Nature is not natural, it’s supernatural. My middle school principal, famous for his aphorisms that helped us remember the messages of his parasha classes was especially excited about this one. While I no longer remember the lesson this saying was taught in connection to, I can say that the message stayed with me for years. So often, we see something beautiful and amazing in this world, and we express our awe and amazement. This saying reminds us to carry it one step further and thank Hashem for what we experienced. How many times have we seen a beautiful sunset, with streaks of orange, purple and red, and exclaimed over its beauty? But do we take it to the next level and remember that the beauty is a gift from Hashem and not just something that randomly occurs in nature? How often do people stare at a tiny newborn, awed by the perfectly detailed miniature, with functioning limbs and organs? We’ll often say things that express our amazement, but do we carry it one step further and thank the Creator?
We tend to remember Hashem’s involvement only when things go wrong. When something on that newborn isn’t perfect, we are startled into remembering just Who is the One running the world. Our job, in a world where Hashem is largely hidden, is to see His presence in all of nature. The Hebrew word סר (soor) means to turn. If a person commits to מוסר, to turning himself from the path of not seeing Hashem, he will have done his job. If not, Hashem will turn him around, יסור, in a process we call…Yissurim.
Tammuz is a month of particular ‘hester’, Divine concealment, and historically a month of Yissurim. Join us as we learn about this month and the מוסר it teaches.
A theme that we tend to come back to on this blog is the Jewish calendar and the concept of experiencing time cyclically. Let’s now dissect this and truly understand how time and space, two seemingly immovable aspects of nature and of our lives, fit into the lens of Jewish reality.
Time and space are considered objective, permanent things. When something is notarized, it is stamped with the time and date. Time, after all, is the ultimate proof! There is no going back and retroactively time-stamping something, and no true way to alter time.
Similarly, with any construction or design project, the most important details for the engineers and architects to work around are the measurements. Space, after all, is objective—the measurements can’t be changed, and even the smallest increment of error can upend a structure.
The lens through which we see the world is tinted with these realities. When we study an object, our first thoughts are typically about its size and shape. When we think about an event, we think about when it happened (or is set to happen) in the timeline of our lives. These are the laws of nature that our world is governed by.
However, in a spiritual sense, time and space are not objective realities. Instead, they are simply creations. And just like everything else created in the physical world by Hashem, they are subject to a shift in reality when applied to spiritual topics.
Let’s illustrate this point by examining what happens to our “objective” time and space when they start to infringe on the spiritual. We’ll see that the more spiritual something is, the less it is ruled by the physical laws of space. We’ll also see that the passage of time is ruled by spiritual realities.
Let’s start with space: The holier the space, the less the laws of space apply. Consider:
The holiest of all lands is Eretz Yisrael, which is referred to as ארץ הצבי, the Land of the Deer. The meforshim explain that just as the skin of a deer would seem to be too small to cover its body, but stretches to do so, the land of Israel stretches more than one would think is possible in order to accommodate all its inhabitants.
Within Eretz Yisrael, the holiest city is Yerushalyim. Chazal tell us that when the nation would travel three times a year to Yerushalyim for the regalim, there would be no complaints about cramped quarters or lack of space, even though it was fully inhabited, seemingly to capacity, throughout the year. Yerushalyim was able to defy the laws of space and accommodate the influx of travelers.
Within Yerushalyim, the holiest area was the Bais Hamikdash. On Yom Kippur day, B’nai Yisrael would fill the courtyard, standing shoulder to shoulder and filling all available standing room. And yet, when the Kohen Gadol would perform vidui and say the name of Hashem, B’nai Yisrael would all prostrate themselves on the floor, bowing down—and there would miraculously be room for them to do so comfortably. In a place so holy, physical laws don’t reign.
Finally, within the Bais Hamikdash, the holiest area was the Kodesh Hakedoshim, which contained the Aron. The Aron measured two and a half amos wide. The Kodesh Kedoshim measured 20 amos across. And yet, the measurement from each side of the Aron to the wall of the Kodesh Kedoshim was a full 10 amos: The Aron, holiest object on Earth defied all physical laws and did not take up any physical space.
Just as the laws of nature are not binding on spiritual objects, spiritual qualities are not bound by the passage of time. The powers that exist in any given month are not confined to any specific year or era, but can be tapped into by us just as they were tapped into by our forefathers. Our calendar is not linear—we do not pass through time; rather it is cyclical, as we circle back time and again to moments that contain spiritual powers. We have full access to the spiritual power each month brings.
(Beyond that, the seasons also reflect the spiritual reality of the time. Nature’s course during each of the six seasons listed in the Torah show the spiritual power we can access. The darkness of winter is relevant to the light of Chanukah, the icy weather of Purim time is relevant to Amalek and their goal, and the renewal of life in Nissan reflects the powers of breaking free. The path of the Torah is to take a middle path of moderation, thus the times of Hashem’s anger and judgment are also reflected in nature by harsh conditions: Consider that Asara B’Teves, Shiva Asar B’ Tammuz, and Tisha B’Av are all during times of intense weather.)
