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Saturday, July 20, 2019 17 Tamuz 5779





17 Tammuz




The Seventeenth of Tammuz is a fast day and this year it is on Sunday. On that day, Moses descended from Mount Sinai and saw the Jewish people sinning with the Golden Calf, prompting him to break the Tablets of the Law. Years later, five calamitous occurrences befell our forefathers on the same date, beginning with the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem and culminating with the destruction of the Holy Temple. (Both Temples were destroyed on the Ninth of Av.)
The Seventeenth of Tammuz begins the three-week period known as "Bein Hametzorim," literally "Between the Straits." It is a time of mourning when no weddings are scheduled and we refrain from listening to music.
At this time, when the loss of "G-d's Chosen House" is more keenly felt, it is customary to increase our learning about the Holy Temple. In the Written Torah, this involves studying Chapters 40-43 in the Book of Ezekiel, and in the Oral Torah (the Talmud), Tractates Tamid and Midot. Maimonides' "Laws of the Temple" are also studied during this period.
The Midrash relates that "The Holy One, Blessed Be He said: The study of it [the Temple] is as great as its building... Let them busy themselves studying the Temple's form, and I will consider it as if they are actively involved in its erection." Similarly, in a discussion of the sacrifices, the Talmud relates: "He who studies the laws of the sin-offering is considered as if he has offered one."
Studying the laws of the Holy Temple thus allows us to actively participate in rebuilding it, even during the exile.
It is also desirable to give extra charity during the Three Weeks, as it states, "Great is charity, for it brings the Redemption nigh."
In such a way Biblical prophecy will be realized: "Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and those that return to her with righteousness (literally 'charity')," for it is through "judgment" - the study of the Torah's laws - that Jerusalem will be redeemed, and the Jewish people will return to the Holy Land, in the merit of their charity.

* * *

9 Menachem Av
Day of Mourning
The Israelites were in the desert, recently having experienced the miraculous Exodus, and are now poised to enter the Promised Land. But first they send out a reconnaissance mission, to assist in formulating a prudent battle strategy. The spies return on the eighth day of Av and report that the land is unconquerable. That night, the 9th of Av, the people cry. They insist that they'd rather go back to Egypt than be slaughtered by the Canaanites. G-d is highly displeased by this public demonstration of distrust in His power, and consequently that generation of Israelites never enters the Holy Land. Only their children have that privilege, after wandering in the desert for another 38 years.
The 9th of Av would turn out to be a challenging day for our people throughout history. The Mishna enumerates five sad events that occurred on this day: 
1. The above mentioned episode (in the year 1313 BCE).
2. The destruction of the First Temple in Jerusalem (423 BCE).
3. The destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (69 CE).
4. The conquest of the city of Betar by the Romans. This brought to an end the Bar Kochba rebellion (133 CE). The city was pillaged and hundreds of thousands of Jews were slaughtered. 
5. The plowing of the Temple Mount by the Romans, one year after the conquest of Betar. 
And that's not all. The Jews were expelled from England in 1290 on - you guessed it - Tisha b'Av. In 1492, the Jews were expelled from Spain. King Ferdinand decreed that by the end of July, Spain should be "Judenrein". They were then given two days extra to leave the country, until the second of August, the 9th of Av. The expelled Jews were now susceptible to capture, murder, looting, and wild beasts-both the four-legged and two-legged varieties. Word War I was declared on the 9th of Av in 1914. This war ultimately led to the political and economic upheavals which caused the Bolshevik revolution and the Holocaust. 
On Tisha B'Av it is forbidden to:
1. Eat or drink. All adults - even pregnant and nursing women - must fast on this day. Someone who is ill should consult a rabbi. 
2. Forbidden tp wear leather footwear. 
3. Forbidden to sit on a normal-height chair until midday. After midday of Tisha B'Av, Sunday at 1:01 p.m. it is permitted to sit on a regular chair. ("Halachic" midday is the halfway point between sunrise and sunset.) 
4. Bathe or wash oneself-"even to insert a finger in cold water." One who becomes soiled may rinse the affected area with cold water. 
5. Apply ointment, lotions or creams.
6. Engage in marital relations or any form of intimacy. 
7. Greet another with the customary "hello" or "how are you doing?" 
8. Engaging in outings, trips or any other pleasurable activities.
9. Study Torah, because "the commandments of the L-rd are upright, causing the heart to rejoice" (Psalms 19:9). It is however permitted - and encouraged - to study sections of the Torah which discuss the destruction of the Temples and the tragedies which befell the Jewish people throughout our history. This prohibition begins at midday of the day before Tisha B'Av.
In the synagogue, the curtain is removed from the Ark and the lights are dimmed. After the evening prayers, Eichah (the Book of Lamentations) is read. The leader reads aloud and the congregation reads along in an undertone. 
Tefillin are not worn during the morning services. Instead, we don them for Mincha (afternoon). Tzitzit are worn the entire day. 
  • After Shacharit, it is customary to read the Kinnot (Tisha b'Av elegies).
  • Work is permitted on Tisha b'Av, but discouraged. On this day one's focus should be on mourning and repentance. If one must work, it should preferably be after midday.
  • The sections of "Nachem" and "Aneinu" are added to the amidah of the Mincha prayer. Aneinu is only recited by one who is actually fasting.
  • The Temple was set ablaze on the afternoon of the 9th of Av, and burned through the 10th. Therefore, the restrictions of the Nine Days (such as not eating meat or swimming) extend until midday of Monday, the 11th of Av.

May we soon witness the revelation of Moshiach, and these days will be transformed into days of joy and happiness!




