The three weeks are known by the term bein hametzarim. This comes from the root tzar, meaning narrow; tzarah means captivity (one is constrained). Unlike the ‘regular’ laws of mourning, the laws of this three-week period of mourning generally become more severe as time goes on. Thus, the three weeks has less stringent laws than the nine days, and the nine days has less than Tisha B’Av. Since Tisha B’Av is the culmination of this period of the three weeks, it should be the epitome of the theme of the three weeks. Consequently, we shall ask the following question: What exactly is the concept of bein hametzarim being ‘narrow,’ and how is Tisha B’Av the peak of this?
In order to tackle this question, we must go through several steps; most of which are [nice] divrei torah in their own right.

When David HaMelech was on his death bed, he instructs his son Shlomo (HaMelech) about Shimmi ben Geirah. Some time earlier, Shimmi had cursed David. Shlomo was not to kill Shimmi outright, but rather to cause Shimmi to create his own death. What did Shlomo HaMelech do? He issued a royal decree to Shimmi ben Geirah that he must not leave Yerushalayim; if Shimmi would leave then he would be killed for treason [as well as desecrating his oath]. Shimmi listened to this and agreed (Melachim Alef 2;36-40). Three years later, two of Shimmi’s servants ran away and Shimmi goes out of Yerushalayim to bring them back. When Shlomo HaMelech hears this, he has Shimmi killed; a fate that Shimmi accepts. Rav Chaim Shmulevitz asks a penetrating question here; Shimmi ben Geirah was a holy person - he was the head of the Sanhedrin - and Yerusalayim is the holiest of cities in the world. What was Shlomo’s big idea in ordering Shimmi to stay within Yerushalyim, and why did Shimmi not manage to do so? Rav Shmulevitz answers that it is human nature that man cannot be or feel limited and constrained. A man cannot be kept in a box. Thus, as soon as Shlomo HaMelech told Shimmi that he had to stay within Yerushalayim forever, even the holy city of Yerushalayim became a prison for Shimmi ben Geriah, since he was not allowed out. Shlomo HaMelech knew this, and knew that sooner or later Shimmi would have to break out; he did, and Shlomo had him killed.

In other words, man cannot be constricted and ‘held in;’ this is death. This is one of the reasons why the Rambam writes (hil. mattanos aniyyim 8;10) ‘there is no mitzvah as great as redeeming captives,’ for constriction is death, and saving someone from captivity means ostensibly bringing him back to life again.
But what is called being constricted? This depends on the size of the ‘captive.’ An ant will not be considered constricted in a giant room, for it is many times smaller than the room, but a giraffe will be considered to be constricted if held in this room. What is the natural size of a human with which to measure when he is considered constrained?
The rule is spiritual physics is the same as physical physics; in order to examine a substance one must look back at its original form in its elements. Thus, to examine the nature of man, one must look back at the first man; Adam HaRishon. The gemarra (chagigah 12a) brings two opinions as to the size of Adam HaRishon. Rav Elazar says that when his feet were on the ground his head reached one level of the heavens (ad le’rakiya), whilst Rav says that the length of Adam HaRishon was that when he lay down, he reached from one end of the world to the other. And the gemarra concludes that they are both the same size; there is no argument on this point. If so, the natural size of a human being is virtually one of no limitations; the Alter of Slabodka used to say that ‘adam’ (man) has the same letters as me’od (much). Thus, man originated as physically limitless, and is not to be constrained whatsoever. Rav Pinkus would use the above idea to answer an interesting observation. He asked: why is it that in the last hundred years we see a boom in technology - we have phones that can connect us to any place in the world, can send an email in seconds, and what used to be a journey of months became a journey of a few hours by plane. Why were we given these gifts in the past hundred years to give people access to the entire world from the palm of their hand?
He answered by using the above two dimensions of Adam HaRishon as a parable to express two forms of life we can live. Either we can live ‘from earth to heaven;’ realising that the Torah life is a life of colour, excitement, and vitality. Here, we live a world of torah and tefillah. For example, when someone once asked Rav Soloveitchik for the news, he responded ‘Hillel says this, and Shamai says that…’ - that was his news. Alternatively, one’s life can be in a world of ‘from one side of the world to the other.’ Here, one focuses the majority of one’s attention on world events and one’s ability to connect to other parts of the world; their world is the physical world and not the spiritual world. Because constricting man means death, when we stop making our religious life our world, we automatically submit to the other form of life; ‘from one side of the world to the other.’ This is why HaShem gave us more and more technology and greater ability to reach and control parts of the world in the last century. Because as more people stopped living ‘from earth to heaven,’ HaShem gave us the ability to connect to the world in a means of ‘from one side of the world to the other’ because we cannot be constricted to having none of those dimensions; to constrict us would mean death. This is one meaning of the mishna (Avos 3;6) ‘…anyone who removes from himself the yolk of Torah, the yolks of the king and of the ways of the world are placed upon him.’

