The three weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha BeAv are referred to as the Three Weeks of Retribution and Bein HaMetzorim, “between the straits”. At first the character of this period is not openly positive. A full three weeks of our year are designated as a time of mourning over the destruction of the Holy Temple (Beit ha-Mikdash in Jerusalem) and the resultant ‘galut’ – physical exile and spiritual displacement.
However, there is more to the Three Weeks than fasting and self-restraint.
The Rebbe reveals:
– The number three is generally connected with positive themes: the three Patriarchs, the three pilgrimage festivals… Our Sages associated the giving of the Torah with the number three, praising G‑d for giving, “a threefold light to a threefold people… in the third month.”
Furthermore, the number three has the implications of permanence as expressed in the verse, “the threefold cord will not be snapped speedily.” In halachic terms, the number three is connected with a chazakah, a presumption that can be assumed to continue.
Accordingly, it is difficult to understand: Why is the concept of retribution and destruction also associated with the number three?
Generally, the concept is explained as follows: The awesome descent of the Three Weeks is intended to allow for an ascent. When a person wants to reach a level which is much higher than his present rung, it is necessary for him to undergo a descent first.
Similarly, in order to reach the peaks of the Geulah (Redemption) with the coming of Mashiach, a redemption which will not be followed by a descent, it is necessary that the Jewish people first undergo the descent of exile.
In this context, the Three Weeks are associated, not with exile, but rather with the Third Beis HaMikdash that will be built as a result of it.
In other words, this question can be resolved by developing a different understanding of the concept “a descent for the purpose of an ascent.” To explain: A Jew should be in a constant process of ascent, “always ascending higher in holiness,” “proceeding from strength to strength.”
If so, what is the reason for a descent? To proceed to a higher and more elevated rung that could not otherwise be reached. To give an example from everyday life: when faced with obstructions and difficulties, a person summons up inner strength that brings out greater achievements that would otherwise be impossible…
See more in the Rebbe’s talk on Shabbat “Matot-Masei”, 28th Day of Tammuz, 5750 (1990).