The Intimate Estrangement
When the pagans entered the Holy Temple, they saw the
keruvim cleaving to each other. They took them out
to the streets and said: These Jews... is this what
they occupy themselves with?! With this, they debased
[the Jewish people], as it is written: All
who had honored her have despised her, for they have seen
Talmud, Yoma 54b
The prophets compare the bond between G-d and Israel to the
marriage relationship between man and wife. The prophet Jeremiah
describes G-d recalling the Exodus as the kindness of
your youth, your bridal love, your following Me into the desert,
into a land that was not sown. King Solomon refers to the covenant
at Mount Sinai as the day of His betrothal, for the Torah, which outlines our
duties as G-ds people and His eternal commitment to
us, is the marriage contract (ketubah) between ourselves
When we violated the commandments of the Torah, the prophets
admonished us as a wayward wife who has betrayed her husband;
the resultant galutthe destruction of the Holy
Temple in Jerusalem and our banishment into exileis
referred to as a period of estrangement and separation
in the marriage; the messianic redemption is the promise of
a restoration of the relationship to its original state and
the forging of a renewed, even deeper bond of love between
the bride Israel and her supernal Groom.
In the innermost chamber of the Holy Temple, the Holy
of Holies, stood a golden ark, containing the Tablets
of Testimony upon which were inscribed the Ten Commandments,
and the original Torah scroll written by Moses. Topping the
ark were the keruvim, two winged figures, one male
and one female, hammered out of a block of pure gold. The
keruvim represented the relationship between G-d and
His people: the Talmud tells us that when the people of Israel
rebelled against the will of the Almighty, the keruvim
would turn away from each other; when Israel was faithful
to her G-d, they would face each other; times in which the love and goodwill
between G-d and His bride were at their peak were reflected
in the keruvims embrace as a man cleaves
to his wife.
The Talmud relates that when the enemies of Israel invaded
the Temple, they entered into the Holy of Holiesa place
so sacred that entry into it was permitted only to a single
individual, the High Priest, and only on Yom Kippur, the holiest
day of the year. There they saw the keruvim embracing
each other. They dragged them out of the Temple and into the
streets, perverting and vulgarizing their sacred significance.
In our prayers we remind ourselves that Because of
our sins, we were exiled from our land... and we are no longer
able to ascend and show ourselves and bow before You... in
Your chosen home, in the great and holy house upon which Your
Name is called.
For 830 years,
G-d dwelled in a physical edifice on a Jerusalem mountaintop,
granting us a tactual experience of His presence in our lives.
But we proved unworthy of such closeness and intimacy with
the divine presence. The Holy Temple was taken from us, and
we were cast into galuta state of existence in
which the divine face is hidden and G-ds love and concern
for us is concealedso that the void in our lives should
impel us to repent our ways and repair the damage to our marriage
inflicted by our misdeeds.
But if galut is a time of estrangement between G-d
and Israel, why were the keruvim embracing each other
at the time of the Temples destruction? Wouldnt
the destruction of the Holy Temple mark a nadir in our relationship
with the Almighty? What greater paradox can there be: the
divine Groom is destroying His marital home, allowing His
nuptial chamber to be violated and His bride to be carried
off by strangers, while the barometer of their marriage indicates
the ultimate in intimacy and union!
Three and Seven
Every Shabbat, following the reading of the weekly Torah
portion, a weekly selection from the Prophets, called the
haftarah, is read. Usually, the content of the haftarah
corresponds to the weeks Torah reading. However, there
are weeks when the haftarah instead reflects events
connected with the time of the year. Such is the case with
the ten haftarot, read during the last ten weeks of
the year, called the Three of Rebuke and the Seven of
The Three of Rebuke are read in conjunction with
the Three Weeks from Tammuz 17 to Av 9, during
which we remember and mourn the destruction of the Temple
and the onset of our galut.
On the 17th of Tammuz in the year 3829 from creation (69
ce), the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the besieging
armies of Rome. After three weeks of fighting, during which
the Romans advanced with great difficulty through the city,
they succeeded in breaking into the Temple; on the 9th of
Av they set it aflame.
These two days are observed, to this very day, as fast days,
and the period between them (referred to by the prophet as
between the straits)
as a time of mourning. During the Three Weeks, the haftarah
readings consist of selections from the Prophets in which
the prophet rebukes Israel for her crimes and iniquities and
her betrayal of her covenant with G-d.
