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Through The Eyes of a Woman

The 17th of Tammuz: The Good Within

One of the unique things in Chabad Chassidus is that it sees good in everything. In life there are three different categories. There are those things that are obviously good, and things that are obviously (to our eyes) bad, and there are things that seem neutral. Chassidus tells us, and the Tanya (chapter 26 and other places) goes into it at greater length, that since "no evil descends from Above," since HaShem is the epitome and the ultimate of goodness, how can there be evil or cruelty by Divine Providence? It just cannot be. It is contradictory.

Tanya explains that there are two kinds of good. One kind of good is what we call revealed good. As regards human beings, we live somewhere between the bottom of our heels to our heads. We don't live two miles up there. Revealed good means that which we can relate to right here, between the bottom of our heels and our heads. Then there is good that is concealed. We don't see it, we don't feel it, but on a higher level it is good.

The Rebbe addresses the following question (in regard to the Holocaust, but his reply can also explain the concept of good and evil in general): If G-d is truly good, and that is one of the fundamental beliefs of Yiddishkeit, how can He allow a Holocaust to happen? We know that many of the people who died in the Holocaust were righteous, they were pious. We could have understood it if only the evil people had died. But why is it that so many fine and devout and G-d-fearing Jews perished in the Holocaust? And not only that, but in such painful and cruel ways at the hands of evil people. For many people there is no resolution to this dilemma.

The Rebbe answers this question by way of an analogy: A person who was raised in the jungles of Africa, from some really barbaric tribe living far away from any modern civilization, by accident wandered out of his village and found himself in a modern medical center. He opens the door and walks into an operating theater. He has no idea where he is, or what an operating theater is. He has never in his life come in contact with modern medicine, so he doesn't even know that he's in a medical center, in a hospital. All of a sudden he notices a number of people, wearing green masks on their faces, totally gowned, you can only see their eyes, wheeling in a table with a person on it. Then, one of the masked people takes out some object, a metal object, jabs it into the body of this person, and all of a sudden the person is still. Then another one of the people takes out an instrument and starts cutting off part of the person's body. Well, this savage from the jungle, what does he know? In his eyes, all he has witnessed in his past is that when people fight in the jungle they take out knives and they kill each other. There's two enemies and they fight it out until the victor wins. So in his perception, from what he knows, the people with the masks are the enemies of the guy on the table. Look how cruel they are. They've done things to not let him move and then, while the guy is sleeping they cut him up. The savage gets up and he runs around and he starts yelling and he starts pulling the knives away and he starts protesting this cruelty and injustice.

Now, the Rebbe says, obviously it's impossible to try to explain to this man that the person on the table is suffering from a malignant growth in his foot and these guys in the masks have mastered a certain amount of knowledge, and they know that if they cut off part of his foot, he will be able to live for another 40 years. However, if they allow this growth to continue growing, he will die in a short time, and it's a pity that he should die so young. They mean the patient no harm; what they are doing to this person is truly an act of goodness and of kindness. However, it is cloaked and garbed in a way that causes pain. The operation is unpleasant. The post-operative pain is unpleasant. But what is the reason? Is it because they hate the person? Is it because they have an argument with the person? That's ridiculous. The doctors are motivated by a wish to save the person's life.

Now the gap between our intelligence and HaShem's intelligence is much greater than that between the savage's and the doctor's. Because the savage just never had education. It is possible to educate him and get him to a certain level. But a human being's intellect and capacity to understand is totally limited in comparison with the Creator of the World. Accordingly, a human being can never totally fathom HaShem's reasons.

The Rebbe considers the Holocaust, as horrible and as bloody as it was -- and no-one was saying that it was pleasant in any way -- as some necessary operation that the Jewish people had to undergo. It was not a punishment, it was a cleansing. All of those who died in the concentration camps and ghettos are regarded as having died al kiddush HaShem -- sanctifying G-d's name. All are guaranteed the life of the World to Come. The point that I'm trying to make is that we, with our limited human minds can never truly understand events in our own lives. An illness, an injury, a robbery, a fire -- all of these things seem cruel, they seem unfair and even unjust. However, often in retrospect, years later, we will see that because of this we met this one, and this happened and if it hadn't happened then... who knows what might have happened. So many things that happened were painful at the time of their occurrence, but later on we see that the chain of events was for the good, and HaShem had his reasons for doing it in precisely this way.

Now how does this relate to the 17th of Tammuz? Because the 17th of Tammuz was the beginning of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash. Actually it began on the Tenth of Teves, but on the 17th of Tammuz the wall that surrounded Jerusalem was breached, and that let the enemies in so that they could set fire to the Beis HaMikdash on Tishah BeAv. It seemed like such a devastating act, and in a revealed sense it certainly was. However, it was a necessary step, comparable to a king washing off excrement from his child's body. When the king's beloved child gets dirty with excrement, only the one who loves the child most will get their hands dirty and remove it. Somebody else that doesn't love the child or doesn't care about the child is disgusted by it and won't want to touch it or look at it. It's only the mother or the father who care about the child enough who go and get involved with cleaning him up.

The Rebbe explains that according to Chassidus, the destruction and exile, and all of the accompanying woe and troubles that we have experienced since then, are part of the processes of cleansing.

