Tammuz is the fourth of the 12 months of the Jewish calendar. The month of Tammuz begins the “season” of the summer. The three months of this season are Tammuz, Av and Elul.
The 17th day of Tammuz –a fast day that commemorates the day when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans (in 69 C.E.) – marks the beginning of a period known as the Three Weeks. During these 21 days, we mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple and the cause of our current ongoing exile. It reaches its climax and concludes with the fast of the Ninth of Av, the date when both Holy Temples were set aflame (423 BCE and 69 C.E., respectively). Because of this and numerous other tragedies that occurred throughout Jewish history during this period, we lessen the extent of our rejoicing during the three-week period leading up to it.
Why the excessive mourning for events from more than 2,000 years?
G-d is our Father, and we are His children. And during galut (exile), we constitute a dysfunctional family. We have been expelled from our Father’s home, and our relationship is strained. This is certainly not the way the relationship should be – and this wasn’t always the case. There was a time when we were coddled by our Father’s embrace. His love for us manifested itself in many forms, including miracles, prophets, abundant blessings, and a land flowing with milk and honey. At the center of our relationship was the Holy Temple, G-d’s home, where He literally dwelt among His people and where His presence was tangible. Our reliance on science, technology, and nature without seeing G-d as their underlying source, eats away at our souls, until we are consumed by the spell of empowerment that they cast. Even when we seek G-d, what we see is shaded by our inability to think in terms that are above and beyond the constraints of the physical world.
All the suffering that has been our lot since the day the Temple was destroyed is a result of our exiled state. This is why we mourn the destruction of the Temples. We believe with perfect faith and pray that the day is near when we will be returned to our Father’s home and once again feel His love. We look forward to a brighter future, when the world will finally reach the culmination of its purpose, and be infused with everlasting peace and goodness.
Tammuz is named after the ancient Babylonian sun god (Yechezkel 8:12–18), which is an odd source for the name of a Hebrew month.
However, in the context of the month that we are dealing with, a month of tragedies which would lead to still greater tragedies, the appropriateness of the name becomes clear. The Prophet Yechezkel was being shown by G-d the reasons for His great Anger against the Jewish People, namely, the various forms of idol-worship which had been adopted by them to replace the Divine Service. – leading to the destruction of the Temple.
Five tragedies took place on the 17th of Tammuz. Each one of them gives us a glimpse into the abyss, of what can happen to us when we see everything as being fully within our grasp and under our control.
The first and most well known is the destruction of what is arguably the most precious object that any human being could ever possess – the Tablets. Four other traumatic events happened later in history that force us to think about who we are and who we want to be. To one degree or another, each event is an echo of the tragedy that took place on the 17th of Tammuz.
- The Romans placed an idol in the sanctuary of the Holy Temple. No sacrilege could be more vulgar. The reason G-d allowed this to happen is that He wanted us to see where our chosen path would take us. By this time, we had lost our collective identity, and had buried our consciousness in endless in-fighting. Each group sincerely believed in their own cause. Each thought that they had a moral right to rule. Each took G-d out of the picture as they attacked each other with ever increasing savagery. The Romans had been conducting their public life like this for years. They believed in control, nature and power. We had the opportunity to see where this road led. The end of the trail was the horror and desecration of the sanctuary.
- The walls around Jerusalem were breached. This is the date recorded in the Talmud as the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem. A breach in the wall was the beginning of the end. It could only happen when our faith was fragmented, and the divine protection that we had been given in the past was no longer something we could count on. What this means is that if we wish to abandon our reliance on G-d and replace this with belief in ourselves or in nature, we will have to pay the price.
- The daily offerings could no longer continue. In the time of both Temples a consequence of the battle for Jerusalem was that there was no possibility to continue the service as it had been conducted for hundreds of years. The symbolic meaning of the sacrifices (which are called korban, that which makes close, in Hebrew) is that it is up to us to elevate the world to G-d, not to create illusions that dwarf Him to make the “fit” more comfortable.
- The Romans burned a Torah scroll. They believed in the rules made by man, not those made by G-d. Does this mean that the month of Tammuz is a bad month? Far from it. It is a month of challenge and confrontation. Without challenge, there is no growth. Without confrontation, there is no way to see things as they are.
On the third of Tammuz something happened that broke all the rules of nature. Joshua was leading the Jews in battle in Givon against their enemies, the Emorites. As the day drew to a close, the battle had not yet reached an absolute conclusion. For the moment the Jews seemed to be winning, but if the battle would reach its inevitable end as darkness came, there would be no decisive victory, and the next morning they would face off against an enemy who would come at them with renewed vigor. Each moment was precious.
A miracle happened. The sun didn’t set. The day stretched on for 12 more hours.
The rules were broken, the battle was won, and at least for the moment, no one worshiped the sun, but only its holy, infinite, unknowable.
Let us hope that we succeed in seeing the potential good in every situation in our lives, and in turning every problematic and negative situation into good, beneficial and enlightening for us, and the entire world. May we all enjoy a good month, and a happy, healthy summer.