1. The idea of a fast is that it is a “day desirable to G‑d;” it is an “auspicious time” above — which causes it to be an “auspicious time” below. This applies to all fast days. In addition, each particular fast has its own unique concept, as in our case, the fast of the 17th of Tammuz. Moreover, there are extra lessons to be derived from both the daily portion of the weekly parshah (the third section of parshas Pinchas), and from the day of the week on which the fast falls this year (Tuesday). These lessons lend added dimensions to the auspiciousness of the day, and therefore to the success of its appropriate service.

The above is consonant with the Baal Shem Tov’s dictum that everything encountered by a Jew can provide lessons for his service to G‑d, and with the Alter Rebbe’s teaching that one must “live with the times,” meaning to live according to the directives derived from the weekly parshah and daily portion.

The very mention of the Baal Shem Tov and the Alter Rebbe adds to the distinction of the “auspicious time,” for the mention of the merit of our fathers — our leaders and Rebbeim — is a lofty matter. The Mishnah (Taanis, 3:2) notes that before offering the daily congregational sacrifice in the Bais HaMikdash, they would say that “The whole of the east [of the sky] has lit up until Chevron,” in order to “mention the merit of the forefathers” who are buried in Chevron. Even in Eretz Yisrael, in the holy city of Yerushalayim, in the Bais HaMikdash, they would mention the merit of the fathers. In our case, the mention of the merit of the Rebbeim our leaders, in a holy place — a miniature Sanctuary (i.e. a synagogue) — adds distinction to this “auspicious time.”

What is the idea of an “auspicious time,” a “day desirable to G‑d”?

Desirability is the idea of pleasure and will. We can understand this from the faculty of will in man, for “man” below is similar to the “supernal man” above, as stated, “From my flesh I see G‑d.” The faculty of will is the power which expresses the essence of a person, and is associated with the faculty of delight and desire. Thus a “day desirable to G‑d” means a time when the Supernal Will is revealed, associated with delight and pleasure — “It is a pleasure before Me that I said and My will was done.” This open revelation of G‑d’s will and pleasure is expressed below, in this physical world, in physical things — similar to a fast, when we abstain from physically eating and drinking.

Because of the greatness of an “auspicious time,” man’s service must be commensurately great, especially on a fast which is “of the ways of repentance.” Through this the promise given by G‑d is fulfilled — “All these fasts are destined to be abolished in the Messianic era; and, moreover, they are destined to become festivals and days of joy and gladness, as stated, ‘So says G‑d, the L‑rd of Hosts: The fast of the fourth ... shall be to the house of Yehudah for joy and happiness and for festivals....’”

The above applies to all fasts. The particular aspect of the 17th of Tammuz is, in the words of the Mishnah, “Five things happened to our fathers on the 17th of Tammuz.” One of these things is also associated with the other fasts (the 9th of Av and the 10th of Teves) — the “breaching of [the wall surrounding] the city [of Yerushalayim]” — which eventually resulted in the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash on the 9th of Av.

The lesson from this in man’s service to G‑d: “Yerushalayim” is composed of two words — “Yirah,” meaning “fear,” and “Sholom,” meaning “perfect.” Thus “Yerushalayim” corresponds to perfect fear of G‑d, perfection of one’s service in Torah and mitzvos.

For this service to be proper, a “wall” is needed, the idea of “making a fence for the Torah.” That is, to sanctify oneself even in those things which halachically are permitted. The breaching of the wall on the 17th of Tammuz teaches us how important it is to make a “fence around the Torah” — for on it depends the existence of Yerushalayim — perfect fear of G‑d.

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2. There is a further matter associated with today’s fast: The destruction of the second Bais HaMikdash began on the 7th of Tammuz, when as noted above, the wall around the city of Yerushalayim was breached. The Talmud relates (Yoma 9b) that the second Bais HaMikdash was destroyed because of “baseless hatred.”

We have recently witnessed a similar phenomenon. Some Jews, acting in a manner of “your hands are covered with blood,” have spilled Jewish blood, and cut off a Jew’s beard — a beard bearing testimony to his “G‑dly image,” alluding to the 13 attributes of Divine Mercy.

Some wish to dress this act in a guise of “zealousness.” This week’s parshah, Pinchas, teaches us an act is a zealous one when G‑d rewards it with peace — “I give him My covenant of peace.” Only when peace between Jews is the result do we know that the act was a matter of “avenging My vengeance.” But when instead it leads to the antithesis of peace, baseless hatred, it shows that such “zealousness” comes not from holy sources, but from the opposite....

A further point: In regard to the destruction of the first Bais HaMikdash, the Talmud relates: (Shabbos 119b) “Yerushalayim was destroyed only because they did not admonish each other, as it is written, ‘Her princes are like harts that have found no pasture.’ Just as one hart’s head is between the rump of the other, so Israel of that generation pressed their faces into the ground and did not admonish each other.”

In our case, there are people who are able to protest and admonish those who carried out the above acts. Yet they prefer to “press their faces into the ground.” The Talmud tells us that just such an attitude caused Yerushalayim to be destroyed.

The Alter Rebbe writes in his Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 156:8) that admonishment must first be done “privately ... pleasantly and softly.” But “if he does not repent, one must admonish him publicly,” “shame him in public.”

