Day of MourningThe 17th day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz is one of the fast days enumerated in the book of Zecharia(8:19) called the “fast of the fourth month”. In the Hellenistic mind set that has defined most of western thinking for over two thousand years, “Time” is viewed as a linear line moving from point A to point B. the Jewish and Biblical view of the world views specific dates and appointed times as gates through which time flows through in a cyclical and upward spiral fashion.
Thus the Passover season is not only a commemoration of the liberation from all the slavery and imprisonments that still confine us. Sukkoth is not only a commemoration of wandering through the desert for forty years and living in booths but is rather a time that is ripe to strengthen our faith and belief in a G-d that is intimately involved in our lives.
So it is with the three weeks that commence with todays’s fast day of the 17th of Tammuz and culminates with the fast of the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av (The Three Weeks; this year: July 3 – July 24 2007) These three weeks called Bein ha-Metzarim “Between the Straits”in Hebrew receives its name from a verse in Lamentations 1.3, “All [Zion’s] pursuers overtook her between the straits,” interpreting “straits” as “days of distress” -namely the Seventeenth of Tammuz and the Ninth of Av .
The Three Weeks are a period of mourning for what was but are also times of great distress and testing throughout history. Jewish history is replete with the calamities that have occurred during these days including and most prominently the destruction of the first and secondntly they were the days that preceeded the expulsion of the Jewish residents of Gush Katif and the northern Shomron and then led during the same period to the second Lebanon war.
This 17th day of Tammuz, the “fast of the fourth month” has been witness to its own litany of calamities. Moshe descended Mount Sinai on this day and, upon seeing the Golden Calf broke the first set of Tablets carrying the Ten Commandments (Shemot/ Exodus 32:19, ).During the first temple the priests stopped offering the daily sacrifice on this day ( TractateTaanit 28b) due to the difficulties surrounding the siege on Jerusalem. Furthermore the outer walls of the city of Jerusalem were breached by Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army.
Our tradition also tells us that King Menashe, considered one of the truly evil kings of Judah placed an idol in the Holy Sanctuary of the Temple on the 17th ofTammuz ( Melachim II /Kings II 21:7).The Talmud further describes how on this day , Apostomos, captain of the Roman Legion occupation forces publicly burned the Torah and also placed an idol in the Temple ( Tractate Taanit 28b) . These were followed by Titus and Rome breaching the walls of Jerusalem again in 70 CE.
In later years this day continued to be a difficult and tragic one for the Jewish people .In 1239 Pope Gregory IX ordering the confiscation of all manuscripts of the Talmud. In 1391, more than 4,000 Jews were killed in Spain and in 1559 the Jewish Quarter of Prague was burned and looted. The Kovno ghetto was liquidated on this day in 1944 and the list goes on and on.
The main and common feature of all the tragedies on this day was the deterioration or destruction of the physical walls and spiritual barriers that were meant to protect the Jewish people. The destruction of those protective coverings were always a sign and a herald of difficult challenges ahead. When they occur there is always time to make the changes that are necessary to buttress the defenses and shore up the weak spots. Yet a decision has to be made to make those changes. There is a growing number of people that have decided to those changes.Yet there is still a larger mass of people that are still stuck in what was and are frightened or feel inadequate to make the changes into what could be.
The next three weeks are going to be very tense and fraught with danger as it mysteriously has been throughout the generations. The greatest enemy we will have to face is fear. The greatest antidote is faith. The strength and persistence of those who are walking along this long eternal voyage are the ingredients that will allay all the dangers and much of the fear.
An eternal people have no fear of the long voyage.