side of the 17th of Tammuz is revealed and the delight of Shabbos is even increased.

Having experienced the “good” of the 17th day of Tammuz it would be illogical to establish the following day to commemorate the “bad” (when the day itself revealed only the good). Therefore, even during the actual fasting of the 18th, we must find an increase in the good aspects of the 17th. This will express itself in the day of the week and the date.

The first day of the week has a special quality. The five-year-old Chumash student knows that light was created on Sunday, and that it was called “one day,” because “the Holy One, Blessed be He, was the only being in the world.” (cf. Rashi)

Chassidus explains that every Sunday is truly the same as the first Sunday of the six days of creations. If so, this Sunday has all the qualities of the first day and thus carries forth and increases the qualities of the fast day which occurred on Shabbos.

The day of the month is the 18th. The five-year-old Chumash student knows that 18, “chai,” is the equivalent of “life,” as he read last night in the evening services: “For they are our life and the length of our days,” (Siddur, p. 107) referring to Torah and mitzvos. So when the fast day falls on the 18th the good aspects of the day are truly revealed. It reminds us and encourages us that we must increase the aspect of life — to increase Torah learning and mitzvah observance.

If a new day is substituted and that day is the 18th, “chai,” certainly there is a special lesson and teaching; you must add life, Torah and mitzvos. So the day and the date indicate an increase in the good aspects of the fast day.

* * *

We should also garner a lesson from the themes of the Torah portions of the day, especially Chumash, Tehillim and Tanya.

The Previous Rebbe instituted the regular daily study of Chumash, Tehillim and Tanya (Chitas) based on an earlier custom initiated by the Baal Shem Tov and passed down by his successors to study Chumash and recite Tehillim daily. Hence, when we study Chitas there is an association to both the Previous Rebbe and those who preceded him till the Baal Shem Tov.


When approaching the portion of Pinchas we are reminded of the comment of Targum Yonoson, “Pinchas, he is Eliyahu.” This associates Pinchas with the future redemption. The Prophet Eliyahu will be the “harbinger of good tidings” and precede and announce the advent of Mashiach. By saying “Pinchas, he is Eliyahu” we emphasize that Pinchas also has a connection with the future redemption.

Consequently, when the fast of the 17th of Tammuz is postponed into the week of the portion of Pinchas, it strongly conveys the positive aspects of the fast day, i.e. the redemption, when these days will be converted to holidays and days of rejoicing. Not only does the general theme of Pinchas remind us of redemption but also today’s specific reading of the portion of Pinchas:

Therefore, tell him that I have given him My covenant of peace. This shall imply a covenant of eternal Kehunah to him and his descendants after him. (Bamidbar 25:12-13)

Pinchas was told this promise subsequent to the sad and tragic events related in Balak, when Pinchas “... zealously took up G‑d’s cause and made atonement for the Israelites.” (ibid) As Rashi quotes the Talmud: “Pinchas did not become a Kohen until he had killed Zimri.” (ibid)

What we learn is that Pinchas showed the courage and insight to convert the tragedy to a positive event, for as a result of his action he was given an eternal covenant of Kehunah.

There is another relevant thought in today’s reading section. Chassidus explains that when the Torah says “attack the Midianites” (Ibid:17) it symbolizes an attack on “argument and strife” — the kelipah (evil) of Midian is disunity, division, and unwarranted hatred.

The Temple was destroyed and the diaspora continues because of unwarranted hatred among the people. We rectify the galus by fighting the evil and dissolving the hatred. And in its place bringing Ahavas Yisrael, love of fellow Jews — not necessarily based on any motivating factor, simply, unwarranted love.

This is the meaning of “attack the Midianites,” to the point, that it assumes the role of being “G‑d’s revenge,” (Ibid 31:3) to root out disunity and strife: between husband and wife and man and his neighbor. In a battle of this nature, “... not a single man has been lost,” (Ibid:49) everyone gains — for we strive in a pleasant way and in a peaceful manner.


In Psalm 88 of today’s section of Tehillim (88-89) we find that the short descriptive preface, included in most editions of Tehillim, (although to this day it is not known who actually wrote them), mentions that this psalm speaks of sorrowful things. Specifically, the four situations for which the blessing HaGomel must be said [when being saved from them] are referred to in the psalm:

Sickness — in the words “... like a man without strength.” (Ibid 5, Rashi)

Imprisonment — from the words “You have put me in the lowest pit,” “I am imprisoned and I cannot go out.” (Ibid 7,9)

Desert — from the words: “You have put friend and companion far from me....” (Ibid.19) What is the worst aspect of a wilderness? the loneliness. One does not need large numbers of Jews to feel comfortable so long as a friend or loved one is nearby. So when friend and loved one are taken away, he is in a desert.