In our case, even if there was a private admonishment, it did not bear fruit. For after the first act, a second, more heinous act was perpetrated. Both times the perpetrators warned it was only a beginning, as they are prepared to continue — for the Jewish blood that was shed like water until now did not suffice for them. Thus, not only have they not repented, but they intend to continue in their ways — “I have eaten and I shall eat further.” In such a situation, the obligation to “admonish him publicly” certainly applies.

Moreover, the Shulchan Aruch says the above laws apply if the sin was committed secretly. “But if he transgressed openly, he should censure him immediately, so that the Name of Heaven should not be profaned.” In our case, the above acts were perpetrated publicly. Even if ten Jews were not present then, it is known, through reliable witnesses, that the perpetrators, in a public place, in a mikveh, boasted of their culpability.

Afterwards, they boasted of their culpability at a public meeting, with many Jews present, and with the knowledge of those who are able to censure them.

Because they have not repented nor are ashamed, but actually boast of it, and publicly announce they will continue in the future — it is a Torah obligation to immediately publicly admonish them so that the Name of Heaven not be profaned.

This is particularly so since those who have the power to censure them know who the perpetrators are, and know who encourage them, etc. Moreover, it is irrelevant if their names are known or not, for what is important is the actual admonishment of behavior in the manner of “your hands are full of blood” — and those who are involved will know that the admonishment is directed to them.

There is even a worse aspect involved. Not only do those who have the power to censure not do so, but there are those among them who seek all ways and possibilities to ensure that the perpetrators not be revealed. One “Rabbi” advised them to flee the country. Another “Rabbi” tries to bribe people not to reveal the perpetrators’ identities. Even worse, he bribes them to testify falsely. If he can’t do it through bribery, he applies pressure through terror tactics — although the very idea of terror is against the Torah, especially when it culminates in violence. But for them, all means are “kosher” to attain their goal.

There are several aspects in the severity of this:

1) Our holy Torah says that “If he will not tell, he shall bear his iniquity.” This means that one who knows the identity of the perpetrators is obligated to tell, and “if he will not tell,” then “he shall bear his iniquity” — he becomes a partner to the sin, which in our case is shedding blood. Yet this “Rabbi” conducts himself against the Torah, and bases himself on a non-Jewish law that permits a person to keep silent if he will suffer as a result of his testimony.

2) When the perpetrators see that instead of admonishing them, these “Rabbis” cover their deeds, and see to it that they remain free, it gives support and encouragement to their deeds. Those “Rabbis” are thereby encouraging them to continue.

3) It is the greatest Chillul Hashem, desecration of G‑d’s Name, when people see a “Rabbi,” with peyos and beard, turn to non-Jews and try to convince them not to act justly; or when a “Rabbi,” using all measures, even terror, endeavors to convince Jews to perjure themselves.

What should be done? First and foremost, all who are able to express their protest against the above acts should do so. This applies particularly to the Rabbis of the community from whence come these perpetrators, who, as noted above, certainly know their identity.

Furthermore, those Rabbis must summon (even privately if they wish) those who know the identity of the perpetrators, and tell them that Torah law obligates them to tell what they know — and “if he will not tell, he shall bear his iniquity.” For example, the father and son who were present at the first incident know who did it. Thus the Rabbis of that community must summon the father and son, and instruct them that Torah law demands they tell what they know. These Rabbis certainly know who to summon, for their messengers ran after these people to bribe them not to tell.

To the actual perpetrators of these acts (including the driver of the van), the following words are addressed:

Since “truth will sprout forth from the earth,” their identity will eventually be revealed. They have, however, the choice of admitting their deeds and repenting. Then, “he will return and he will be healed,” for G‑d “extends a hand” to those who repent, and they will become penitents, of whom our Sages said: “The completely righteous are unable to stand in the place of penitents.”(Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 7:4)

Torah has promised (see Hilchos Talmud Torah, Admur HaZaken 4:3) that “any who are dispersed shall not be lost,” meaning that eventually they will surely repent. This applies to their own personal salvation. But, because these incidents have become public knowledge, to Jews and non-Jews alike, it does not suffice that they personally repent. They must also publicly make known that they regret their actions.

They can choose one of two ways, each of which possesses two possibilities: To either make a Kiddush Hashem (Sanctification of G‑d’s Name) or the opposite.

As long as they do not repent, it shows that in their opinion, what they did was a good thing, and it was done to protect their leader’s school of thought. In that case, they should openly announce that they are the perpetrators, and, according to their view, it will be a “Kiddush Hashem” — that to protect their leader’s philosophy they are ready to “sacrifice their lives” to the extent of spilling Jewish blood, despite knowing the severity of spilling blood!

When, however, they deny responsibility, it is the opposite of Kiddush Hashem (from their viewpoint). Everyone knows these acts were done to protect their leader’s opinions. When, therefore, they try to deny it out of fear, they are shaming their leader’s name — on whose behalf they perpetuated these doings in the first place! When it comes to taking the punishment, they forget about their “attachment” to their leader’s path, and are ready to publicly lie to save their own skins. This is the antithesis of Kiddush Hashem.

The second way is when they repent, thereby affording them the opportunity to publicly sanctify G‑d’s Name by admitting they are the guilty ones. Because the true desire of every Jew is to do mitzvos and avoid transgressions, (see Rambam, Hilchos Gerushin, end of ch. 2) they committed their crimes when their Evil Inclination overpowered them. Now, after their Rabbis have spoken to them, their true desire to follow the Torah has been revealed.

Such a mode of conduct — to admit the truth and to announce that they regret their actions and from now on will behave properly — will be a public Kiddush Hashem.