The Three of Rebuke are followed by The
Seven of Consolation. For seven weeks, beginning with
the Shabbat after the 9th of Av (Tisha BAv), the haftarah
readings consist of prophecies describing G-ds consolation
of His people and the rebuilding of the relationship between
Thus we reexperience each year the process of rebuke and condolence,
destruction and rebuilding, estrangement and reunion.
But why, specifically, a ten-week process? And what is the
significance of its division into three phases of withdrawal
and seven degrees of reconciliation? Chassidic sage Rabbi
Hillel of Paritch explains that the Three of Rebuke
and the Seven of Consolation correspond to the
ten attributes of the soul, which are likewise divided into
sets of three and seven: the soul of man possesses three basic
intellectual faculties (conceptualization, comprehension,
and application), and seven basic emotional drives (love,
awe, harmony, ambition, devotion, bonding, and receptiveness).
For it is the interrelation between mind and heart that enables
us to understand the true nature of the estrangement
Mind and Heart
The mind, by nature and necessity, is aloof and detached.
To apprehend a concept it must assume an objective distance,
divesting itself of all involvement with or affinity to its
subject and adopting a reserved, even callous disinterest
toward the studied entity. Only then can its analysis and
comprehension be exact and complete.
The heart, on the other hand, is involved, attached, gloriously
subjective. The heart relates to the object
of its affections, bridging distances, surmounting the barriers
between self and other.
Yet true and enduring attachments are born only out of understanding.
Feelings which are based on nothing more than impulse or instantaneous
attraction are ultimately as shallow as they are impassioned,
as transient as they are intense. It is those emotions that
are conceived in the womb of the mind which possess depth
and continuity; it is the love that is founded upon an understanding
and appreciation of the beloved that can transcend the fluctuations
of feeling, the letdowns and the lethargy, and the many other
pitfalls of time and change.
So the seemingly cold and distant mind is, in truth, the
source and essence of any meaningful relationship. The detachment
associated with rational examination actually lies at the
heart of our emotive capacity to bond with others.
From my own flesh, I perceive G-d, says the verse. Man is a metaphor of the Divine:
by examining our own physiological and psychological makeup,
we learn much about the divine reality and the manner in which
G-d chooses to relate to His creations.
Thus the mind-heart paradoxthe manner in which mental
detachment is the essence and foundation of true emotional
attachmentprovides us with a model for the paradox of
G-ds relationship with us also includes both intellectual
and emotional' elements. At times, we sense what
appear to be signs of detachment and disinvolvement on His
part. G-d seems to have shifted the focus of His attention
from our lives, abandoning us to the whims of chance
and fate. Our existence seems bereft of all direction
and purpose. G-d is distancing Himself from us,
our lives apparently no longer worthy of His concern.
In truth, however, this divine objectivity carries
the seeds of greater connection. It is a disengagement for
the sake of a more enduring relationship, a withdrawal to
create an even more meaningful closeness. Ostensibly, galut
is a spiritual breakdown, a diminution of the bond between
ourselves and G-d; in truth, it is the essence of a deeper
identification with and commitment to each other.
G-ds hiding His face from us in galut is an
act of love. Despite our painful incomprehension, it serves
to deepen our attachment to Him. In the Three of Rebuke,
we experience abandonment, alienation and distance; but these
give birth to the Seven of Consolation. Bereft
of the outward expressions of our relationship with G-d, we
are impelled to uncover its essence, the quintessential bond
which transcends all physical and spiritual distance. Thus,
it is only through the experience of galut that the
deepest dimensions of our marriage are realized. Externally,
the Three Weeks are a period of detachment and estrangement;
in essence, they are the height of attachment and connection.
Thus the pagans entering the Holy of Holies found the keruvim
in intimate embrace. Without, Israel was being vanquished
and exiled, and the Holy Temple set ablaze. Externally the
marriage was crumbling, the husband alienated and the wayward
wife banished to a foreign land. But within the Holy of Holieswithin
the innermost sanctum of their marriagethe love between
G-d and His people was at the ultimate of closeness and unity.
Based on the Rebbes talks, Tammuz 28, 5716 (July
7, 1956); Av 4, 5749 (August 5, 1989)
Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe by Yanki Tauber
. Song of Songs 3:11; see Talmud, Taanit 26b.
. See Rashi, Exodus 34:1.
. Talmud, Bava Batra 99a.
. Talmud and Rashi, ibid.
(The Ark of Testimony, with the keruvim atop
its cover, were hidden in an underground chamber in the
Holy Temple 22 years before the destruction of the First
Temple, where they remain to this day. Thus, neither the
Babylonians nor the Romans would have found the Ark in the
Holy of Holies. The Talmud explains that the keruvim
that were dragged out into the streets were not the keruvim
from on top of the ark, but reliefs that decorated the walls
of the Holy of Holies and which likewise acted as a barometer
of the state of marriage between G-d and Israel.)
