A Time to Prepare Our Spiritual Clothing

Since this year the seventeenth of Tammuz falls on Shabbos, the fast day is postponed until Sunday. We don’t mourn on Shabbos, a day of happiness and celebration. But Shabbos is always a day of deep longing for the Geulah.

Nearly every one of the zemiros that are traditionally sung on Friday night contain at least one stanza pleading for the galus to come to an end, as does the Retzeh tefillah that we add during Birkas Hamazon.

We are entering the Three Weeks, a particularly propitious time to reflect on what we are missing and what we have endured.

We have suffered extensively as a people. Throughout the centuries, we have been tortured and terrorized, persecuted and massacred. We have endured the Crusades and the Inquisition, Nazi genocide and communist despotism. We have collectively shed oceans of bitter tears, and the universe is filled with our desperate, painful cries.

In his sefer Esh Kodesh, written during the Holocaust in the Warsaw Ghetto, the Piaseczna Rebbe muses, “In truth, it is a wonder that the world still stands after so much screaming. [Regarding] the Asarah Harugei Malchus, [Chazal tell us] that the malachim mourned, ‘Can this be the reward for Torah?’ — to which a bas kol replied, ‘If I hear another sound, I will turn the entire world back to primeval chaos.’ Yet now, the screams of unblemished children, pure angels and kedoshei Yisrael who are even greater than angels, fill all the space of the world, and the world does not revert to water, but continues to exist as if nothing is happening?

“The Gemara (Brachos 32) states, ‘Since the day that the Beis Hamikdash was destroyed, a wall of iron divides Yisrael from their Father in Heaven.’ Why is a wall of iron necessary? Because the tefillos of Yisrael can destroy ordinary walls. But these screams today can destroy even a wall of iron…

“Certainly we are not alone in our tefillos. For our ancestors, the Avos and Imahos, the neviim and nevios, the tzaddikim and tzidkaniyos, are surely not resting; they are not silent when we are suffering so. They are certainly making the entire Gan Eden tremble and quake [with their tefillos on our behalf],” the Rebbe declares.

In this week’s parashah, Bilam prophesies about the coming of Moshiach: “I shall see him, but not now; I shall look at him, but it is not near.”

More than 3,000 years after Bilam uttered these words, after nearly two millennia in exile, the painful question echoes: Why, indeed, hasn’t he come?

The Chofetz Chaim (Igeres U’maamarim, Maamar 18) relates that he was asked by individuals why we are still in exile since nearly all the signs that Chazal gave us about the time immediately preceding the coming of Moshiach have come to pass, and each day that we are still in exile the Name of Hashem is being desecrated.

He says he responded that while it is certainly in the Hand of Hashem to bring us the Geulah in the blink of an eye, and He certainly takes into consideration the desecration of His own Name, He has chosen to wait for our sake.

The Chofetz Chaim gives a parable about an extremely affluent man who invited all his relatives and acquaintances to his son’s wedding. There were many very wealthy people on the guest list — but there were also some paupers, and he was worried about how the latter group would dress. He found deeply disturbing the possibility that a handful of individuals might show up in bedraggled, torn clothing and mingle with the rich and famous. He therefore gave very strict instructions that to prevent great embarrassment to their host, all guests should make certain to wear only respectable, clean clothing.

Our relationship with Hakadosh Baruch Hu is compared to that of a chassan and kallah. As we say every Friday night in Lecha Dodi, “Your G-d will rejoice over you like a groom rejoicing over his bride.”

When Moshiach comes, Hashem, accompanied by all His legions, will come, so to speak, to rejoice over His bride, Knesses Yisrael. We must make sure we are “dressed” appropriately.

As we count down the final days of exile, our sacred obligation is to prepare the spiritual clothing that will make us presentable on that glorious day. For if we are not properly prepared, if we are bare of Torah and mitzvos, our humiliation and shame will be indescribable.

The Chofetz Chaim proceeds to urge the study of Torah, mentioning in particular the importance of learning practical halachah and completing the entire parashah with Rashi each week.

He concludes by encouraging the recital of the thirteen Ani Maamins each day after Shacharis as a way to strengthen our emunah.

May we merit to have the wisdom to prepare ourselves properly, and may these three weeks be transformed into weeks of true celebration.