As I sit here in the quiet of the night that best lends itself to unimpeded concentration, I am awed by the brightness of the full moon in a clear, star-studded sky. A quick check of my desk calendar confirms that it is the 15th day of Tammuz. The first day of the “three weeks” is, as I write, still two days away, and yet I am about to herald the imminent arrival of the month of Av.
How apt a reminder that this remorseful time will pass before we know it, and the next full moon will shed its light upon our universe on a joyful fifteenth of Av. Before then, however, the moon will diminish to but a narrow crescent, a mere sliver of its former full glory – before evolving again…
But for now, back to the future… On this coming Shabbos, Parshas Matos-Masei, we bentch the new month of Menachem Av, with Rosh Chodesh Av falling on Yom Sheini (Monday, July 24). And thus begin the dismal “nine days” of restrictions of activities (Shabbos is an exception), such as eating meat and drinking wine, wearing new clothing, listening to music and the generally constraining joyful pursuits.
The Shabbos preceding Tisha B’Av – the ninth day of the month on which we fast and mourn the destruction of both the first and second Batei Mikdash – is called Shabbos Chazon (vision), so named as it is the first word in the haftarah read on this particular Shabbos, Parshas Devarim, wherein Yeshayahu HaNavi rebukes the people who sinned against their Father in heaven.
According to the holy Rabi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, on Shabbos Chazon every Jewish soul perceives a distant vision of the future Bais HaMikdash – hence its name.
The Shabbos following Tisha B’Av is called Shabbos Nachamu, the Shabbos of our consolation. The haftarah read on this Shabbos, Parshas Vaeschanan, begins with the words Nachamu, Nachamu Ami – Comfort, Comfort My people. This time Yeshayahu HaNavi assures us of Hashem’s consolation and His promise of glorious redemption.
As the Talmud says, whoever mourns Jerusalem will merit being consoled. When Hashem will heal our wounds, even the sun and the moon will be consoled – for they mourned Yerushalayim at the time of its devastation by hiding their light. “Vehaya ohr ha’levana ke’ohr hachamah v’ohr hachamah yihye shivasayim ke’ohr shivas hayamim… When Yerushalayim will be reborn, the light of the moon will be as bright as the light of the sun, and the sun’s light will shine seven times brighter than today” (Yeshaya 30:26).
Tisha B’Av is referred to by our Sages as a moed – a holiday. Two thousand years of dispersion hasn’t dulled our reminiscence of that exalted time in our history, of the euphoria we experienced specifically in the months that followed our settling into the Holy Land – just as Hashem had pledged to His children, albeit on condition that they would abide by the Torah.
Nor has the lapse of time cooled our ardor – we continually hope and pray for the day when we will reunite with the Shechinah in the holy city of Jerusalem. That in itself is consolation, for something gone for good is eventually laid to rest in one’s mind. The dream that refuses to die is what makes Tisha B’Av a holiday – for we know with certainty that it will one day come to fruition (Kedushas Levi).
A diversion, if I may… Olam Yehudi readers will have noted a letter (published in the inbox, July 7) that takes issue with my description of the month of Tammuz as “one of the saddest times of the year.” The letter writer, referencing my Shabbos Mevorchim Tammuz article (Olam Yehudi, June 23) further labels my characterization of the month as “inaccurate, narrow minded, and offensive.”
My response: Dear Alexandra, I am so sorry you saw it as such… but in all honesty I cannot take your critique personally – for I merely echoed the words of our prophets and chachamim, recorded for posterity.
Fact is I barely touched on the many tragedies associated with Tammuz (the only month, I might add, named for a false prophet and an idol erected near the holy sanctuary, which evoked the tears of Jewish women [detailed in Yechezkel 8]).
While one can arguably insist that it is only the 17th day of the month that begins the 3-week mourning period, the entire month is deemed “sad” due to the Meraglim having spent the duration of Tammuz on their ill-fated mission in the Holy Land.
In further illustration of the somber nature of Tammuz, the Zohar’s tziruf for the month has the holy letters of the Shem Hashem (YHVH) in reverse (HVHY) – the only month with this permutation! – attesting to the middah of din that controls the month of Tammuz (versus the middah of rachamim).
Since its inception almost five years ago, this column has strived to highlight past events, relevant to the month in our lunar cycle, that have shaped our history and define us as a people aspiring to rise above the mundane workings of this world.
Among your suggestions of “positives” for this month, you mention our country’s birthday. How paradoxical that a news outlet’s headline on that particular day should have caught my eye: “Americans Celebrate July 4 With Leisure and Gluttony.” What a stark reminder (as observant Jews) of our contrasting values and outlook on life!
Whereas living in a medina shel chessed in galus is certainly a blessing, we cannot afford to lose sight of our lofty objective – to hone our capacity to transform physicality to spirituality and thus prove ourselves ready and worthy of the ultimate geulah that will end all days of mourning.
The summer solstice is another “positive” you call our attention to for this month. Perhaps you missed the fact that in actuality daylight hours began to shrink on the first day of Tammuz (June 25; summer solstice occurred on June 21).
Most of us do indeed look forward to this season and the “so many wonderful things about summer” when we “experience a lighter side of life” – and that is precisely what makes this the opportune time to reflect on the lessons of the past and be forewarned to heed our better, rather than baser, instincts!
That’s not to say, though, that we should G-d forbid be steeped in misery (“ivdu es Hashem b’simcha”) or that we ought to stifle our innermost feelings of joy and gratitude at momentous occasions, such as the birth of a new baby, a bris or bar/bas mitzvah event we happen to be blessed with in Tammuz (even as we do curtail the display of jubilation from the 17th day on).
You begin your letter by letting us know you were born in July. Incidentally, one’s birthday is a most propitious time to reflect on the meaning of life and to pray for hatzlacha in fulfilling our divine purpose here on earth. Here’s to yours!