The Seventeenth of Tamuz

We must increase and magnify our Torah learning, establishing more and more Talmud Torahs, yeshivot and Torah institutions and filling the country with Torah. Nothing strengthens and exalts our nation like learning our holy Torah.

The Three Weeks –  a Time for National Soul-Searching

by HaRav Dov Begon, Head of Machon Meir

We can discern different phases in Jerusalem’s destruction. On the tenth of Tevet, a siege was imposed upon Jerusalem. On the seventeenth of Tamuz, the walls around the city of Jerusalem were breached. On the ninth of Av, the city was destroyed and the Temple burnt down – may it be rebuilt speedily in our day. Each of these stages in the destruction serves to teach us not only about what occurred but about its inner meaning.

The siege of Jerusalem and the attempt to sever Jerusalem from the Land and from the rest of the world, is like an attempt to cut one’s heart from his body. The purpose of the siege was to weaken and deter the Jewish People through siege and oppression.

The breaching of the walls of Jerusalem was made possible through the civil war that took place in the city. The wall was breached because the nation did not stand united. Quite the contrary, in this war, they abandoned the walls and the city’s security.

The destruction of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple are the result of groundless hatred which smote the hearts of Israel like a plague and ultimately led to the breakdown and destruction of the heart of the whole people – Jerusalem and the Temple.

Just as there are stages to the destruction, so too are there stages to the rebuilding. Right now we see with our own eyes how Jerusalem, with God’s help, is being steadily rebuilt. Just as the destruction began with siege, so too the rebuilding is beginning with that siege being removed.

First we removed the siege imposed upon us by the British, who prevented Jews from making Aliyah. Then the siege was removed from Jerusalem, which suffered hunger and thirst during the War of Independence. In the Six-Day War, Jerusalem broke out of the narrow corridor which had stifled its development, and began great expansion. It was united under Jewish sovereignty and now, thanks to God’s kindness, it is undergoing a hastened process of construction in all directions.

The siege and the diplomatic and economic boycott imposed on the State of Israel by the Arab countries is gradually disappearing. Quite the contrary, Israel has become among the most successful states in the world, having diplomatic and economic relations with the vast majority of countries.

The next stage in the rebuilding of Jerusalem is the establishment of a fortified wall, corresponding to the wall that collapsed in the past. Just as in the past, divisiveness and civil war caused the fall of Jerusalem, so, too, togetherness and national unity are the modern-day wall against our enemies who still wish to divide Jerusalem and to take control of it. The more we lock arms together, the whole nation, all movements and all parties, with the intent of defending the unity of Jerusalem, the stronger a wall we will erect, and it will repel those who plot to breach the walls of Jerusalem.

And the more we increase the boundless love in our midst, the better we will nullify the groundless hatred, which brought about the destruction of our Temple. Then we will be privileged to see and to rejoice in the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the light of the world, and the rebuilding of the Temple, soon in our day. Amen!

Love Peace and Truth

From the Seventeenth of Tamuz until the Ninth of Av, the House of Israel practices mourning customs in remembrance of the suffering and destruction that befell the Jewish People. The purpose of these fasts and mourning customs is:

To arouse the hearts to consider the paths of repentance. It is meant to remind us of our evil deeds and the deeds of our ancestors which were like our own deeds now, until they caused both them and us the same suffering. By remembering these things, we can return to the good path. Therefore, every person must take all this to heart during those days, and he must examine his deeds and repent for them. . . . (Orach Chaim 549, Mishnah Berurah).

Five things happened to our ancestors on the 17th of Tamuz and five things happened on the 9th of Av. On the 17th of Tamuz the Tablets were broken, the daily offering ceased, the walls of Jerusalem were breached and Apostomos burned the Torah and erected an idol in the Temple, and on the 9th of Av, it was decreed that our ancestors would not enter the Land, the First and Second Temples were destroyed, and Beitar was conquered and Jerusalem was razed” (Ta’anit 26a).

Today, the manifold causes of the suffering that beset us in the past still exist in our own generation, and we must repent for them. That is, we must rectify them both on the national level and on the individual level.