That is why there are certain months that year after year, at all different points in history, contain national tragedies. The spiritual reality of those months is revisited each year in full force as we cycle back to those months. Tammuz is such a month. By studying what’s happened in the past we can know what is available to us. Remember, those powers don’t recognize, so to speak, the passage of time: past, present, and future are creations. Let’s dive in: what is the spiritual power of Tammuz? What events have happened in Tammuz? And what do we do to harness the tragedy that seems to define this month? Finally, we’ll end by studying the life of Yosef Hatzadik, who both was born in and died in this month, to see how the successful application of this month’s powers look.
Of all the months in the Jewish calendar, Tammuz is arguably the saddest. Though Tisha B’Av, the saddest specific day is found in the month of Av, the second half of Av holds the Heavenly middah of Chessed, whereas Tammuz contains only tragedy. The case can also be made that the events of Tammuz are the prelude and cause of the ultimate destruction in Av.
As we’ve mentioned before, the Torah lists a year long cycle of six seasons. Tammuz is the in the season called קיץ. Tammuz is a month of dry heat. Traditionally a rain-less month, we now see the beautiful life and blossoms of spring wither away, as the grass yellows and the ground cracks and is no longer fertile. The cheerful blooms and sweetness of spring are replaced by a month of harsh judgment. Rain, the symbol of interaction between Heaven and Earth and that which is a sign of the life G-d gives us, has ceased.
It is no wonder then that Tammuz, according to kabbalistic tradition, is the month with the most hester, Divine concealment. Hashem hides His face from us in this month and minimizes His interactions, making it even more difficult for us to recall His presence.
The unabating heat is also symbolic of immorality, and of the often referred to fires of inappropriate desire.
Tammuz is a month that is known too for fostering hatred and letting anger and fights simmer, all attributes of heat and fire. Thus, sinas chinam consumed the Yidden and brought destruction. The symbol of Tammuz is Cancer, a crab. Years ago, I came across a trivia fact: you can put a bunch of crabs in a shallow pail without worrying about any of them escaping. For as the others see one succeeding and getting out, they grab him and pull him back in, ascertaining that he will not survive while they die. Surely, this is a perfect analogy for the baseless and nonsensical hatred that develops between groups of Yidden, theoretically all yearning to serve Hashem!
The name Tammuz comes from the name of the avodah zara of the sun, which was worshiped with fire. As we discussed at length in a previous post (https://goo.gl/2wKuXd), sun worship is indeed relevant to our lives! The sun represents nature, and those who worship it are celebrating nature’s cycle as a coincidental series of events that exclude Hashem. This is the opposite of the Jewish view, in which we understand nature to be just a tool that Hashem has put into place. We tend to almost accidentally think of nature in terms of ‘possible’ and ‘impossible’ forgetting the reign of Hashem. It is the quintessential way to deny accountability—by denying there is a Superior Being. Thus, when we attribute sins to normalcy—it’s normal to get angry! Everyone talks lashon hara—we are in essence worshiping Tammuz and forgetting about Hashem’s minute involvement and His expectation that we supersede nature, especially our own nature, as all that is holy does.
Five Tragic Events
All five of the tragic events attributed to Tammuz come back to the middos, the personality you might call it, of the month. Let’s briefly examine each one before we seek an antidote.
The Eigel was built and the Luchos destroyed. B’nai Yisrael didn’t intend to worship an idol, they simply wanted something “normal”, something physical and tangible like the goyim. Tammuz, the “god” of the sun, would have approved! We rejected the luchos in favor of what was more easily tangible and relevant to our physical lives.
Cessation of the Korban Tamid. The Korban Tamid was traditionally symbolic of sacrificing our physicality to Hashem, showing that we unquestioningly accept His word. In Tammuz the fires of passion and physicality burn hot and B’nai Yisrael were no longer allowed to bring a Korban that had lost its meaning.
Wall of Yerushalyim. The walls provided a supernatural protection, not the mere barrier of a physical wall. When through their own actions of choosing to not seek Hashem at the time of hester, they lost the merit for that protection, nature was allowed to rule and the walls succumbed.
Avodah Zara in the Bais Hamikdash. Meforshim explain that this was caused by sinas chinam, baseless hatred that existed between the Jews. Each group asserted that they, and only they, was serving Hashem correctly, thereby removing Hashem’s true presence. Here, too, they were emulating the goyim, who search not for the truth but follow whoever is most savage in destroying his opponents.
Burning of the Sifrai Torah. The fire of Tammuz won, and the holy Torah went up in its flames: we chose the rules of man over the rules of Hashem and stopped seeking Him out, and the holy scrolls were burned.
So Tammuz is a month of suffering, of rampant desire and immorality, and of disconnection between us on Earth and our Heavenly Father. Indeed, a month where He has hidden His face from us, throwing us into the burning embers of a world of hester. Is there no hope, then, for this month? Are we meant to live through it, destined to suffer and to not see Hashem?
Clearly, the answer is no. Tammuz is a month full of challenges, of fear, and of judgment and confrontation. But it is only through these things that growth is spurted. That, after all, is the point of both mussar and yissurim.
In the second part of this essay, we will examine Yosef Hatzadik, who fought with the qualities of Tammuz and harnessed them. He was born in Tammuz and was handed this struggle, and he died in Tammuz because he succeeded. Step-by-step, let’s examine Yosef’s life and how he saw Hashem in everything.
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