These Three Weeks are a time of great potential intimacy with the Divine
We’ve all experienced moments in life that are magical — those points in time where everything comes to a standstill and the static subsides. The veil lifts and we realize we’re seeing something precious unfold before our eyes. These moments tend to be very personal; what one person experiences as an enchanted moment might seem trivial to another.
I had such a moment last night. Our shul has a night seder, with a small, hardy band of Daf Hashavua’niks forming part of its steady core. The beis medrash is never even close to full on these evenings, yet there’s a hum of activity, with people coming and going, a Maariv minyan in the ezras nashim next door and another one following seder.
But at one point last evening, after the early Maariv was over but well before the one following was to begin, things quieted down. I looked up and saw there were just ten of us, five sets of chavrusas, sitting and learning a sugya in Yevamos. Exactly ten Jews, learning Torah together.
I’m sure this has happened before in our shul, and it will happen again. But that’s the thing about magical moments — your eyes have to be open to realize what you’re seeing. I reached for a siddur, opened to Pirkei Avos and read aloud to my chavrusa: “Asarah sheyoshvin v’oskin baTorah, Shechinah shruyah beineihem — Ten who sit and learn Torah, the Divine Presence rests among them.”
I noted that the mishnah goes on to say the same about groups of five, three, two, even a solitary Jew learning Torah — apparently, there are varying levels of Divine Presence. But the mishnah doesn’t say this about any number of Jews larger than ten, and that would seem to indicate that ten Jews engrossed in Torah bring down as much Shechinah as can possibly descend.
Chazal do speak of the specialness of gatherings of Jews larger than ten (and perhaps there is also a force multiplier effect based on how many tens of Jews gather together, each on its own bringing the Shechinah to rest there). Still, this mishnah, on the surface, is telling us that ten Jews involved in Torah study is as good as it gets.
And as we begin Three Weeks that revolve around the departure of the Shechinah from our midst, it’s good to be reminded about the things that bring it back to us. Simple things, like ten Jews learning together.
The pasuk in Eichah (1:3) states, “Kol rodfeha hisiguha bein hametzarim — All [Yisrael’s] pursuers overtook her between the straits.” In the simple meaning, this refers to the pursuing enemies catching up to Am Yisrael, and it is from here that the Midrash coins the name for the period between the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av — Bein Hameitzarim.
But, the seforim state, there’s another, uplifting message in those words, too: That these Three Weeks are a time of great potential intimacy with the Divine, one in which those who are “rodef Kah” — every seeker of His closeness — can reach Him specifically during these days. And this “pursuit” culminates in Tishah B’Av, which is called a “moed,” an appointed meeting time with the Borei Olam.
The particular Name of Hashem used is Kah, the very same one Chazal (Sotah 17a) say represents the Divine Presence that reposes in a Jewish home where husband and wife live in harmony. During the moments of destruction, as our greatest tragedy unfolded, the Keruvim were found in an embrace, indicating that the intimacy with the Divine is always available, even during times that look like ultimate separation. And that intimacy can be recaptured during the period we’ve now entered.
And once the Shechinah descends, how can we make it stay with us forever? In his sefer Shem Olam (Sha’ar Hachzakas HaTorah, ch.21), the Chofetz Chaim devotes an entire chapter to the importance of Jews joining together in a chaburah to learn Torah, and he concludes:
The Tana Dvei Eliyahu Zuta (ch.14) indicates that after all the travails Klal Yisrael will endure at the end of the galus, it will merit redemption only due to Jews learning together in groups. It states, “Yisrael will be redeemed due neither to its suffering and subjugation, nor its travails and dislocations and poverty. It will merit redemption because of ten Jews sitting together, each one learning aloud with his friend….”
Ten Jewish men (at least). That might be all it takes to catch Him and feel His embrace once more.
Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 867. Eytan Kobre may be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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