A holy work of chidushei Torah on Maseches Zevochim found its way to the hands of a Jerusalem sage of the previous generation. He couldn't help wondering how a Jew could possibly author a work on this particular tractate.
"When I recite daily the perek "Eizehu Mekomon", my innards turn over as I conjure up the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh. And that author was able to concentrate and focus his mind to write a sefer on the subject!"
The hearts of Jerusalem residents who live close to the site of the Mikdosh mourn so much more than other Jews all over the world, as the Maharil Diskin established in his pithy statement: Grief is infinitely greater in Jerusalem since it like one "whose departed one lies before him."
The Aderes, Rov of Yerushalayim, wrote in his will: "Much suffering and difficult events beset me, may no one know of such, aging me prematurely. But there is nothing that can reduce me to instant tears as the memory to Yerushalayim, our holy city, the edifice of our glory, and the exile of the Shechinah, of the Torah and of Jewry, which as soon as I dwell upon it, my eyes shed copious tears."
It is told that R' Zundel Salant used to wander along the Jerusalem mountains weeping bitterly over their desolation. He was found studying Maseches Midos one night, dwelling upon those parts which delineate the structure of the Beis Hamikdosh, while a sea of tears cascaded from his eyes.
HaRav Avrohom Wolfenson, one of the disciples of the Gra, immigrated to Eretz Yisroel with a camel caravan. As it neared the outskirts of the city and he was able to see the city in his ruins, he burst into bitter sobs. He suddenly heard his wife joining his sentiments as she cried out, "Avrohom, when the city of Hashem is downtrodden to the nether Sheol, how can I enter it in finery and jewels?"
She immediately divested herself of all her jewelry, consecrating them for tzedaka, and only then could the two allow themselves to enter the Holy City in its ruined state.
With Patched Clothing
The usual routine of life was disturbed during the bein hametzorim period. You saw distinguished figures walking the city streets attired in shabby, worn clothing. It was customary in Jerusalem not to cast away a worn out garment, but to set it aside to be worn during the Three Weeks. This is what an elderly Jerusalem sage retold: "I remember as a child the custom to wear torn and worn clothes during these days so as not to divert one's attention even for a moment about the churban."
The distinguished Rav Naftoli Tzvi Porush used to don a huge patch on his chalet garment during the Three Week period. Another Jew once inadvertently extinguished a cigarette on his hat, thereafter designating it for wear as a concrete and typical symbol of mourning over Jerusalem and the destruction of the Beis Hamikdosh.
In the Jerusalem chadorim, the teachers used to sit down on the ground at midday together with their students and recite the Tikkun Chatzos [midnight elegy prayer] amidst loud sobbing so as to imbue in their pure hearts the mourning over the Churban, its extent, and to what degree a Jew should feel the pain intrinsically and personally. The Mekubal, Rav Yaakov Mutzafi, used to visit the Kiryat Sefer Cheder in Yerushalayim during this period and sit on the ground with the students, reciting with them the Kinos so as to teach them to mourn over Yerushalayim.
The Cup of Tears
Jerusalem elders told that the revered Rav Moshe Hamburger, one of the outstanding disciples of the Chasam Sofer, would seclude himself in his room and weep copiously over the Churban and the exile of the Shechinah, carefully gathering up those tears into a cup. That cup of tears was filled halfway and would have been even fuller except that R' Moshe was exhausted by the toll of his weeping.
They also told that when he was asked about this practice, he said that he had seen this by his master, the Chasam Sofer. He described how on Erev Tisha B'Av after noon, his master would also seclude himself in his room. Peeking through the keyhole, R' Moshe saw him sitting and mourning over the Churban. Near him was a sefer, while in his hand he held a cup in which he gathered up his tears until it was full. When he later sat to eat the seuda hamafsekes before the fast, he would drink from that cup to fulfill the verse in Tehillim, "You fed them the bread of tears and gave them tears to drink in great measure."
Mourning of the Sephardic Community
HaRav Yaakov Yehoshua gives a vivid description of the olden days in Yerushalayim in the midst of the Sephardic community from his childhood memories.
"Rosh Chodesh Av arrived, ushering in a state of depression amongst us. We felt the mourning already from the 17th of Tammuz, from which day we assumed many strictures upon ourselves, some overt, others covert. We ate no meat, subsisting on fish, lentil soup and cheese. Our rabbanim wore old black robes instead of the colored ones, which disappeared from the scene. No festivities of any kind took place, being postponed for the 15th of Av and afterwards.
"Chassidim and exalted figures closed their places of business in the afternoon and sat down to recite the Tikkun. We children were strictly warned to be careful since the Three Weeks were known to be dangerous times, prone to accidents. The children of the Montefiore neighborhood were cautioned not to approach the Sultan's Pool, the upper pond at the foot of Mt. Zion, lest the waters seize a child and drag him down to the bottom; it was believed that it always claimed one victim each year. Our mothers warned us not to approach any of the water cisterns in the neighborhood lest we suddenly become dizzy and fall inside.
"During these three weeks, our mothers refrained from whitewashing the walls of the house or kitchen as we used to do on Thursdays.
"Since we ate no meat from Rosh Chodesh Av until after Tisha B'Av except for Shabbos, all the butcher shops closed down and the shochtim and their assistants took a vacation.
A Mournful Voice
The entire atmosphere was one of mourning over the destruction which was so evident all around. Residents of the Montefiore neighborhood said that they could hear a muffled mournful voice from the direction of Zecharia's grave at the foot of Har HaZeisim.
The beit knesset of the Sephardic Orphanage assumed an especially mournful appearance. The cushions that were usually on the benches were put on the floor on mats. The teivah was moved away from its usual spot and the paroches, with embroidered gold letters that usually contributed to a festive air, was taken down, leaving the simple aron hakodesh. The two chazzanim sat on the floor: HaRav Avraham Pilosof and HaRav Chananiah Gavriel Yehoshua, zt"l.
Soon the shammas got up, at a sign from HaRav Pilosof, and turned down all the kerosene lamps, leaving the light of a single candle. At that time, HaRav Pilosof seemed like Yirmiyahu Hanovi, his sad voice reached the depths of our souls.
Such was the life of the Three Weeks and of Tisha B'Av, mourning the destruction of our Temple and of Jerusalem. May it all be rebuilt soon.