. Mussaf prayer for the festivals.
. The First Temple stood 410 years, the Second, 420.
. The 9th of Av is also the date of the First Temples
destruction, by the Babylonians, in the year 3339 (423 bce).
The breaching of the walls of Jerusalem, at the time of
the first destruction, was on the 9th of Tammuz; the 17th
of Tammuz was the day on which the Temple service was disrupted.
These dates had already been the scene of prior breakdowns
in the relationship between G-d and Israel: Tammuz 17 was
the day on which Moses smashed the Tablets of Testimony
upon beholding Israels worship of the Golden Calf;
Av 9 was the day that the people of Israel, influenced by
the negative report brought back by the Spies sent by Moses
to tour the Holy Land, expressed their refusal to enter
the Land, and it was decreed that the entire generation
would die out in the desert (see Land and See, WIR,
vol IX, no. 38).
. Jeremiah 1:2-2:3; ibid. 2:4-2:28, 3:4; and Isaiah
. Isaiah 40:1-26; 49:14-51:3; 54:11-55:5; 51:12-52:12;
54:1-10; 60:1-22; and 61:10-63:9.
. Job 19:26; cf. Genesis 1:27: And G-d created
man in His image.
. Chassidic teaching also offers another metaphor
for the paradox of galut , this one from within the
world of intellect itself:
A teacher is in the midst of communicating a concept
to his disciple. Suddenly, he has a flash of inspiration:
a new, infinitely deeper and more profound concept has erupted
in his minda concept which he immediately senses to
be of great value for his disciple. Practically in mid-sentence,
he falls silent. His eyes, which have been focused upon
the attentive disciple, close. The disciples questions
and remarks are repelled with a brusque motion of his hand.
His every iota of mental power is now concentrated on the
task of absorbing and retaining the still nebulous concept
hovering at the periphery of his mind.
The disciple is devastated. Why has his beloved master
turned from him? Why has he shut him out so abruptly? Things
go from bad to worse. At first he was brushed asidenow
he is being completely ignored. At first his master closed
his eyesnow he has turned his back on him entirely.
The teacher senses the anguish of his pupil. If he
cared less for him, he would reassure him with a word or
two. But he knows that the slightest diversion at this critical
time would impair his efforts to fully capture his newly
conceived idea before the flash of enlightenment recedes.
He is loath to relinquish even a single nuance of the concept
which will so enrich his disciple. So despite the manner
in which it is received by the pupil, the teacher's act
of rejection is, in truth, an act of lovean
act which is not only fully in keeping with the nature of
their relationship but which serves to deepen and enhance
it. On the surface, they are cut off one from the other;
in essence, they have never been closer to each other.
(This metaphor also explains why galut increases
in severity the closer we move toward our rapprochement
with G-d. If the function of galut were only to serve
as a punishment for sin, then its intensity ought to lessen
as time goes by and we atone for our transgressions. Historically,
the very opposite is truethe nearer we reach Redemption,
the darker the concealment of galut grows. A case
in point is our first galut, our 210-year sojourn
in Egypt. For their first generation in Egypt, our forefathers
flourished; for the next century or so their situation deteriorated;
but the outright slavery and cruel tortures associated with
this galut came only in its final 86 years, and the
most difficult and trying period came in the final year
of the Egyptian exile, after Moses had already prophesied
its end! The same is true of our present exile: the spiritual
state of our livesthe most basic factor of galuthas
known a steady decline from the day of the Temple's destruction
nearly 2,000 years ago. In its earlier generations, an era
populated by the great sages of the Talmud, our relationship
with the Almighty, though obscured by the concealment of
galut, was still a deeply felt reality in many peoples
lives. As the generations progress, we find an increasing
coarsening and materialization of life, leading to the almost
total blackout of spirituality and sensitivity to the divine
which characterizes our present-day existence. This, despite
the fact that each successive generation has brought us
that much closer to the ultimate Redemption.
But this pattern reflects the process of the metaphorical
teachers abandonment of his disciple:
the deeper he delves into the concept, the more he must
retreat into himself, distancing himself even further from
the distraught pupil; yet each successive retreat represents
a greater regard for his disciple and a greater commitment
to his role as teacher.)
. Likkutei Sichot, vol. II, pp. 359-363; Sefer
HaSichot 5749, pp. 609-611; ibid., p. 614, note 45.