The Three Weeks
We are now in the final days of the Three Weeks, the period of time between the fasts of the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av. These three weeks are spent in a state of mourning. We do not conduct weddings, we do not cut our hair, and we refrain from enjoying music. During the last nine days, we do not eat meat, drink wine, nor do we bathe. The sorrow of our exile surrounds us at every moment during this time of the year. While we are to mourn the loss of the Holy Temple, the Bais HaMikdosh and the destruction of Jerusalem, and pray for the end of this lengthy exile, we must remember that Hashem is with us, watching us, ready to lift the burden of exile from upon us at the proper time.
R’ Avrohom Pam writes that we see in the Torah how G-d watches out for us. In Bereishis, we read how the sons of Yaakov disliked their brother Yosef. When the opportunity presented itself, the brothers took Yosef and sold him as a slave to peddlers, who eventually sold him into slavery in Egypt. Before the Torah continues relating the travails of Yosef, the Torah tells us how Yehudah left his brothers, married, and had children. Yehudah’s wife died, and subsequent to that, his oldest son died as well. Yehudah’s second son married his brother’s widow, and he died as well. Yehudah was worried that if his third son married this woman (as the laws of Yibum [Devarim 25:5] dictate) he might perish as well, and therefore Yehudah did not permit the marriage to occur. Tamar, Yehudah’s daughter-in-law, devised a plan that resulted in her bearing the children of Yehudah himself. The dynasty of kings beginning with David came from this union, and therefore Moshiach, the Messiah, was descended from this union as well.
The question that arises upon beginning this relation of events is its position in the Torah. Why was this “”story”” juxtaposed with the sale of Yosef as a slave? The Medrash Rabbah (85:1) writes: “” ‘And it came to pass at that time,’ R. Shmuel b. Nachman commenced with this: “”For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the L-rd, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”” (Yirmiyah 29: 11). The tribes were engaged in selling Yosef, Yaakov was taken up with his sackcloth and fasting, and Yehudah was busy taking a wife, while the Holy One, blessed be He, was creating the light of Messiah: thus, ‘And it came to pass at that time…’ ‘Before she labored, she brought forth; before her pain came, she was delivered of a son. (Yishaya 66: 7). Before the last who shall enslave [Israel] was born, the first redeemer was born.””
Yosef’s sale as a slave in Egypt was the first link in a long chain of events that culminated with the entire nation of Israel being enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt. Yet, even as the seeds of our exile were planted, the seeds of redemption were being sowed. The ancestor of Moshiach was born. The Torah wanted to illustrate that even at the moment when we believe we are beginning our downfall, that we will suffer, Hashem is preparing our redemption and salvation. Therefore, the story of Yehudah and Tamar was placed amidst the relation of the events surrounding Yosef’s enslavement
Rav Pam notes that we see another instance of G-d’s preparing for redemption even before the exile occurs. Before his death, Yaakov called for his son Yosef. Before blessing the children of Yosef, Yaakov explained something to Yosef (Bereishis 48:7): “”And as for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan in the way, when yet there was but a little way to come to Ephrath; and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath; which is Beth-Lechem.”” The commentator Rashi explains that Yaakov wanted Yosef to understand why Rachel was buried where she was. Yaakov wanted Yosef to know that even though he wanted Rachel to be buried in a more fitting location. However, Hashem decreed that Rachel be buried along the road to Bais Lechem so that she could come to the aid of her children. When the nation would be exiled in the time of Nevuzradan, trudging along the path near her grave, Rachel would see the pain of her people. She would cry and plead to G-d for mercy for her children. Therefore, Yaakov explained, Rachel had to be buried where she was, so that she would later come to the effective aid of her children.
G-d knew that the nation of Israel would be exiled. Yet, he prepared for Rachel to be there to intercede on behalf of the nation of Israel during their time of need. G-d remembers His children at all times. Even prior to the plan for our exile being set in motion, G-d prepared for redemption and salvation. G-d is truly with us always. Yaakov had to be sure that before he died, Yosef understood that Rachel’s burial place carried with it long standing significance.
We have been in exile for a long time. Our families have been subject to spiritual and physical persecution. During the Three Weeks, our behavior reflects the sadness of this time period, the recognition of the great suffering which we still endure. Although we mourn and lament, we must still keep in mind that Hashem is watching over us. He has already put in place the mechanisms for our redemption. We cannot allow that spark of hope within us to be extinguished. We must recognize that the exile will end. That end has been planned for and provided for by G-d. With our striving to be better people, with our repenting, our studying of the Torah, the redemption, our light at the end of the tunnel, is clearly within sight.