The truth is that one may be interested in what is happening across the world, and can make use of technology which enables one to do that. The only danger is that one is not to be too caught up in such pursuits; one must not put their self into that. For example, there is little wrong with purchasing a fancy expensive phone, but that phone cannot be all that you are; one cannot pride their personality, character, and aims in life in having this new phone. If one does, then they place themselves into their phone, as it were, and reduce themselves to the value of the phone - another expression of restriction and death. Similarly, one may buy a nice phone, etc. but this cannot be in exclusion of living a full world of religious expression. As Yirmiyahu puts it (2;5 - one of the haftaras of the three weeks) ‘they went after hevel (nothingness) and they became hevel’ - since they defined themselves by such trivial pursuits they turned into nothingness as a consequence.
The three weeks of Bein HaMetzarim is a period of mourning. But it is not only about mourning the beis hamikdash and the removal of HaShem’s Shechinah; this is all reflected in the need to mourn our downfall - the downfall of man after we no longer had HaShem’s clear Presence amongst us. Bein HaMeetzarim is a period to realise that we have fallen flat on our faces; we have gone from being standing up in a position of living life ‘from the earth to the heavens’ to the position of lying down of ‘from one side of the earth to the other.’ This is mirrored in the words of the Kotzker Rebbe, who once said ‘if one cannot cry over the churban of the Beis Hamikdash then one should cry over their own personal churban.’ The two are connected; the fall of man is a consequence of the destruction of the beis hamikdash. Napoleon once famously walked past a shul in France on Tisha B’Av and heard Jews crying hysterically, so sent a soldier to see what was happening. The soldier came back and reported ‘the Jews are crying over their temple which was destroyed many hundreds of years ago.’ Napoleon responded by commenting ‘now I have no doubt that the Jews will survive this.’ How many of us can truly say that if Napoleon would have walked beside us on Tisha B’Av he would have even noticed anything? This is also part of the fall of man; we are not even upset at what we are missing; we have never tasted it.
In short, Bein HaMeitzarim is to realise what we have lost and to realise how far we have fallen. That is why it is from the root ‘narrow;’ it is a period to realise how small/narrow we have become.
Furthermore, as said above, this theme sees its epoch on Tisha B’Av. How so? The answer lies in our aloneness on Tisha B’Av. At the seudah mafsekes before Tisha B’Av we sit alone and do not make a mezuman, and on Tisha B’Av itself we do not greet people. This used to bother me when I was younger; if the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed because of a lack of togetherness and achdus amongst klal yisrael, would it not be the best thing to come together on Tisha B’Av; why do we not greet each other and generally stay separate; why is it a day of being alone? The answer is that this requires a slightly deeper understanding of what it means to be alone.

In a similar vein to his observation above, Rav Shmulevitz notes that of all the evils and that the Sattan poured on Iyov, his friends were never taken away from him. Why? Rav Shmulevitz answers that this was because HaShem had given the Sattan permission to do anything to Iyov, but was not allowed to kill him (1;12) - and removing his friends and leaving Iyov all alone would have been tantamount to killing him; being alone is another expression of death. So too does the Chafetz Chaim in his sefer ‘ahavas chesed’ stress the necessity in life of having friends to rely on. In fact, this is why it is comforting to hear someone say ‘I went through the same’ when one has a problem or challenge. If one thinks about it for a second, one should naturally be upset when someone tells you this; you should think ‘oh no, you had to go through it too.’ But we do not think like that. Instead, we are comforted at the thought of not being alone - and rightly so. In fact, when Rabbi Akiva was first married to Rachel and they lived in extreme poverty, Eliyahu Hanavi came to their hut in disguise and asked them if he could borrow some straw for he had none, in order to comfort them that there was someone out there who was poorer than they were (gemarra nedarim 50a).
The point is that being alone is death too. Thus, the aloneness of Tisha B’Av complements the feeling of lowliness at how far we have fallen that we are trying to appreciate during the three weeks. Tisha B’Av is the culmination of this concept.

Lastly, it needs to be mentioned that the aim of the three weeks is not depression at how far we have fallen. It is only on this day that we take time to really focus on our real level and what we have been missing - we cannot live all year like this. And even during the three weeks and Tisha B’Av, the point is not to wallow in pity, but the realisation of where we are truly at should give us the impetus to correct our mistakes and raise our level up a notch. We shall end with a Rashi which conveys this point perfectly. The mishna (megillah 28a) lists all the disrespectful things that one may not use a destroyed shul for. However, if weeds are growing around the shul, one may not cut them down ‘because of pain.’ Rashi explains this last halacha: ‘we leave the weeds there so that it should be a source of pain for those who see them so that they should remember the days when the shul was standing…so they should daven that it should be returned to its former state.’ Tisha B’Av is to stimulate a similar painful realisation that promotes growth.

Have a meaningful Tisha B’Av,

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