The Maharsha (on Bechoros 8b) says that there are two 21-day periods during the year that have tremendous potential for kaparah: the days between Rosh Hashanah and Hoshanah Rabbah and the days between Shivah Asar B’Tammuz and Tisha B’Av. The latter period is known as Bein Hametzarim.
Between Rosh Hashanah and Hoshanah Rabbah, the kaparah is attainable through great introspection, avodah, Yom Tov, and simcha. Between Shivah Asar B’Tammuz and Tisha B’Av, the kaparah comes from focusing on tzaros and galus. Although both times have the potential for the same kaparah, one comes via brightness while the other comes via darkness.
Rav Yisrael Perkovsky, zt”l, the late rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Bais Hatalmud, said that we can learn from this statement of the Maharsha that one can gain from the three weeks of Bein Hametzarim as much as one can gain from the yamim nora’im.
Given the potential for kaparah, we must understand how to properly utilize this time of Bein Hametzarim, which begins in a month’s time. The Rambam (Hilchos Taanis) writes that there is a mitzvah to cry out to Hashem and blow chatzotzros whenever something bad happens to a group of people. The sound of the chatzotzros is meant to awaken us to do teshuvah and remind us that the tzaros that befall us are not due to mikreh (happenstance); rather they are a result of our aveiros. Realizing that our sins have caused our tzaros will lead us to do teshuvah. Similarly, the Rambam writes in Hilchos Teshuvah that the sound of the shofar is intended to awaken us from our slumber induced by the hevlei hazman and improve our ways and remind us of our Creator.
How does the shofar remind us of our Creator? Many sefarim (see, for example, Siach Yitzchak in the Siddur HaGra and Rav Yeruchum Levovitz in Daas Torah Parshas Emor) mention that the shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah are part of the coronation ceremony of the malchus of Hashem, as the pasuk says, “B’chatzotzros v’kol shofar hariyu lifnei hamelech Hashem.”
The sound of the shofar and the chatzotzros are intended to awaken us to the realization that Hashem is our melech and that He controls the world and our lives. They thus bring us to do teshuvah – by reminding us that Hashem is our melech and that our tzaros are a result of our aveiros.
Two years ago, in a shmuess before Rosh Hashanah, Rav Chaim Epstein, zt”l, said that there is another form of kol shofar that Hashem creates to help us remember our Creator: catastrophes. The destruction of the Twin Towers, massive storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, devastating earthquakes, terrorism, and more are all forms of shofar-blowing. They all demonstrate to us that we are not in control, that Hashem is the only One in control, and that He is the true melech. We must listen to the sound of this shofar and take the resounding message it brings: remember our Creator, remember the true melech, and correct our ways.
During the past few weeks several terror attacks have occurred. The Gemara (Yevamos 63a) says that when bad things happen in the world, even if they do not directly affect us, we should see a clear message in them. They should put fear in our hearts and instill fear of G-d in us. These terror attacks resemble those visited on our people in our land not long ago; we have seen car ramming, knifes, and suicide bombers. There is no way to prevent a car ramming or a knife attack unless every kitchen knife and vehicle is confiscated from every Muslim. The only reason that these attacks have stopped in Israel (thank G-d) is because God has prevented them from occurring.
If a person would contemplate these tzaros, he would see clearly that they are all shofar blasts demonstrating that Hashem runs the world. We must therefore remember Him and improve our ways.
The days between Rosh Hashanah and Hoshanah Rabbah are opportune for teshuvah and kaparah because through our avodah and simcha on Yom Tov we are able to be zocheh to see Hashem in front of our eyes and increase our fear of God. By remembering the tzaros that befell Klal Yisrael during the 21 days between Shivah Asar B’Tammuz and Tisha B’Av, we can also place Hashem before our eyes and reach the level of malachim.
May we all be zocheh to hear the kol shofar of today, which will enable us to see that the malchus Hashem is in front of our eyes, leading to complete teshuvah and, consequentially, the bringing of the geulah sheleimah. Amen.