On Tuesday, the fast day of the 17th day of Tammuz, Klal Yisrael began to observe the three-week mourning period for the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash.
These are days of deep sadness, of abstinence and restraint. But simultaneously, these are days that provide unique opportunities for spiritual growth.
The Kozhnitzer Maggid, zy”a, quotes his Rebbe, the Maggid of Mezeritch, zy”a, as stating that whoever is determined to pursue a close relationship with Hashem can succeed even more in the Three Weeks than during the rest of the year.
Of course, at all times and in all circumstances, every Jew has the possibility to cleave and grow closer to his Creator. But during these days of mourning there is a greater potential for spiritual growth.
These are days of reflection and contemplation about what we once merited, why we lost the great privilege of basking in the presence of Hashem on the holiest site in the temporal world, and what we can do to merit its rebuilding.
This a time for drawing closer to Hashem through strengthening our performance of mitzvos in general, and in particular, our relationships with our fellow man.
As we mourn a Beis Hamikdash that was destroyed because of sinas chinam, the most appropriate reaction is an expression of ahavas chinam.
In the past few weeks we have seen a great outpouring of ahavas Yisrael. Klal Yisrael throughout the world davened fervently and later bitterly mourned the tragic murder of three yeshivah bachurim most of us had never heard of before.
In the past week, at homes and shuls, yeshivos and workplaces, the same questions were repeated over and over by worried Yidden concerned about the safety of their brethren in Eretz Yisrael.
This outpouring of love for total strangers doubtlessly aroused Rachmei Shamayim.
It is important to note, however, that the true expression of ahavas chinam isn’t about exhibiting ahavas Yisrael to strangers, but rather showing kindness and ahavah to those who have wronged us.
During the Six-Day War, Hagaon Harav Chaim Shmulevitz, zt”l, and his talmidim shared a bunker in Yerushalayim with other residents, including a woman whose husband had abandoned her years earlier, leaving her an agunah.
During the enemy bombardment, the agunah cried out: “Ribbono shel Olam, I forgive my husband. I forgive the great humiliation he caused me, and the great pain that I suffered all these years, and You, Av Harachaman, forgive us as well…”
Harav Shmulevitz later said that it was these words of the agunah, more than all the passionate tefillos and recitals of Shema Yisrael and Hashem Hu HaElokim of the talmidei hayeshivah, that proved to be the merit that saved their lives.
When we respond to hurtful acts by overcoming our natural feelings, and find place in our hearts to forgive even those who are unlikely to ever seek our forgiveness, and to exhibit ahavas Yisrael even to those who have wronged us, we are creating incredibly powerful and much-needed zechuyos for all of Am Yisrael.