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The Three Weeks, the period between 17 Tamuz when the walls of Jerusalem were breached and 9 Menachem Av when both Temples were destroyed. These twenty one days are observed as a time of national mourning.
The level of mourning intensifies from merely not engaging in joyous activities like celebrating a wedding or holding a concert. Once the Month of Menachem Av enters one diminishes one’s sense of joy which is expressed by not eating meat or drinking wine or not wearing freshly launder clothes. All expressions of mourning progress in intensity leading up to the 25-6 hour fast of 9 Menachem Av when eating & drinking ,anointing, bathing, wearing leather shoes and marital relations are prohibited as afflictions. Further aspects of mourning that are observed on 9 Menachem Av include sitting on the floor or low stools, refraining from most aspects of Torah study and not exchanging greetings and so on. . . (see generally Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Chapters 122-125).
The Temple’s status as the primary center of Jewish worship is the litmus test for determining whether Jewry is in exile or not. The Book of Eicha authored by the Prophet Yirmiya as witness to Jerusalem’s fall and the First Temple’s destruction is augmented by many Kinot, poems of mourning each lamenting the loss of sovereignty over the Land of Israel and the trail of Jewish blood that has soaked the Earth world over.
Parshat Balak is often read on the Sabbath preceding the Three Weeks therefore it is reasonable to look at how Bilam perceived the nation and what guidance does it offer?
BaMidbar 23:21 “He [G-D] has not seen iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen perverseness in Israel; the L-rd his G-d is with him, and the trumpet blast of a king is among them.” Yonatan Ben Uziel’s translation understands “ . . . the L-rd his G-d is with him, and the trumpet blast of a king is among them.” As “G-D’s word stands in support of Bene Yisrael. the wailing of the King Mashiach cries in their midst.”
The nature of 9 Menachem Av as a day of national mourning goes all the way back to the Bene Yisrael weeping through night after the spies’ negative report (see Targum Yonatan BaMidbar 14:1). Yet shortly thereafter when introducing the commandment of meal offerings and libation to accompany animal sacrifices G-D says “ . . . When you come into the land of your habitations, which I give to you . . . .” (see Bamidbar 15:2 Rashi Ad Loc.) Even though Bene Yisrael had behaved horribly earning a night of mourning for all eternity G-D reaffirms His promise that the nation shall entr and settle the Land of Israel.
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 98a) records Eliyahu the Prophet directing Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi where to find Mashiach and to ask him why he has not arrived as of yet? Mashiach who was conceived at the time of the Temple’s destruction and sits at the Southern entrance to Gan Eden among a group of paupers afflicted with wounds. While all the others remove and replace their wounds’ dressings all at once Mashiach removes and replaces only one wound at a time. Why in case he is needed to redeem Jewry he will be able to act without delay. (see Rashi and Marasha Ad Loc.) Though Mashiach’s arrival depends on Jewry’s fidelity to following G-D’s will. Mashiach according to this Talmudic section is hardly in enviable circumstances. no doubt suffering from his wounds and is anxious to lead the redemption.
Certainly there are other examples but these two showcase G-D's remaining with Jewry and the promise of redemption is poised to be realize in an instant. How could such a relationship exist?
Maybe this is what Bilam saw according to the Targum Yonatan, how deep and unshakeable is G-D’s commitment is to Bene Yisrael and how anxious Mashiach is to fulfill his role as redeemer. All of this in spite of Bene Yisrael being less than fastidiously faithful.
How the Targum Yonatan understood the second half of BaMidbar 23:21 now the first part “He [G-D] has not seen iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen perverseness in Israel . . . .” can now be understood. The Ohr HaChaim ZT’L ZY’A explains Bilam’s declaration that even among the least of Jewry who are called Ya’akov G-D does not see even the stain sin leaves behind one’s body. Whatever sin is found in the common folk is no more than a stain that is easily laundered and does not leave a trace. The righteous Jews called Yisrael there is no sin/stain present that requires effort for its removal.
What Bilam saw how greatly G-D values Jewry, how truly close the redemption is. G-D must be able or is prepared only to see what is good in Jewry whatever sin is present is a mere aberration of Jewry’s true nature. The Talmud (Yoma 9b-10a) asserts the Second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred, Sinat Chinam. Maybe if one considers what Bilam saw and apply it to Jewry as a whole/ Maybe each member of Jewry should extend to all Jewry the love G-D himself has for His people. Maybe this is the lesson to preface the The Three Weeks and transform them from a season of mourning to a season of joy.