The 17th of Tammuz, as a prelude to Tisha B’Av
Rabbi Steven Adams
In August we will be observing Tisha B’Av, the fast day which commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Temple along with other sad events in Jewish history. Tisha B’Av is one of the better known fast days and the name itself is synonymous with something sad. In fact, many years ago, when I was a student rabbi in the town of McGehee, Arkansas people would tell me that if the college football team, the Arkansas Razorbacks, lost it was like Tisha B’Av. I heard that not only from members of the small Jewish community, but also from many non-Jews who had heard their Jewish friends use the expression.
Near the end of this month of July there is another, less well-known fast day which begins the three weeks that lead up to Tisha B’Av. The 17th of Tammuz (observed this year on the 18th, because the 17th is Shabbat) commemorates a number of sad events. These include: The breaching of the walls in Jerusalem which preceded the Temple’s destruction – both by the Babylonians in the case of the First Temple and the Romans with the Second Temple. This is why we observe the three weeks recognizing not just the actual destruction but the process that led up to it. Related to this were the accounts of a Roman general burning a Torah on this day and an idol being placed in the Temple.
A different event tied to this date is Moses breaking the tablets of commandments when he came down from the mountain and saw the people worshipping the golden calf. In this case it was our own crime, not the persecution of others that led us to suffering, and in this case just after agreeing to accept G-d’s Torah, as we did on Shavuot.
Tisha B’Av marks the destruction of both the First and Second Temple along with other sad events in Jewish history.
There are a number of lessons related to the events tied to the fast of Tammuz. It’s true that we often notice the worst of tragedies when they occur, but that we often ignore the warning signs that precede them. Warnings may not always guarantee we avoid the tragedy, but they can help us be more prepared when it occurs. Observing the fast of Tammuz and the weeks that follow are a reminder of the need to be prepared – both for the good things in life and also for the challenges we face.
Sometimes we dwell too much on the hardships we face, instead of looking ahead to something better in the future. The three weeks give us a chance to consider and contemplate, to face the sad times with a perspective of better possibilities ahead.
Finally, we are reminded of our won past mistakes and this leads us to ask if we have learned anything from the past. The worst tragedies are the ones we cause ourselves, because we can avoid those. Do we let our community splinter over conflicts or do we unify to face challenges together? Do we allow challenges to diminish our faith in G-d, people and the future or do we see this as an opportunity to respond inspired by a sense of faith?
This time of year is a great time to pause and reflect on some of these questions. By doing so we will move from the days of summer and our remembrances of a less than perfect to an autumn and Holy Day season focused on ways to make the future brighter.
Rabbi Steven Adams is director of pastoral care for Ovation Communities.