* * *

20 Menachem Av
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson was born in 1878. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was the oldest of four children. His father, Rabbi Baruch Schneur, was a great-grandson of the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, known as the Tzemach Tzedek.
Early Years
As a small child, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak showed signs of being a prodigy, as the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe would later write,
“Already from a young age, his extraordinary talents were discovered.” He mastered Kabbalah, Talmud, and Chassidic philosophy and was ordained by the leading Torah authorities of his time.
In 1900, at the age of 22, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, who had already become renowned as a Kabbalistic and halachic scholar, married Rebbetzin Chana Yanovsky. The daughter of the Rabbi of Nikolayev and chassid of the  fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe, young Rebbetzin Chana was known as a scholar in her own right. Rabbi Shalom DovBer Schneerson, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, had suggested the match.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and Rebbetzin Chana gave birth to three sons: Menachem Mendel, DovBer and Yisrael Aryeh Leib.
The eldest, Menachem Mendel, was born on the 11th of Nissan 1902 and would grow up to become the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, known as the Rebbe MHM, and is the rebbe to this present day.
Rabbi of Yekatrinoslav
In 1909, at age 31, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was called upon to serve as rabbi of the Ukrainian city of Yekatrinoslav (known today as Dnepropetrovsk). Following his appointment as Rabbi, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak eventually assumed the position of chief rabbi and served the community for 32 years, until 1939.
Besides for a small Chassidic constituency, the Jewish community of Yekatrinoslav included many non-religious professionals, who also held Rabbi Levi Yitzchak in great esteem.
His wife, Rebbetzin Chana, who was fluent in several languages, contributed to her husband’s success and influence as a communal leader.
During his years of leadership, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak resolutely engaged in religious activism, never giving in to the ever-growing pressure from Soviets. He oversaw the building of a new mikveh and clandestinely officiated at weddings and circumcisions. One area of particular note was his involvement in the production of kosher-for-Passover matzahs. As all factories in Russia were owned by the government, it was their policy that set the standard for the matzah production.
Yet, even the Soviets knew that for the Jews to purchase their matzahs, they would require a rabbinic authority to provide halachic certification. When they turned to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, who was renowned as the chief rabbi of a prominent city, he demanded that he be allowed to install his own rabbinic supervisors, otherwise he could not offer certification. When they refused, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak remained steadfast. He traveled to Moscow and met with Mikhail Kalinin to explain his position. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s efforts bore fruit and the Soviets relented. The Passover matzahs would be produced under the proper rabbinic standards.
Arrest and Trial
On 9 Nissan 5699 (March 28, 1939), at three o’clock in the morning, four agents of the NKVD arrived at the Schneerson home on 13 Barikadna Street.
Stationing guards at each of the doors, they began to search the house. Rifling through the thousands of folios of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s written works on Kabbalah, halachah, and rabbinic correspondence, they confiscated his rabbinic ordination certificates and a petition from the community of Jaffa that he emigrate and serve as chief rabbi, along with visas for the entire family.
Finally, at six o’clock in the morning, after they had ended their search, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was arrested for his activities on behalf of Judaism in the Soviet Union. After more than a year of torture and interrogations in Stalin's notorious prisons, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was tried in Moscow and sentenced to five years of exile in Central Asia. Rebbetzin Chana subsequently followed him to be with him at his remote location of exile.
Exile in Chi’ili
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and Rebbetzin Chana’s first home in Chi’ili was a single room in the dwelling of a crude Tartar couple who had a young child. The room had no door and was damp, muddy, and filled with swarms of mosquitoes. They lived in extreme poverty and discomfort, with no privacy. Though they never discussed it, pangs of hunger tormented them. Once, they did not taste a piece of bread for an entire month.
With World War II ravaging Europe, many refugees and displaced people ended up in the Kazakhstan region where Rabbi Levi Yitzchak had been exiled. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak soon became well-known among the Jewish refugees. Large groups of men and women, especially those women whose husbands were taken away for the war effort, would visit the esteemed Rabbi and his wife, seeking counsel on various matters.
With meager resources at their disposal, and facing a constant threat to their very lives, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and Rebbetzin Chana heroically reached out to their brethren in need, helping in every which way—materially and spiritually.
In 1944, as Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s sentence was nearing its end, his physical condition began to deteriorate. Though he was unaware of this, a serious illness was spreading through his body, severely weakening him. Meanwhile, friends in nearby Alma Ata resolved to secure the Rabbi’s release. They contributed thousands of rubles, giving of most of their wealth, in order to acquire the proper permits for the relocation. After six weeks fraught with setbacks and obstacles, they were finally able to obtain the release documents.
Immediately after Passover, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and Rebbetzin Chana left Chi’ili and arrived in Alma Ata. In this large city, their living conditions improved somewhat, and they worked more vigorously to help others in need. Yet, through the summer, the Rabbi’s illness grew worse. A young friend made a special trip from Leningrad to Alma Ata, together with a well-known doctor. The doctor did not have a good prognosis for the Rabbi. He had no cure for his ailment.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and Rebbetzin Chana endured those heartbreaking days with exceptional strength and fortitude. Despite the dire conditions, they continued to welcome any depressed or broken person into their home, attending to his or her specific needs and providing food when necessary.
On the 20th of Av, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s condition turned critical. Although he was no longer able to speak, he still continued to murmur words of Torah or Psalms. That evening, Rebbetzin Chana took a short rest so that she would have the strength to continue caring for him; when she awoke, she found the house filled with people. Her husband had returned his pure soul to its Maker.
We will soon be reunited with Rabbi Levi Yitzchok with the coming of Moshiach, Now!

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