Sea — is referred to in the words: “... all Your waves.” (Ibid,8)

Appearing in a psalm of praise, it is clear that the intention is to wipe out the negative side and to give praise to G‑d for being rescued and saved from trouble.

This emphasis on praise is further enunciated at the conclusion of today’s section, with the words: “Blessed be the L‑rd, forever, Amen and Amen.” (89:53) All the negative aspects are converted to good and we can truly praise G‑d.

Now, in the verse just prior to “Blessed ...” we find:

For they that taunt, they are Your enemies, O that they taunt [this heralds] the footsteps of Your anointed (Mashiach).” (Ibid:52)

This speaks of the terrible degradation at the time just preceding Mashiach and then goes on to say: “Blessed be the L‑rd forever, Amen and Amen.” As the commentaries explain, Dovid expressed this blessing because he saw the coming of Mashiach. Here too, we find a conversion of the evil of galus into the beneficence of the future redemption.

These thoughts may be associated with the Previous Rebbe. Regarding the first psalm, on the Shabbos following his liberation, the Previous Rebbe said the Maamar, “Blessed is He who bestows kindness on the culpable,” in which he mentioned four cases for which we must thank and praise G‑d, underlining the idea that the trouble is converted to good.

Regarding the second psalm and the verse “that they taunt the footsteps of Your Mashiach,” the Previous Rebbe told of the time that his father, the Rebbe Rashab, appointed him as executive director of all communal activities, saying that the soldiers of the House of David must fight the enemies of G‑d in order to bring Mashiach and the blessing of, “Blessed be the L‑rd forever.”


In today’s Tanya section there is a discussion of an apparently unfavorable theme, which nevertheless encompasses a very good aspect also.

Following the discussion in chapter 5 of Iggeres HaTeshuvah, of the punishment of excision or death at the age of 50 or 60, in chapter 6, Tanya continues:

However all this obtained when Israel was on a higher plane, when the Divine Presence dwelt among Israel in the Beis HaMikdash. Then the vitality of the body came only through the divine soul.... But after that they had fallen from their estate, and through their actions caused the mystery of the exile of the Divine Presence ... until it entered into the Ten Sefiros of Nogah. The benevolence and vitality proceed through the hosts of heaven and those charged over them....

Thus even the sinful and deliberate transgressors of Israel may receive vitality for their bodies and animal souls.... In fact their nurture is granted then with even greater emphasis and force.... (chapter 6)

At first impression, of course, we speak here of a negative situation similar to the five tragic events that occurred on the 17th of Tammuz. But after a cursory contemplation we can discern the loftiest good.

Let us backtrack for a moment. The life-force for those guilty of excision after 50 or 60 years of age comes from the Holy One, Blessed be He. The kelipah and other-side serve merely as the conduit, for they have nothing of their own — “the life force is clothed in the Ten Sefiros of Nogah.”

But we also have the rule that, “Nothing evil descends from Above,” (Bereishis Rabbah 51:3) and “Evil does not emanate from the mouth of the Most High.” (Esther 3:38)

We must say that the intention of the benevolence is not that these people should continue to live their lives in transgression or misconception. Rather because G‑d is “slow to anger” — He stretches out His anger and is not quick to punish, in the hope that the person will repent.

As a result, the galus epoch provides a quality above and beyond the time of the Temple. Then, one could not do teshuvah after 50 or 60, but in the diaspora we are given a chance even beyond the age of 50 or 60 — for G‑d is “slow to anger” — he deals with us beyond the letter of the law and gives us the opportunity to repent even after the age of 50 or 60. This is very encouraging, “because no one is rejected by Him,” (Shmuel II 14:4) “for ultimately he is bound to do repentance.” (Tanya, chapter 39)

This is all but a small measure of what could be spoken. May G‑d grant that it will effect good thoughts, speech, and action.

We will conclude now with an act of tzedakah, and hopefully: “... the work of righteousness shall be peace” (Yeshayahu 32:17). Peace in the world, and especially among the Jewish people and in our Holy Land, “... a land ... the eyes of the L‑rd your G‑d are on it at all times, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year,” (Devarim 11:12) and, “I will grant peace in the land....”