Moses broke the tablets because of the sin of the Golden Calf. Every generation has its own Golden Calf, our own included. Today, the “Golden Calf” means the worship of money, materialism and hedonism, for some view these things as the purpose of everything. This leads people to forget their values, ideals and ethics, and also leads to their distancing themselves and cutting themselves off from Jewish tradition, from the Jewish People and from Eretz Yisrael. We have to nullify the present-day Golden Calf by returning to ourselves, returning to our roots and to Jewish tradition. By such means we will become reconnected to ourselves, our people and our land.

The communal Tamid daily offering alludes to our drawing near as one man, with one heart, to our Father in Heaven. In our generation as well, we have to find a way to unite all of Israel and to bring Israel, all together, closer to God, through increasing the love and faith that is so needed in our generation.

Regarding the Wall of Jerusalem – Jerusalem is the tangible expression of the Assembly of Israel, of Jewish unity. Jerusalem’s walls serve to defend Jerusalem and Israel. Unfortunately, in our day the walls of Jerusalem are being breached through all values being trampled and morality being nullified. So far have we deteriorated that there is a march of “Gay Pride” – or calumny – in the very heart of the Eternal City. The lack of an identity and the absence of roots has brought people to confusion and destructive personal decline and the collapse of the family unit. By returning to our essential, human and Jewish identity, we will buttress the walls of Jerusalem.

The burning of the Torah in the past is unfortunately recurring today before our very eyes, through the children and adults of Israel being distanced from Torah study. We must once more learn and teach our holy Torah with love and faith.

Regarding the Idol in the Sanctuary – the human heart is likened to a Temple. The idol in the sanctuary in the heart of man of our generation consists of his anger, lust and drives, and his evil thoughts. We must “purify the sanctuary,” our heart, removing the idol from it. By carrying out these improvements, we will be privileged to see the fulfillment of the prophet’s words:

Thus said the Lord of hosts: The fasts of the fourth month, fifth month, seventh month and eighth month shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful seasons. Therefore love truth and peace. (Zechariah 8:19)

“Whoever mourns for Jerusalem shall merit to see its rejoicing.”

There is a connection between the troubles that befell our ancestors on the 17th of Tamuz and those which befell them on the 9th of Av, despite the distance of days and years between them. The main troubles of the 17th of Tamuz were spiritual and resulted from Israel’s moral deterioration. For example, in the wake of the Golden Calf, Moses broke the Tablets, and this was also the cause of the cessation of the daily offering, the burning of the Torah and the idol in the Temple.

By contrast, the troubles of the 9th of Av affected the nation’s concrete political situation and their connection to Eretz Yisrael. For example, the sin of the spies led to the decree that the generation of the desert would not enter the Land, and this is true too of the destruction of the First and Second Temples, Beitar’s destruction and Jerusalem being razed.

Our sages were seeking to teach us that the moral and spiritual deterioration that caused the troubles of the 17th of Tamuz led to the destruction of the Temples and all the other troubles. As in our sages’ words to both Nebuchadnezzar and Titus, “You ground flour that was already ground” meaning, “The first stages of the Temple’s destruction were really due to Israel’s sins. You just completed the destruction.”

During the Three Weeks between the 17th of Tamuz and the 9th of Av, we observe various mourning practices. The purpose of these customs and fasts is to arouse our hearts to repentance, for recalling what occurred can prod us back to the right path.

Therefore, every Jew must take pains to scrutinize his deeds and to repent. After all, the main point of the fast is repentance. “The fast is nothing but a preparation for repentance” (Orach Chaim).

What can we rectify in our generation if these fast days and mourning customs are to be transformed into days of joy and celebration? Regarding the troubles associated with the 17th of Tamuz, corresponding to the Golden Calf, the reason the Tablets were broken, we must strengthen ourselves in faith and in patience. After all, the sin of the Calf occurred due to a lack of these two traits. Israel could not wait for Moses to descend from the mountain. We must become stronger in faith and tolerance on the personal level, and no less so on the national level. We must work together with God to bring the redemption, yet we mustn’t fall into a hysterical panic if the process is fraught with crises.

Regarding the cessation of the twice-daily offering, we must become stronger in prayer, our “regular daily offerings,” going to synagogue morning and evening, and maintaining regular prayer and Torah learning.

