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The 17th of Tamuz: A Hazon Perspective

Dear Friends,

This year, the Fast of the 17th day of the Hebrew month of Tamuz falls is the 25th of June. The Fast began at dawn and ends in the evening. On the 17th of Tamuz, five tragedies befell the People of Israel:

1. The first Tablets of the Covenant were broken by Moses when he descended from the mountain and saw the worship of the golden calf.
2. The daily offerings ceased in the First Temple during the siege by the Babylonians.
3. During the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans in the Second Temple period, the walls of Jerusalem were breached.
4. During the Second Temple period, the Torah was burned by a Roman leader known as "Apustumus-the-Wicked."
5. During the Second Temple period, an idol was placed in the Temple by the Romans.

The 17th of Tamuz begins a three-week mourning period for the loss of our Temple and other related tragedies, and this mourning period concludes with Tisha B'Av - the Fast of the Ninth of Av. On Tisha B'Av, both the First and Second Temples were destroyed.

The purpose of this fast day and all other fast days is teshuva - the process of repentance and return. The root of this Hebrew word is shuv - return, as through this process of repentance and renewal, we are to return to Hashem - the Compassionate One. On another level, we are to return to our true selves - to our souls - and become the human beings that we are meant to be. On each fast day we are to remember that we are created in the Divine Image, with the capacity to emulate the Divine love, compassion, and justice. And on each fast day we are to remember that we, the People of Israel, are to become a social model of Divine love, compassion, and justice which will serve as a "light" to all the nations. The spiritual and universal goals of the Jewish fast days are expressed in the haftorah - portion from the Prophets - that we read on the 17th of Tamuz and on most of the fast days:

"Seek Hashem, in His readiness to be found, call upon Him, for He is indeed near. Let the wicked one forsake his way and the iniquitous person his thoughts; let him return to Hashem Who will have compassion on him; to our God Who is abundantly forgiving. For My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not My ways - the declaration of Hashem. As high as the heavens over the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. For just as the rain and snow descend from heaven and will not return there without having refreshed the earth, fructified it, and furthered its growth that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall be My word that emanates from My mouth: It will not return to Me unfulfilled without having accomplished what I desired and having brought success to where I sent it. For in joy shall you go out and in peace shall you arrive; the mountains and the hills will break out in glad song before you, and the trees of the field will clap hands. In place of the thornbush, a cypress will rise; and in place of the nettle, a myrtle will rise. This will be a monument to Hashem, an eternal sign never to be destroyed.

Thus said Hashem: Guard justice and perform righteousness, for My salvation is soon to come and My righteousness to be revealed. Happy is the man who does this and the person who grasps it tightly; who guards the Sabbath against desecrating it and guards his hand against doing any evil.

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to Hashem, speak, saying, 'Hashem will utterly separate me from his people'; and let not the barren one say, 'Behold I am a shriveled tree.' For thus said Hashem to the barren ones who observe My Sabbaths and choose what I desire, and grasp My covenant tightly: In My house and within My walls I will give them a place of honor and renown, which is better than sons and daughters; eternal renown will I give them, which will never be terminated. And the foreigners who join themselves to Hashem to serve Him and to love the Name of Hashem to become servants unto Him, all who guard the Sabbath against desecration, and grasp My covenant tightly - I will bring them to My Holy Mountain, and I will gladden them in My House of Prayer; their elevation-offerings and their feast-offerings will find favor on My Altar, for My House will be called a House of Prayer for all the peoples. Thus said My Lord, the God Who reveals His love even in judgements, Who gathers in the dispersed of Israel: I shall yet gather others unto 'His gathered ones'." (Isaiah 55:6-56:8)

The redemption that will result from our teshuva will be for all, including those who may feel somewhat separate from the Community of Israel, such as the barren ones and the foreigners who desire to join Israel and accept the Covenant. They too are full members of the Community of Israel, and they too are beloved by Hashem. In addition, the rebuilt Temple will be known as "The House of Prayer for all the peoples," as Hashem will gather other peoples together with "His gathered ones" - the People of Israel.

Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)

Most of the information in this essay is taken from "The Book of Our Heritage" by Eliyahu Kitov. In this work, published by Feldheim, one can find teachings and stories which reveal the deeper meaning of all the Jewish festivals and fast days. It is available in Jewish book stores and through Feldheim Publishers: