When Shiva Asar B’Tammuz and Tisha B’Av fall on Shabbos – like they do this year – both fast days are postponed to Sunday. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained, though, that only the fasts’ negative aspects are postponed since mourning is forbidden on Shabbos (which is a holy day that must be free of worry). The fasts’ positive aspects as “days of Divine favor” (Yeshaya 58:5), however, remain and can be utilized for spiritual accomplishment.
We can use them to improve our concentration in prayer, devotion to Torah study, and mitzvah observance. On these Shabbosim, the Rebbe actually suggested making our meals more lavish than on a normal Shabbos in order to avoid any suspicion of mourning.
In fact, according to some Torah authorities, every Shabbos during the Three Weeks is on a higher level than a regular Shabbos because of its sharp contrast to the weekdays it follows and/or precedes. Their exalted holiness and spiritual superiority is thus even more evident.
It is significant that this Shabbos – the 17th of Tammuz – we read Parshas Balak, which includes the threefold series of blessings that G-d compelled the wicked Bilaam to give the Jewish people instead of curses as Balak requested. The Three Weeks thus start on a strong positive note, empowering us to actualize these blessings’ great potential in practice.
Parshas Balak also includes Bilaam’s prophecy about the “End of Days,” one of the three texts quoted by Rambam in Hilchos Melech HaMoshiach to prove that “one who does not believe in [Moshiach], or does not eagerly expect his coming, denies not only the other prophets but [also] the Torah and Moshe Rabbeinu.” In fact, the Rambam quotes and explains the “parshah of Bilaam” at length – most unusual in his great halachic code – demonstrating that every sentence refers both to “the first Moshiach, [King] David, who saved Israel from its oppressors, and to the ultimate Moshiach who will arise from his descendants and save Israel from the children of Esav.”
Starting the Three Weeks by reading the only detailed reference to Moshiach in the Torah (as opposed to the books of the [later] prophets, which, as Rambam points out, are full of references to Moshiach) is significant because the underlying theme of this time period is bringing Moshiach. We don’t mourn during the Three Weeks to wallow in depression – even though it is indeed important to realize that exile constitutes a “banish[ment] from our Father’s table,” as our Sages put it. We mourn as a spur to correct our situation, to eliminate the last vestiges of our spiritual exile and bring Moshiach.
During the Three Weeks, the Rebbe recommended learning more Torah, giving more tzedakah, and increasing activities of ahavas Yisrael (since it was baseless hatred that caused the destruction of the second Beis Hamikdash and plunged us into our present exile).
Based on Midrash Tanchuma (Tzav 14), which says that studying about the Beis Hamikdash during our exile actually causes it to be rebuilt, the Rebbe also called for studying 1) Yechezkel, chapters 43-46, which describe the future Beis Hamikdash; 2) Meseches Middos, which mostly describes the Second Beis Hamikdash, and 3) the Rambam’s Hilchos Beis Habechirah.
All three have been published in special volumes, with translation and detailed explanation in English and other languages, and public lessons are given on these texts in most Jewish communities, on Jewish radio programs, and online.
There are further guidelines from the Rebbe for the Nine Days, such as completing Talmudic tractates and making siyumim.
May our efforts bear fruit this year, bringing this miserable exile to a close with the coming of Moshiach.