During the First Temple era, Nevuzaradan – the chief commanding officer of Nevuchadnezzar – was an influential and powerful individual. Eventually, though, he descended to a very low point. He made countless problems for the Jews, and then degenerated to torturing, burning, and killing people.
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 96) tells us that Nevuchadnezzar resolved to destroy the Temple but was afraid of the G-d of the Jewish people. He feared he would suffer the same fate as Sancheriv. He therefore warned Nevuzaradan that the Jewish G-d accepts baalei teshuvah and advised him not to allow captive Jews a moment to pray. If he did, they would repent, G-d would have mercy on them, and Nevuzaradan would be defeated.
So when Nevuzaradan saw a Jew praying, he cruelly slaughtered him, tore him limb from limb, and threw his body parts before others as an example of what would happen if they prayed.
After breaching the walls of Yerushalayim, capturing the city, and destroying the Temple, Nevuzaradan entered the Temple courtyard and saw blood boiling on the ground. When he asked about it, he was told it was the blood of sacrifices.
“Let us offer a sacrifice, and see if the blood boils like the blood on the ground,” Nevuzaradan said. They sacrificed a korban, but the blood did not boil.
“What is this blood? If you don’t admit the truth, I will tear the flesh from your bodies with an iron comb,” he threatened.
The people admitted that the blood was from Zechariah, a kohen and prophet who had foretold the destruction of Yerushalayim and was killed as a result.
Nevuzaradan said, “I will avenge his murder and appease him.” He killed gedolei Yisroel, great tzaddikim, kohanim, and school children, yet the blood did not rest. In total, he murdered 940,000 people, but the blood did not rest. He then called out, “Zechariah, Zechariah, I have killed the best. Do you want me to kill them all?” Immediately, the blood stilled.
Nevuzaradan was disturbed and suddenly struck with a thought of repentance. Considering that the Jews were punished so harshly for killing just one person, what would be the punishment for someone like himself who had killed thousands? Nevuzaradan fled, wrote a will which he sent to his family, and converted to Judaism. Our sages testify that he was a righteous convert (ger tzedek). A cruel and evil individual who murdered hundreds of thousands of people momentarily reflected on what was transpiring before him, and surrendered honor, riches, and reward.
Rav Nissim Yagen notes how important it is for us not to sleepwalk through life, to take a moment to reflect and ponder how we can improve in one area of life – in our middos, in our attitude to life, in our performance of mitzvos between us and Hashem, or in our performance of mitzvos between us and our fellow man.
During the Three Weeks, we cannot take haircuts, listen to music, get married, etc. These restrictions are intended to help us focus and contemplate why we are in exile. R’ Chaim Vital states in Sefer Shaar HaKavanos that a master of his soul should cry over the destruction of the Bais HaMikdash and read the special tikkun chatzos service, especially during these days after midday as it is of great spiritual benefit.
Rav Gamliel Rabinowitz writes in Shefa HaKavanos that although authorities debate whether women should read the tikkun, all agree that during the Three Weeks everyone should contemplate the destruction of the Holy Temple and pray for the future redemption. (The tikkun leil chatzos, recited at midnight, is a separate matter.)
This practice is very powerful, says the Zohar, as our tears combine with the two tears that descend from Hashem into the Great Sea as He shakes the 390 firmaments because of the destruction of the Holy Temple. Amidst these mingled tears, Hashem remembers His children who are immersed in pain.
We can understand this idea better through a parable: A wise son will do anything possible to alleviate the pain of a parent. Even if he can’t save his parent, he can at least share in his pain, crying with him and offering words of encouragement. By doing so, he demonstrates that he cares and is with his parent in his time of need. If the son is foolish, however, and does not commiserate with his parent – he just doesn’t care – his parent’s pain will be even greater.
When we cry together with the Shechinah, reciting the tikkun, remembering the churban Bais HaMikdash, and praying for the rebuilding of the Temple, mortal man is amazingly able to lift Hashem’s burden.