In response to the breaching of Jerusalem’s walls, we must fortify the walls of Jerusalem by building homes and neighborhoods in Jerusalem, especially those places over which the Arabs are striving to take control. We mustn’t allow Jerusalem to be divided.

In response to the burning of the Torah, whose purpose it was to prevent Israel from learning Torah, we must increase and magnify our Torah learning, establishing more and more Talmud Torahs, yeshivot and Torah institutions and filling the country with Torah. Nothing strengthens and exalts our nation like learning our holy Torah.

In response to the idol being placed in our Temple, it is well known that the Temple was likened to a man’s heart. We have to rectify our character, especially regarding pride, anger and lust, which are like idols in the Temple (see Nefesh HaChaim 1:5).

Through these improvements, we will merit the Third Temple’s construction, and the return of all the Jews of the exile to Israel. The city of Beitar, which is being rebuilt, will continue to grow by leaps and bounds, together with all the other cities of Eretz Yisrael. Instead of Jerusalem in its ruins, Jerusalem is speedily being rebuilt, and will continue to grow. May we be the living fulfillment of our sages’ words, “Whoever mourns for Jerusalem will merit to see its rejoicing” (Ta’anit 30b).

Necessary Wars

In this period between the Seventeenth of Tamuz and the Ninth of Av we recall the Destruction of the First and Second Temples. At the same time, we must look toward the future. We must learn, understand and gain awareness that we are at the beginning of the building of the Third Temple, which began with the ingathering of the exiles, the establishment of a sovereign Jewish entity, the State of Israel. All the prophets and sages who relate to the rebirth of the Jewish People in their land after the two-thousand year-long exile, note that the Third Temple will be built amidst wars, as our sages said, “In the seventh year there will be wars. At the end of that period the son of David will come.” The nations of the world have not resigned themselves to the idea that our people is rising to rebirth. They are striving to their utmost to extinguish the flame of Israel, that is burning brighter and brighter.

Thus, our wars are milchamot mitzvah – compulsory wars. The ideas aired in recent years by political leaders who claim that we are fighting to achieve “peace now” have no foothold in our difficult reality. They are mistaken, and they are the cause of the unfortunate fantasies of dangerous diplomatic programs such as Oslo, the Separation, the Disengagement and the Convergence Plan. To our enemies, all these programs send a message of surrender and weakness. Such plans confuse the heads of the army and demoralize the troops, and are the result of an error in understanding reality.

We are at the height of a milchemet mitzvah, a compulsory war, as the Rambam taught: “What is a milchemet mitzvah? It is a war to assist Israel against an enemy that has attacked them” (Hilchot Melachim 5:1). During such a war, the people’s morale must be strengthened. A Kohen is therefore appointed to address the people during the war, and he is called the Mashuach Milchamah, the priest anointed for war:

“He stands on a high place with all the armed forces before him, and he says to them in Hebrew: Hear O Israel! Today you are about to wage war against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted, do not be afraid, do not panic, and do not break ranks before them. The Lord your God is the One who is going with you. He will fight for you against your enemies, and He will deliver you” (Rambam, ibid. quoting from Deuteronomy 20:3–4). Rambam also says there:

When a person enters the thick of battle, he should place his hope in God, who saves Israel in time of trouble. He should be aware that he is waging war for the sake of God’s Unity. He should muster his courage and have no fear. . . . Whoever starts to think too much in battle, alarming himself, violates a Torah prohibition: “Do not be faint-hearted, do not be afraid, do not panic, and do not break ranks before them.” Moreover, the lives of all Israel depend on him. If he does not do all he can, with all his heart and soul, to be victorious in battle, it is as though he has shed blood, as it says, “Let him go home rather than have his cowardliness demoralize his brethren” (Deuteronomy 20:8) . . . Whoever fights with all his heart, without fear, and his intent is solely to sanctify God’s name, can rest assured that he will not be harmed and no evil will befall him. He will build a solid family in Israel, bringing merit to himself and to his descendants for all time, and he will merit the World-to-Come (Rambam, ibid. 15).

At present, we must pray and call to the nation and to its leaders: Open your eyes! Know the enemy and his goals! Fight back hard! Smite the enemy and deter him! By such means God’s name will be sanctified on earth. We must be strong and courageous “on behalf of our people and on behalf of the cities of our God” (II Samuel 10:12).




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