Seventeen (the 17th of Tammuz) has the numerical value of the word tov, meaning "good." This day, the 17th of Tammuz, has within it, in a very deep way, the potential to be revealed as tov. When Mashiach comes, the 17th of Tammuz and Tishah BeAv will be days of great rejoicing; they will be yamim tovim, because that day, when it seems that evil was strongest, was in a hidden way the greatest good.

The Rebbe gives another analogy: When a parent sees a child misbehaving, he gives the kid a smack. I'm not saying you should smack your kid every minute, but sometimes you see your child has gone overboard, and you know at this point that a lecture is not going to help, so you give the kid a slap. Why did you hit your child? Someone might say, "Oh, she hit her child because she hates him." If I hated the child I wouldn't care if he was rude. There are plenty of kids hanging out in the street who act in disgusting ways. Do I go over and punish them and discipline them? They're not my kids, so their lack of discipline, and their rudeness don't bother me. But my child? I'm not going to have my child grow up undisciplined and rude. My child's going to be a mensch. In order for my child to know that certain behavior is just unacceptable, I'm going to punish him on occasion. That punishment is motivated by my love for the child, and wanting the child to learn to be a mensch and a good person. Later on he will thank you for that smack. You know the adage, "Better you should cry today, than that I should cry tomorrow." There are plenty of mothers that were afraid to give that slap, and now they're home crying, because they were too afraid to have the child cry when the child was seven years old.

Baruch HaShem, Torah Jews have enough self confidence to disregard modern psychology and we don't pick up Dr. Spock like it's the Bible. We don't pay too much attention to the sixty-odd psychology books that you can find on any bookshelf. We look into Torah. The Torah is older than all the psychologists put together and the Torah tells us that if you want to have nachas from your child, sometimes you have to do something radical. As long as your motivation is love for the child, it's ok.

I remember when my sister, who was in high school at that time, wanted to see a movie. Now in our family we generally didn't go to movies, but we're talking about 20 years ago when the movies weren't so bad. She had been invited by all her classmates to go with them to a movie. My mother, who was not too excited about having her child go to movies, said, "Well, what's the movie about?" So she said, "I don't know, I'll ask my friends." So she asked her friend. The movie was West Side Story. She came home and she said, "It's a movie about kids that ride on a motorcycle." Anyway, my mother asked around and she didn't like the story of the movie. So she said, "You don't have to go to that movie." My sister presented the usual counter-arguments: "Nothing will happen... But all my friends are going. I'm going to be the only one in the class not to go to this movie?" But my mother put her foot down. She didn't think it was necessary and she said no. All the other girls went and my sister didn't go. She was very, very angry at my mother. I still remember to this day how she cried. She was a high school girl, not a six-year-old. But my mother said, "I'm sorry. All the other mothers... they have to decide about their daughters, but you are my daughter and I am not letting you go, and that's the end of the story."

About 15 years later, her son came home from cheder and said, "All the kids in my class are doing this or doing that..." and all of a sudden she had a flashback. She remembered the story about the movie that she had forgotten, and what my mother had said: "You are my daughter and you're not going." So she told her son, "All the other boys' mothers will decide for them as they see fit, but you are my son and you're not going, or you're not buying, or you're not doing whatever." Then my sister wrote my mother a letter explaining what had happened, and she thanked my mother for putting her foot down and giving her the strength to tell her child the same words.

If your motivation is real concern for the child's good, then eventually that message will come out. It will give the child the strength to do what is right and to be able to pass it on to the next generation. This is the idea of chinuch, education.

In the same way, HaShem is trying to educate us, although we do not always see the good in any particular event. Accordingly, this period of the Three Weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av should be regarded in a more positive light. The Rebbe explains that we are getting to the end of the galus and that is why the pains we experience are stronger. The redemption is compared to giving birth -- the contractions get stronger and quicker as the birth approaches. The mother who is in labor, if she didn't do her Lamaze, she could think, oy vey, the baby's never going to get born. But if she did her child preparation course, she knows that when the contractions seem like they're not stopping and they're just going on and on, it means that the baby is about to be born. Now that the tsorres are becoming so strong and fast and frequent, we know that Mashiach is mamash just about to come.

You know, it only takes an eyeblink for Mashiach to come and the Beis HaMikdash to be built. So we have to put our focus now on the positive, on the fact that the galus is almost over. Let's not dwell on the galus. Let's think of the geulah, of the good. One way of preparing for the geulah is studying about it. When a woman has a baby, she doesn't forget that after the pregnancy comes the baby. She wants to know about how to take care of the child. She starts reading the child care books while she is pregnant, before she gives birth, because she knows that the pregnancy is only a temporary state and eventually that will be forgotten and her focus will be on the child. The same thing here. We have to focus on the future, on the Beis HaMikdash.

HaShem said to the Prophet Yechezkel (Ezekiel), "Why don't you learn about the building of the Beis HaMikdash?" So he said, "What good will it do to learn about the Beis HaMikdash? It is not standing." HaShem answered him, "If you study about the construction of the Beis HaMikdash I will consider it as if you are actually involved in constructing it." We shouldn't say, "What can we do? We're a bunch of women. We're going to start building the Beis HaMikdash?" If you want to do something actual and real to hasten the construction, one way you can do it is by starting to study everything you can about the Beis HaMikdash, and about Mashiach and the geulah. May it all come very speedily, so that the galus will very soon be only a distant nightmare.

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